How Do You Discover New Music?
Or do you, like me, keep falling back on what's familiar? An open thread...
Last week, when everyone was posting about Spotify Wrapped—year-end tallies of the songs and albums they’d listened to the most over the past twelve months—I experienced a familiar panic: What if everyone knew what I’d listened to the most in 2022? Surely they’d know what a dork I am, and always have been.
Now I want to know what music all of you regularly listen to, how you discover new sounds, and what great new artists you’ve stumbled upon.
Fortunately I’m not much of a Spotify user, so there’s little risk of everyone finding out about my weird listening habits. Or maybe I should frame that as my not-weird-enough listening habits. Because the list of what I listened to in 2022 probably pretty closely matches the list of what I listened to in 2021, and 2020…and most years before that.
Okay, I’ll come clean. In broad terms, without any kind of formal data analysis off the top of my head I can tell you I listened to a lot of: Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, early Springsteen, early Ani DiFranco, Lucinda Williams, Prince, Chaka Kahn, The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Nanci Griffiths, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, the original cast recording of A Chorus Line, old standards performed by Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan, the soundtrack to the Streisand/Kristofferson edition of A Star is Born and many other of Streisand’s recordings, the soundtrack to Scorcese’s New York, New York and many other of Liza Minelli’s recordings, 70s disco and funk, 70s classic rock, 70s folk rock…
The list of what I listened to in 2022 probably pretty closely matches the list of what I listened to in 2021, and 2020…and most years before that.
…And speaking of music from the 70s, perhaps most embarrassingly, I listened to a lot of Free to Be, You and Me…which, by the way just celebrated its 50th anniversary. (I listened to it even more than usual this year and last, because I wrote about it.)
So many selections from the 70s! Which is to say that I, like so many others, am a creature of habit when it comes to consuming music. Many times in my teens and young adulthood I tried to seem cooler by learning about what my hipper peers and younger people listened to. I even made it one of my gigs, writing about new music for newspapers and magazines and even MTV News. But what I learned about rarely stuck the same way as the music I fell in love with as a kid, and the tunes my friends and early boyfriends put on mixtapes for me, to bring me up to speed.
I think often of a David Hadju op-ed from 2011 about how for many people, lifelong musical taste is influenced by what they first became hooked on at 14. (It’s in the New York Times archive, but I’m not linking to it because today I’m supporting the thousands of New York Times staffers who are striking for fair wages.) It’s not that surprising, especially since studies have shown that familiarity with music increases our chance of liking it. (In February,linked to this, too, when he wrote about the unlikely experience of first discovering The Grateful Dead in his late 40s.)
I think often of a David Hadju op-ed from 2011 about how for many people, lifelong musical taste is influenced by what they first became hooked on at 14. ..It’s not that surprising, especially since studies have shown that familiarity with music increases our chance of liking it.
I’m reminded of an old friend who was like a big brother to me in my teens, who made a personal project out of turning me, a musical theater geek, onto classic rock. In the fall of 1979, when he loaned me The Who’s Quadrophenia, he insisted, “You need to listen to it at least three times, while reading the lyrics.” I dutifully complied. I also committed to memory the mixtapes he made me, listening to them day and night, sometimes falling asleep to them, or to WNEW 102.7, the classic rock station he introduced me to, on my clock radio. My brain was a sponge for it all. I came to love a lot of it, and obviously I still do.
But as drawn as I am to what’s familiar, it gets boring listening to the same songs and records over and over. I need some new music to listen to, but there’s so much out there, and so much that I’ve missed, that I don’t know where to begin.
So, I want to hear from all of you about how and where you discover new music. Tell me in the comments. And while you’re at it, maybe recommend some new, or new-to-you artists you’ve found and enjoyed.
Or, if you, like me, are stuck in some old musical grooves, tell me about that, too.
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I am a child of the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, and I still get a pang of nostalgia every time "Do It Again" comes on the radio just like the next guy, but I have always felt that I owe it to myself to remain current with new music. The reason is simple: finding new joy. If, like Kevin Kline's character in The Big Chill, if I stopped listening to new music the moment I graduated from high school or college, my life would be far less joyful and, yes, meaningful. My key for staying current is to read Pitchfork's new music reviews every day of the year. I am an avid Spotify user, but I also buy vinyl records or digital downloads from my favorite local record shops or Bandcamp in order to support the artists I really love. Every year, I compile my own Top Eleven album list and share it with my friends on Instagram. I'll share mine for 2022 here, if that's OK. In no real order except that Classic Objects by Jenny Hval was my favorite album of 2022.
1. Classic Objects/Jenny Hval
2. Dawn FM/The Weeknd
3. Crash/Charlie XCX
4. LUZ/Axel Loman
5. Omnium Gatherum/KG&LW
6. Remember Your North Star/Yaya Bey
7. Estrela Acesa/Sessa
8. Household Name/Momma
9. Stumpwork/Dry Cleaning
10. Time Skiffs/Animal Collective
11. Sons Of/Sam Prekop and John McEntire
I discover new music by listening all the time to KEXP. I add any song I like to my big ongoing Tidal playlist. I also listen to lots of old familiar music.