Sunday 9 September 2012

Habits : Finding new music

The radio still retains its position as being my main source of new music. Without it, I suspect my music collection would consist solely of a growing number of albums from the 1980s. No bad thing perhaps but, as I've mentioned previously, I start to get an itching urge to hear something new. So the radio, notably BBC Radio 1, tends to be where I go to for the new stuff.

BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 1
Except... I'm aware that it's not enough. As the critics will repeatedly say, Radio 1 isn't especially diverse in its genres. Or at least, to be fair to the station, it's main daytime shows are the narrower ones (specialist shows tend to occur late at night or early morning). And of course there's also the fact that you are likely to hear the same tracks played several times throughout the day, as if they are insisting that you like them. Despite these flaws, I still prefer Radio 1 over any other station. But it does mean that sometimes I still feel like I'm missing out on something else.

So where to after radio? How do I find new music? Well... until very recently, I've not been entirely sure.

PeopleSound CDs
PeopleSound CDs
Way back in the mists of time, when downloading music was becoming possible thanks to new broadband internet connection, I spent a lot of time on a website called PeopleSound. Now it appears that the site no longer exists, but I especially enjoyed it due to a search function which allowed me to type the name of a particular artist I liked, and it would then find people that were creating music in a similar style. Many of the bands and artists were unsigned or quietly releasing EPs, but the quality was generally pretty good. The website even created (monthly? I forget...) a handful of compilations CDs with their own recommendations. At a time when I felt like I was still struggling to catch up on the previous decade's music, finding and enjoying this brand new music filled me with glee.

As time went by, and people started to realise just how lucrative the downloadable-music industry could be, PeopleSound - and other similar websites - started to become less about the new and/or unsigned acts that wanted to promote themselves, and more about existing acts that could buy up some feature space. And so I found myself moving away from such sites.

There are still sites out there that are doing something similar, and even offering more by allowing the artists to sell their music directly to the consumer. But whilst you can browse genres, or see who is currently the highest rated, I don't find it easy to find something that I enjoy. I could trawl through for hours and still not feel like I've discovered something golden.

Until not very long ago, YouTube was definitely the next-best-thing to those old websites I enjoyed. The community aspect of it, the huge volume of videos, and the ease at which you could find something 'related' (and therefore, hopefully, equally enjoyable) to what you were listening to, made it an easy way to lose time to new music. Except, for some reason, YouTube recently changed the format of the music section and now, unless it is in their top-rated/top-viewed charts, it is very difficult to just discover something for yourself. No longer is it simple to just see what the latest upload in the 'music' section is. And for that reason, it frustrates me.

And so, despite the plethora of music-promoting/selling websites that continue to pop up, I've found myself actually going back to the old-fashioned way - albeit with a little Internet-quirk: individual recommendation. Except, it isn't just the case of having a friend with similar tastes say to me, "Hey! Have you heard of a band called...?".

No. This is how I've found new music recently:

  • A band I already enjoy used Twitter to mention a group that they've just begun listening to.
  • An artist I already like tweeted about how he enjoys the work of his newest label-mates
  • A friend on Facebook is in a band of his own, and mentioned the other bands he is sharing a gig with.
  • Facebook's ticker showed me that a friend was using Spotify to listen to an artist I hadn't heard before.

No doubt these methods aren't exactly new and I'm sure many people have been using Twitter (and similar sites) to find new music for quite some time now. But for me it's a new place, and new way, to explore.

plug in music
That's not to say that there isn't a place for music websites anymore. Far from it. I have plenty of time for individuals that blog about the music they personally enjoy, or for websites that are happy to diversify from what I can easily find every hour on Radio 1 (e.g. I still regularly return to Plug In Music, and have been doing so since it began in 2001). I will even risk some time by exploring the 'spolight acts' suggested by the big names in online music because there's still a chance I might find something I really like. But a recommendation from someone whose opinion I respect - whether via Twitter, Facebook, blog, face-to-face, self-run website, etc. - is far better for me than to just check the "most-listened-to" on iTunes.

"If your life had lyrics, would they be any good?" - Doug Coupland