Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Journeyman’s Guide to Discovering New Music in the Digital Age

Yes, I'm back at BlogCritics. For, reasons. There are a few things I want to do that necessitate my return. And that'll do for an explanation for now.


A Journeyman’s Guide to Discovering New Music in the Digital Age

“Ways Internet users discover new music online” — Flickr user Ryan Van Etten

My love of music started as a wee lad in 1984. I was already listening to the radio at 8–9 years old. Thought there was some cool stuff out there then, sure. But, to quote John Wilkes Booth from the Broadway show Assassins, the thing that summed it all up and blew it all wide open was Prince’s (RIP) “Let’s Go Crazy.” From there, I heard a cassette of Purple Rain, front to back. And I didn’t look back.

My father (also RIP) also had a large hand in my music fandom. I spent many summers in Baltimore with my dad — and he worked full-time, leaving me home alone as a teenager during the day. When I wasn’t out walking around and exploring the nearby Belair district, I was poring through his record collection discovering all kinds of stuff. The Who. Pink Floyd. Parliament-Funkadelic. Led Zeppelin. Janis Joplin. Just me, his collection, a turntable, and all the time in the world to listen and study.

Taking all of that through the digital age and working my way up to writing for several websites and publications, I’ve interviewed countless artists and musicians at just about every level. All because that passion for music has never left. Which is why, with that introduction out of the way, I decided to share how I come across new music in the digital age.

Now, to be clear. By no means am I promoting my own method as the be-all-end-all process for music discovery. So, none of this “10 Tips YOU NEED TO KNOW RIGHT NOW!” business. I’m an individual. So are you. You could very well find another process that suits and works better for you. My goal here is simply to share my knowledge of over 32 years of fandom and 22 years of music journalism and to provide some suggestions in helping to find new music by sharing how I go about it.

It starts with keeping my eyes and ears open. I have satellite radio with presets for all types of genres. Hip-hop, rock, indie, even show tunes — you name it. The benefits of having a radio service should be fairly obvious. Terrestrial radio serves the same purpose, if that’s your thing. On occasion (read: when I’m in my wife’s car), I also exploit that.

Outside of radio, there are plenty of TV commercials and trailers that can be mined as well. For example, the first trailer for DC’s upcoming movie Suicide Squad featured an indelible version of the Bee Gees’ “I Started a Joke.” I knew of the song, but it was the singer I was most interested in. I found out who it was (for the record, ConfidentialMX feat. Becky Hanson) and now I have two artists I’m interested in hearing more from.

Twelve Foot Ninja: One of my many discoveries
No matter what source I may hear something from, the key is jotting down an artist or song name right quick. Notes apps are plentiful and can be very useful on mobile phones and tablets. (Just ask Taylor Swift.) Mobile keyboards have a microphone input so I can say it and save it. Works for not having to type and drive, for sure.

I also use the Shazam app for remembering something later. In fact, that’s really the sole purpose I use Shazam for — tagging something I hear that I like and want to go back for. This is how I discovered both Phoenix and Twelve Foot Ninja. Whether on OneNote or Shazam, I tend to keep a list of these discoveries for when I can get around to using them. More on that later, I promise.

Aside from paying attention to what’s going on around me, I also try to set aside time to listen to shows or peruse YouTube for videos. With cable television, I had two go-to sources for unearthing new acts to follow. One was mtvU — one of the few MTV channels that actually plays music. Go Figure! Another was Palladia MTV Live — in particular, the show Later… With Jools Holland. For the uninitiated, Later… With Jools Holland is a British music show with several (like, damn-near double digits) acts on each episode. More often than not, I was bound to find someone I’d never heard of. When I heard someone I liked, they went on The List.

What’s above would probably be enough to get a good influx of new music coming in and stopping there. The list is used for purchasing new music once I’ve tried it out, of course. But stopping there would omit what’s probably my favorite step of the process. Besides, I promised, remember?

Pandora: My buddy, my pal for discovering new music
I use a couple music apps when I’m on the go. Spotify is more for going back to stuff I love. Pandora is the one I use for new stuff. (I also use it to substitute for conventional radio, but that’s another how-to post for another how-to time.) In fact, I have a specific station for it. I make liberal use of the “Add Variety” function to the station and plug in the names of artists and songs I’ve gathered up along the way. Once they’re added, I simply hit play and let the algorithm do the rest of the work. Someone comes up I dig on? Cool! Hit the “Thumbs Up” on the song and jot them down in The List to listen to more from and possibly purchase later. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

I hope sharing this helps you find some ways to find stuff you love. Music is more than a disposable background for me. I’m probably not alone in having life’s moments, trials, and tribulations defined by this form of art and recognizing how important it has been to me. Sharing how others might find that new musical love of their life is just a small way of giving back.

Originally published on