The other day, I read a social media post from a friend that said something to the effect of, “What’s happened to music lately? It used to be better.” Once I accepted that I’m now at an age where my peers sometimes sound like “get off my lawn” people, I thought about it a little deeper. The idea that music used to be better is not an altogether uncommon sentiment, and it’s something that one might hear or have heard at any given time throughout the history of the music industry.
Maybe you heard your parents say something similar about the music you liked when you were a teenager, or maybe you’ve even said it yourself about the music your kids (or your friends’ kids) listen to. It’s not something that’s exclusive to any genre, either. You may hear someone in Texas lament that “real” country music has gone by the wayside. There’s a video that’s floated around on social media for a long time of Snoop Dogg making fun of “mumble rappers”. At the end of the day, though, the experience of music is entirely subjective and is conditioned by our experience. And our experience of music has a lot to do with the methods we use to discover and consume music. If we don’t have a good way of finding new music, then we’re forced to listen to whatever the powers that be deem appropriate. And if those powers that be keep pounding music that you don’t like into your brain, of course you’re going to think music isn’t as good as it used to be back when you were listening to stuff that you loved.
Ultimately, if you don’t like the music you’re being exposed to regularly, then your methodology for finding music needs work. So, how can you find new music that you like? I thought I’d share what I believe are the best ways that I discover music that doesn’t suck.
This one is at the top of the list for a reason: it is tried and true. Record stores have been around almost as long as music has been recorded to media. Want to find something good you haven’t heard before? Ask someone who works in a record store. Tell them what kind of music you dig and they’ll show you the way. Their whole job is to listen to music all day and turn people on to stuff they haven’t heard before. If they can’t find you something you’ll like, then they aren’t doing their job.
You might even hear something that you like on the overhead speakers. Don’t be afraid to ask what’s being played. Chances are, they have it in stock.
Discounted bins or “budget bins” have been around almost as long as the record stores that house them. These are a really easy way to discover new music on the cheap. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. You might score 10 records you’ve never heard before for five bucks. If you fall in love with just one of those records, five bucks is a steal.
Additionally, most independent record stores have a listening station where you can preview their used records. And there’s usually no time limit. If you spend a couple of hours on your day off finding a new record that you fall in love with, that’s a win. If you don’t find anything you love this time, you know what records to avoid next time.
Editor’s Note: If you want to explore music, you can do it right here in the neighborhood. Visit Tommy’s Southtown Vinyl on South St Mary’s
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this one given that I actually have a weekly show on air. If you’re one who laments that music “used to be better”, chances are that you may not dig what’s on the big radio stations. Remember that there are still independently operated radio stations on the air.
Most of these have relationships to colleges that allow the students opportunities to learn the ropes of radio station operations. The programming is usually much different as these stations are not beholden to corporate interests and ad revenue. These are listener supported stations, and as a result, you will hear tunes on these stations that you likely would not hear on the bigger stations.
Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music
I’d really hate to promote these as they pay very unfair percentages to the artists, but, begrudgingly, I must admit that they are good places to find new music IF you take advantage of their algorithms. Spotify has a function where you can take any song that you like and generate a radio playlist based on that one song. And most of these platforms have “discover” playlists that you can generate based on your music preferences.
These are not the only ways to hear new, good music, but they are all methods that I regularly use for finding new (and old), good music that I like. Hopefully you’re able to utilize these to find at least one tune you really like so that you don’t become one of those “get off my lawn” types that make your friends feel old. Happy hunting!
Albums at Southtown Vinyl
Used Books, CD Shops, Thrift Shops
Now that records are back in vogue, deals are a little harder to find. More record shoppers means more people clearing out budget bins faster. So, now is a great time to buy those forgotten artifacts of music: CDs and cassettes. Don’t have a means for playing these? Don’t worry. CD players and cassette decks can be bought online without bothering your budget. This is a seriously good way to find music you haven’t heard on the cheap.
Whatever people don’t want at any given time, that’s the stuff to buy and the time to buy it. Any non-specialty store that sells music (e.g., pawn shops, thrift stores, bookstores etc.) are going to be almost giving this stuff away. They do not have room on their shelves for stuff that doesn’t sell well. It’s an easy way to pick up and discover new music with very little impact on your wallet. Pick up 20 CDs or cassettes for five bucks and find one you like…that’s a win.
This website has been around for awhile. Bandcamp is a place where artists and labels can promote their music directly to the consumer. There are A LOT of musicians peddling their wares on this site, and it’s not just up-and-coming artists. A lot of major artists have a Bandcamp page.
Typically, you can preview and buy their music digitally, in mp3 or wav format, and play them on your devices. Some artists also sell physical records and other merchandise like clothing. It’s a great way to support artists as they get a greater percentage of profit than if you buy their music on iTunes or Amazon and certainly more than if you stream their music on platforms like Spotify.
So, it’s a great platform if you already know what you want to buy, but how can it help you find new music you’ll like? Well, Bandcamp has a great function that shows you users who purchase the same music you have, and it’ll even show you what other music they’ve bought. So, you can check out music similar to the stuff you like very easily and then you can buy it. It’ll even allow you to follow users with similar taste profiles and alert you when they’ve purchased something new.
There’s a Bandcamp app for your phone and it’s worth a download
Tommy Newman is the owner and operator of Southtown Vinyl.