SMIA Members Spotlight: Jen O’Brien (Music Broth)

  1. Tell us a bit about you and what you do…

I’m Co-Founder of Music Broth, Scotland’s first musical instrument and equipment library, social enterprise with charitable status. I run Music Broth alongside Founder Felix Slavin from our base in Govanhill, Glasgow. Our whole ethos is to provide equitable access to musical opportunities for all.

Felix came up with the idea for a musical instrument and equipment library after being left 8 instruments by his late musician uncle Paul and considering how best to share his legacy. I met Felix in summer 2017 and I was drawn to the idea of supporting those less able access music, and also the re-use aspect; getting neglected instruments repaired, restored and shared to new hands. We’ve been working together since then and our Music Broth library, thanks to the generosity of the Glasgow and wider Scotland community, now has over 500 musical instruments and equipment which are accessible to all. Everything from tin whistles to pianos!

We operate through affordable memberships for those who can contribute; individuals, bands and organisations, with income generated supporting our hardship fund for those less able. We support anyone wishing to pursue a musical venture; e.g. providing instruments for learners and established musicians alike to take home long-term, short-term occasional use of unusual instruments for recording, backline for gigs, PA for events, musical workshops, use of our library space for jamming/rehearsing/videoing, and training and volunteering opportunities. All are welcome. Our annual memberships for bands and organisations have been particularly popular as we take the hassle out of getting kit organised and to and from venues.

2. How long have you been working in the music industry?

I’ve been singing, playing and writing music for as far back as I can remember, but I started properly working in bands in my early 20’s I guess. When I moved to Scotland over 15 years ago the music scene here was so welcoming it was an easy transition to get straight in and involved.

3. What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Bringing joy! Supporting people to harness their musical talents, creating equity and opportunity, working with great people, and learning about unusual musical instruments that arrive in our library and the wonderful stories that go along with them.

We have supported young people with additional needs to access skills they didn’t know they had, helped refugees and asylum seekers take instruments home to allow them to express themselves and their stories, and get more involved and make friends locally. We’ve supported fledgling bands to do gigs they might not otherwise have had kit to, helped our volunteers grow in confidence and develop into tutors and mentors.

We’ve supported great bands and organisations with affordable backline for gigs and events. It can be stressful, and there’s a lot of lugging kit around and background work making sure everything is working and in the right place at the right time (I’m a pretty good roadie now!), but there’s immense pride in kit you’ve restored working and sounding well in a good venue. Added bonus we get to see some fabulous diverse acts whilst working, that’s not so bad either! Running my own business is great too in contrast to working for someone else, sometimes there are pretty steep learning curves but Felix and I basically manage and drive everything together, we’re a pretty formidable team.

4. Who are some of the people you’ve worked with?

Well the biggest shout out goes to everyone who has supported us on the Music Broth journey so far, library members, donors of instruments and hard earned cash, and our amazing volunteers; there is so much time and effort dedicated behind the scenes; repairing and restoring instruments, cataloguing, photographing, social media, supporting library members, lugging bass amps around…!

We’re linked across many brilliant organisations in Scotland with great library organisational members such as Girls Rock Glasgow, Refuweegee, Moonstruck on Clydeside, New Hellfire Club, YCSA, Moral Decay, Growing Together by Cornerstone

Many talented musicians have supported us playing live at events or hiring equipment from our library their ethos helps us provide equitable music access for all: Dave Arcari, Mickey 9s, Tongue Trap, Mark McGhee, L-Space, Matt Roddy, The Well Happy Band, Pandacar, The Three n Eights, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5, BEATBOX Scotland just to name a few…

On a personal musical journey our band Seafern are also currently in studio working with Square 9 Recordings new venture of Antony from Mickey 9’s on our upcoming EP which we’re pretty excited about, so watch this space…

5. Where do you see you/your organisation in the next five years?

I see Music Broth expanding and growing across Glasgow and wider Scotland, supporting more people, and creating employment too. We’ve worked really hard to establish our social enterprise from the ground up and are seeing increasing interest and demand. In these times of austerity and climate emergency the sharing economy is definitely the way forward so I’d of course encourage everyone to get involved with us be it joining as a library member, volunteering, hiring kit from us, shouting about what we do. As far as we’re aware we’re only the third existing musical instrument library worldwide so it’s worth us shouting about I think 🙂

Musically I’ll still be making plenty of noise too I’m sure! Five years is a good target for a SAY Award maybe… 😉

6. What’s coming up for Music Broth?

We’ve got our Music Broth Big Fundraiser gig this Sat 27th July featuring Ghostbaby, GRAVELLE and Calum Ingram. If you can’t make it to the gig you can still support us on our Summer Fundraiser page.

 Our Music Broth Big Thank You event is coming up on Sun 11th Aug as part of Govanhill International Festival and Carnival showcasing library members, instrument donors, volunteers, all family friendly and great fun!

Our free guitar lessons in partnership with the all-round lovely tutor Roger Whyte are ongoing in Pollockshaws and we’re intending extending our popular Grow With Music Programme further, so watch for updates.

Otherwise we’re working on keeping everything in our library in great condition, and getting musical kit out there!

7. What’s the best thing about working in music in Scotland?

The people! The ethos, vast musical talent, and that friendly open thing Scottish musicians and music industry professionals do which is “oh you’re looking for a drummer/podcast/venue/support act/etc have you tried….” I’ve made so many good friends and great contacts through conversations between acts at gigs and found the whole community very uplifting of each other. I’m continuously humbled by the generosity of people supporting our journey at Music Broth too through donating instruments, time, talent, and spreading the word.

8. What do you feel Scotland’s music industry needs to excel?

It feels really vibrant just now in the Scottish music scene with well-established bands across all genres and some serious up and coming talent. We should all continue to encourage our friends, families, contacts, acquaintances, to get out and support live acts and independent artists as that’s so important for the industry as a whole.

I feel it’s essential to also address intersectional and gender representation across the industry; Scotland has a wealth of talent which should be represented locally, and particularly at high profile venues and festivals where we have the opportunity to become world leading on representing a true cross section of our musicians. At Music Broth we work with young people and older people, from across all genders and backgrounds, and it’s important to have role models everyone can relate and aspire to.

Investment in music learning has sadly been dwindling, despite being proven positive in many life aspects; such as mental health and overall attainment. We set up Music Broth in response to this gap as we wanted to build a sustainable enterprise which removes financial barriers to musical opportunities. The response we have received across the industry and community so far has been amazing and we’re up for more and excited for the future!





Twitter: @MusicBroth