I hear a lot of new music every month and have recently started posting my discoveries/experiments here. As I work my way through the material, I hope to post my thoughts and opinions as well. I’ve started doing this because I’ve received a few email asking me how I find new bands. Mostly, these requests are from people who, like me, have fairly large music collections but are growing tired of hearing the same thing over and over. Let’s face it, whether you have 100 songs or 10,000 songs, there’s only so many times you can fire up the same playlist before you find yourself clicking the Next button.
I’m afraid I don’t have any great insights into discovering new music. However, my methodology works for me and I’m more than happy to share it. Frankly, it’s pretty simple. Even though music on the Internet can be difficult to find, once you find a methodology that works, it’s not so bad. Here is how I do it.
First, I only subscribe to two services: eMusic and YourMusic. I’ve signed up with more social music sites than I can count, but I only actively participate at Last.fm. Allow me a moment to briefly discuss each of these.
At first glance, eMusic doesn’t seem like such a good idea. I’m not sure what the current price structure is because I was grandfathered in to the last set of price changes. However, for approximately $20.00 per month, I can download 90 songs. That’s about $0.22 per song, or if you consider that the average CD contains 10 songs, it’s 9 CDs per month. Which ever way you slice it, it’s a great deal. I hear and read a lot of complaints that eMusic’s main page doesn’t let you do anything other than login or sign up. However, if you Google emusic search, you can look around easily enough. I guess some people aren’t comfortable with Google yet. eMusic has an awesome “save for later” feature. When you’re looking at a specific album, you can click Save for Later and eMusic adds it to a list of albums that you want to check out later. My list currently has 32 different artists. I usually only save one album per artist, and this is a reminder to me that I need to check out all of that artist’s available albums.
YourMusic is a front for one of the major labels. I think it’s BMG, but I could be wrong. As distasteful as I find the RIAA and major labels in general, YourMusic is a tough deal to pass up. For $6.99, they send you one (1) CD per month. The $6.99 includes shipping. It’s a lot like NetFlix, in that you build a list of CDs you want, and every month YourMusic sends you the first CD on the list. Currently, my list has 36 items which stretches to September 2010.
The last weapon in my arsenal is Last.fm. Last.fm is a social music site, which basically means that you can stream songs over the Internet and interact with other music fans. I don’t do either. Last.fm provides a plug-in for both Windows and Mac systems. I haven’t used the Windows version, but the Mac version works just fine. Basically, it scrobbles every song you listen to on iTunes. If you use iScrobbler, it will scrobble the songs you listen to on your iPod once you connect it to your computer. Scrobbling simply means that it reports the song you’re currently listening to to its servers. After you’ve listened to enough songs, it begins reporting your neighbors. Neighbors are basically people who enjoy the same types of music that you listen to. The more music you listen to, the more accurate Last.fm’s neighboring algorithm becomes. I recommend firing up iTunes, turning down the volume (if necessary), firing up Last.fm’s program and letting it run for 2-3 weeks. Once this is done, you’ll find yourself with a solid group of neighbors.
Click on your first 10-15 neighbors and see what they’re listening to. You should recognize a lot of bands. But more importantly, you’ll see many bands that you don’t recognize. You can usually listen to a few of these via eMusic. Those that eMusic can’t stream, you can find on either YourMusic, Amazon or iTunes. Check them out. If you like them and they exist on eMusic, add them to your Save for Later list. If eMusic doesn’t have them, check out Amazon’s MP3 Downloads service or iTunes. Between these sites, you’re almost 95% sure to find what you’re looking for. The goal at this point is not to purchase but to listen. If none of these sites have the band, well … I don’t know. You can buy it if your confident, but I rarely do this. More often than not, I move on to the next unknown. If you’re going to purchase, hit up YourMusic and add them to your list or check out Half.com. You can usually find decent deals there.
And that’s really all I do. I know there are many services other than Last.fm. If you use a different service and love it, good for you! I prefer Last.fm because it requires 0.00 effort on my part. I’ve found their neighbors algorithm to be more than sufficient to turn me on to no less than 5 new bands per month, and that’s enough for me. This month alone I have 7 albums from approximately 10 bands I’ve never heard (one of the albums is a compilation, so almost every song is from a different band). Given my schedule, 7 albums is more than enough. Any more than that and I’d be bleeding into November, which is something I really can’t afford to do because next month I’ll likely have another 7 albums.
One final note regards the amount of time I spend discovering new music. I rarely spend more than 2 hours per month. For me, 2 hours is minimal when you consider that there are approximately 720 hours in a month. And it’s usually not 2 hours in one setting. I’ll very likely spread that 2 hours over 2 - 3 days, so it has very little impact on the rest of my life.
I know there’s a lot of good music out there that slips past me. That’s life. Given the state of music today, where literally tens of thousands of new songs are released every day, there’s no way for me to keep up with it all. All I can do is hope to find music that I enjoy and be happy with the music I do find. And so far, I’ve been very happy with my results.
I hope this helps you in some way. If you have any suggestions or improvements to my methodology, feel free to drop me a line. I’m always interested in finding new ways to find new music. Music is everything to me, and new music always makes life more enjoyable.