Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

Finding new music

Diane Greco was moved by my post on the New Pornographers/Belle & Sebastian show to go out and get The Life Pursuit (Stuart Murdoch, you now owe me 37ยข!). She goes on to muse on the difficulty of finding new music: "I don't find new music by listening anymore. No radio, no MTV. It's all so sucky and boring. So the result is I don't hear about much, and when I do, the channel is almost as interesting as the band."

It's been a long time since I found music via the radio. When I lived in Athens, the student radio station led me to the Old 97's ("Victoria" blew me away the first time I heard it, but it took me a while to find out who the band was, and longer still to find a copy of Wreck Your Life) and the tragically short-lived local band Aviso. Since then, I've been hard pressed to find a radio station that plays indie music at all. (Diane is more fortunate: she should be able to get WFMU out of Jersey City and maybe WPRB out of Princeton). I also gave up on MTV a long time ago (although I must admit that my first exposure to the White Stripes was when I saw "Pretty Good Looking" win best newcomer or something on the Video Music Awards. I was favorably impressed by how ugly Jack and Meg White were).

Which has left me in much the same boat as Diane: relying on serendipity and word of mouth for most of my finds and further hampered by only coming within hailing distance of decent music store once or twice a year. I'm starting to realize, though, that the biggest obstacle to finding new music, is me. I have this rather odd aversion to buying any music I might not like. Once a band has established itself in my favor, I'll be almost obsessive about getting their entire catalog, but I'm very slow to take the plunge on a band I have not heard, no matter how positive the reports. Recently, however, I've been getting more daring. A few things have helped:

  • I've been taking advantage of free music. The ITMS gives away one or two free tracks every week. Indie label and band websites can be fairly generous with free downloads, either of preview tracks from albums or live tracks and out-takes. I got into the New Pornographers, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and Spoon all by downloading free tracks from Matador. Finally, there are various other sites (Playlist Magazine, WFMU's Beware the Blog, and even Amazon) that post mp3s for downloading. In all, I pulled down almost 200 free and presumably legal tracks last year, and I really don't try as hard as I could.
  • I've also started making use of Amazon's and ITMS's recommendation systems. These certainly have their flaws , but now that I've fed both quite a bit of information about my music library, they have managed to make some worthwhile suggestions. It was, in part, because their incessant nagging that I bought the Decembrists' Picaresque and Sufjan Stevens's Illinois, both of which I am pretty happy with.
  • In theory, Pandora could be leading me to some interesting new bands (it has me teetering on the edge of buying Heikki's 2), but digesting a recent spate of on- and off-line purchases has been dominating my listening time lately, so I haven't been doing that.

What seems poised to really change my habits, though, is eMusic. As I have mentioned previously, their $10 for 40 songs subscription model provides just the right amount of pressure to overcome the inertia of my fear of disappointment without making me feel like I'm squandering my money. And because eMusic provides me with a steady diet of new music, I actually feel a bit freer to use my discretionary purchasing power on iTunes or elsewhere when something really strikes my fancy.

The upshot of all this is that, despite being stuck in the hinterlands when it comes to traditional avenues of musical dissemination, I actually feel more engaged with the indie music scene than I have in a long time. I guess this Internet thing can be kinda useful, huh?