When I was a kid, my mom bought used copies of Smithsonian magazine and Rolling Stone to read herself. She read them There’d be stacks in semi-permanent residence on the bed at all times. Being a voracious reader since always, I read them too. With the sex ads ripped out of the back, of course.
So, between RS and VH1’s Behind The Music, I had more information about Woodstock and the 60s than actual records to listen to. It’s the same today.
Reading the press about a band typically fills in the back story before I ever get to hear them. Case in point, LCD Soundsystem. Read about them for years, knew a few things about DFA and James Murphy. I didn’t hear a note until a friend played “Losing My Edge” in the apartment and I fell in love with “This Is Happening”. Same with The Smiths or even Wilco. Reading made these bands legends in my mind before I ever heard their records.
Read These Paper Websites
Rolling Stone – Kind of a rag these days, but Jann Wenner has a long memory. Good for mainstream coverage that keeps one eye on legacy artists and turns a skeptical (but loving) eye on certain ex-tween popsters. The third eye seems to churn out reams of shifty left-aisle bluster. Mom used to rip out those pages too.
Mojo – The music writing is so much better than RS it’s pathetic. There’s personality, integrity and zero politics here. While they spend a lot of time on semi-obscure 80s British scenes, the mainstream indie coverage is top tier and less bloviating than RS. They show a lot of love to America’s great rock ‘n rollers too. And the extensive album review section makes great breakfast reading.
Uncut – Another U.K. magazine, this time pointedly focused on classic rock. Both mags are available at shops like Luna Music, Indy CD & Vinyl and sometimes Barnes & Noble. Uncut is so similar to Mojo actually, I thought they were published by the same company. I buy a Mojo or Uncut every other month, typically picking the one with the best cover story or best looking sampler CD. Which brings us to the next best natural way to stay informed about music.
Listen, Listen, Listen
So, reading is great. What about actually listening to find new songs? That’s a little more difficult. I’ve never listened to much radio. Back in the day I got more from music video TV channels. Today, I’m more likely to read a review online and stream a few of the songs as I read.
However, there’s two audio sources that always deliver something new: podcasts and sampler CDs. Both Mojo and Uncut include a sampler when you buy the magazine. Sometimes it’s a waste, or you only like a song or two. But I’ve gotten a few that were stacked with hits. I found The Hold Steady and Bill Callahan both through Mojo/Uncut samplers. Buy the magazine, stick the CD in your car stereo and listen to it on the way back from the store.
Podcasts are the newest addition to my discovery habits. NPR’s All Songs Considered is a radio institution with a raft of articles, videos and other media on the website that makes each episode easy to dive into. They talk about the mainstream stuff and try to play new tracks from left-field artists. Lucius and Rhye are great bands that Bob and Robin talked me into. Another good one is from U.K., The Guardian’s Music Weekly.
Beg, Borrow and Steal From Your Friends
I’m writing this post because you’re my friend. And I would never know about some of the best bands without sharing from friends. In middle school, that mean swapping my Smash Mouth CD for a friend’s Dave Matthews Band “Live at Red Rocks” Disc 2. In hindsight, not quite a fair exchange. Though “Astro Lounge” was so cool at the time.
In high school, sharing music meant making a special playlist my girlfriend and I could listen to together while waiting for a Lord of the Rings midnight show. Lots of The Shins. In college, my freshman roommate’s entire external hard drive of stolen music got passed around for months until everyone on the first floor had just all the Ben Folds.
More favorites I’d never have known without good friends: mewithoutYou, Green River Ordinance, Andrew Bird
Obviously, reading, listening and stealing aren’t the only ways to find new music. New streaming services like Spotify, Beats Music and Rdio offer a world of back catalogs with curated discovery services. Meanwhile, YouTube and Soundcloud host plenty of unsigned, fringe and underground sounds that could be on radio tomorrow. Part two gets to the bottom of the black hole of music on the Internet.