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Saturday, May 31, 2003

Finding new music

Information architecture maven Lou Rosenfeld recently acquired an iPod, much as I did. One thing that bothers him is that because the vast majority of the music on his iPod is ripped from his own collection, most of the music is stuff he already knows. He wants to know how people find new music. I noticed the same thing (although my music collection is so large that there's actually a sizeable amount of stuff in the 9 days worth of music I've put on my iPod that I've listened to only sparingly if at all). I wrote yesterday about the experience of listening to the iPod on random shuffle, where it was akin to listening to the radio, except that nearly every song elicited the reaction, "hey, I know that song", which happens pretty rarely when I listen to the radio.

Which gets to the first way I find new music. I listen to the radio. My taste in music is odd and eclectic enough that it's pretty hard to find radio stations that play stuff I might be interested in, but living in the New York area, I'm blessed with access to stations like WFMU that constantly introduce me to new music. Ann Arbor is a college town; it's bound to have something similar. I also listen to shortwave radio; John Peel and Charlie Gillett on the BBC World Service, Martha Hawley on Radio Netherlands, and Lucky Oceans on Radio Australia are always introducing me to things I haven't heard before. Netcasting of stations from around the world also opens up possibilities. For the world music I love so much, there are a couple of great monthly shows hosted on a site called Mondomix, by the aforementioned Charlie Gillett and by Ian Anderson (not the guy from Jethro Tull), who used to host a program on the BBC World Service some years back. (Unfortunately, their audio server is down now, but hopefully it will be back before long.) Then there are the stations from non-western countries that I listen to. The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation sometimes plays old 1950s highlife music that I haven't heard before (although they also play 1950s highlife music that I own copies of as well, oddly enough). Radio Tanzania Zanzibar plays taarab music that I'll never find in my local record store. But those don't generally address the question of how to find music I can consume at my local branch of Tower; they're just something to tickle my ears.

The second way I find new music is to read. I read a few music magazines religiously. For world music, there's a UK magazine called Folk Roots, edited by the aforementioned Ian Anderson, that does an excellent job of covering just what the name describes. I find out about a lot of music that way. A U.S.-based magazine that you're more likely to find at Borders that covers much of the same ground is Dirty Linen. I don't know what kind of music you're interested in, but there's bound to be a magazine or two that cover your particular genres of interest. There used to be a lot of music-related fanzines, but they seem to have died out by and large (I think I saw maybe one of that genre at Tower this afternoon), killed by mailing lists on the Internet.

Which is related to the third way I find music: recommendations from friends and other trusted parties. In the old days, before the stench of the sewer-like odor overpowered me, I used to get a lot of recommendations from like-minded folks on Usenet, particularly I'm still friends with some of the people I met in those days, and I get recommendations from them. I also participate on a few mailing lists in genres I'm interested (like one about indie rock from New Zealand, for example), and find that's a pretty good way to find out about new music. I've also gotten recommendations from friends in foreign countries when I've visited them; I have a bunch of Czech CDs in my collection, for example, that were recommended to me by a musician friend of mine who I stayed with in Prague.

The last way I find out about music is to occasionally take a flyer and buy something blind. I'm a lot more likely to do this with compilations these days, and I think most people would be. I discovered a lot of great indie rock from Germany by buying a single compilation about seven or eight years ago, something that has blossomed into more than a couple dozen CDs in my collection now. I haven't done too much of this in the past couple of years as my income has taken a severe hit and blind purchases of music were the first thing on my list of expenditures to cut.

Note that nowhere on my list does there appear "downloading from an online service." Software is kind of thin on the ground for my Mac for post-Napster systems, although I know some exist, particularly for OS X, which I don't run very much. And they're a pain to use; the few times I've tried, I generally didn't find what I was looking for. When Napster did exist, I did some "sampling" of new music that led to purchases, but not a whole lot in the context of my entire music collection. That said, Apple's new iTunes Music Store seems to offer an interesting possibility. I did find myself listening to the 30 second samples they offer, although I have yet to take the plunge and buy something from them. Now that I have the iPod, I might. It's worth looking into.

Posted at 9:42 PM


Note: I’m tired of clearing the spam from my comments, so comments are no longer accepted.

nice rundown on finding new music, ralph. something else i'd throw into the mix is they have good, concise bios of bands in a variety of genres, with links to similar sounding or related bands. they provide 30-second samples and full songs. you can't download the mp3's for keeps, but you can get ambitious and assemble your favorite tracks in what they call a blackbox. you can also stream music in various combinations, such as all the songs from a specific label. they also have "walkthroughs" so you can learn about new genres like trance (hi, marshall). best of all, they aren't trying to sell you anything.

Posted by shirley at 1:03 PM, June 1, 2003 [Link]

oops, i take it back. epitonic does let you download some mp3's. silly me.

Posted by shirley at 1:07 PM, June 1, 2003 [Link]

Yeah, I forgot about Epitonic ( ). I discovered them when I was one of the judges for the Radio category for this year's Webby Awards and they were one of the nominees. I was blown away by the site. Whoever designed it is very clever.

Posted by ralph at 10:30 PM, June 1, 2003 [Link]

we used to get a music review magazine called Puncture, which came out of Seattle, i think. it was fantastic - covered really good alternative music.

and then one day it just stopped appearing in the magazine shops. i can only imagine that it folded.

haven't been able to find anything as good since.

Posted by deb at 4:01 AM, June 4, 2003 [Link]

Yeah, Puncture was pretty good. (It was out of Portland, Oregon, rather than Seattle, though). Their site at confirms that they're no longer publishing. Magnet Magazine is a decent substitute; information at if you're interested. But neither of them held/holds a candle to two late, lamented magazines that really attempted to be comprehensive.

The first was Trouser Press. It's hard to believe that it's been almost 20 years since TP shut down, but it has. I was stunned at the time. Shortly after its demise, I came across a magazine at the campus radio station where I worked called OP, which later metamorphosized into Option. That was an excellent magazine as well. The original issues were organized on the conceit of covering music alphabetically, so you would have an issue on "A" music, then on "B" music, and so on. Fortunately, they dropped that idea shortly after beginning their second cycle through the alphabet, because good music doesn't happen alphabetically, and if The Clean released a new album just before the "D" issue came out, you would have a long wait to read about the band.

(Speaking of The Clean, we're going to see them tonight at The Knitting Factory in NYC. Woo hoo! We had tickets to see them a couple of years ago at Maxwell's in Hoboken, but unfortunately that show was on September 17, 2001, and the roads to Hoboken were blocked off, so we missed them that time around.... I think this may be only the third tour they've made of America. I did see two-thirds of the band when David Kilgour toured some years ago with Hamish on drums, and they even played "Point That Thing" when I requested it, but I'm looking forward to seeing the full lineup for the first time.)

Posted by ralph at 4:14 PM, June 4, 2003 [Link]

Portland, that's right. ah, Portland, Seattle... not far off :)

Thanks for the tip about Magnet Magazine, I'll check it out. Puncture used to cover a lot of New Zealand music, which was great.

Actually, I was at the hairdresser the other day, and picked up a copy of boring old Rolling Stone magazine, and they had several NZ bands in there - "Kiwi music" is becoming mainstream! Aaarrghhh.

Hey, have a great time seeing The Clean! Are you two ever gonna have kids, because I think you have waaay too much free time and disposable income ;) (That was a joke, don't answer that question!)

Posted by deb at 4:48 AM, June 5, 2003 [Link]

What's the mailing list about NZ indie rock please?

Damn! Wish the Clean would come to the UK. Went to see Yo La Tengo here, and had hoped that The Clean might have tagged along, but no such luck.


Posted by Phil at 6:52 AM, June 6, 2003 [Link]

now if you're talking long-lived and comprehensive, you can't leave out The Big Takeover. jack rabid has been publishing since the dawn of time, and puts out a thick, informative read about four times a year. sometimes it exhausts me and i defy anyone to read it cover to cover, but the interviews really make you feel as if you were listening in on the conversation.

find it at

Posted by shirley at 8:45 PM, June 9, 2003 [Link]

I've never really warmed up to The Big Takeover for some reason, although I've read a number of issues. I feel like Jack champions a lot of mediocrities I have no time for. That said, when he interviews someone I like, I pick it up, and I'm rarely disappointed. His two-part interview with Mission of Burma, for example, was the second most exhaustive interview with them that I've ever seen (the champion on that count is Forced Exposure, which practically went back to the womb in its massive MoB feature about ten years ago). But since I personally don't trust his taste, I don't think I've ever picked up on a new band from the magazine the way I have from Option or Puncture or Magnet or Folk Roots. That's just me, though; taste in music is a funny thing.

Posted by ralph at 10:26 AM, June 11, 2003 [Link]

Hey - thanks for listening - check out our online broadcast on demand.....



Posted by lucky oceans at 3:03 AM, June 13, 2003 [Link]


This site is copyright © 2002-2024, Ralph Brandi.

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

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[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

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[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

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