Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly listening to the same music. I have a fairly substantial music library but I’ve only ever listened to a small percentage of it. I’d consider myself a music lover, but I often become overwhelmed with the idea of trying to find something new and exciting to listen to. After becoming stressed-out over the music that’s supposed to bring joy to my life, I either settle on NPR or mindlessly flipping through the Top 40 stations trying to find something I don’t hate.
For some reason I didn’t used to have this problem, but recently, finding new bands and music has become a lot of work. When I was in college, I was a DJ at the college radio station (shout out to WXJM!), and this proved to be a great asset for discovering new music. I had the entire radio station library at my disposal to search through and find things I enjoyed. And more importantly, I had other like-minded DJs that were eager to share new music with me.
After graduation, though, it became increasingly difficult to sate my musical appetite. I was approached by my good friend, and One of Us editor, Dimitry to write a post about how to find new music. My reaction was, “I have no idea how to find new music,” to which Dimitry replied, “That sounds like a pretty good place to start.” At first I got pretty bummed, being the music-lover that I am, that I didn’t know where to turn for new tunes. It was easy when I was in school, but actively working at it was something that I felt was unnatural and scary. But there’s no better time to figure it out than now, and as Dimitry was implying, there’s no better place to start than at the top.
I should probably preface this by saying that these are just suggestions. Obviously, there are other ways to discover new music; I’ve just compiled a short list.
Independent/College Radio – As I said earlier, having my own college radio show helped me build my library and discover some really great music. Maybe there’s a college near you with a killer radio station (second shout out to WXJM), but if not, many college radio stations have online streaming service available for those who are outside of the broadcasting range. In addition, the station’s website may keep a running list of recently played tracks, so if you hear something you like, you can head there and find out what it’s called. Other places might have an independent radio station that isn’t affiliated with any university that plays some great stuff. Be warned though: not all college radio is created equal. Some radio stations will be better than others.
Festivals – I’m not much of a festival-goer. If I’m going to camp, then I’m going to go camping. If I’m going to go to a show, then I’m going to go to a show. They’re mutually exclusive. After a full day of standing around in the sun/mud do you really want to stand in line for a shower? My personal aversion to festivals aside, they are a great place to scope some new bands. Your favorite band isn’t playing until later? You might as well head over to another stage and see what everyone else has to offer. Don’t be like me and just look up the festival lineups and then YouTube the bands you’ve never heard of. That’s just lazy.
The Support Act for Your Favorite Band – Check out to see who is opening up for your favorite band on their most recent tour. A lot of times these bands are touring together for a reason, whether it’s because they are stylistically similar or because they share the same agent. Most of the time we suffer through the openers and clap politely, but we’re secretly glad when they leave the stage. Why don’t we just give them a chance? We’ve already paid for the ticket. Sure, sometimes the opener is actually really bad, but I’ve often been surprised with how much I actually enjoyed some of the supporting acts I’ve seen. And if you’re really digging the opener, go over to their merch table and pick up a CD.
TV Shows/Movies – Anyone remember the show called The OC? I guess it was a show about the struggles affluent white kids face growing up in Newport Beach. The show, however, had a really killer soundtrack. Wanna get a glimpse into what indie-music was up to between 2003 and 2007? Pick up The OC soundtracks. I’m not afraid to admit that a lot of those songs are really good. Anyway, the point is that some TV shows are really good about picking decent music. I know that How I Met Your Mother (last episode aside) would occasionally have a decent song in the background. Figuring these songs out can be a little tricky because sometimes they won’t be in the credits. I’ll let you get creative. Also, I know that movie soundtracks can often times be pretty lame, but sometimes they can be really awesome. You’ll notice, though, that some songs will show up in a trailer for a movie but it’s not actually in the soundtrack. I distinctively remember hearing “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap on about 8 different movie trailers but never actually seeing it in the movie. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open.
What Are They Playing in Your Favorite Bars/Restaurants/Retail Store? – Have you ever been sitting at a bar or restaurant and thought “Hey this kinda sounds like a cool song” or “I’ve heard this song before I wonder who it is”? That’s the perfect opportunity to dig a little deeper. This is probably a situation where one of those “what-am-I-hearing-right-now?” apps comes in handy. You’re going to want to channel your inner Clint Eastwood and quick draw the Shazam app (or whichever music-matching app you use) like you’ve just taken your tenth step at a duel. For best results, have the app on the home screen of your phone in a place where you can tap it quickly. Nothing’s worse than fumbling around your phone’s application menus looking for Shazam, only to find it as the song ends.
Sometimes, you can opt to ditch the app and employ a personal touch. I specifically remember standing in some department store, holding my girlfriend’s purse (because that’s your duty as a boyfriend) and thinking “this store is playing some really awesome tunes. I need to talk to whoever made this playlist.” I accept that most restaurants/bars/retail stores are probably just playing Pandora (which isn’t really a bad suggestion to find new music. It just felt a little obvious for this list), but you should at least make friends with whoever picked the station.
Radio Shows & Podcasts – Have you ever heard Marketplace on NPR? You might think that a show that’s all about dissecting the financial news of the day would have a pretty dull soundtrack, but you’d be absolutely wrong. Whoever picks the tracks that play between that show’s segments has incredible taste. On one episode of Marketplace, you can hear Dr. Dre, Chromeo, Count Basie, The Mountain Goats, Pete Rock, The Roots, and other fantastic recording artists of the past and present. Marketplace also compiles the songs played on the show and links you to sites where you can listen to and purchase them. Another public radio show, Snap Judgment (which is basically This American Life with better music), features some great tunes from smaller, independent artists. The people who create the radio shows and podcasts we love are surrounded by audio all day, so of course they’re more likely to develop good taste. If you like the music on a show, do some digging to find out what they’re playing.
Dig Deep Into a Discography – Is there a band that you enjoy but you only have one of their albums? Go ahead and listen to the rest of them. A few years ago I decided I needed to listen to Wilco. The Wilco bandwagon had completely passed me over, but I felt like they were a band I needed to be familiar with, and I thought I would enjoy their music. What was holding me back, though, was how daunting their discography was. I had no idea where to start, which albums “represented” them the most, etc. The only thing I could do was jump straight in. I just sat down and listened to as many of their albums as I could get my hands on.
It’s pretty easy to fall into a musical rut and, like me, just flip radio stations all day. It’s also pretty easy to get discouraged with the amount of music that’s being offered to you currently. Sometimes it feels like being a music-lover is like being in a relationship: it can be a lot of work, but if you’re willing to do it, you’ll be rewarded handsomely. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open, and be willing to take a few chances. Sure, not everything is going to work out, and you’ll end up listening to a few things you might not like. The only thing you have to lose is your time, and if it’s time spent listening to music, it’s not really time lost.
How often do you find yourself fatigued with your music library? What are some methods you use to find new music? Share your ideas in the comments!