Google “ways to discover new music” and no less than 89,800,000 results pop up. Tons of websites, blogs, radio stations broadcasting the old-fashioned way and streamlining online, not to mention music sites like Spotify and Radio Paradise are dedicated to the proposition that all people deserve to discover new tunes.
So why are so many of our needles stuck in the “classic rock” groove, playing the same albums since 1992 — or 1968? Not that there’s anything wrong with continuing to cherish the music we grew up with. For our generation, it would be hard not to: Some of the most enduring music (at least rock, soul, jazz and blues) was made when we were coming of age. But what I find frustrating is the misbegotten mindset that nothing new is worth listening to.
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The Ever-Present Sound of Music
Like so many of my peers, music has always been a huge part of my life. I got a transistor radio when I was in first or second grade, and I would fall asleep listening to it under my pillow every night. I grew up in a bit of a cultural vacuum, but even as a child, it was an unspeakable thrill to hear DJs from hundreds of miles away playing music I’d never heard. We did have a college radio station, and it was at 90.5 on the FM dial that I discovered John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and oh so much more.
Going away to college was an introduction to, well, everything, but I lucked into two DJ gigs — at my own relatively mainstream-college station and at a nearby engineering school’s uber-progressive one, where “format” meant groups like Penguin Café, Plantxy and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. After that, Jethro Tull and Fleetwood Mac just didn’t cut it.
Throughout my 20s it was easy to keep up with music. I lived in New York, where dozens of radio stations exposed us to literally a world of new (and undiscovered old) music, and on any night of the week you could see live performances in all genres, often by the world’s best artists. Then came marriage, motherhood and ever-more-demanding jobs. I still listened to the radio, including John Schaefer’s 30-year-old institution New Sounds on WNYC, but even while I had the interest, I didn't always have the time, or energy, to pursue new music.
As my son got older, he became a great conduit for new music. For every Van Morrison or Elvis Costello his father and I would turn him on to, he’d return the favor with a Radiohead or Smashing Pumpkins. But with the advent of the Internet and decentralization of the music industry, it grew impossible to know the hot bands. There were no more “the”s.
Keeping Up With the Go! Team
Curious about my contemporaries’ experiences, I reached out to a number of them. Apparently I touched a nerve. Almost everyone felt strongly, one way or another, and they essentially fell into two camps: those who make great efforts to keep up with music, and those who’d like to, but, well, you know.
The still-avid followers shared their various strategies, some of which I’ve already followed up on. It was heartening to learn that local radio is still alive and well, in cities large (New York, Chicago, Boston) and small (Lexington, Ky.; Lawrence, Kan.; and Ithaca, N.Y.).
Most brick-and-mortar stations stream online now, but there's also a number of digital-only sites that are well worth listening to (not to mention the panoply of satellite radio stations). Familiar online stations (or music genomes, or streaming sites) include Pandora, Spotify, Radio Paradise, Grooveshark, MOG, Rdio and Jango, but one British pal reaches even further afield. “My favourites have no playlists, no commercials, and intelligent DJs.” He recommends BBC Radio 3, of course; ORF in Vienna, for “cool, weird dance and hip hop”; and Melbourne's PBS radio (no relation), “the home of little-heard music.”
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Some people just keep their ears open at all times. A number noted that movie soundtracks are a fun way to discover new artists, and one resourceful person told me she heard a great song during the Super Bowl a year ago and it haunted her. “I searched the Internet till I found the commercial and downloaded the song. It turned out to be 'We Are Young,' by Fun, and the No. 1 song of 2012!” (Another chum noted that she might have saved herself some time with Soundhound.com, a site for tracking down unfamiliar songs.)
Amazon and iTunes are still go-to places to check out then download new music (for a fee), but there are plenty of other sources, including Paste magazine, South by Southwest as well as plenty of radio stations. Yet many people admitted that their primary source of procuring music is the same as it ever was: their friends’ digital libraries.
And let’s not overlook another great way to expand our horizons. As one of my oldest music-sharing buddies put it: “The 'new' music I discover is mostly old music. Rock, R&B and jazz that I did not pay enough attention to when I was younger is an endless treasure trove.” Sometimes that's as easy as going through the collection of things you own and figured you'd get around to listening to some day.
30 New(ish) Artists Worth Checking Out
In addition to sites and stations, here’s a short list of contemporary artists that friends felt worth giving a shout-out to. May it inspire you to continue your musical journey.
- Aaron Parks
- Alabama Shakes
- Arcade Fire
- Black Keys
- Bomba Estereo
- Brett Dennen
- Django Django
- Fleet Foxes
- Heartless Bastards
- James Carr
- James Carter
- Jason Moran
- K.T. Tunstall
- Kid Koala
- Nada Surf
- New Pornographers
- Porcupine Tree
- Sleigh Bells
- Son Volt
- Ron Sexsmith
- The Go! Team
- The Hold Steady
- Tommy Emmanuel
- Zero 7