Do you ever stop to consider the changes that have been made to the way you find music? Is your approach still the same? Surely it’s changed, you’ve changed formats, the formats have changed – in terms of delivery approach, in terms of regularity, in terms of how and when you receive them – as well as the why. You might be sitting on a pile of old CDs (don’t sit on them, they’ll crack?!) or you might not ‘own’ a single thing – but your world is full of music. But do you stop to think about how you started consuming music and then how that has changed…
I would buy tapes based on what I heard on the radio, what I read about in music magazines – Shake, Rip It Up, Real Groove, Rolling Stone. Then I was on to Modern Drummer and Guitar World and I would get some tips for new things to try from those magazines. Friends at school would share music, and I learned about music from some of my friends. And some of them probably learned about some bands and albums from me.But it wasn’t always new music – and that’s still the case. Sometimes the best new music you hear is something that has existed for a long time but it’s new to you. That still makes it fresh.
One of the ways I discovered new music was having to learn songs to play in a band – anyone who has learnt covers for a band will know that it can be the quickest way to kill a song; you like it the first time, then you really like it when you play it live and feel the reaction it gets. It’s very quickly over for you, nothing more than a chore. You do your job, people still like the song but the thrill is gone for you. There are some songs that become a real joy through playing, though; you simply cannot overplay some songs. But that’s rather rare in the learning-songs-for-a-band world.
When I started working in a music store as an evening job while at university, the record companies were keen to provide advance copies of new albums. I can remember playing a copy of Ok Computer for weeks before it was released. It didn’t take long for that to change, of course. But in the mid/late-1990s there were lots of album-advances for in-store play. My boss even let me keep the one for Faith No More’s Album of the Year. That was a big treat!
I started reviewing music in the very late 1990s/early 2000s. An interesting time, changeovers galore: tapes were out, vinyl was almost out, then it was coming back, but only for dance music. DVDs were replacing VHS, CDs were still huge but the internet culture was growing. Fan-forums were (briefly) fascinating places. Then they were very, very frightening. That happened quickly too.
So a big way for me to discover new music was simply from reviewing music myself. And I continued to read music biographies and music magazines. I was still playing music in bands, so learning songs occasionally, chatting with other musicians.
I remember in the late-1990s coming home one day to find out that a friend of a flatmate had helped himself to my computer – it was sorta “the flat computer” and had installed something called Napster – he was playing Eminem remixes. More than we ever needed…
I started buying LPs in the mid-90s, on the back of inheriting a collection’s worth. I was running tapes (in my car only by then) and thousands of CDs. I was buying music every week…
Then the advance copies really slowed down. Even for reviewers. It didn’t take long – 2002-2006 – and the reviewer was not among the first to receive the album. Music stores still got some advance copies, but that had slowed down too. Sometimes reviewers got the jump still, but more often it was about playing catch-up. Particularly, living in Wellington. The music industry in New Zealand is run out of Auckland and the record companies don’t really care about Wellington. Auckland would get the first crack – a reviewer in Auckland might be invited up to the record company’s building to listen to a special advance. In Wellington we would be sent it after it had been in the shops.
And this is where we’re at now – people often say that the role of a music reviewer is redundant. Anyone and everyone is a reviewer now. People write blogs. People post their favourite music on YouTube, or they take from YouTube and post it to Facebook and Twitter and wherever else. We can send a link to one another and anyone has the chance now of being first.
I think this is great – and here’s where I break it to you, if you hadn’t worked this out a long time ago: I am completely uninterested in being first. I’m not trying to break new music. That’s not my job. I’m interested in music, new and old; I’m interested in finding and listening to good music. Yes, my idea of good. And that might be your idea of very, very bad. That’s fine.
But I still read a lot of reviews, online and in old fashioned print (newspapers and magazines). Though it’s getting harder to care about magazines (particularly for reviews). The best music content is arriving online first, foremost. It has to.
Some of the best places to find new music these days are the sites that enable people to make and share music. Bandcamp, Soundcloud and of course YouTube – it is simply an extension of the old promotional reviewing adage: if you like this…try this… Click on the recommended links, play your own six degrees game as you move from Neil Young to Kurt Vile via Tyler Ramsey and then from his Band of Horses group back to Neil Young or on to The War on Drugs and from there back to Vile or over to a video clip of a person in their bedroom covering a song by any one of these artists. That cover might not be so great but there might be something in it and that sends you to another song by that “nobody” and then you find out they’re covering something by John Martyn. You haven’t heard of him so you check out his original and someone tells you, later on, that he sounds like James Blake. So it’s on to that and from there you arrive at Burial or The Gaslamp Killer or J. Dilla and suddenly the alt-country/rock ground you were traversing has made way for dance and dubstep and hip-hop.
Spotify is it though – for most people. Like Google, like Amazon, like Netflix – it’s become the ‘name’ place, the one-stop for music streaming, people now go to Spotify directly for podcasts too. There are other sites, other examples – but Spotify is the place. For every musician writing think-pieces about how appalling the pay-rate is there are thousands and thousands of new listeners arriving daily, upgrading their subscription, exploring, building playlists, becoming known as a taste-maker for their own playlists built from the music of others…
When I was a regular music reviewer in and around all the really awful music I was sent to work through I discover gems. Sometimes I’d tell you about them here. Sometimes it was in the reviews I’d write for magazines and newspapers. I’ve reviewed on TV and radio also. And it was always a real treat for me to receive this music and to find the gems, to sort and sift through the piles of crap to find something that sparkles.
I’m always looking for music outside of reviewing. I check up on old favourites, Google bands to find out what they are up to. I read bunches of reviews and interviews and pieces on dozens of sites, I share them via links here and there, and on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I share them because they’re about music – I’m sharing them because it’s a subject I’m interested in, I’m trying to engage with readers…
My ways of discovering new music might not be very exciting but I still take tips from where I can get them. If it’s not music I’ve been sent, or that I’m finding for the first time buried in my own collection, or rediscovering after years in storage, I’m also taking tips from many of you and others daily.
People make recommendations to me all the time. I’ve been reminded of some great music, put on to some great music that I hadn’t heard before. People send me links, post them on the Facebook page or Twitter. And I always check this music out. It might take me a while to get to it. But that’s the beauty of music. There’s no rush. The good stuff waits around. The good stuff lasts. It will be there whether you click on the link right away or in a week.
It depends on whether you want to get the first comment in on a YouTube clip, or whether you want to take some time to hear something in the right space. The right time, the right place.
There’s that rather quaint idea of going down to the music store and asking the people who work there for their recommendations. You get to know their taste, they get to know yours. You share ideas, mention favourites, discuss – offer opinions. I still like doing that. I don’t see it as old-fashioned or out of touch, or if it is it is simply still part of my routine (my old-fashioned and out of touch routine). But sifting about online and wandering on into the last standing stores…these ideas can co-exist.
I still value service. I still enjoy a chat and a browse. I still enjoy stumbling over something at the right time. I might have thumbed over the album a bunch of times but on that day, at that time, it feels like the right thing to buy, or try. Because, maybe, I heard something by that artist recently, or I heard something brand new that made me think of something very old – or the other way around.
I’m not sure that radio in New Zealand is all that bad. I think RNZ – aka National Radio has some great shows, segments, reviewers, interviews, features – and within and around all of that the station plays a lot of great music, new and old, national and international.
It’s all in the ear of the beholder with music. That will always be the way.
I find out a lot about new music from going to gigs. Occupational hazard, really. Catching new bands, hearing a quirky cover or new material, buying albums at the gig, following onstage banter and writing down a name that is mentioned; that’s always been the way. It’s just an absolute given these days that anyone – everyone – is able to be Googled.
So how do you get your new music? And how has that changed?
Share your favourite stores and stations and sites and reviewers and blogs and social media forums below. Are you an old-fashioned music-buyer, or a pirate sailing the sneaky downloading seas? (Is that even that sneaky anymore?) Are you only interested in talking about music with people face-to-face, sharing your tunes that way? Or do you learn about music by reading? If so is that online or on the old paper-based media? Are you a radio listener? And do you rely on the radio to prompt you for new music?