An Ode to Record Store Day: 5 Ways to Use the Social Web to Discover New Music

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One of my favorite holidays, Record Store Day, is fast approaching.  The event, taking place this year on April 20th (it is held yearly on the third Saturday in April), is an event designed to raise support for brick and mortar retail stores.  The day features special edition album releases, special events, and features participants from around the world (although it primarily focuses on US locations).  As artists, stores, record labels, and other interested parties participate, they help to build support for the notion that consumers should think local as they shop for music throughout the year.  The first step in this process, however, is finding new music that warrants a purchase.  To honor the occasion, I’ve put together a handy guide for anyone who might feel a little out of the loop on the music discovery process or stuck in a musical rut: Disclosure: I have intentionally left off a few other paths to new music, partially for the sake of brevity and partially because I felt they were more or less covered extensively elsewhere.

    1. Last.fm – One of the true gems of the web that I feel is constantly undersold (and tends to get overshadowed by Pandora and Spotify) is last.fm.  The primary function of last.fm is as an add-on to your music listening app of choice.  You download the ‘scrobbler,’ and it runs in the background of your computer, keeping a running list of your listening history (by way of Spotify, iTunes, your iPod, etc.) along the way.  This is a great way for you to see your (or your friends’) listening habits in an organized way.  You can look at your most listened artists and tracks of the week, month, half year, year, or all-time.  The data isn’t limited there, however – last.fm also has a myriad of experimental ways to organize your music and help you find new artists and tracks in their playground.  OK, so that is all simple enough, but how will this help you to make new discoveries?  The key to this is once you begin sharing your music and letting your library accumulate, last.fm will show you listeners with high ‘compatibility’ to you, musically.  These users are called ‘neighbors.’  With one click, you can begin listening to any neighbor’s ‘library radio.’  Inevitably, even the most compatible neighbors will have some artists that fall outside your listening history.  They key is that these users generally do have the same taste as you, so it’s easy to understand that they can lead you to some great finds.  Similarly, last.fm also creates automatic ‘radio’ stations for any single track, album, or artist.  So, all you need is any example of the type music you like to begin finding new artists to check out.
    2. Independent Radio Online – OK, so your favorite local station has been destroyed and turned into an all-Black Eyed Peas station.  What now?  Fear not, because many great stations still exist around the globe.  These stations almost universally have taken advantage of new technologies to offer live streams across various services (directly on their websites, on Apple TV/iTunes, and on phone apps, to name a few), so they are highly accessible.  These stations often do a great job of having not only features of some buzzed-about new artists, but also varying specialized shows if you have a niche genre interest.  Two of my favorite stations out there are KEXP in Seattle and KCRW in Los Angeles.  These stations will generally put up the artist name and song title, so as you find new artists, you can make note and look into their full catalogs later.  Also, these stations will often run promotional contests to get you to connect with them and their associated artists via social media which are often worth the minimal fuss.
    3. Find Trusted Record Labels – This one may seem like a cumbersome process, but it’s actually one of the most reliable paths to the best discoveries.  Put simply, many of the artists that ‘break through’ in any given year started out on a small label.  These smaller labels take painstaking care to curate a small collection of artists that they believe in from a long-term perspective.  Fan of Arcade Fire?  They started out on Merge Records.  The Lumineers?  They are still on Dualtone Records, a folk-leaning label.  Girl Talk is on Illegal Art, Passion Pit started on Frenchkiss, Modest Mouse began on K Records, and countless others began on Sub Pop.  Although labels generally do have a variety of artists, if they have one act you really love, chances are they’ll have another.  Once you find one that you like, follow them on Facebook or Twitter to have artist recommendations delivered right to you.
    4. Shazam – Having helped to identify over 5 billion songs to date, Shazam has become somewhat of an essential smartphone app.  Shazam eliminates that frustrating moment when you are in a cafe, watching a commercial, or at a party where you hear a song that you like but don’t know how to track down the artist.  Open the app, let it listen to any track for a few seconds, and soon you are provided with an artist, song title, album, and various ways to purchase the track.  This simple application is a great way to compile a list of artists to check out at your leisure and share with others.  Two years ago, Shazam partnered with Facebook to allow users to see what tracks friends have recently identified, thereby creating a personal network of tastemakers.
    5. Follow Innovative Live Music Sites – One of the great developments over the past decade or so is the growth of sites that focus on providing artists with new mediums for presenting their music to the world.  Daytrotter, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, Blogoteque, The Onion A.V. Club’s Uncovered Series, and many others are offering performances by some of the most creative, captivating artists around in unique live settings for listeners to check out.  Below is one of my favorites from Blogoteque, featuring Phoenix performing “1901” below the Eiffel Tower.

Phoenix – 1901 – A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

  • Bonus Tips: Other paths to discovery that I didn’t get the chance to go into here:
  1. Live music venues – Periodically check a site like Pollstar for local concert listings and see where the kinds of artists you like are playing.  Much like the smaller labels mentioned above, venues have curators that book shows consistently (sometimes consistently bad, sometimes consistently great).
  2. Look at the openers for your favorite bands’ tours – Although bands can be thrown onto a tour for a number of reasons, they are often paired with a headliner with a similar aesthetic and/or potential fan base.  Using Google, Facebook fanpages, YouTube, and other social means can help you to see if openers hold any appeal for you.
  3. Music Blog Aggregation Sites – Hype Machine and Elbows are sites designed to look at trends across thousands of music blogs, see what trends exist and who is gaining notoriety.
  4. Music News Sites and Blogs – Don’t lose faith in music news in a slightly more traditional sense.  There are some great writers and periodicals still out there, and quite honestly, they often provide the most direct line to new music discoveries.  Paste and Pitchfork, alongside blogs like I Guess I’m Floating, You Ain’t No Picasso, and I Am Fuel, You Are Friends offer a steady stream of musical finds.

The Ultimate, Super, Unbeatable Pro-tip in Music Discovery: Get Social Offline

Of course, another great way to jump right in is to go down to your favorite record store and ask an employee.  Many of the staff are there because they have a passion for sharing music with others and would love to help you on your search.  If you’re a fellow resident of Massachusetts, you can check out a listing of some great record stores right here.  All others can use the map here.  Happy Record Store Day!

I leave you with a playlist from last summer of both new and old music to get you into the warm weather spirit:

8 comments

  1. Firstly, thank you for all of the new places to look! I can’t wait to check them out as a perfect procrastination from homework later. Secondly, great post! I remember when I used to get giftcards to stores to buy cassettes and eventually cds and it is so weird to think back to that because of all of the free outlets for music available online (my recent favorite is Spotify). However, I guess it is for that reason that I don’t have a desire to buy albums anymore. Have you thought about this in terms of movies? When I compared owning my favorite music versus owning my favorite movies, movies are very important to me. Regardless of the places I can find them for free online, I would rather own my favorite movies than have to download or stream them. Do you think there is a difference in the two? I am having trouble figuring out why I hold one more important than another.

    1. You know- I haven’t though much in terms of the movies vs. music question. I actually think my preference is to own music and rent movies, oddly enough. It’s pretty common for me to be on the T in a spot where I don’t get service on my phone and glad that I have the content already owned/loaded on my phone. Although I own a bunch of DVDs, it is less essential for me to own them, especially with Netflix and a DVR.

      Please let me know if any of my suggestions above are worth sharing with others (or if you have any particular favorites)!

  2. Interesting. Far more detail than I ever knew about online music. Nice post. I have mixed feelings about online music. Mainly because music has become much more of a background thing for me as I’ve gotten older, I don’t have the time or energy to search out good new music (but I usually like it when I find it). Pandora is really enough for me.

  3. Awesome blog! I am always looking for new ways to find music and I’m excited to try some of these out. By the way, I really like how you an add a Spotify playlist in a blog. I had absolutely no idea that you can do that. I sometimes use Spotify but I don’t have it linked to my Facebook at all. I don’t really care about what other people are listening to and I doubt they care what song I am currently playing on repeat. But I really like a service like what Last.Fm offers where it tracks what songs you listen to across different platforms on your own computer. I’m not a huge fan of making music listening social but I love that this service can suggest new artists and songs–I think that is why I am a big fan of Pandora. I also was unaware that we had a Record Store Day. Good to know! Great post.

    1. Thanks! last.fm is really the perfect way to incrementally push your music collection out step by step & bring in new songs that you’ll like.

  4. Great blog! I think Record Store Day is a great holiday and I also celebrate it every year. I usually purchase new music from old bands. Thanks for all the detailed info on where we can find new music though. I used to be very on top of new music, but I’ve been too busy these days to keep up with it. I think the internet has made it so easy to discover new music, which is great. But it’s a double edged sword because it makes it that much easier to put new music out there. It’s hard to comb through it, so that’s why I prefer recommendations from friends. Just reading about all your sources is overwhelming…

    1. Thanks! I agree that it can all be a little bit overwhelming, and it is a bit of an odd situation – the proliferation of online resources in one sense makes it easier to track down new finds but in another sense can be just too much to take in at some point. I guess the best thing is to utilize a couple of reliable sources on a regular basis and branch out to the others when you feel like you’re in a rut. Glad to see we’ve got another Record Store Day fan in the class!

  5. AWESOME POST! As a fellow music lover I really enjoyed this. I just started using last.fm and I really enjoy it. As you mentioned, it has some key features that are different from Spotify and Pandora that are worth checking out. The third option you talk about is also such a great idea. I had never thought to look for new artists via labels. I’ll definitely be checking out Frenchkiss! Finally, I just have to endorse Pitchfork. It’s a great way to find awesome new alternative/indie/unique music, so I’m glad you mentioned it.

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