MLA News

Official News from the Music Library Association

Musical Theater Songs

Musical Theater Songs is a robust database of more than 11,000 stand-alone songs and songs from shows. It covers works from Offenbach’s 1958 Orpheus in the Underworld to more recent musicals like Waitress and Dear Evan Hansen.

Limited access is free and includes songs by a set of featured composers (the June 2018 composers are Irving Berlin, Peter Ekstrom, Dan Goggin, James Leisy, Alan Menken, and Lucy Simon). To receive full access, users must subscribe at either the individual or institutional level. Individual pricing is available on their website and there are discounts available for student users, arts high schools, and IPA Source subscribers. Subscribers also have access to My Song List, which, as the name suggests, allows users to compile lists of songs. This list functionality is available to institutional users, but has a 24-hour time limit, so it is likely of the most use to individual subscribers.

It is worth noting that there is advertising on the site, even for paid members. The ads themselves are not obtrusive and do seem to be curated to appeal to users of the site.

The core of the site and its best feature is its stellar search options and the underlying metadata that makes it possible. Users can find songs based on a wide range of criteria. It is an excellent resource for singers or voice teachers looking for repertoire or audition material. The basic search includes options for Character’s Age, Voice Type, Tempo, and Comedic/Dramatic. Users can also further limit song details by Composer, Lyricist, Song Title, Show Title, Decade/Year, Time Signature, Voice Range, Difficulty for Accompanist, Original Key, Keywords (a complete list is available to browse), Popularity, and Founders Pick (songs selected by Steven Gross, founder and CEO). Fields are generally either check boxes, drop downs, or offer auto-complete functionality to guide users through the searching process.

Once a user has run a search, they can browse the results, modify their search, or find contrasting songs, which is another nice feature. It takes the basic search criteria in terms of age and voice type and flips the results from Comedic to Dramatic or vice versa. Users can also build song lists from results.

Database listings for each song include most searchable metadata as well as links to Wikipedia pages for shows, composers, and lyricists, and a Comments field with additional information about the songs. The listings also include links to find sheet music and recordings. These latter links include a variety of vendors like MusicNotes, SheetMusicPlus, Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify, free sites like IMSLP for public domain scores, and WorldCat for library holdings. Amazon and YouTube search boxes are embedded at the bottom of the page. The WorldCat links go to canned title and format searchers, so there are sometime irrelevant results depending on the song in questions.

Composers represented in the database are largely well-known musical theater figures, but the site is open to any composer who wants to submit and there is no charge for composers to include their content in the database.

The Help section of the site includes two main parts. First is a Glossary, which provides definitions of common musical theater terminology as well as words or phrases used in the database. For example, this is where you’d find a detailed listing of how they define Difficulty for Accompanist. Second is a series of Frequently Asked Questions. Most of the questions included in this section are about how to get access to notated or recorded versions of songs. The site provides some guidance on using WorldCat, including suggesting users make note of OCLC numbers when requesting items at their library.

Overall, this is a very specific tool with limited utility, but it is fantastic at that very specific thing that it does and would be valuable for libraries with moderate to heavy use from patrons interested in musical theater.

Lindy Smith, Reference Archivist

Bowling Green State University Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives