Here's a confession- music discovery hasn't been much of a priority of mine recently. It seems a bit of a shame given that it is easier than ever to discover and hear new stuff. Then on the other hand it seems somehow I manage to find enough new things to listen to without really trying. And I wanted to sit and think about what those different music exposure vectors actually were.
One thing I should mention is an issue I have of not being able to let go of older music to make room for the new. For instance, I have an "smart" playlist on my itunes that automatically adds anything that hasn't been played in over 1 year. Currently that playlist is 3693 songs, 10.1 days long. And as dumb as it sounds, for some reason it bothers the hell out of me that the number is this large, so I actively try to play music from this list to check its growth.
From itunes I can tell you that I haven't listened to Black Flag's Damaged since February 2013, or Siamese Dream since January of that same year. Of course I could fix that right now for these two example, but not the thousands of other albums collecting digital dust. And undoubtedly having all these statistics and information at a glance is a big driver in this mild obsession of mine, a constant reminder of all my favorite music that I've neglected and for exactly how long. And then there's that subset of my music collection that I'm trying to appreciate and digest, but haven't given the necessary attention. Like how I'm still figuring out my feelings about Tom Waits, but I haven't listened to Rain Dogs since August of 2012. So listening to my own offline collection already feels like drinking from a firehose, and as a result I don't feel a whole lot of motivation to tap into the ocean of streaming music online.
I have to admit that I'm a bit jaded when it comes to new music, which I guess is a pretty normal part of getting older- and my initial skepticism is a high hurdle to overcome for anything that comes along. And I'm less inclined than ever to like something just because a friend listens to it. I'm just a bit hesitant to let new music in, since I know that once the songs are imported, that bond basically lasts forever for me. I may come to neglect those tracks with all the others, but I won't be able to kick them off the island later.
So curated playlists, which I guess are the main vehicle of music discovery on any streaming app, aren't really my thing- I tend to regard them with the same distrust as modern radio. Maybe I'll come around at some point, but for now I prefer more autonomy in my listening.
Despite all this, new artists somehow continue to find their way into my collection over the years. About 10 years ago I started using last.fm, and I think it was the first time I saw algorithm-based playlist recommendations anywhere. Here I discovered pretty much all the post-rock acts that became mainstays in my collection- Explosions in the Sky, Caspian, This Will Destroy You. These days, although I still scrobble my plays in the background (did I mention my fetish for collecting useless statistics?), I rarely visit the last.fm site anymore since its corporate buyout and subsequent functional downgrade during the unnecessary UI overhaul. But I'll always have last.fm to thank for giving me some of my first grown up music.
And then later I found a lot of other cool music on blip.fm, which was a fun site- kind of like Twitter for streaming music. I liked the guerrila-radio broadcast aspect of the site, but without a lot of followers, and a waning thirst for new music, I eventually lost interest.
Next it was those (now apparently defunct) Sound Supply bundles (like 10 digital albums for $10 or something) that Jil was in the habit of buying a few years ago. There always seemed to be 1 or 2 gems in each bundle that changed my world, like TW Walsh's "Songs of pain and leisure". Other supply drop discoveries included Right Away Great Captain (solo side project from Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra) and Young Statues (solid American-indie act that kind of starts to fill the void that Voxtrot left when they broke up).
My most recent source of new music online has been SoundCloud, which I like since it brings the new music directly from the artist. Here I was introduced to some of my new favorites like The New Division, Joanna Gruesome, and composer Keith Kenniff (the force behind Helios and Mint Julep).
But I think the majority of killer discoveries lately have been openers at live shows. This is probably where I'm most open to making that connection with a new artist because my inherent skepticism is pushed to the background and the act onstage has my full attention by default. I guess a solid live set just seems much more impressive to me than a solid recording. So it has been more often than not that Jil and I leave a live show with a CD from one of the openers. We see a lot of shows, so the list could go on and on, but a few notable examples include The Bots when they opened up for Death From Above 1979, Rozwell Kid opening for Get Up Kids, and Big Thief who opened for Nada Surf. Most recently it was the amazing Casket Girls who played right after TW Walsh on the Graveface Roadshow in Boston last month.
So on one hand, all of this seems plenty- enough music falls in my lap that seeking out more just feels unnecessary. On the other hand, a big part of me wants to take a more active role in this discovery, and to find and support more hard working independent artists and labels that are worthy of attention, praise, and money (and those coveted spots in my overstuffed digital music collection). So I think I'm going to do that, starting by taking a closer look across the rosters of the labels that host some of my favorite bands, and write about what I find. And Graveface Records actually made it really easy for me to get started on that, but more on that in a later post.
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