How I discover new music

I've had conversations with a few folks about music and recommendations for new music. Growing up I was never quite good at finding music and relied heavily on my peers or the charts or what-have-you. But over the years I've amassed a pretty substantial collection of music from a variety of genres. So in the interest of sharing music (which I did on Open Metalcast) I'd like to share some of the things that have lead me on some fantastic musical journeys.

  1. Be open to exploration. This is a key element of any musical journey. When I was in college doing a music show I had no idea what to play. One of the best tips I received was to just grab a stack of music and find things to play on the show. So I went back to our library (which had a combination of vinyl and CDs), grabbed a stack of vinyl, and then listened to records while the other record was playing. That introduced me to so many bands like Pop Will Eat Itself, Midnight Oil, Soul Asylum, and Webb Wilder (among many more). I loved the crap out of the journey, and it opened me up to so much new music that I wouldn't have otherwise listened to. Exploration is key to your musical journey.

  2. Find the others. Lots of folks share their musical tastes online and in person. My good friend Alan and I got together on our radio show in college because we liked similar music and bonded over that. We shared a lot of music and both of us learned a ton about metal, industrial, electronic, and so much more. You can do some of this on sites like, listenbrainz, and other social music platforms.

  3. Focus on one artist. I learned to love musicians like Herbie Hancock, Joe Jackson, and Rush in high school. I dove deep into all of their catalogs to learn more about the artists and what interested them. Herbie Hancock in particular is a fascinating artist that straddles the worlds of Jazz, Classical, Fusion, and Rock. He's also a consummate geek so I fell in love with his more electronic funk music and then started exploring his bebop period. That lead me to Miles Davis, which is one of those artist that has either worked with or influenced generations of artists. Just by following the path of one artist you can start to explore different periods, different sounds, and even different genres (though God help you if you focus on musical chameleons like Bill Laswell).

  4. Branch out. Many musicians work with so many artists. So explore those other artists as well. Herbie brought me Miles. Les Claypool turned me on to Bernie Warrell and Funkadelic (though I knew of them before). Fear factory reminded me of Gary Numan (though I've only recently reconnected with his music). Find who is working with whom and branch out from there.

  5. Under the influence. So many bands put out covers of artists they enjoyed and were influenced by. Listen to those covers and seek out the original bands. Even a bad cover might turn you on to the original band. There's a Youtube series called "What's in my bag" that follows artists in record stores and asks them about "what's in their bag". Most times they'll discuss an album that really inspired them or was something they really liked. From Gary NUman I found Ultravox, which was a band that had complete;y passed me by. The next time I was in a record shop there were three Ultravox albums. I picked them all up on a lark. I had no clue what I was getting into, but I knew I would enjoy the journey. That lead to more Ultravox albums to pick up the earlier stuff. Again, find the path and dig deeper if it interests you.

  6. Re-listen to music you hated. This is a big one. Sometimes I'll listen to an album or artist and just bounce clean-off. I didn't like death metal vocals initially, so I avoided a lot of music because of that. Nowdays I really enjoy them, so I opened myself up to a whole world of metal music. I recently re-listened to Poison's greatest hits. Even though this was a band that I "couldn't stand" in the 80's and 90's I realized they weren't that bad after all. There was obviously something that folks like about the band and my curiosity lead me to understand what folks find interesting about that band. Does that mean I'll be their biggest fan? Hardly. But it opened me up to new horizons. I also don't like opera, but I have some in my collection (mostly from grab-bags of classical music) that I might put on to better understand what folks enjoy about this music. Who knows? Maybe I'll be at the Metropolitan Opera someday. Tastes change, and revisiting stuff you couldn't stand before might open you up to things you could enjoy in the future (though I'll be fucked if I ever listen to Hootie and the Blowfish ever again. I don't know what possessed people to give them any attention.)

  7. Find reviewers you trust. I have a subscription to BBC Music Magazine and adore David Hurwitz of Classics Today. Both of then introduce me to new music. David Hurwitz also has a Youtube Channel where he talks about classical music reviews, the industry of classical music, and how to listen to classical music. Both have introduced me to so much music that I enjoy. There are other places to find reviews of music, but I'm unfamiliar with them.

  8. Ignore reviewers that have an axe to grind. This applies to sites like Encyclopedia Metallum, Rolling Stone, and many more. Some folks just like to shit on music that doesn't fit their current world-view, or doesn't push the boundaries with every album. Not everything has to be mind-blowing. Sometimes music can just be fun to listen to. I can't count how many reviews I've found on sites where a perfectly fun album gets trashed because someone believed it wasn't progressive enough or sounded too much like the artist's previous stuff. Who cares? Ask Motorhead or Slayer about "pushing boundaries". They found their sound and stuck with it. That's OK. Or worse, you'll find a reviewer that doesn't like anything unless it's from some bespoke artist in Puducah, KY that sells their music on Edison Cylinders that require at least four working machine at each corner of the room to be perfectly synchronized to get the full effect. Anything less than this artistic vision is rubbish. Nonsense. Music should be listened to and enjoyed. Any reviewer that tells you otherwise is putting novelty over quality. Ignore them.

  9. Trawl Bandcamp. Bandcamp has been a revelation for my music buying. Between their insightful articles and full-album streaming they are responsible for a lot of eye-opening exploration. I would never have found Mississippi Records had they not been featured on Bandcamp. Following artists on there can also lead to some interesting and important discoveries. They were recently merged with Epic Games so I hope none of that quality fades like most mergers do, but for now they're a key resource in any musical exploration.

  10. Go to record stores. Seriously, these places are treasure troves. The good ones even have used CDs, which have been another wallet-drainer for me. Pick up stuff that looks interesting. I've picked up so much wacky shit from used record stores that have eventually become treasured artists that I dig. Again, be open to exploration.

  11. Pick up shit that looks interesting. I wouldn't have had a clue to Isao Tomita is if I hadn't picked up a used CD copy of his interpretation of The Planets. The cover showed a giant spaceship on it with his name. There might have been some description on the back, but the cover and the premise was enough for me to not let that CD pass me by. The music was wacky and otherworldly, but interesting. Soon I ordered his discography. I was hooked. I started noticing his albums whenever I went to stores. Had I not picked up something that looked absolutely bat-shit insane I would never have been exposed to his music and his philosophy. Sometimes you just need to take a chance. I've picked up stuff that looked interesting that was dreadful. Ah well. But more often than not the random shit that gets into my pile captures my attention. As the Pop a Tic Tac Toe II machine used to say "Don't walk by, give it a try!" You'll be glad you did.

  12. Explore the label. This is something that I've learned over the years, especially with independent labels. Most of them either have a particular sound or style that they gravitate to. If you find an album on a particular label then explore the rest of their catalog. I've found a lot of gems just because I liked other stuff from the same label. This is great for independent stuff but can get tricky with catalog titles that have had their labels become part of larger mergers, but generally speaking certain labels had a certain sound or focus to them. Sometimes doing a label search on AllMusic, Discogs, or even Bandcamp can unearth some treasures.

  13. Don't limit yourself. There's a tendency to define our musical tastes as one genre or another. Some folks might label me as a "metalhead". I adore metal, but I also love electronic music, dance music, techno, jazz, classical, and so much more. One of the artists I adore is Steve Roach, who is as far away from metal as one could get. My first musical loves were classical and funk, though I'm still a punter when it comes to each genre (and I have hundreds of classical CDs). Again, be open to exploration and don't limit yourself. If a country music album moves you that's OK. If you suddenly like the music of Bob Dylan that's OK. If Janis Joplin's music appeals to you I'll probably look at you funny but that's OK by me. There's so many vast quantities of music to explore that it would be foolish to shut yourself off from large swaths of it because you're a fan of one genre. Screw that - let me gorge at each table.

  14. Start with the charts, and then ignore them. When I was first buying music I didn't know what to select. So I did what any kid in the 1980s did and looked at the top 40 list. That got me some interesting bands, but I soon learned that the charts were based on numbers of items shipped, not number of items sold. Streaming services like Spotify also have lists of number of listens. Those might be a great spot to start but learn to ignore them. Charts are just feedback loops and can be easily gamed. Something might stick on the charts because enough people clicked on it to listen to it. They're not a measure of how good something is; they're a measure of how many people were goaded into listening to it. Use them as a guidepost, not as a map.

  15. Have fun. Music shouldn't be boring or tedious. If your musical library seems stale then it's time to liven it up a bit. Put it all on shuffle and let change be your DJ. Go on Bandcamp and click on an album that someone just bought. Go to a record store and buy the most garish album cover they have. Find a list of albums that started a genre you've never heard of before. All of these can help liven your musical palette. The main thing though is to have fun with it. Music shouldn't be boring. Life's too short for boring music.

There are probably other pieces of advice I could give but these cover the main ideas. I find nothing more relaxing than poring over a bunch of albums looking for things that are interesting or just plain different. I'm happy to compare notes with folks if you want and am always up for suggesting new things.

As Dave Hurwitz says after every video: "Keep on listening, folks!". I couldn't agree more.