Our song is the slammin' screen door
rut (n): a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change. This post is about breaking out of a music rut. What follows is a list of ways to discover music. Some of them are fairly passive, and require little effort. Some of them require sifting through the equivalent of musical garbage for the reward of finding one good song in the span of a few hours. Since you may or may not have that kind of time or willpower on your hands, I’m providing you with the following key:
:D = minimal effort
:) = some effort
:| = a lot of effort
>:( = I spent all day listening to seductive throat singing
I hope you find many minutes of good music to listen to. And if you don’t, then here’s Joji Bronner singing "Latin Words" (found using method 3b).
1a. The Related Artist Game
Effort Level :)
Here’s what you do. Pick an artist you like. Now navigate to that artist’s page on Spotify, and starting exploring their related artists. To show you how this is done, I’ll go ahead and play the game myself. I have a Spotify account, and I like the artist Beirut. So, I simply navigate to Beirut’s artist page. I see that Sufjan Stevens is a related artist. Hey, that means I probably like Sufjan Stevens right? So I can go on over to his page and check his work out. If I like him, I can click into his related artists. Otherwise, I can go back to Beirut, and explore their other related artists.
It really just boils down to clicking on related artists and listening to songs. Note that you can view more related artists by clicking on the "Related Artists" tab, or by clicking the "Related Artists" link in the sidebar.
One last thing: even though this is about browsing related artists, this is still a great way to branch out and find some weird new music. Let’s see what we get with Beirut...
Beirut ↴ Andrew Bird ↴ The Decemberists ↴ The Mountain Goats ↴ Neutral Milk Hotel ↴ Jeff Mangum ↴ Major Organ and the Adding Machine ↴ The Olivia Tremor Control
So, we started with Beirut, who has a nice indie/baroque pop sound, and ended up with a psychedelic rock band founded by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel fame. Not bad. And speaking of not bad, "Jumping Fences" by The Olivia Tremor Control is a quality song.
1b. Pick a Word AKA the Word Game
Effort Level :|
Another game of sorts. Here’s how you play. First, pick a word: a noun, a proper noun, a verb, an adjective - any word at all. Next, search for that word using Spotify. If you’re a hipster, you can sort by reverse popularity. Then just listen to the songs and hope they don’t all suck. This is kind of a hit or miss approach, but it’s fun and you can find some esoteric music. If you need help thinking of cool words to search, try out this noun generator.
Just in case you don’t get it, I’ll play a quick game. “Arctic” is my favorite word, so I’ll search that. If we sort by popularity, we get a bunch of Arctic Monkeys stuff at the top - cool if you haven’t heard of them, but let’s get to the more interesting stuff. Scrolling down, there’s a song called "Arctic Shark" by Quilt. Now that’s more like it. On a quick listen, I like it. Some interesting eastern elements, nice lyrics... “All your heavy hearts are simply illusory.” Plus one for the word game.
1c. Discovery Weekly
Effort Level :D
Just listen to your Discovery Weekly playlist. It’s probably pretty good. And if it’s not, then give it some time. The more you use Spotify, the better it gets. That’s machine learning for you. My one warning: try not to be this guy.
1d. Spotify Discover
Effort Level :)
This was more relevant before the release of Discovery Weekly, but it’s still nice to look at now and again. You can get to Spotify Discover by clicking on Browse in the left sidebar, then clicking on the Discover tab. Here you’ll find a bunch of music that Spotify recommends you based on your listening habits. It’s also conveniently broken down into various categories: top recommendations, new releases, and artist specific recommendations. This is nice for when you want something a little more personalized than the Related Artist Game. I’ve found some great music here; check it out!
1e. The Sounds of Spotify
Effort Level :)
The Sounds of Spotify is nothing more than a Spotify profile. It’s largely powered by Glenn Mcdonald, I believe, a smart guy who knows data and music. Basically, the point of interest here is the vast array of public playlists listed under the profile. There are tons of them, and they cover a huge variety of musical genres. You’ll see tons of playlists for specific countries: The Sound of Sweden, The Sound of Uruguay, etc. You’ll also see playlists for extremely niche genres: The Sound of Ghoststep, The Sound of Yoik, etc. Then there are the crossovers, mixing genres and locations: The Sound of Welsh Rock, The Sound of Italian Folk, stuff like that. And this is barely scratching the surface. A warning: if you just look at the list of playlists under the profile, you’re going to have to do a LOT of scrolling. It might be a better idea to just search “the sound of” and look at the playlists that pop up. Again, up to you.
2. Smart Radios
Effort Level :D
Pandora, Apple Music Radio, Rdio, Spotify Radio, Songza (owned by Google), and maybe more. Those are the “smart radio” products that I can list off the top of my head. Most of them are pretty standard. You can give it an artist, or a genre, or maybe even a mood, and then it’ll start playing songs to match your input. I personally recommend Pandora, but then again I haven’t used the others that much. Songza is interesting in that its playlists are curated by humans. It also specializes in “mood” playlists, so if you want to list to rowdy music, or spacey music, or sexy music, Songzas got you covered. Overall, this is a nice and easy way to find new music that’s related to stuff you already know and love. Or you know, if you want to get some more songs for your sexy playlist.
3a. Bandcamp Discover
Effort Level :|
Bandcamp has a lot of super indie, DIY, lo-fi, bedroom pop, anarcho-punk kind of music. After all, pretty much anyone with a computer can upload their stuff. If you’re looking for the next Taylor Swift album, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for the newest release from an Alaskan artist whose album includes a nerdy parody of Model of a Modern Major-General, or Seductive Throat Singing from Joji Bronner, then Bandcamp is the place to be. The easiest way to discover new music on Bandcamp is to peruse the front page. Here you’ll find new and notable records, fan favorites, and albums that are being bought at the very moment. You’ll also find the Discover section, and this is the most useful out of the bunch. Bandcamp Discover lets you browse Bandcamp’s selection by genre (rock, alternative, etc), recommendations (best-selling, staff picks, artist-recommended), and format (digital, vinyl, etc.). So if you want to look at the best-selling alternative CDs on Bandcamp, you know where to go.
3b. Bandcamp Tags
Effort Level >:(
Bandcamp lets people label their albums with tags. Some artists keep it pretty low-key, tagging their music with things like “alternative Lancaster” or “lo-fi garage rock.” Some have a little more fun with it, which leads to tags like “alternative bedroom pop birds dogs folk indie jewel-encrusted steering wheel living room lullabye lullabye rock math pop physics puppies rock Seattle” (the tags for Dog Physics EP, a great album). It follows, then, that one way to discover music on Bandcamp is to search for these tags. Bandcamp provides this handy website for perusing some popular tags. But what if you want to search for the tag “piano pop”? You have two options. One is to search for piano pop using Bandcamp’s search bar. By default, this does not search for tags. However, if what you searched corresponds to a tag on enough albums, there will be a link on the right side of your screen to check out music tagged with “piano pop” (or whatever you searched for). The second option is to manually navigate to the following url:
That will show you all the albums tagged with “your cool tag here.” Go with whatever is easier for you. This is kind of similar to the Spotify Word game. It’s perhaps even more hit or miss though, as the music on Bandcamp is already of weirder quality, and searching for random tags is not the easiest way to filter out the good stuff. However, it can be quite fun, and you’ll be surprised at the cool stuff you can find. I can guarantee you that you’ll at least see some awesome album art.
Just in case you’re worried about the effort level I granted this method, I’ll go ahead and show you a fantastic album I found by searching tags. The tag I used was “piano pop”; basically, I wanted some catchy music with noticeable piano. Searching for this tags brings up some nice stuff. The first couple albums are mostly Cœur de pirate, who is a quality artist herself. But the album I’m talking about is located (for now) in the last column of the fifth row. It's the pink one entitled This is My Wild Arms by Goodbye Kumiko, a beautiful that ranges from indie pop and ragtime jazz. And guess what: it's free! Thank goodness it was tagged with piano pop.
3c. The Related Person Game
Effort Level :|
This is similar to the Spotify Related Artist game. The difference is that here, we’re looking through the pages of other Bandcampers, instead of pages of the artists themselves. The basic idea is as follows. First, go to an album you like on Bandcamp, preferably one with a decent amount of buyers. If you’ve already bought an album, then you can just pick that one. Then, start clicking through the profiles of the people who have bought the album to see what other stuff they’ve bought. The idea here is that these people should have somewhat similar taste in music to you, and so you might like the other music they buy. Of course, this method can be applied recursively. That is, you can jump from an album page to a buyer’s page, from the buyer’s page to a different album page, and so on. Note that you can also start off the process by looking at the buyer profiles of people who are featured on the front page.
Here’s a great buyer page to start you off (no, it’s not mine, although feel free to check that out too). I stumbled across her in my early Bandcamp days, and it gave me a ton of great music to listen to. Hannah Coates, you have great taste in music!
4. Buy Random CDs/Records from Thriftstores/Record Shops
Effort Level :|
Looks like we finally have to get up and go outside. This is a fun one, and perhaps my favorite. You can do it by yourself, or with a friend. Just make sure your friend likes music as much as you do; otherwise, they’re gonna be spending a lot of time discovering their phone. Here’s what you do. You go on Yelp, see what thriftstores/goodwill places/record shops are around, you drive over, and you buy whatever looks cool. Or if you happen to see one of these places while you’re just driving around, stop by and buy some music. I usually make my purchases based on a combination of cool album art, cool artist name, and price. Sometimes I’ll buy stuff I know if it’s really cheap, but I always try to get something new. One of the nice things about doing this is it forces you to listen to new music. It also gives you an extra incentive to like it, given that you’ve spent some money on it. You never know - some of the coolest music you’ll ever find might be the stuff you never would’ve listened to on Spotify.
Here’s a short example of this. My friend Matt and I went to Canterbury Records, a local record shop in Pasadena. We each bought two albums we already knew and two albums we had never heard of. Matt ended up buying Aloha’s Here Comes Everyone, which we both now love. But it’s totally different than what we usually listen to, and barely has any plays on Spotify. Sometimes it pays to pay for music!
Effort Level :)
Back to the computer screen. There are two subreddits I would recommend for finding music: listentothis and republicofmusic. The former is for new/overlooked music, and the latter is for music released within the last 3 months. They both have a decent amount of quality content that isn’t too mainstream. My recommended plan of action is to sort by top from the past week and click through the first few.
Hugging's not a dance move
There are many other ways of finding music that I didn’t cover here. A great source for music discovery is your friends; see what they listen to and check it out. Then you’ve got sites like BIRP, and tons of other online music sources. The ones above are the methods I usually stick with. With everything that’s out there, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. Whatever you do, just keep it fun.