Where to begin?
July 24, 2009 9:48 PM   Subscribe

If I want to start listening to [insert artist here] and don't know where to start, is there a website or resource I can use?

Where do I start with Frank Zappa? Sonic Youth? David Byrne (post-Talking-Heads)? Nina Simone?

These questions come up all the time, but it's a waste of an AskMe question, and it seems like there ought to be a website devoted to discussion of where to start with each artist. Is there? Metacritic or a bunch of Wikipedia tabs can come up with answers sometimes, but other times it's harder (like right now with Townes Van Zandt.) Does such a site exist somewhere?
posted by papayaninja to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Last.FM has been excellent IMO for both discovering new artists and discovering the best-loved/most controversial/etc. tracks and albums by artists I've already heard. It isn't in-depth geekery like some band-specific fan sites, but inasmuch as each band has a wiki biography and the site pulls a lot of metadata and comments together, many entries look like middling-to-better entries on Wikipedia.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:54 PM on July 24, 2009

Best answer: I use allmusic.com for this.
posted by mellifluous at 9:54 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've always found reviews on Amazon to be not bad for this purpose, to the extent that I've never personally felt any need to track down something purpose-built for new listeners. So, quite likely I'm just ignorant of something more like what you're after; but if it does turn out such a thing doesn't exist, I do find that in Amazon's album reviews there's always argument, people saying things like, "This isn't as good as such-and-such album", "This is good but I wouldn't recommend it to a new listener", and so on, such that you can usually tell where's a good place to start if you flick through a couple of pages.
posted by springbound at 9:54 PM on July 24, 2009

allmusic's pretty good. Their reviews are sparse for the last couple of years, maybe due to the economic downturn. One caveat is that they sometimes don't have the same person review all of the albums by an artist, so the album-to-album reviews can be inconsistent. One review will say Album 1 is great, then the review for Album 2 will say Album 1's not that good.

Amazon and iTunes have samples of their downloadable music.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:04 PM on July 24, 2009

I like typing the artist's name into YouTube and roaming around what pops up. There's usually a mix of music videos, live performances, uploaded tracks, etc., and I can guess where to start by looking at the play counts and ratings.
posted by dreamyshade at 11:18 PM on July 24, 2009

iTunes has a popularity ranking for each song, should give you a rough idea of what the masses think are the most essential tracks.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:31 PM on July 24, 2009

I also use both Last.fm and youtube for this.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:25 AM on July 25, 2009

Best answer: If you're lucky, the Onion AV Club has written a Primer for a particular artist you're interested in. They also have an ongoing feature called Gateways to Geekery - there's some overlap between what both cover - the latter being more esoteric. Both features cover books, movies and other things besides musicians.

A site devoted to "introductory guides" like this would be great.
posted by O9scar at 1:29 AM on July 25, 2009

You could use music recommendation engines like LivePlasma and The Music Explaura to find similar or related bands, or you could use Pandora to find music with similar elements.
posted by Lush at 3:27 AM on July 25, 2009

Allmusic is great for this. Also:

artist direct - like allmusic (MTV/VH1/BBC also have artist guides that are well organized)

music moz
music brainz - both sites list links to other sites about a specific band or artist (youtube/wiki, etc)

and gnod is always cool.
posted by shinyshiny at 3:39 AM on July 25, 2009

Sorry, I mis-read your question! If you want to start listening to an artist with a dauntingly immense discography, I find it useful to read AllMusic (or Wikipedia) bios and then start with their "breakthrough" album or singles, and move on from there.

Alternatively, and this is most tedious but would probably yield the best results, you could poll individual fanbases, because they'd know best and would probably be able to explain some context about the music as well.
posted by Lush at 3:43 AM on July 25, 2009

I'm going to nth All Music for this.

All Music's reviews are meant to be based on that particular artist (or genre) -- they're not saying this Radiohead album is better than this Britney Spears album, but this Radiohead album is better than this other Radiohead album (for the most part, anyway). They do have a tendency to mark "best of" albums as a "pick" but I can see the philosophy there, too -- those are often a good entry point and representative of an artist's work.

I suppose it's a matter of opinion in terms of whether or not you agree with their picks, but they do serve as a place to start. I've found it helpful in the past.
posted by darksong at 7:31 AM on July 25, 2009

I was hoping to find that there actually is this sort of site for music! It is, of course, a brilliant idea, especially as there are enough musicians that have daunting discographies. Sure, you can read everything on Wikipedia and Amazon, but there has to be an easier way! In the past, I've either just purchased a whole discography outright or I've done my best to ignore bands with immense back catalogues. There's a website with a similar concept devoted to books (Debbie's Idea), but I would think selecting that first album would be more difficult than picking that first novel.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:20 PM on July 25, 2009

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