Speaking of Music…

My post from a couple of weeks ago on Spotify’s and piracy’s (separate, but related) potential effect on the music industry, artists, and art itself, got quite a bit of attention, thanks in large part to WordPress.com’s choice to feature it on their “Freshly Pressed” page. The large number of views for the post and the deluge of comments were pretty exciting.

This past weekend, I had the good fortune to spend some time with one of the two friends whose conversation inspired that piece. When I mentioned the attention the post had gotten and thanked him again for inspiring me, we tumbled headlong into the debate once more. Not a lot of new earth was tilled during this discussion, but he did say one thing that interested me and saddened me in equal measures. He said that if he never heard another new artist or album, he’d be content to go through the rest of his life with the music he already had.

What interests me about this statement is not so much its potential relationship to the arguments I posed in the Spotify post, but how utterly incomprehensible that mindset is to me. I am in a constant state of anticipation towards new music, books, and films. It may simply be that I value these things a great deal more than your average person, and I thought that this would be a good forum to which I might bring a couple of questions.

1. When is the last time you would say you “eagerly anticipated” a new record?

2. How important is it to you to “keep up” with new musical artists (or even new releases from old favorites)?

For me, the answers would be (1) today (Mumford & Sons, Grizzly Bear, Alt-J, and Animal Collective – I know it’s already out, but I haven’t heard it yet – and that’s only September releases) and (2) very important. I understand that finding the money (piracy obviously not being an option for me) and even the time to seek out new artists and devote time to listening to music can be difficult. I would bet that I listen to music about a quarter as much time as I did in college, mainly because I spent so much time walking around campus with my headphones on. However, the thrill of hearing a new album for the first time is a unique, thrilling experience, and one that I would never want to sacrifice completely.

One explanation I often hear from people who don’t keep up with music much as they age is some version of the “new music doesn’t hold a candle to old music” argument. Allow me to call BS, if you will. Your precious Dylan or U2 or Nirvana (all artists I love dearly, by the way) did not signal the end of musical excellence (and Dylan is still putting out music, so…). You might have to dig a little harder (radio – for the most part – doesn’t quite offer us the same access to a diverse set of artists that it may once have), but really great stuff is out there, no matter what genres you enjoy.

So here’s a task for the weekend: find some new music to explore. A few ideas on how to end up with something you’ll really enjoy:

  • Check out listening stations at your local record store: Many independent stores still have terminals where people can check out staff recommendations, popular releases, and critical darlings on some good old over-the-ear headphones.
  • Ask the surly clerk at your local record store: Not to generalize, but every record store clerk in the world is a ball of loneliness and opinions, waiting to dole out their recommendations to anybody who wanders in. Tell them what you like, and I’d bet that they come up with a few albums worth trying out. (Both of these options also support artists and local businesses, so, win-win-win [you-artist-store].)
  • Go to Amazon’s music page, type in the name of your favorite band, and look at the “People who bought this also bought:” lineup. It’s like playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but with musicians. Eventually, you’ll run into something good.
  • Start a rateyourmusic.com or last.fm account. The former is kind of a haven for nut-jobs who listen exclusively to doom-metal (yep, that’s a thing) but it has a great recommendations generator and features crowd-sourced reviews, rankings, and discussion forums.

If you take up my challenge and actually decide to purchase something, I’ll urge you to do only one more thing: buy a hard copy. Vinyl, CD, whatever. The other day, for the first time in months (I’d given up trying to fight the convenience and inexpensiveness of Amazon’s Mp3 Store) I bought two CDs and lay in bed listening to them and reading the liner notes. They weren’t anything fancy, just those little booklets with the lyrics typed onto each page, but it was incredibly satisfying to just listen to music as an act in and of itself, rather than something done while driving or surfing the internet or mowing the lawn, and pay close, undivided attention to this creation that, in this case, The Avett Brothers and The xx had spent so much of their time and energy on. More than satisfying, it was rewarding, this attention, this focus.

I hope some of you actually do this and that you gain a new beloved band, album, or even song in the process.

Let us know what you found and if was any good in the comments section. Have a great weekend!

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Categories: The Tape Deck

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One Comment on “Speaking of Music…”

  1. September 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    I look for new music every day. One way is a great app that I found called “Band of the Day.” They feature a different musical act every day. Most of them, I’ve never heard of, and I’ve found a few keepers in there.

    I also use Rhapsody (which is probably similar to Spotify, but I like it much better) to find new music.

    Then there’s This Blog. These folks find some very unusual music from all over the world.

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