Some people say that music isn’t what it used to be. I know what some people mean when they say this. But, for the most part, the fact that music isn’t what it used to be is a good thing. Don’t be fooled; this is a golden age of being a music fan, where nothing is old if it is new to someone. The main trouble isn’t about the lack of good music. During time of fragmented media and the lack of trusted and official curators, it’s often about how to find the best of it. How do you find new music, then?
At the beginning of the year and in the season of resolutions to make positive changes in our lives, I’d like to offer a few starting points to this quest, this hero and heroine’s journey toward your personal musical golden fleece – or fleeces. Like in any journey like that, there are trials and challenges to face. But, these are fun trials and challenges to consider as you get your “find new music” game faces on.
1. Explore music referral sites
Your journey needs a starting point, like any other. Music referral sites are logical places to begin. Sure, this means Spotify and all of the tools it provides to listen to stuff you love, and find stuff you are yet to love. But, that’s not the only route to take (although it’s a really good one!). Don’t forget Soundcloud, Bandcamp, ReverbNation, Allmusic.com, and so, so many others.
2. Explore musical family trees
The next step on our journey to find new music may be taking a closer look at where the music we love has actually come from. No matter what you’re into, the music you love has roots of some kind, whether it’s the blues, soul, disco, jazz, or early 20th century murder ballads. Some roots are deep. Others are just formed, tenuously clinging to new soil. What strains of music inspired that pop hit you love, or the entire back catalogue of that classic rock band you obsess over? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find out.
3. Explore festival line-ups
Music festivals are a great chance to see new acts live that you perhaps wouldn’t have had the chance to find out about otherwise. But, maybe you don’t have the time or inclination to put yourself in the position to be dehydrated and sunburned in a field somewhere wishing they could sort out a different arrangement for bathroom facilities. Even if an outdoor festival isn’t your thing, the line-ups that get published before the event all over the Internet are rich hunting grounds for discovering music you are soon to love. Find who’s playing, and explore their musical catalogues in the comfort of your own, indoor plumbing-equipped, home.
4. Explore a musical genre you don’t know much about
There are a lot of genres of music, many of them ending in “…core”. Find the weirdest one, and dive in. What’s the worst that can happen? Some of the genres we don’t know much about are much older, less trendy. They have expansive, branching cultural significance. Dive into some of these, too. By doing this, you can often find more than just new tracks for a playlist.
5. Explore a musical genre you think you hate or don’t understand
When you were a kid, maybe you hated eating your vegetables. Now that you’re grown up, you love them (because you don’t boil the hell out of them the way your grandparents did, mainly). It’s the same with music. Think of a genre that are the “vegetables” of your musical world. Get stuck into a generous helping and discover your new set of tastebuds.
6. Learn about the work of a master
The history of music is lit up with brilliant men who were imbued with almost supernatural instincts to push the musical envelope, from J.S Bach to Duke Ellington, to David Bowie, to Prince, and beyond. Learn about them. Explore their key works via streaming services and referral sites. Figure out who they were influenced by, and figure out why music is different because of them. It will open up a whole new world.
7. Learn about the work of a matron
For every Elvis Presley, there’s a Wanda Jackson. For every Muddy Waters, there’s a Big Mama Thornton. Despite being left behind by history a lot of the time, so many women have changed the course of the musical river. Just as you did with the old masters, explore the great women of music, present in every genre even if their thunder was very often stolen by the male dominated music industry. There’s Bessie Smith, Etta James, Laura Nyro, Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell and so many other names to use as your starting point into music that you perhaps never considered from artists who had a glass ceiling to contend with while creating world-changing art.
8. Seek out music of another culture that’s not in your language
The world is a big place. And in it, glorious music is made and in all languages and on a variety of instruments, too. What countries have you always been interested in? What languages have you always wanted to learn? What cultures are the most facscinating or mysterious to you? The answers to these questions may be your ticket to loving a new form of music, and maybe give you a greater understanding of why you love the music in your own culture, too.
9. Find a music blog
I mentioned the absence of official curators for finding new music in this age of fragmented media. But, there are plenty non-official ones to be trusted out there who are passionate fonts of knowledge. Sometimes, becoming a member of their subscriber community is your ticket to finding your new favourite act. Use WordPress.com discovery to find genres and musical terms, and away you go!
10. Find a music podcast
The same principles apply to podcasts for those of you who like to keep your headphones on. A logical place to start for many is iTunes. Another is NPR. Sometimes, it’s just a question of finding out what some of your friends are listening to and sharing on social platforms. That’s how I found Sodajerker.com, which is an interview podcast featuring respected songwriters, some of whom I knew already, and others that I didn’t know I’d admire so much until after I heard them talk about their craft. And speaking of interviews …
11. Read and/or watch interviews with musicians
No matter what type of music they make, the best musicians and songwriters are music fans themselves. That’s how they feed their art. In addition to selling records and selling themselves in interviews, they often give away their current playlists, and talk about their influences, and those peers they most admire musically speaking. Keep your eyes and ears open. YouTube is your friend. So are the websites and print versions of Rolling Stone, MOJO, Pitchfork, Clash, Uncut, and so many others.
12. Watch a movie bio or concert film
Access to musical content is at an all-time high. Remember: it’s a golden age! This is your chance to scour Netflix for the many, many music bios, documentaries, and concert films that are on offer. Some of these will reveal details to you about the music that you never considered, adding emotional gravity that can spark true love in a listener. Twenty Feet From Stardom, The Wrecking Crew, Keep On Keepin’ On, and Muscle Shoals are personal recommendations.
13. Embrace jazz
Some of you are way ahead of me on this score, of course. But, for those who are shy of a sometimes intimidating set of genres that can be identified under the “jazz” catagory, it is worth the investment. Maybe it won’t work out for you. But, I will say this: my own exploration of jazz introduced me to the American songbook, which contains some of the most structurally perfect and melodically innovative music of the twentieth century. Even if that’s all you come away with, that’s quite a musical haul. It can lead to a greater appreciation for music of all kinds.
14. Go to the library
This may seem kind of old school by 2016. But, the local library is still an important pillar to democratizing information and culture, including music. In the New West library alone, there are plenty of resources to help you to find new music, from audio, to video, to books about music history and the life stories of musicians and the key figures that have moved music to where it is today. Get out your library card and take advantage of one of the hallmarks of civilization itself, no Internet connection required.
15. Catch a live, local show
In nearly every case, the greatest musical eras and movements of our time have sprung from local scenes, whether the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s, to rainy Seattle at the end of the eighties. Right now, there are musicians performing, or getting ready to perform, at a venue near you. At the Heritage Grill on Columbia Street, there is live music every day of the week. That’s just one venue! All our local scenes need is a fresh audience. We can all help with that, right? In return, this is a great way to learn new songs, and come to better appreciate old ones re-tooled by local musicians.
If you’ve followed some of the paths to new music above, why not spread the love? It doesn’t matter that the technology has changed. Even in 2016, the mixtape (or Spotify playlist, by now) is still the universal way for the music fan to say “I love you”. And it’s still one of the best ways to learn about and come to love new music, too. When it comes to being proactive about expanding your musical horizons and bringing you closer together to other music fans while you’re at it, nothing beats it, friends.
Music is a necessity to life, not a luxury. We need it. So, when we introduce new music into our lives, it’s an act of self-care. If this is your resolution this year, then you’re starting in the right place.
Again, this is a golden age of musical discovery, with so many paths to enlightenment available to us than ever before in the history of the world. There’s never been a time when the idea of “old music” has become so antiquated as a term. If it’s new to you, then it is new! Get out there and discover it. And like the masters of the musical craft have done before you, pass it on once you’ve found it. That’s never been easier, either.
Journey forth, good people. And tell us what you find in the comments section of this post.