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Finding New Music Worth Listening To
July 18, 2005 7:54 PM   Subscribe

How does everyone keep up with new music? Over the past year, blind luck and close reading of a few blogs turned me on to some music I'm glad I didn't miss (Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem). Work and other obligations prevent me from listening to KCRW, KEXP or some other "hip" radio stream all day, and I just don't have the time to read through x-amount of MP3 blogs a day looking for the next exciting thing. Pitchfork's 'Best New Music' feature is helpful, but I'd like something more. Ideally, I'd like a podcast of non-podsafe (i.e., whatever's new and good, signed or otherwise) music or a single blogger who posts frequently and writes well. I'm not looking for a bootlegging outlet, just a reliable source for direction on what's new and worth my time.
posted by boombot to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've been trolling in iTunes - which I think you can access via download regardless of whether you have an iPod. I browse around in the Celebrity and iMix mixes for people who seem to have similar tastes to mine and then I just start listening to their chosen songs. From there I can learn more about new-to-me artists and see who fans of those artists also like.

Also the Gnod site queries you for three artists you like and then makes a series of suggestions.
posted by garbo at 8:03 PM on July 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


E-music.com is not a blog, but it is the best thing to happen to online music ever. Cheep music, decent reviews, the chance to listen before you decide, and anything you download, can be downloaded repeatedly. They also connect you to people who have downloaded the samethings you have so you can check thier ratings and see what else they have downloaded and rated. A great way to expand what you listen to.
posted by iwouldificould at 8:15 PM on July 18, 2005


I hear you on the difficulties of finding new stuff.

I use garbo's technique of "people who bought X also bought Y" in iTunes and Amazon. I'll "try out" the music via P2P. Speaking of P2P... my client lets me browse others' shared music of artists I like. That's a real crapshoot though.

I also use the time in my car to listen to music on sat radio to listen for new stuff.

Also, chat up your friends with similar musical tastes and see what they're listening to [they might be busy like you, but they also might have heard of a someone you like].

It is a chore. When I was a kid we had a TV station called MTV that played music all the time so it was easy to hear new stuff. Too bad there isn't something like that now.
posted by birdherder at 8:29 PM on July 18, 2005


Believe it or not, over the past year my primary source of new music is the "help me make a mix" threads here on AskMe. Seriously. I'm able to tell from the songs each person posts whether their taste is close to mine. If it is, I try the songs they suggest that I've never heard of. I've learned to ignore some people's suggestions completely (namely people who think their taste in music is so hip it hurts), while others I can totally rely upon. It's a blast to find music this way.

Check out the old AskMe threads. Seriously.
posted by jdroth at 8:31 PM on July 18, 2005


In addition to Pitchfork and iTunes, I also check out some of the lists on Amazon that pop up when I search for artists I like (as mentioned by birdherder).

I also subscribe to Launchcast. Not sure if you're familiar with it, but you basically create your own online station based on music you rank. Every so often it plays new music you might like based on your rankings. Launchcast also has some really good stations that feature new music. You can join for free but I highly recommend subscribing -- there are no commercials, you get access to more stations, you get better sound quality, and you have the option to skip songs as often as you want.
posted by awegz at 8:38 PM on July 18, 2005


I look for lists of "top music" and force myself to download and listen to anything that I haven't heard before, especially if it shows up on several lists.

I also like Metacritic and Audioscrobbler to discover new artists or songs from artists I've just discovered.
posted by kdern at 8:51 PM on July 18, 2005


Almost-self-link ahead: My hipper-than-me colleagues write a weekly music column for MSNBC.com called Independent Study. Past bands have included Arcade Fire, The Go! Team, The Catch, Pernice Brothers, Brazilian Girls, etc. They always offer three free song samples on each week's column so you can hear the artist they're talking about.

Here's the latest one, new ones appear every Friday on the front of the Music section.
posted by GaelFC at 9:02 PM on July 18, 2005


I'd like to second the recommendations for Audioscrobbler (and, I suppose, last.fm), AskMe and Amazon's people-also-bought feature. Besides those, I like tofuhut's exhaustive list of mp3 blogs, and Soulseek, a heavily music-focused P2P program which allows browsing people's collections.
posted by box at 9:04 PM on July 18, 2005


(namely people who think their taste in music is so hip it hurts)

I swore that link was going to go here.

Third for Audioscrobbler (join the Mefi Group). Your profile is cross-registered at last.fm, which has has a much crappier interface, but has awesome profile radio. You can listen here to listen to music recommended by my "musical neighbors," though I've never been quite sure what to make of it (my musical neighbors seem to have shitty taste) — but for a few dollars a month (it's choose-your-own-donation), you can even listen to randomly selected songs from a given profile.
posted by rafter at 9:12 PM on July 18, 2005


(Or even go here and listen to Metafilter Radio!)
posted by rafter at 9:14 PM on July 18, 2005


I use emusic. It is indeed an awesome service.

I also read Mefi music threads and buy everything jonmc hates.
posted by dobbs at 9:37 PM on July 18, 2005


Scenestars
posted by abbyladybug at 9:55 PM on July 18, 2005


I signed up for Other Music's weekly mailings after reading about it in a similar AskMe thread not too long ago, and I have been quite happy with the quality of music I've discovered through it.
posted by kindall at 11:07 PM on July 18, 2005


I've never had much help using recommendation services or similar artist engines. But I prefer hearing about new music via individual people. Particularly those whose tastes align closely enough to mine that there's common ground, but where we're different enough to make it exciting. It's having that voice and that individualized filter on the world (particularly indie rock) that draws me to the music blogs and the mp3 blogs.

My short list of recommendations for you given the artists you've listed would be Said the Gramophone (huge Arcade Fire fans from the start), You Ain't No Picasso, Catbirdseat, Mystery & Misery, Carl Wilson's Zoilus and The Big Ticket. All of these blogs post regularly, but not several times a day, so I never feel overwhelmed.

My podcast picks in a similar vein would be CBC's Radio 3 (all independent Canadian artists), Donewaiting, and Up the Tree. I tend to favor podcasts who have full length songs.

Additionally, Aquarius Records has a lengthy and exhaustive new releases list. And Plan B magazine has some of the best new music writing around. And there's the old fashioned ways: ask some music nerd friends what they're really passionate about these days, nose around to what record store clerks have spinning when you're in a store, get out and see up and coming bands opening for bigger name headliners, and ask the fans up front what they're listening to.
posted by kathryn at 12:10 AM on July 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


I'd consider myself one of the "music nerd" people kathryn references, and am doing just fine without blogs or podcasts at all. I can go more in depth if you want, but it's not exactly the kind of answer you seem to be looking for.
posted by hototogisu at 1:25 AM on July 19, 2005


Try Indy, which is an application that plays new music and downloads songs to your computer, based on your ratings of the tracks you receive.

I've found a couple of new artists through Indy; if you like to hear new independent artists, you should try it.
posted by lambchop1 at 1:31 AM on July 19, 2005


There is already more good music in the world than I will ever have a chance to listen too, so there seems little point in paying any special attention to the new - there are easier pickings elsewhere where time and people have already sifted the wheat from the chaff.

As the Emperor said to Vader "In time, he will seek you out" - New music, if it's good, will find me through no effort of my own, in a few months/years, via friends, events, movies, etc. There is no rush. Music doesn't have to be new to have merit, and it doesn't have merit because it's new.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:39 AM on July 19, 2005


Aww. I'm so hip that it hurts? For making fun of Third Eye Blind? That's a really low bar.

Here's how I find out about new music: First off, I cheat. I get sent stuff at work, but mostly through local artists. But that doesn't do much for me on national or international artists. Second off, I listen to freeform radio on WCBN.org and WFMU.org. Third, I bug my friends and family for mix discs. My father has good taste in jazz, my brother has good taste in hip hop. I don't like everything they do, but there's a decent bit of overlap and I've gotten good at articulating why I like things, so they know what to get me. Fourth, I'd emphasize that articulating why you like something is really important if you want to find more. Why do you like the Arcade Fire? Why don't you like, say, TV on the Radio? (Unless, of course, you do.) Once you can articulate why you like something, you can talk to other people about it and get more out of them. And you can not look like a doofus at the record store in front of the hipsters. (It's sometimes important to remember that everyone has totally subjective tastes, but if they can say why they like Third Eye Blind and be honest about it, I can give 'em ten more bands that they'd probably enjoy). Fifth, I check out record stores I trust, and buy things that look interesting. Dusty Grooves in Chicago is one of those places. I spent about $70 on soul and funk comps the last time I was in there, and ended up with three good albums (and a bunch of neat tracks on lamer albums). If you go to a place where you can listen to the albums, it's even easier. Sixth (and note how far down on the list it is), I check out blogs and other media. I've found a decent number of things on mp3 from the Tofuhut or whatever, but most things that I find, I then find that I have a hard time tracking down the album. Seventh, I check out music magazines that do a good job covering what I like, and I try to buy the ones that come with samplers (like Pop Culture Press and Uncut. CMJ used to be good, but now kinda sucks ass). Eighth, I check out Pitchfork every couple of months, to see what they're up to. I don't find them very reliable, but their lists of what's coming out is usually a good way to stay up to date.
Oh, and finally (and this is so important that it should have been listed earlier), I go out and see a lot of live music. For five bucks, I can see three bands, and usually at least one of them is good enough to buy an album from. Support your local music scene, and you're pretty much guaranteed to find good stuff. Try to do that at least twice a week (though I do it less anymore, now that I'm poor).
posted by klangklangston at 1:43 AM on July 19, 2005


Onion AV Club
posted by yerfatma at 4:23 AM on July 19, 2005


Another vote for Audioscrobbler and last.fm. In case you can't be bothered to follow the links ;-) the deal is:

Download a plugin for your favourite audio player, from Audioscrobbler. Most of the major players are covered. This will read meta information from the file, for example the ID3 tags in MP3s, and report back to Audioscrobbler about what you're listening to. Obviously you need the meta data to be good. Check out Musicbrainz for that.

After you've built up a reasonable amount of data, Audioscrobbler will allow you to see your musical "neighbours" i.e. people who like similar stuff. You can also add people manually. There's a whole community thing there too, with forums and all that sort of stuff.

Last.fm is where it really comes into its own. For no cost, you can listen to streaming broadcasts of tunes selected from people who like artists that you list. For a voluntary subscription, you can get profile-based radio.

It really does rock. The interface isn't 100% perfect, and the sound quality is obviously not audiophile standard. But you can't beat it for listening to random music that you may not have heard, but stand a good chance of liking. My laptop is now plugged into my hi-fi where the radio used to be. Now, if I could get round to ripping BBC Radio 4 streams, I'd never need to miss any radio ever again....!
posted by ajp at 5:30 AM on July 19, 2005


I read stereogum, a great, well-written blog featuring new music, mp3s and gossip.
posted by necessitas at 5:44 AM on July 19, 2005


I used to listen to Last.FM a lot, but now I'm into Hype Machine, which groups postings by mp3 blogs and feeds you a playlist you can listen to in winamp, itunes, or Hype Machine's own Flash player. They mirror the files, so blogs' bandwidth is protected, and each song includes links to the file, the blog post, and purchase opportunities. I've just started with it, but I like it a lot. Anyone else?
posted by Mngo at 6:16 AM on July 19, 2005


Free, legal MP3s from:
insound
epitonic
3hive
Better Propaganda
Salon audiofile (may be members only, I'm not sure)

Most of these places have "groups like" links and/or genre categories so you can follow stuff around to find connections to things you already know you like.
posted by matildaben at 7:16 AM on July 19, 2005


Second off, I listen to freeform radio on WCBN.org and WFMU.org.

Well, this explains your hipper than thou-ness. As a former Music Director, Board of Directors Member, and DJ at WCBN, I know your kind very well. I used to love it in record review meetings when all the cutting edge douche bags would turn their noses up at anything on a major label. Have fun narrowing your options, people. I prefer to find a reason to enjoy things, rather than a reason to dismiss them. Except for modern country. That gets no mercy.
posted by spicynuts at 10:53 AM on July 19, 2005


Another vote for You Ain't No Picasso.

Fourth, I'd emphasize that articulating why you like something is really important if you want to find more. Once you can articulate why you like something, you can talk to other people about it and get more out of them.

Good advice.

I go out and see a lot of live music. For five bucks, I can see three bands, and usually at least one of them is good enough to buy an album from. Support your local music scene, and you're pretty much guaranteed to find good stuff.

Also good advice.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:19 AM on July 19, 2005


No offense guys, but all of you mocking klangklangston for his "hipper-than-thou-ness" come off as peasents mocking a middle classer for his wealth. It's mostly just shabby, and not really that accurate. Maybe he is hipper-than-thou, but jdroth's linked post doesn't have any surprises in it, unless you think The Pixies make him guilty.

Since several others have gone the non-blog route, here's what I do:

First I read a bunch of online music publications. I don't agree with a good deal of their conclusions, but I usually don't find fault with their descriptions of genre or style.
These, in particular:

The much-loathed Pitchfork (quite irrationally, most of the time).

Stylus Magazine. Generally, everything people say is wrong with Pitchfork I find to be true about Stylus. They do have some swell writers, and some very cool features in the archives.

Tiny Mix Tapes. More like what Pitchfork used to be: bitchy, obnoxious, funny, and very blatantly taking the piss. I haven't quite figured out individual reviewers tastes just yet, but I don't find myself hating their reviews outright.

Fake Jazz. Most of the reviews are a bit too breathless, and the people chiming in on the "rating-by-consensus"-part haven't quite gotten the "I don't like it" != "It's bad" thing down yet, but a lot of the music reviewed slips through the cracks at the bigger websites--at the least, it can be good for getting an impression of what a piece of music sounds like.

The Milk Factory. Their reviews tend to be more than a little breathless and gushing, and definitely tilted towards electronic releases, but then again, it isn't Rolling Stone.

Dusted is easily my favorite--good reviews of weird things--lots of improv, lots of crazy electronic things, and so on. It's basically an online counterpart to Wire. Lots of interesting features--each Friday, they get two artists to list ~10 things they're currently listening to, or were greatly influential to them in the past. They seem to be a year or so ahead of the curve too--they were hyping Wolf Eyes a helluva long time before they ever put that Sub Pop album out, for example.

Secondly, I subscribe to the Forced Exposure mailing list. A ~weekly list of all the new things they're carrying this week. All kinds of crazy things from all kinds of tiny labels--they can be very good about picking up some of the things that slip through the cracks (at least, in North America...there are other companies for other locations, but I've got no need of them, really. It's not like I can afford these things anyway!).

Also, I'm with Kathryn on the Aquarius mailing list. It's good to have real humans reviewing things, and not just listing them for you. As my local record store guy says, "they're good, salt of the earth people. Give 'em a call if you need help with something--they've all always been good to me."

I'm generally not impressed with print publications, but I love Wire without any guilt at all. A lot of people find them pretentious (and I'm sure I find a lot of people ignorant and boring, but it's besides the point)--John Peel even referred to their "adventures in high seriousness" or something like that, but then pointed out that he still read them every month. I like their approach to music, and I find mine has become identical with it. As far as Wire's concerned, you can like obscure free jazz *and* indie rock *and* mainstream hip hop *and* modern composition from New Zealand and so on...It's refreshing to see that much enthusiasm for everything they can get their hands on. Also, somewhere on the website is a list of online music publications--that's how I found Dusted, for example. The only problem with this mag is that it can be pretty damn expensive (offset by the fact that it's a writer-owned cooperative and they try and avoid The Man's distribution channels and infrastructure when they can). I'd say it's worth it, for me at least.

There are also lots of good, legal mp3 websites out there--epitonic, as someone mentioned above is pretty good, but I disagree with some of their stylistic partitioning, and I also would rather have whole albums, not just a few isolated tracks. Definitely good for checking new artists out, if you want.

Finally, tune into your local scene. You might not have a local college radio station (this might be a blessing--some college radio is busy playing 100% Less Than Jake, ALL THE TIME BABY YEAH), but you might have a community radio station...KDHX, in St. Louis, is weirder than most college stations, and run by adults to boot! Find a good, weird station you like, listen as much as you can, and call and talk to the DJs about what they're playing. I'm a DJ, and I love it when people call in to do more than just ask who's playing, or ask me to play Less Than Jake while I'm busy playing Squarepusher or something =)

(if lacking acceptable radio, you can always bother other people on Soulseek and rummage through their mp3s. About half of my requests for knowledge get ignored, but the other half are answered quite nicely, and I always try and help people out when they ask. Even if you don't want to download anything, Soulseek could be useful as hell).

Go to concerts--I'm not sure I agree with klangklangston on his appreciation of local artists' quality--I doubt 1/3 of what's available to me is really good enough to make it past the "seeing them live when I get around to it" phase, but the fraction that are can be amazing. Besides, if you don't like these artists per se, but like elements about them, you can always hunt down their influences and have a lot of fun.
posted by hototogisu at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


Damnit, I knew I forgot things:

These *are* blogs, but not mp3 blogs per se...

Momus. He's a rather bawdy, bizarre electropop-cabaret kind of artist. A lot of his writings are on design and literature and whatever weird thing he was thinking about that day, but a lot of it deals with music and music-based performance art. It's the kind of writing that makes me hope I get to meet him one of these days--seems like he'd be a swell guy.

Last Plane to Jakarta is John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (well, most of the time he IS the Mountain Goats). He loves all kinds of music, even death metal! Always fun to read.

PostClassic is composer, scholar, and professor Kyle Gann's blog. Definitely concerned with the "downtown" and "uptown" divide in modern composition, and he is most certainly of a downtown bent. I've found several new composers just through his writing. There's also a web radio station on there--he's got it programmed with all kinds of crazy things I've never been able to find via P2P, and it's definitely worth a shot if you're looking for more than just rock music.

The Rest is Noise is Alex Ross, the New Yorker's music critic's blog. Good stuff, but I think he's on vacation at the moment.

More? Who knows!
posted by hototogisu at 1:09 PM on July 19, 2005


Second vote for The Catbirdseat. Unashamedly indie-pop-rock heavy. Not overwhelming, not overbearing.
posted by gramschmidt at 2:38 PM on July 19, 2005


Check out
Great site updated daily with free downloads and links to music news stories. It's one of those sites that makes you wonder how he finds time to maintain it and still work for a living.
posted by Harvey Birdman at 4:45 PM on July 19, 2005


Um, that's supposed to be Largehearted Boy
posted by Harvey Birdman at 4:46 PM on July 19, 2005


I second Aquarius Records, although they're best if you're into metal, psychedelic rock, folk, or experimental stuff. Beyond that, there are a bunch of general music review sites that I check, particularly Dusted Magazine, Blastitude, Julian Cope's Head Heritage (the Unsung part), The Brainwashed Brain, FakeJazz, and occasionally some of the sites like Ink19, Pitchfork, PopMatters, Splendid, etc. The most useful ones [to me] tend to be the sites focused on one genre - I used to check out Doom-Metal.com [though its review section is on hiatus], The Metal Observer for other metal, Aural Innovations for psychedelic space rock, etc. I also sometimes just google for reviews of albums I've been enjoying a lot lately, which often reference similar bands. Like klangklangston, I see a fair number of live shows, with the help of free tickets from my radio station. Going to a show, I'll often only be familiar with one or two of the bands, but I'll bring money with me in case one of the others really strikes my fancy. On the other hand, like kathryn, I can't say that automated recommendation systems [gnod or Amazon or iTunes or whatever] have ever been particularly useful to me.

Keeping up with new music - or just continually finding music new to you, which is just as good - is hard work. You'll never be able to keep up with everything. No one can. Set your own pace.
posted by ubersturm at 5:18 PM on July 19, 2005


I put up a Carracho (used to use Hotline, too) server of music that I really enjoyed, and made membership contingent on uploading of albums that people who liked my content thought I would enjoy.

This was so astoundingly effective that I stopped worrying about how many laws I was breaking. Made some friends, too.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:51 PM on July 19, 2005


Spicynuts: Yeah, I told someone to listen to The Cars and Sloan got poppy love songs. Cutting EDGE! Or is this the part where I'm supposed to act chastened and reply that some major label rap album was really the best thing to come out all year, thus both proving my unpretentiousness and my affinity for black people?
And how, by my advice to listen to radio stations that play a large variety, am I encouraging people to "narrow" their tastes? I seek things out because I enjoy variety, and I try to recommend things to people based on what I think they'd like, not based on what I think is important that they listen to or what shows off my chops. That's why I've written hundreds of reviews with the basic theme of "not really my bag, but if you're into X, Y and Z, you'll probably enjoy 'em."

As far as recommendations upthread, Forced Exposure is a lot of fun, as is Wire (I wish it wasn't, like, $10,000,000 to subscribe). I like Dusted too, and I'll check out Tiny Mix Tapes. Lately, I've been downloading things from thepiratebay.org, because they have a good (if odd) selection of a lot of music I'd never hear otherwise (Scandanavian funk, '60s lost psych), and I can get the whole album, and delete the crappy ones without regret.

Something else that's worth doing, at least with indie rock, is noting the label that things are on. After a while, you get a pretty good sense of a label's aesthetic, and who they're willing to promote. This works less and less well the larger the label gets, but you can pretty much count on Rainbow Quartz to always be jangly psych, Fat Wreck to be pop punk, and Load to be noise. If you like an artist, look for samplers from the label to get a feel for the rest of their releases.
posted by klangklangston at 11:50 PM on July 19, 2005


Acts of Volition Radio and iPod Army
posted by will at 1:26 AM on July 20, 2005


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