The internet’s made discovering new music so simple, so quick and so effective that it’s hard to imagine life without it. But since that massive wave of MP3s began to roll across the world in the late ’90s, the task of filtering out all the mediocrity has become a mammoth one, and entire businesses have been built to help people better filter and discover music that might change their life.
Like any process of discovery, you find various filters out of curiosity, try them out over time and if they consistently recommend music that “hits” with you more than it “misses”, you come back to them again and again. I’ve had this conversation with many people over the years and the methods by which they discover new music are almost as numerous as the genres of music they’re into, and usually a combination of things: Blogs + LastFM + Pandora Radio for example or Chart Radio + Friends + iTunes Genius.
What’s consistent in these processes is the combination of “opinion makers”, “analysis of your past music preferences to make new suggestions” and good old fashioned word-of-mouth.
My own “special sauce” has been a mixture of a selection of music blogs (via Google Reader), friends recommendations via word of mouth or Facebook and the music press in general. What’s most interesting about these processes is how conservative they get – I’ve been reading basically the same music blogs for almost 10 years now and because of their relative consistency in suggesting new music, I rarely need to go to any radically different source to get my fix.
But I’ve made an interesting shift recently and I’m wondering if it isn’t becoming much more common. I’ve started treating music recommendations made by Thom Yorke AS IF I knew him. Now, before you think this is some crazy fan-boy obsession, let me assure you that it’s not – some back story:
About 8 months ago, Thom started posting “Office Charts” on the Radiohead website detailing 8-10 tracks in heavy rotation at the Radiohead HQ – just text, no links. Someone at RH HQ had the smart idea of putting as many of these as possible into a Spotify playlist, and making that playlist available to the public. I’ll admit that I’m a massive Radiohead fan, which was why I was initially curious about the music. But every week, as more and more music was added as Thom posted, I began to get consistently turned on to a number of new tracks. But not only that, Thom was adding stuff that I already loved
So when I saw that Thom was co-hosting a show with Gilles Peterson on the BBC, I listened in. It was clear from the broadcast that Thom and Gilles knew each other well – it sounded like two mates just geeking out in their bedroom. And many of the songs Thom chose to play I’d already heard via the Spotify playlist. What I began to realize was here was someone who just liked a lot of the same type of music that I did – and at the end of the day, isn’t that what connects all of the people in your life who turn you on to new music?
I began to wonder, as social networks, and music sharing in particular become more and more a part of our lives, will this experience become more common? It seems like the next step up from reading an article where your favourite musicians name their influences. The combination of Spotify and the web has allowed me to see what Thom’s loving right now, not just what’s influenced him when writing music. And I just so happen to love a LOT of it. And most importantly, it feels honest.
This is a very exciting prospect.
Have you had an experience like this with an artist you love? How did it happen? What music has it turned you on to?