How to Discover New Music
I listen to a lot of music. Like, a LOT of music. Granted, I write about music and engage with the industry much more actively than the average listener, but I do listen to a lot of music. How much music you listen to is somewhat dependent on HOW you listen to music, and that’s certainly a part of this conversation.
Thomas Seraydarian, friend of Merry-Go-Round Music and creator of Crossfader (a site worth clicking through to), listened to 1,000 (!) albums in the calendar year 2015 and, in his own words, “moderation truly is key.” I listen to roughly 200-250 albums a year and I can’t even fathom multiplying that number by four or five. In the same breath, I know many people who love music, love occasionally writing about it, and probably only hear maybe 100 albums a year. What I’m saying is this: There isn’t a right way to be a fan of music and I think its an important thing to remember going into this article.
Obviously, the number of albums or songs you listen to in any given amount of time is absolutely irrelevant. In some ways, that opening paragraph probably comes off as a weird humble brag tied in with a shout out to another website, and I’ll take it – it kind of IS a humble brag and it was most certainly a shout out to another website (seriously, I’ll link to it again). It’s hard work to listen to that much music! And it’s harder work to score them, rank them, and put them on a list like a freaking nerd – I’ll own up to that. But the question I’ve gotten more frequently in the 6-7 years I’ve been doing this in some capacity, and one I think similar types of music listeners get, is “How do you learn about these bands?” And this is a great question! So I’ve compiled this extensive guide on how to learn about new bands including a resource guide at the bottom!
1. Make Time
Traditionally, being asked “How do you learn about these bands?” is either followed or preceded by this question: “How do you have the time?” and those questions are intrinsically linked. If you take the time to listen to music and focus on it a bit, new bands will come. I’ll cite my father, the great Rob Simonson, as being a master of this. My dad is in his 50s and by all accounts doesn’t have to be aware of basically any music released past the year 1993 because that’s what society has dictated. But my dad is a fan of music in general and, in my lifetime, has surprised me dozens of times with the songs he discovers and listens to.
Now of course a small part of this is because he has a son who writes a music blog, but more often than not it is because my dad makes TIME for new songs and embraces the process of searching for classical music, metal music, etc.. By spending a bit of time listening to 30 second clips on iTunes of the new Soul Asylum record, my dad will end up listening to the free iTunes single of the week, look at the recent work of the related artists, or remember to look up a song that was used in a rerun of Chuck he recently saw. My dad knows that discovering new music is actually a natural part of the process presuming you’re spending time engaging it beyond simply pressing play.
2. Embrace the (Internet) Rabbit Hole
The ability to discover new music really shouldn’t be all THAT difficult in the age of the internet deep dive, but surprisingly, it feels like music is very much treated like background music (something not helped by “radio” features and Pandora).
You can’t ask the question “How do you discover all of these bands” without committing to yourself A- a willingness to attempt to find music and B- an acknowledgement that you could be better at doing this. The reality is you’re well equipped to solve this problem yourself, because while you’re asking ME “How do you discover all of these bands”, I’m asking YOU “How do you know a lot about (Insert Thing You Know A Lot About Here)” and the answer for both questions in 2017 is: Embrace the rabbit hole.
Let’s learn via an example. I was watching the trailer a few weeks ago for the movie Gifted, starring the handsome and forever mediocre actor Chris Evans. The trailer concludes with a song I found to be pretty nifty – it felt familiar, was probably by an artist I at least knew but I wasn’t sure, and I wanted to hear it WITHOUT all the familial drama being played over it.
A quick Google search revealed it was a track called “Valleys Of The Young” by Andrew Bird. And with just a small amount of digging, there it was. And that then lead me to realize there was an Andrew Bird album that came out this year that I hadn’t heard – so I listened to that. I liked that song enough that it actually ended up on my end of the year list!
Now, of course, you and I know that traditionally embracing the rabbit hole would be many more steps deeper than:
- Watches Gifted Trailer
- Google Searches the Lyrics From the Song
- Finds Out It’s “Valleys Of The Young” by Andrew Bird
- Listens To New Andrew Bird Album Are You Serious
Nonetheless, you can see the steps in the process and how they relate to Internet deep diving regardless of topic. We’ve all started on a YouTube page learning about the features for the new Pokemon Go! update and somehow ended up learning about famous banned TV episodes with very little way to figure out the steps it took to get to that point, or the sites you had to visit, or the thought process behind it at all. So use the training and desire it took to learn about “Dennō Senshi Porygon” and put it towards music.
3. Embrace the (Streaming Music) Rabbit Hole
Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora… These probably seem fairly obvious as tools to use to learn about new music. But here’s the thing: You’re using them wrong. Your Spotify Discover Weekly mix is great passive listening, just as the radio functions of Pandora and music podcasts are, but they’re useless unless you CHOOSE to do something with it. Write the name of a song down as it comes up on XM radio, click on the artist’s name so you can listen to more music by them, and remember to add that song you liked to a playlist you listen to regularly. Do some research to find out more about the artist and you’ll be surprised at how deep the rabbit hole can actually go.
4. Trust The Artists You Like!
There have literally never been more ways to find out what music the artists you already know are listening to, and this is the BEST way to discover new artists, songs, and albums. Danny Brown loves St. Vincent and David Bowie’s Blackstar! Modern Baseball dig Built to Spill! El-P is into Art of Noise and Mantronix! Really you have to try pretty hard to NOT see what your favorite artists enjoy (Taylor Swift fucking brings them on stage now for Christ sake, it’s not rocket science). It stands to reason that if it’s good enough for (Insert Your Favorite Band Here), it’s probably good enough for you and more often than not, that artist is doing something that is reflective of the music you already enjoy, so it’s a win-win! Be sure to keep an eye out for interviews with your favorite bands, favourite artists, playlists that they’re sharing, or what covers they’re performing in concerts, as all are chalk full of music suggestions you’ll probably enjoy.
5. Trust Friends Whose Opinions You Value!
This one probably seems pretty simple but our own egos tend to screw this one up. In the age of “discovering” music it can be hard to just take someone’s recommendation at face value but nine times out of ten your friend isn’t suggesting a band or an album to you knowing you won’t like it. It’s human instinct to tell people about things we like and for most people that comes through a filter. I’d never suggest a hip-hop album to my dad because I know he wouldn’t like it. Similarly I hope you never suggest a Jimmy Buffett album to me because Jimmy Buffett is trash.
6. Discover Music Websites (Like This One!)
Just because you haven’t heard of an artist that Pitchfork/Stereogum/NPR or whomever is putting over the top doesn’t mean you should instantly avoid it! Believe it or not, a lot of great music is elevated through Pitchfork doling out a Best New Music or Anthony Fantano giving something a 9 and its not just hipsters spewing out ridiculous hipster music to try and turn you into a hipster.
And most of all…
7. Be Proactive!
This has kind of been implied in all of these tips, but you won’t learn about new music or expose yourself to new artists if you don’t do something about it. Don’t read about how The Shins used to be named Flake Music and put out an album called When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return and think to yourself “Oh, that’s interesting.” Go listen to it! Don’t go to a music festival and not have a nice working knowledge of a lot of the artists – some of those guys at the bottom of the list are really great! And don’t say you wish you knew more about Van Halen when you have the tools sitting right in front of you – go expose yourself to it! You’ll be shocked what happens when you just say “Yes” to music. We live in an amazing time where access to all kinds of genres and artists is available at our fingertips. The reality with streaming services is that there is no longer an excuse to not say “Yes”; Go out there and do it!
So take this list of resources and publications to discover new music and be free! I hope this is your year for music discovery.
Starter List of Resources:
- Bandcamp Daily
- Amoeba Records’ What’s In My Bag?
- A Variety of Music Subreddits
- Music Roamer
- KEXP’s Song of the Day Podcast (also on iTunes)
- Hype Machine
- Nardwuar the Human Serviette
Starter List of Publications
- NPR Music
- Brooklyn Vegan
- The Needle Drop
- Resident Advisor
- Tiny Mix Tapes
- Merry-Go-Round Music (Hey! That’s this site!)
List of non-software Streaming Platforms Focusing (Mostly) on Independent Artists: