Sunday, February 26, 2006

New Music Sources

In response to the post announcing my favorite albums from 2004, Q wrote, "I haven't heard a single song by any one of the artists you mention." Q lives in Ottawa, so I can't say what sources for new music are available for him. I can say that were I to rely on my local radio, I wouldn't have heard a single song off my list either. I don't like the narrowly formatted music that plays on DC radio -- other than a largely news-formatted NPR, which is what Kathy listens to, the radio is never on. So it begs the question of how I find new music.

Not surprisingly, the Web is the ideal place to start. One of the first sites I stumbled across was the now largely defunct The War Against Silence, offered by Glenn MacDonald. The writing was tremendous (though the review portion was often secondary), and some of the albums sounded worth checking out. Glenn introduced me to Emm Gryner and Low, among others, for which I'm grateful. Oftentimes I'd find a new artist, only to discover that Glenn had already reviewed him/her/them, e.g., The Magnetic Fields, if only I had faithfully grabbed everything he reviewed. But Glenn rarely writes reviews anymore, which means that I need other sources.

Yahoo lets you construct your own radio station, and I have a link to my own on the sidebar. It throws some popular crap my way, and often only plays artists, albums and songs I've rated positively, but every once in a while it throws out something new (to me at least) that grabs me. They also have programmed stations, but that's fairly limiting in that almost all of them are no better than actual radio stations. Speaking of radio stations, even though I complain about them, some of them are quite good -- the problem is that they're not in D.C. WFUV and WYEP are public radio stations that offer music I enjoy, and more importantly, webcasts, so I often tune into them to find new offerings. Among other finds, Willy Mason's "Oxygen," which is on Public Displays of Affection, one of my top albums of 2004, was discovered through WFUV.

Another source for good music that I've recently discovered also comes from public radio, the NPR program All Songs Considered (which I've just added to my sidebar). Even though those concerts are of DC shows, neither local NPR station actually plays All Songs Considered, so I'm grateful that all the shows are available online. Almost as amazing as the wide range of new songs they play are the archived concerts they provide (including one I attended last Fall, which is how I found out about the program), many of them for artists I really like.

Despite Glenn's departure from the review scene, the Web still provides a great resource for music reviews. I've been using the All Music Guide and Amazon's Recommendations for years -- the write-ups and the 30-second samples are useful to give one at least an idea of what to expect. Recently I've started checking out metacritic's music reviews more frequently as well. Year-end lists are also good ways to at least discover albums I might have missed. Once something piques my interest, I rarely have much trouble listening to it. In addition to the samples that are ubiquitous, it's almost impossible not to find an entire song or two somewhere on the web -- most of the artists have music on their websites, which a simple google search can locate.

Of course, finding music on the Web requires a user-guided search, and if you rely on the searches you perform, and the recommendations that come from them, you end up with a much wider circle of music to consider, but you still risk missing some opportunities. Thus, the need for Word of Mouth will always exist. A couple of years ago I was part of a CD sampler exchange program that a friend of a friend started -- ~20 people would burn ~19 CDs of music they enjoyed, and mail them out to the other group members. That way, everyone in the group would get 19 new samples of music to check out. A couple of the albums on my Best of 2004 list, from Anais Mitchell and The Beta Band, came from the recommendation of my sister-in-law and a friend, respectively. Recently a co-worker and I exchanged some CDs, and by doing so he introduced me to M. Ward, someone who really struck a chord with me (his cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" is a tremendous reinterpretation). There are others with whom I talk music as well, people whose tastes overlap lots or some. Their ears invariably find stuff I enjoy that somehow I'd missed.

So I guess the bottom line is that even if the radio dial doesn't provide adequate options, good new music is out there, if you're willing to look for it.