Music discovery in the age of ‘I just wasted 3 hours on twitter’

I was born in 1990. Which means by the time I was 13, I had heard of the Internet. By 15, I had broadband. By 17, I was downloading music from Limewire and had just figured out what torrents were. By 19, music videos were starting to go on YouTube by the thousands. Then I found Grooveshark. And something called Pandora radio. And on and on it went.

I think finding music as a teen was easier. I had a few friends who would make me mixtapes and burn CDs packed with mp3. But as I entered my early 20s, I found myself thrown into a huge circle of indie musicians in Bangalore. We were playing all sorts of music at parties, plugging in our phones, loading iPods, emailing music and sharing YouTube links. We were attending gigs, where venue managers would put on tastefully curated playlists while we waited for set-up. I had a Shazam app full of names, artists and albums I’d picked up from holding my phone up to the speaker at venues.

The biggest contribution to my music discovery journey, though, came from a small breakfast joint called The Egg Factory. The music they played was my jam. I would spend almost every weekend there, find a table closest to the speakers and spend a few hours looking like an idiot, holding my phone up while I waited for Shazam to identify songs for me. Then one day, I realised this was ridiculous. It was going to take me at least a year to catalogue all that music. I wrote to the proprietor of the restaurant asking for the playlist. He emailed me the entire thing.

Since then, I’ve been on a bit of a rampage scouring the web for efficient ways of discovering new music. Every time I feel like I’ve got a genre figured out, the Internet surprises me with more. Now with scary good algorithms on apps like Spotify and YouTube, there’s no doubt you’ll find something good to listen to. After all, these algorithms are designed to give you more of what you already enjoy. But if, like me, you’re always looking for something new, something to shake you out of your comfort zone, there’s a hack for that.

Look closely at what you’re listening to

Artists are signed to record labels. Record labels have other artists. If you think one artist signed to a particular record label is very good, chances are, you’ll find that others artists signed to the same label are too. You’ll be able to find this information in a number of places. Check artist pages on Spotify and Amazon Music, look in the description boxes of YouTube videos, read Wikipedia pages for artists carefully.

Some Wikipedia pages will also tag associated acts. It’s a good idea to look at who those associated acts are as well! The idea is to let your discovery snowball over a period of time. Wikipedia is how I found out that indie rock band Broken Bells is basically Danger Mouse and James Mercer of The Shins. Danger Mouse also had a project with CeeLo Green – Gnarls Barkley. You get the idea. And I kid you not, every artist Wikipedia page will lead you to at least five new artists you’ll enjoy listening to.

Check artist pages on Spotify and Amazon Music, or look in the description boxes of YouTube videos for the record label every single time

Music is curated everywhere

The biggest gift the Internet has given music is ready curation. We’ll put aside the historical tug-of-war between record labels and Internet music renegades for now. No, seriously, there are some bizarre and strange pages on the web that curate artists, albums and music.

Beginner

Start with a site like tastedive.com and add an artist you like, The site will show you similar artists, you can filter by genre, look at trending music and lists made by other users. Try out a few and see what works for you. This is an easy one-step starter kit.

Intermediate

More research = better results. You’ll really have to put some time and effort into finding new or obscure music. My go-to method is to look at websites that sell vinyls, limited presses and list discographies. Then I do a bit of reading, understand where the artist is coming from, and start listening to ONE song by the artist on YouTube or Spotify. Then I just let the algorithms take over and put it on autopilot.

Advanced

There are multiple things you’ll need to do to really make excellent use of the vast amount of information you have access to. In addition to looking for new artists, reading Wikipedia pages, playing multiple songs, you’ll have to start curating your own music.

Apps like YouTube and Spotify learn every time you add your favourite songs to a playlist. They use this information to show you more similar music. The more you listen to diverse music, the more the apps will show you something new and exciting on the home page. Apps also learn that you’re open to listening to new music. You can teach the apps to surprise you each time you sit down to listen to music. This can mean listening to a ton of stuff you don’t like, just to get to that one song or artist.

Interact with as many music discovery features on these apps as possible. Engage with Your Discover Weekly, save music videos for later on YouTube, start song radios on Spotify, make playlists, follow artist pages, subscribe to record label channels. The more you immerse yourself in the process, the better the results will be.

Your music discovery laundry list

  1. Make playlists and group music together by genre, mood, even time period. Once it plays all the way through, apps like Spotify will continue to play similar music for you.
  2. Read Wikipedia pages of artists, make a list of their associated acts and add them to a playlist or follow these artist pages. Then look at the Wikipedia pages of the associated acts and add those as well. You’ll start growing your lists in no time.
  3. Scour websites that sell vinyl records, go through their catalogues and play a random album on your preferred streaming service. If you like the album, save it in your library. Else – rinse, repeat.
  4. Listen to your entire Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. This can be painful in the beginning. Save the songs you like on the playlist. Then put some time aside to explore each of the artists you liked.
  5. Use a part of your workday when you’re really busy to play random music in the background. Play it during a time of day when you know you won’t be distracted by it. If you like something that plays, pause and save it. Sometimes, discovery takes hours and hours of just playing music.
  6. All music is not for everyone. If you’re absolutely sure a genre or style of music is just not for you, dump it and move on. Focus on what you actually like.
  7. Keep an open mind.

Some resources, websites and completely random collections to help you get started

  1. tastedive.com shows you artists similar to the ones you enter in search
  2. mp3tracka collection of the most nuts jazz albums you’ll find
  3. Jazz & Tzaz MagazineGreek jazz magazine with some fantastic curation
  4. Real World Recordsone of my favourite record labels, you’re sure to find some brilliant artists on here
  5. Discogsgreat for finding hidden gems and looking at the most valuable vinyls
  6. Jazz re:freshedrecord label that’s at the helm of the exploding London jazz scene

Happy listening!

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