This post is dedicated to those whose musical journeys were interrupted by life…especially parents!
It’s probably not news to you that most people develop their musical tastes in high school and continue to listen to the same music for the rest of their lives. That would be especially true if your high school years were “the best years of your life,” which I hope they were not! Maybe it’s because you had so much time to listen to music back then, and you were doing everything for the first time, so your memories literally have a soundtrack.
As a very dedicated rock music fan, I have kept up on new rock music since I was 14. When my kid was born, there was a 5-year gap: I didn’t want my baby/toddler/preschooler listening to punk and metal. I have never quite recovered those years missing from my musical knowledge!
It’s done differently now – moms, especially, will buy tween music like One Direction or Justin Bieber to listen to with their daughters, while dads will bond with their sons over classic rock like AC/DC, lyrics be damned! I have nothing against mommy-bonding music, but when your kids outgrow it, what’s next? Do you listen to their high school music forever?
I had 2 big growth curves: In 1997, I cured my child-related musical exile by getting my car’s first CD player and listening to my own music between daycare drop-off and arriving at work. I spent endless lunch hours browsing the local CD store and re-educating myself. Then, in 2006, I discovered some music recommendation websites, and joined a music blogging site, which I blogged on for 3 years. I met my spouse via this website! I would still be there if they hadn’t shut down.
If someone asked me how to find new music, I’d ask them one key question: What do you listen to music for?
- Is it dancing around the house with your kids, keeping your mood up as you do housework, or keeping you going when you work out?
- Is it staying current so you can talk music with your teen kids?
- Is it finding new music that reminds you of your favourites from “back when?”
- Is it curiosity: you’ve been out of the loop for a while, and you want to know what’s out there and what’s new, without regard to anyone else’s tastes (or your own history)?
Break for a Laugh – Is This You?
If your answer is 1, you’re in luck – this is the easy route! You can listen to your local Top 40/Pop/Dance radio station. If the song titles and artists aren’t announced (or displayed), you can look them up on the radio station’s website: it will tell you, for example, that at 10:34 a.m., the song playing was Wide Awake by Katy Perry. If you have the time and no objection to sluttiness, you can watch the weekly top-hits countdown on MuchMusic, MTV, VH1, CMT, BPM or (child-friendly) Juicebox. As you may know, these so-called music channels don’t play many music videos any more – they’re all about reality TV – but you can find their music video programs in your local TV listings.
If you make note of songs or artists you like, you can watch their videos on YouTube, on your own schedule. YouTube is the go-to music discovery site of choice. If a musician doesn’t have any videos, someone is still very likely to have posted their songs on YouTube, accompanied by either photos or lyrics, or both. A few years ago, music videos on YouTube were mostly crappy copies posted by fans. No more – most artists have their own channels with high-quality official videos (supported by ads). If you like a song, you can watch the artist’s whole channel, or click on a fan-generated playlist of similar songs.
Another cool resource for workout/energizing music is jog.fm. You choose whether you are running, walking or cycling, and your usual pace. It recommends music which you can either listen to on Spotify (a music subscription service) or buy on iTunes. It includes playlists that other users have tested and posted.
If your answer is 2, you may be subjected to your kids’ music, whether you want to be or not! If you forbid certain kinds of music, or don’t provide any money for it, your kid has all kinds of work-arounds at her disposal: free downloads, YouTube, listening at friends’ homes, spending birthday money, etc. A parent would have to be very dedicated indeed to circumvent this. My solution was that our household had a shared desktop computer in a family room, and parent(s) were entitled to come and go from that room whenever we pleased. While no music was forbidden, my kid knew I could show up any time and insist on “discussing” it: a deterrent if there ever was one!
However, I loved the Teen Age. We had many wonderful years of mutual discovery as I introduced Link to bands I loved, like The Clash and The Hives, and I was introduced in turn to J-Pop, Emo, Queercore, and you-name-it! We also read teen-oriented music magazines together, like Rock Sound and AP (Alternative Press). Best of all, Link and I attended dozens of rock concerts together, some that each of us chose, with other friends or without. I firmly believe that taking Link to shows at which some of the young audience was drunk or high, taught lessons about how to coexist in that culture without taking part in it. Link is straight-edge to this day. Real music fans don’t miss the show by being too intoxicated to remember it!
One thing to think about, especially with tweens, is consumerism: to what extent will you buy music-related merchandise for your kids, or allow them to spend their own money on it? Will you buy concert tickets and provide transportation? Can their room be wallpapered with posters? Can they wear that Cattle Decapitation T-shirt to Grandma’s?
If your answer is 3, you’re in the majority! It’s easier to get used to new music when it at least reminds you of something you used to like. For instance, if you liked blues-rock bands such as Aerosmith or The Black Crowes, you might like newer bands such as Cage the Elephant or The Black Keys. Websites will serve you well here. The catch is that music recommendations on last.fm, Amazon, etc., will almost always lead you to your favourite old band’s contemporaries: Aerosmith will net you Kiss and Van Halen. If you are lucky enough to have access to Pandora (another subscription service, US/Aus/NZ only), it uses clever algorithms to find music that sonically matches your favourites, and doesn’t just come from the same era.
My favourite website for updating your old favourites is Allmusic. If you look up an artist, it lists similar artists, who influenced them, and who followed them (were influenced by them). Just go to the site, search a band name, and on their page, click the Related tab.
If you are a radio listener, classic rock stations will selectively mix in new artists whose recordings are “sympathetic” with classic rock – for example, they might play Guns N Roses, ZZ Top, Foo Fighters, The White Stripes, Baroness and Crucified Barbara – allowing you to expand your horizons.
If you are more print-oriented, there is a slew of classic rock magazines from the UK, including (the aptly titled) Classic Rock, Mojo, and Uncut, which feature articles on old bands and albums, but review new albums that their, ahem, mature, readers would like.
Finally, if you are the adventurous kind (you picked option 4) and just want a taste of what’s new out there, the world is your oyster!
Some of my favourite FREE sampling techniques are:
Read music magazines or their web sites – for rock fans, the most basic are Rolling Stone and Spin; the UK has NME (New Musical Express); Canada has its wonderful free monthly Exclaim!; and for indie fans like myself – Under the Radar. Of course there are separate magazines for punk, metal and hip-hop fans.
Bookmark music websites and magazines or follow them on Facebook – my favourites are Pitchfork and Stereogum. On their home pages, they always have brand new songs and videos to pique your interest. Spinner also has lots of new albums to listen to.
Check out music CDs from your public library. Not many people know that the library carries new music, so you’ll be one of the few picking up the latest releases!
Browse music CDs at the mall, then go home and listen to some of the tracks online to test them out before buying. This is a fun method because you can attempt to judge them by the band names or album covers!
Browse new releases on Amazon or iTunes and play samples. Both sites will start compiling recommendations for you.
Listen to Internet radio stations. An easy way is to Google your favourite music, such as “Hip-Hop Internet radio stations,” and choose from the hit list. As you listen, you can check the web site for band names and song titles. You can also listen to traditional radio stations online from their websites, including those in other countries.
Ask your friends or your friends’ kids to recommend some of their favourites for you.
Not free (depending where you live):
Go to a music festival at which you like 1 or 2 of the bands, and arrive early/stay late to hear some of the other acts you’re unfamiliar with.
Use an online music streaming service. In Canada we have just two, last.fm for $3/month or Rdio for $5/month. Your area might have Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody or Mog. They all have millions of songs to listen to on your computer or through a cell phone app, and they all post recommendations and other users’ playlists for you to discover. There is still a free one, Grooveshark, although how long they’ll last before being challenged for piracy is anyone’s guess!
Tell the staff at your local used CD/vinyl store what you like, and ask for recommendations. You may want to browse first, so you’ll know in advance if they are likely to scoff at your tastes. Or, just tell them you are looking for new music and want their opinions.
Disclaimer: I only listen to rock music, and I bet there are other ways of discovering jazz, classical, opera and world music.
Since I am a rather rabid music fan, I would love to hear your music discovery tips, or just tell me what you’re listening to these days!