Sounds Worth Discovering

A few friends have asked me in the past, “How do you find new music these days?”

Discovering new music is paradoxically easier than it’s ever been and also harder, or at least less manageable. The overwhelming deluge of new releases each week, each DAY, can make it seem impossible for a person to be considered adequately knowledgeable about today’s musical landscape. It can make the process of uncovering a gem in the sands of the internet seem like a mystical ritual available only to the studious and powerful magicians behind modern pop music blogs.

It’s not even as easy today as it was in the halcyon days of music journalism to comb through the myriad recommendations and reviews offered by the various pseudo-intellectuals who post on every possible forum with their bitter thoughts on what’s righteous and what’s derivative in their inbox each week. It used to be, you could rely on one or two publications to provide quality coverage and feed your tastes for the days ahead. But the avalanche of new music is rivaled by the avalanche of opinions from all sides. Disappointingly, while the constant flood of contradictory views has risen to insurmountable levels in recent years, trained, or at least thoughtful, music critics have yet to rise above the flippant and self-congratulatory modes of most reviews over the past few decades; they love to tear down or build up, but they rarely give a good picture of their subject.

But enough about music critics and people who pretend to be music critics (mostly on Twitter).

To answer the question posed in line one, I currently have two reliable, consistent ways to find new music:

  1. Browse the list of “New Releases” on Metacritic. Listen to anything scoring higher than a 75 with more than five reviews published. Modern music critics are often too unthinking with their opinions, but consensus can still provide a decent indication of the direction the winds are blowing. Often, this method reveals entries in genres about which I have to admit I know very little, like metal (apparently we’re in a golden age of metal?) and country. When confronted with these uncertainties, this is a perfect opportunity to learn something new. If the consensus from people who understand this genre is that this album is of a high quality, even exceptionally so, what separates it from something of a lower quality? I’ve been learning a lot about the evolution of popular genres this way, and discovering some really terrific new artists I might otherwise have ignored.
  2. Spotify’s Discovery algorithms have changed the way I consume music. Their “Discover Weekly” playlist, which automatically compiles 30 tracks of music you’ve never played on the service before but which align with the tastes of people who listen to the things you like, is a boon of revelations every week. Falling down rabbit holes of “Similar Artists” provides insight into whole communities of musicians whose collaborations or shared inspirations points to trends in different cities, different states, different countries, that are starting to emerge for public view. I really cannot recommend the service highly enough at this point, as a way to find new music and as a way to give exposure to new or emerging artists.

There was a period of time, when my life was in flux and I’d stopped writing professionally about music, that I fell out of the loop on current trends. But simply following these two methods has very quickly put me back in a position and feeling of knowledge that I’ve been paying forward to my friends and family with recommendations and links to things I think they should check out.

Because of this renewed energy and love for discovering new music, I’ve decided to start sharing some of those recommendations publicly, for reference, to help streamline the process of discovery for others. I’m not planning to make these full-fledged reviews (I don’t have that much time and energy on my hands), but I’d just like to share some things I’ve found that I think other people should listen to, and maybe provide some context to prepare people to experience these things for the first time.

Let me know if you have any good suggestions in return, of course. I’m never done finding new things to listen to.

-Christian Hagen

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