52. Be friends with Lester BangsScreenshot: Vinyl Films
Some people can dig up great music like magic, or have friends inside the industry who keep them updated. Some people are contented with their weekly Spotify Discover playlist. But if you need more ways to find music, here are 50 ideas, taken from Twitter users, my colleagues at Lifehacker’s publisher Gizmodo Media Group, and some of my own habits. Some are obvious, some bizarre, some embarrassing, but they have all helped people find their new favourite song, or even their favourite band.
“Best Of” Lists
If you’re getting into a new era or genre, or if you just want to “be more of a music person,” you might enjoy a guided tour.
- Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Fill out your knowledge of canonical popular music with one of the most famous “greatest music” lists, published in 2012. The list is a mix of music so popular it’s painfully clichéd, and important albums that you probbly missed if you weren’t in the right generation.
- Pitchfork collects the top 100 or 200 albums of every decade: the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Pitchfork digs a little deeper than Rolling Stone, with a little less concern for an album’s mass appeal.
- And the Slog culture blog loves to tell you what Pitchfork missed.
- AllMusic’s annual best album lists are beautifully presented, with album art and a short description that links to a longer review. AllMusic doesn’t rank its listings, instead breaking out alphabetical lists by genre.
- Or search “best [genre]” and find a source you like. Pitchfork and Rolling Stone will show up a lot, as will NPR, Complex, and Uproxx. (I’m currently working through Q Magazine’s 40 cosmic rock albums and Rolling Stone’s 50 greatest prog rock albums.) But so will sites dedicated entirely to that one genre, which will choose deeper, more distinctive cuts.
- Rate Your Music has over 40,000 user-created lists; scroll to the “popular lists” section or browse the list of “ultimate box sets,” which compile the best of niche genres like Belgian techno, neoclassical dark wave, and mumble rap.
- 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: A doorstopper of a book reviewing all the essential albums from the 1950s to 2005. Discogs has the list for free.
Music Review Sites
If you find a site whose taste matches yours, great! If not, you can still use these to just see what’s out this week.
- Metacritic Music averages critical reviews, so it’s a good starting point, and shows you what’s controversial or universally acclaimed. From there you’ll find review sites like these:
- “I check Pitchfork every morning to see what just came out; they publish 4-5 album reviews a day. I don’t really read it or care what they say too much. Pitchfork’s ratings are arbitrary!” — Joel Kahn, senior video producer at Lifehacker
- Consequence of Sound uses a letter-grade system for reviews, and streams new tracks as they come out (sometimes before they hit Spotify or iTunes).
- Needledrop keeps a running “loved list” of its favourite new songs. It’s a tight selection; this year’s list only has 13 tracks so far. (via Péter Szász, managing director at GMG Hungary)
The Rest of the Internet
The internet wants, very badly, for you to hear new music.
- Each month, Bandcamp names the best new music on the platform, in varying genres. E.g., March’s best ambient music, or February’s best hip-hop. (via Maria Sherman, writer/editor at GMG)
- You can dig deeper into Bandcamp by “tag surfing” from a band you like to others, or following the Bandcamp blog, says GMG developer Janos Hardi.
- SoundCloud is similarly built for wandering; when you’re done with a track, it autoplays something else you might like. Find an artist you enjoy, then check out the tracks they have “liked.” Tag surfing works great here as well.
- Pandora might show up in Google below the jewellery brand of the same name, but it’s still one of the best “custom radio” services. Just tell it an artist you like and it builds a new station. For less obvious results, plug in a band that you’ve only recently fallen in love with.
- iHeartRadio is also still around, streaming radio stations (both old-school and niche digital-only) based on your genre preferences.
- Tools like Gnoosic and Musicroamer work like tiny versions of Pandora or Spotify Discover, suggesting new music based on what you enter.
- Spotify and Apple Music try to alert you to new releases by artists you already like, but their delivery systems kind of suck. (Just give me a playlist, and don’t clog it up with bands I “might like,” you weirdos!) But you can fix that with services like Album Reminder, MuzeRoom, muspy, Beathound, and Swarm.fm. They all offer different options for importing your listening history from iTunes, Spotify, or last.fm, plus options for manually entering bands to follow.
- You might have a hard time getting your friends to gather for an in-person listening party, but you could probably coax them onto JQBX, where users synch up their Spotify playback in a virtual DJ room. You need Spotify Premium to use it, but JQBX also lets you import and export music to Spotify — plus its search function seems to work better than Spotify’s own. Lifehacker loves it.
- If your workplace has a chat app, start a channel for sharing music. That’s where I got all the recommendations from my GMG colleagues, and it’s also where Nathan Edwards, senior editor at the Wirecutter, finds music: “Our work Slack has a music channel and there’s usually recs from people younger and cooler or older and wiser than me.”
- Join last.fm, which tracks your music listens across different platforms, and you’ll have a centralised record of your listening habits, along with recommendations. I’ve had an account for over a decade, and sometimes I dig into the archives to find forgotten favourites.
- If you’re still using Facebook, join some music-based groups, or follow the pages of specific artists. Music recommendation communities can be intimidating, but Facebook has a way of making it all feel accessible.
- Apple Music, as everyone knows, sucks at algorithmic music recommendation. But its staff-curated playlists are intricate and reliable. For major artists, Apple supplements its “essentials” lists with “next steps,” “deep cuts,” and music that influenced or was influenced by the artist. There are even playlists of the best covers of certain artists.
- Compilation streams on SoundCloud: On “Vintage Obscura Summer Mix 2014,” I found the Smiles original “I Am Just a Star on a Democratic Flag,” which you won’t find on Spotify or Apple Music. (You will find a beautiful, if less haunting, cover by Pink Flames.)
- Compilation streams on YouTube: The internet is really into the stream “lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to,” stream. Gaming site Polygon even made a parody, lofi chill beats X hip hop study X waluigi. The 7clouds account runs 7 live streams of good background music.
- /r/vintageobscura is the source for that summer mix; all entries are obscure tracks from 1900 to 1989. Most entries link to YouTube, home of all rarities. You’ll find more mixes and genre filters in the right rail.
- NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series is a fun listen in itself, but it’s also a cool way to get a “live” introduction to an artist. Most of the concerts are 15-20 minutes, the correct length for a music set. If there’s anything wrong with discovering music this way, it’s that everyone sounds their best behind the tiny desk.
- Similarly, the A.V. Undercover series brings in bands to play covers of famous songs, from a tracklist hand-picked by Lifehacker sister site the A.V. Club. If you like the “cheesy song played straight” trope, there’s plenty here for you — try Atlas Genius’s cover of Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be With You.”
- You probably already bump into covers when you’re looking for music. Try collections of covers of your favourite artists (Spotify probably has a cover for every Beatles song), to find groups that might have a different sound, but share your love of the first artist.
- “Vice News Tonight has a tragically overlooked segment called New Music Corner in which they ask musicians to comment on new releases from other acts. This construct leads to surprising moments like Weezer discussing new tunes from Bjork and Kelly Clarkson, Yo La Tengo being baffled by a new David Byrne record, Andrew W.K. somehow finding glee in every scrap of recorded sound, or Liam Gallagher walking off the set for being subjected to modern music. Finally, a way to experience new music while watching Run The Jewels beef with Sheryl Crow.” — Rex Sorgatz, author
- Subscribe to some music podcasts. Each episode of Song Exploder breaks down one song’s inspiration, composition, and production. That’s where I first heard Ibeyi and Mitski. It’s also a good place to rediscover older acts in a new phase of their careers.
- “The podcast Reverberation Radio is just a weekly playlist. Most songs not on Spotify though,” says Beth Griffenhagen. There are currently 257 available episodes, and in each one, the music feels obscure, like something you heard in a dream.
- Tumblr has tons of individual music blogs. The good ones — the ones with really obscure shit — can be tough to find. But search Tumblr for band names and dig around til you find a blog that matches your taste. You could start at naquelescaminhos, recommended by Jezebel writer Ashley Reese.
- Late Night Tales: Each album in this compilation series is curated by a recording artist like the Flaming Lips or Belle and Sebastian. You’ll hear some rarities and deep cuts as the artists try to impress and surprise you. Here’s a sampler from Bandcamp.
- Check out other releases from your favourite artist’s label. “Follow the labels on Twitter and they will tweet support for other bands and labels.” — Pat Cartelli
- “See who your favourite artists are talking about. I’ve found that often people who work in music — those on top of their discovery game — learn about cool new shit before everyone else simply because they saw a musician they like tweet about it.” — Maria Sherman
Music rating sites have to churn through everything as it comes in; soundtracks are curated samplers of one particular sound.
- I first heard a lot of my favourite songs through my favourite TV shows. Some shows (like GIRLS, Atlanta, The Magicians, Divorce, and Mad Men) are just constantly playing bangers. “[Soundtracks] remind me of the poignant scenes they underscore, so the songs alone can elicit that same catharsis & blend of emotions,” says Lou McLaren. “Watch CW shows to hear what the teens are listening to,” says Alicia Adamczyk, personal finance writer at Lifehacker.
- Same goes for movie soundtracks, which will have a narrower range of sound, but often their own original hits, like Black Panther, Call Me By Your Name, and anything from Wes Anderson.
- And don’t forget video game soundtracks; sister site Kotaku fell in love with Far Cry 5‘s in-game cult radio. The Grand Theft Auto series has always been a home for rarities by good bands. More instrumental soundtracks can make great work/study music. We’re fans of the soundtrack to 2d platformer Celeste, which combines piano, synth, and drums.
- Look, I’ve not only googled the music from Apple ads, I’ve done it at least five times. Apple has a good ad agency! They pick the songs because they’re catchy! I’m not ashamed but I feel like I’m supposed to be! AppleMusic.info lists the music from Apple commercials from 1984 to 2017.
Spotify and Apple Music
There are loads of features beyond “Discover” for finding new music. And some of the best have nothing to do with algorithms.
- Watch the social feed on the Spotify right rail, says Drew Olanoff. And dig through your friends’ public playlists.
- If you haven’t searched Spotify for incredibly specific playlists, just to see if they exist, you’re missing the best part of the app. Start with the musical toyboxes we covered this December.
- Listen to the thousand-song Spotify playlist of music from The Best Show, says Twitter’s jitka. This weekly comedy show plays a wide variety of new and old songs.
- Search for Spotify Sessions, exclusive recordings from big artists. Apple Music also features exclusives on its Browse tab.
Did you know music exists outside your computer?
- Do you always hear good music in the local coffeeshop or bar? When the staff isn’t busy, they would probably love to tell you all about it. Like, you might get dragged into a music lecture. But really, just ask them.
- Because everywhere else, where the staff didn’t pick the music, you’ll have to ask Soundhound or Siri. And usually that will work, but you won’t hear about all the other related shit. You won’t connect with a real human being, maaan.
- You wanna connect? Show up at local shows. Or just make a habit of choosing a bar with live music — I get antsy at shows, so I like this low-commitment option, where the band complements the drinks and not the other way around.
- The radio tends to be a terrible place to find new music; it’s the ultimate in “played to death.” But find your local college radio station, where the kids are more interested in impressing you than playing the hits.
- Public radio is similarly unconcerned with hits, and if (like me) you’ve barely listened to it since the iPod came out, you’ll be happy to find that many public radio stations are diversifying from the old “classical and jazz” mix.
- “I think the most underrated (and coolest) way to discover new music is to just see who your favourite acts are touring with, who they’re bringing on as openers. Like goddamn Lorde has Run the Jewels and Mitski out with her right now.” — Maria Sherman
This list is just the tiniest sample, and we’ve left out some major sources of new music. If you’re hungry for more, read (and add) more suggestions in the comments.