Discovering music

Aug 16, 2020

"Where do you find music?" is a very common question I get. All it takes is an open mind and curiosity, right? Well... maybe, but ever since I became determined to delve down the dark roads of midnight music, I've ran into tools better suited for the job than others. Let's have a look at my favorite ways to find new music, approximately ordered from most used to least.

Throughout all of the features I'm about to cover, there are 2 main points we should establish.

  1. No matter how you go about it, most of the music you will run into on a discovery trip will be average. That is fine. Songs that resonate with you deeply will stand out from the crowd.
  2. People are a great filter, and knowing what your friends listen to will be one of your stronger assets. I've yet to find a person who would mind if I stole musical ideas from them.

Spotify

I've been using Spotify for about 6 years now and I've (apparently) amassed over 33 thousand tracks within the playlists I tune into. No, I have not listened to them all, and I've listened to thousands more tracks which are not within these playlists. Nevertheless, this has been my best tool for discovery.

Spotify doesn't have a magic "find music" button, instead it has a series of levers you can press to find things, and they are not created equally, let's go over them:

Following people. It's just so easy to see a some track or playlist that sounds interesting just being played and steal it. In fact, one of my all time favorite jazz/chill playlists - Funk, Jazz (f)or Soul - was stolen this way. Good friend was listening and I grabbed it. I think. If not than he sent it explicitly (this was along time ago)

Discover Weekly. This is a pretty high quality playlist generated every week. You'll find it under the Made For You section of the interface. This adapts over time, it might have a few weeks lag to swap between genres as you change your listening style... but it hits you with nostalgia bombs every once in a while, as well as keeps 90% of the tracks it shows completely new. The best part of discover weekly, however, is that it's stealable! That's right, I follow 7 different discover weekly playlists generated for my friends. Each has its own flavor.

Searching for hand made playlists. Oh god... Spotify has the worst UX when searching for playlists. I've had some of the best results here by finding 100-500 song long playlists filled with gold! Doing this is amazing but just so painful. Mini rant here: Spotify ranks it's own playlists higher than everyone else, they drop a mere 30-50 songs per playlists. I only recommend those for picking up new genres, otherwise... grab a thesaurus and search for synonyms until you find playlists with a few hundred/thousand follows that appear interesting. There are great gems to be found this way.

Radios/Daily mixes. These are technically the same, you can start a new radio from any track and see where it takes you, and Spotify builds a few radios for you based on what you listen and stores them in Made For You. There are a few caveats which make me avoid radios most of the time:

  1. Spotify's recommendation engine accepts a maximum of 5 artist or song inputs (so the API appears to work). Using a large playlist doesn't give me what I expect.
  2. In my experience, it feels like it tends to care more about the artists it recommends than the actual track. Starting radios from some off-beat song by a random artist, feels like it will recommend things similar to the artist, not the song.
  3. In app recommendations are personalized, and the algorithm seems to steer towards familiar landscapes more often than not. It's not necessarily a bad thing in general, but not the best when wanting to explore.

Release Radar. Another generated playlist, but this one tends to care about novelty more than variety. As far as I know, it only recommends artists you already follow. I know people who swear by this, but it's not my jam. However, just like discover weekly, it's stealable!

Soundcloud

I've stopped trying to use spotify competitors over a year ago. The lack of a friends tab that I can steal from is a big nogo for me, and I've yet to find one that offers a good variety of ways I can find music. However, soundcloud is not really a competitor... because the library of music doesn't really overlap.

I've mainly used it as a radio starting from a few scattered links. Because the library is generally composed of more unknown artists this works wonders. Always something new. I can't say I can give you tips for most genres here, as I've only used it for hunting down instrumental, electronic and/or psy inspired genres, and this is usually my starting place, an account used by an amazing local teahouse.

Shazam/Soundhound

Don't underestimate finding a cool song in a public place. I'm mainly including these here as I've recently discovered that Shazam has an automated mode where it will continuously discover music. I only got to use this at a couple parties/gigs before the pandemic hit. I'd leave it on and inspect the lists afterwards.

Mixcloud

This one's less explicit, because determining which tracks you listen to is clunky, especially on free accounts. It is however one of my favorite places to look at for ecstatic dancing mixes. Those sets tend to be varied, from mantras all the way to high tempo aggression, and sometimes I'll run into a great musical journey to remember.

So, there you have it, all the tools I currently use to find music. Yet, most of my mileage comes from stealing from friends, abusing Spotify's discover weekly, and spending time searching for playlists with a dictionary and a thesaurus nearby.

Enjoy!