Music Discovery and Acquisition

Anberlin Concert - Anberlin - 19

In light of the semi-recent news that most kids nowadays use Youtube to discover music and that leading to Youtube views being counted for music charts, I thought I’d talk about how I discover and/or acquire new music.  For the record, the wife also uses Youtube to find new songs.  It’s one of the first things she thinks of and I’m always left thinking “Oh yeah”.  How I discover music to listen to depends on a few categories.

1) bands I know I’ll buy no matter what

2) bands where I like a few songs already, but not auto-buy

For the first two categories my primary means of finding out a new album is coming out is a website that uses the API to see which songs I like to listen to.  Whenever a new album is coming out from anyone I’ve every listened to, it comes right to my RSS reader.  If it’s from the first category I put it on Google Calendar and usually add it to my wishlist.  When the album comes out I’ll listen to the 30 second samples to make sure my favorite rap group hasn’t suddenly become a country group.  You might laugh, but the DC Talk of the first three albums barely resembles the DC Talk of the last three albums despite the three guys that make up the group staying exactly the same.  Sometimes listening to the 30 second clip is also enough for me to buy something from category 2.  But those 30 second listens can be quite deceitful.  If it’s not enough, then I use the same technique as I’d use for category 3.

3) bands everyone’s talking about

Some bands just enter the collective consciousness like a meme – PSY, Phoenix (outside the EU), OK GO!, and so on.  Everyone’s talking about the band and I’ve never heard about them.  Well, in that case I try and figure out what their album sounds like.  For some bands, like PSY or OK GO!, going to Youtube is the obvious choice – that’s where they got famous.  Other bands and groups require a bit more work.  So what I do is try to find examples of their music.  (This also goes for category 2) I start out with legitimate sources – music blogs, Youtube (if I remember to do so), artist websites, or in the case of Hip Hop/R&B looking for mixtapes they may have released.  If I can’t find anything, I’ll turn to illegitimate sources.  Wrong? Only in the absolute sense.  Lots of bands release lots of music every week. So an innocuous $10 can easily balloon to $200.  (Shoot, I’ve spent that much on comics by getting a few trades – $10 at a time – it adds up!) I’m trying to get a feel for the band.  And if I DO like it, the band could easily become category 2 or even category 1 – leading to lots of future album sales for the band from me if they’re one of the more prolific bands.  And we don’t have to keep this hypothetical – real bands where I got the music illegitimately which ended up getting money from me: Five Iron Frenzy (back in the CD-R days before P2P got huge), Lucky Boys Confusion and Lostprophets (listened to a track one of my brothers had downloaded – copied it to my computer.  Listened dozens of times – have bought every album since), Anberlin (heard an illicitly obtained version of ReadyFuels that one of my brothers had on his computer – bought that album and every other one since), and the Rent and Avenue Q soundtracks.  In the case of Rent, grabbed a few tracks off Kazaa after I saw it.  Then I wanted the whole album and bought it.  In the case of Avenue Q – got a track off someone’s personal blog.  Loved it! Took about 10 people to see it on Broadway, then bought the soundtrack.  (So they made a LOT of money off of that illicit sharing)

4) Rollingstone, Jamendo, Noisetrade, NPR  All Songs Considered blog

As I’ve mentioned quite a few times on this blog, I really enjoy music, but can’t afford to buy all the new music I’d like to listen to.  I also don’t want to get the music illicitly unless I’m doing exploration as explained above.  So I get free, legit music from (approximately one free track per day), Jamendo (whatever their recommended albums are monthly), Noisetrade (approximately one album per week – sometimes more), free music (but I don’t go there as often as I should), and the NPR All Songs Considered blog.  These are great resources because they get around the issue of category 3 – not knowing how the band sounds.  Of course, it’s also not that easy for these artists to become artists I’ll actively seek out.  I’m constantly getting these new songs and listening to them mixed in with my entire music collection so a song here has to REALLY grab me for the artist to become well-known in my head and someone I’ll look for more music from.  However, that’s not impossible.  Two artists I can think of off the top of my head are Mariachi El Bronx and Amanda Palmer.  Their songs were memorable enough that they’ve gone to category 2 for me.   As for All Songs Considered, I don’t like listening to the podcast because I usually do that when I can’t write the names of the songs I enjoyed.  They have a nice stream, but for some reason I couldn’t get it to match up with what their website said they’d just played – which sucks because I heard some songs I REALLY wanted to buy.

5) Dan recommendations

I don’t know the exact moment it happened, but my brother Dan really got into music discovery.  And Dan likes to share things he likes – movies, music, books, etc. He’s introduced me to Hannibal Buress, Frank Ocean (although that was also part of category 3), April Smith, Jonathan Coulton (although I’d also encountered one of his songs in a podcast), and countless others.  While we often diverge on music, we like enough of the same music that says we’re quite compatible.  The best thing about this source of music is that Dan can play the song for me – so I don’t need to go looking on the web for illicit copies – which has gotten WAAAAAAY more annoying since the death of Napter’s descendents.  He also likes to buy stuff on Google Music which allows him to share an album for one listen (SUPER SMART – I’m shocked Amazon and others haven’t implemented this) which allows me to check it out on my own time instead of trying to listen while we’re also doing something else – even if that’s just watching Scarlett – it can be too distracting for listening to music when trying to figure out if you like it enough to buy.  Also, I like to listen with headphones for the neat things audio engineers do.

April Smith and Lead Guitarist Playing the Accordian

7 responses to “Music Discovery and Acquisition”

  1. That April Smith show in Baltimore was lots of fun. I hope she starts touring around here now that she had her kid.

  2. My apologies in advance for the linkspam, maybe your WordPress filter is killing this comment for the links.

    Can I pitch my resources on the heap? One of my paid writing gigs is at Lyric Interpretations:

    I discover bizarre stuff and share it all the time, or dig up old stuff and blather about fascinating music history aspects. Other writers work there as well, so we learn from each other.

    Other music blogs/sites I’d vouch for:

    * WFMU’s “Beware of the Blog”:

    I’d nominate it for “best culture reading on the web”. It’s the blog that Cory Doctorow dreamed of publishing, before he got sucked into being a soapbox preacher and turned BoingBoing into a battle station for Anonymous. WFMU also has a random playlist generator:

    * Ubuweb:

    Try streaming Ubuweb’s radio. Guaranteed you’ll hear things you’ve never heard before, albeit some of it speeches, “concrete poetry,” radio interviews, and whatnot. They focus on “outsider art”, the avant-garde and other “non-commercial” arts. Freaky, weird, fascinating, always something different.

    * Grooveshark:

    They have some streaming radio stations, easy to find new artists by genre which other listeners recommend.

    * Internet Archive, here’s the Underground Music Archive:

    Maybe that’s well-known.

    Some random blogs and sources I check out:

    * TVTropes music and sound category:

    * The Wire, UK:

    * WeirdoMusic:

    * Brumbeat for the Birmingham scene:

    * It Came From Detroit for the Detroit scene:

    …I’ll knock off there before I take over the post.

  3. OK, I had a whole list of links to online music resources here, but it’s not showing up, so maybe it’s caught in your spam filter…

    • You were right, I have found the offending post and resurrected it. Because of the insane amount of spam I get (relative to the number of actual visitors), one of the most effective ways I have of countering it is having WP automatically throw away any comment with too many links.