“Where can I find good music?” A constant complaint these days, especially amongst old-school DJs. While it’s true that the digital age has drastically altered the signal-to-noise ratio, it’s important to remember that more music also means more good music. We just have to look harder to find it.
The model has shifted. Someone out there is probably making precisely the music that you want to hear. It’s just harder to find, because that music may only sell 300 copies to the other people that have similar music tastes as you. Especially in the realm of dance music, DJDownload/TrackItDown/Beatport/Juno Download sell thousands and thousands of mp3s, but the amount of each individual track they sell is really low.
But, who cares? It doesn’t matter to you how Beatport makes their money. You just need to focus on how to find that one song that speaks to you, or fits your niche. The guys at Apple or Beatport don’t give a crap about your personal taste in music the same way that the owners of the record stores of old did. You need to shift the way you think about music shopping. Here are 25 ways to help you find good music in the digital age.
- Ditch the charts. If you’re scouring the Beatport Top 100 or Billboard top charts, and then complaining about not being able to find good music online, you’re already doing it wrong. Top charts are just a generalized summary of what other people are playing, not what necessarily appeals to your tastes. Get over the idea that top charts are the “best” of anything.
- Use the features. Perhaps it’s just our nature, being part of the “instant gratification” generation… but you can’t expect for good specialized music to just be thrown in your face. Online shops have tools for your use…have you ever tried to use them? Beatport has a “My Artists” and “My Labels” feature, which can keep you apprised of happenings that you’re actually interested in. iTunes has “My Alerts” and “Recommended For You”. Have you ever actually tried to see how you can get these shops to work for you?
- Save things in your hold bin or shopping cart. One thing that I like to do, especially after long music trawling session, is to save my tracks in the shopping cart or hold bin and come back to it later. I’ve noticed that when I’m looking for tracks for a specific purpose, such as wanting something new to play for a particular night or attempting to compile tracks for a concept mix, I become susceptible to “listener fatigue”. After scouring for an hour or two, one of two things can happen: either all the tracks can start to sound the same (not good enough), or mediocre tracks can be picked as a result of their contrast to earlier tracks (instead of how good they actually are). Coming back to your shopping list after an hour, day, or week can put a whole new perspective on your potential purchase.
- Cross-reference. It’s important to have somewhere to start, but why limit yourself? If you only pull tracks from iTunes, you’re limiting yourself to tracks that iTunes carries. Duh! Other places can help you with running searches, cross-referencing and listening. Sometimes, it’s helpful to type in songs you already know to see what kind of leads it brings up.
- Quit saying you don’t have time. You always have the time. Your problem is either prioritization, or inefficiency (probably both). How many hours a week do you spend sitting at your computer? You’re likely sitting at your computer right now. Is music playing? Spend some of the downtime that you would have spent checking your Facebook for the 47th time today to queuing up samples that can be listened to while you’re reading e-mail, working at your desk job, cleaning the house or cooking dinner.
- Sharpen your eye. While it’s true that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, good music buyers can spot the signs for things they might be interested in simply by examining the cover art, artist names, track titles, and descriptions. Try this: pretend that you are forced to buy your next track completely deaf, basing it solely on the “cover information”.
- Ignore distributor recommendations. Stop reading Beatport’s e-mails, or suggestions on DJ “secret weapons” (secret weapons which they just blasted to thousands of others!) Who cares what the newest release on iTunes is? Find music that YOU like, not music that the distributor thinks they can sell! Finding quality music is a personal endeavor.
- Follow artists. If you like a single by a particular artist, see what else they have to offer. If you seem to be picking up what they’re putting down, seek them out on Facebook/Twitter/Soundcloud/what-have-you. Sometimes you can even score good exclusives this way.
- Follow labels. The role of a music label is a mere shadow in comparison to what it used to be before the digital age. It’s really easy to come across small-time, zero-day labels all day long. Which is why it’s awesome to find a diamond in the rough. If you find a good one, keep an eye on them!
- Follow blogs. In a lot of ways, blogs are the new labels. If you can find a blog that caters to the kinds of sounds you like, and it is updated often, you may have found a gold mine. Many blogs even present free promo material! Which leads me to…
- Remember that free doesn’t mean bad. This is not me waving the music piracy flag. I’m merely stating that there is a lot of legit free music out there! Don’t dismiss something simply because it’s being offered for free on an artist’s website or SoundCloud account. I’ve scored some pretty great tracks and edits this way. I will often let SoundCloud play during my workday (now that they support continuous stream), and if I hear something I like, I will copy the URL in an e-mail. At the end of the day, I e-mail the list to myself so that I can download (or seek it out at an online store if it’s not downloadable) it later.
- Don’t limit your tracks by age. Good music is good music. Why do you care if it was released last week or last decade? Get over the idea that age has anything to do with quality.
- Remember that sometimes, less is more. Admittedly, this is more a tip to increasing the quality of your music collection, rather than finding new music. But, I highly recommend ditching those tracks that you always skip over in a playlist. You know the ones. We all have them. If you can’t bring yourself to delete a track (especially one you’ve paid for), try removing it from your “crate” or collection. In other words, remove it from your Traktor collection, iTunes Library, or whatever you’re using. I also read a similar tip on a forum: when shopping, queue up 10 tracks in your cart, pick the best one out of that 10, and delete the rest. As I get older, I realize that a quality music collection is much preferable to one that is merely large.
- Search randomly. Go to DJDownload.com, TrackitDown.net, Beatport.com or whatever your poison is… and simply search for things randomly. Try suggestive words like “groove”, “space”, “darkness”, “ethereal”, etc. You’d be surprised at how well you can discover good music simply by being random!
- Utilize YouTube. YouTube is a great resource for music, because people have a tendency to upload niche, rare, unreleased or back-catalog music there. It’s great for discovery, but not so much for actually acquiring. You may need to cross-reference to see if the songs are available elsewhere. Sometimes, they might be vinyl-only releases. One way to verify this is to…
- Check Discogs. What a great resource this is. Discogs is an exhaustive, community-driven database of music. You can figure out a lot of information about most music, such as what formats it was released in, tracklists for albums, artist aliases and more. They also have an extensive marketplace which holds a lot of gems (I have had a lot of success buying vinyl this way, and I love it).
- Ignore genres. This is similar to #12. Good music is good music. Don’t shun a track because it’s labeled “trance” and you’re not a trance DJ, or limit yourself to the deep house section. If you had a test group of 20 people in your city and played the same tune to all of them, they’d probably each give a unique response if asked what genre the track was. Don’t put much stock in genres.
- Use Pandora, Spotify radio, or “learning” streaming services. These days, online streaming services are getting smarter and try to recommend music to you based on your history. Most people are familiar with this idea through Pandora. Help these programs along by liking/hearting/whatever-ing tracks you enjoy.
- Use Last.fm and scrobble your tracks. Last.fm is another music recommendation service, but it is able to keep track of the local music you’re listening to (as opposed to using a streaming radio service). Many programs support this tracking feature (known as “scrobbling”), even using mobile devices. If your audio player of choice doesn’t support it, there may be a plugin for it. It’s also a cool way to see what kind of music you really spend most of your time listening to. Discovering good music is Last.fm’s bread-and-butter… check them out!
- Check out related artists. Most music services (such as Beatport, Amazon mp3, iTunes) will recommend artists to you based on what you’re currently buying or looking at. Don’t be afraid to check them out… you might be pleasantly surprised!
- Follow good online radio shows and podcasts. There are so many of them that it can be easy to ignore this one. But, there is a lot of value in finding a recurring show or podcast that truly delivers quality tunage to you on a regular basis. This is especially valuable if they post the track lists.
- Use TheHypeMachine. TheHypeMachine is an mp3 blog aggregator, which brings together the most recently posted songs from about 1,500 music blogs and lists them together on one page. You can also save songs to your “love” list, and are given a direct link to purchase tracks. Very cool!
- Follow user lists on Spotify, iTunes, etc. Sometimes you don’t need to find a good label or blog to follow in order to discover good music… many music services such as Spotify and iTunes allow you to follow user-published playlists. If you find someone who has similar tastes in music as you do, you may be in luck!
- Listen to MixCloud sets. SoundCloud is becoming less popular for hosting full-length DJ mixes due to copyright concerns, but MixCloud has stepped up to the plate on this (they pay royalties to artists). The cool thing about MixCloud is that their interface makes it very easy to identify what individual tracks are playing in the set. Very helpful!
- Check out the remixers. When scouring an online store such as Beatport, you’ll often be pleasantly surprised by a remix of a good track. Click on the remixer’s name and go directly to that artist’s page. I’ve found numerous gold mines by simply checking out an artist I’d never heard of by way of a remix they did.
So, there you have it… how to find good music in a massive online library of noise. What about you? What are your music discovery methods? Post it below in the comments!