As someone who dislikes long commercial breaks and hearing the same songs over and over on the radio, I’ve always had an interest in finding alternative ways to discover new music. Since it has now been a few years since I began this quest, I’ve decided to list some possible alternatives to “mainstream” radio (in no particular order).
I absolutely love the concept of Internet radio, although my experience has admittedly been limited to Pandora Radio and Last.fm. Summarized, they’re customizable radio with limited commercials (that you can mute if you feel the need). Awesome, yes?
Since I’m studying multiple languages for graduate school, I’m constantly searching for what I consider to be “good” music from other countries in an attempt to assist with my learning process by increasing my exposure. To test the effectiveness of these websites to help with this goal, I searched both websites for three different bands that perform in three different languages: a Japanese metal band named Dir en Grey, a German band named Wir sind Helden (We Are Heroes), and a French artist named Yelle.
I was thoroughly impressed by the fact that Last.fm not only had each group that I searched for but also managed to remain in the same genre and, almost always, the same language, including a limited amount of similar music in English. Pandora appears to be less conducive to expanding one’s international musical horizons, failing to provide any music for Wir Sind Helden and initially returning only English results.
That said, here are some general notes: I like that Last.fm provides you with a list of recent songs and radio stations while Pandora only allows you to look at recently played songs for a currently playing radio station (the history is cleared if you switch). I was surprised to discover that Last.fm allows you to maintain a “library” of tracks that you’ve listened to, although I suppose the trade off is that users are unable to pause (as far as I can tell) songs (the alternative is to leave the radio station) and can only structure their stations around entire bands as opposed to both songs and bands (Pandora allows both options). I’m more familiar with Pandora, which is probably why I prefer its layout. I also like having the option of structuring a station around a song as opposed to an entire band because occasionally you stumble upon those amazing songs from, unfortunately, horrible albums that you really don’t need to subject your ears to again (Ex: Matt and Kim’s “Daylight” and most music from the ’80s, like this).
1) If you enjoy any of the following genres, I STRONGLY suggest visiting purevolume.com which is an amazing way to discover new bands and genres (I’ve been regularly visiting it since at least high school). The website generally has limited free downloads, allows you to occasionally stream entire albums (many of which are new), and lets users listen to sample tracks from each band (some of which are available to download for free). The number of bands that I have learned about through this website is ridiculous.
- Acoustic (as it applies to the other listed genres)
- Christian (like Relient K)
- Club (generally with some rock or pop influence)
- Death Metal (nothing that I find particularly interesting)
- Electronica (see the next section of this article)
- Experimental (generally pertaining to these other genres)
- Folk (not in the traditional sense)
- Hip Hop (like Gym Class Heroes, not 50 Cent…)
- Jazz (typically mixed with rock or pop)
- Metal (nothing that I particularly enjoy)
- Pop Punk
- Post Hardcore
- Psychedelic (typically mixed with more modern rock)
- Reggae (More like Sublime and less like Marley)
- Southern Rock (I’m impressed/intrigued with people who are familiar with this)
2) For all genres of electronic music, my friend Amy (seconded by Morgan) suggests Beatport, which seems to be amazingly organized and provides example tracks from each genre, a number of charts, and various DJ mixes. Specifically, Beatport covers the following:
- Chill Out
- Deep House
- DJ Tools
- Drum and Bass
- Electro House
- Hard Dance
- Hardcore/ Hard Techno
- Indie Dance/ Nu Disco
- Progressive House
3) Another type of website that can be extremely helpful is a lyrics website. They tend to list upcoming or popular albums and/or songs. Here are a few examples:
- plyrics (standing for “punk” lyrics)
- azlyrics (stands for lyrics from A-Z; covers multiple genres)
- darklyrics (metal)
4) Myspace, quite surprisingly, isn’t dead yet. The website has a distinct music section which can thankfully be accessed without an account. Browsing is relatively easy, and the music homepage displays charts for top artists, songs, albums, and videos and features a number of playlists posted by Myspace and various artists. Users can also access the New Releases page which has “New This Week” and “Recent Releases,” both of which can be separated into songs or albums. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see a mention of the Melvins and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
5) My friend Thor recommended Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives which arguably boasts the largest database of metal albums and allows users to browse the website by letter, country, genre, or reviews. To test the quality of the site, I ran searches on a few metal bands, specifically Children of Bodom, Wintersun, and Judas Priest. Each search returned information on the band’s specific genre, lyrical themes, origin, year of formation, current label, status, current line-up, former members (if applicable), additional notes, links to purchase the band’s merchandise, a complete discography (or extremely close), and relevant links. Absolutely amazing!
6) Metal Underground was suggested by my friend Jake and features updated “Metal News Headlines”, recent interviews and reviews, upcoming releases, and thousands of band pages with general information on each band along with reviews and news. After a few minutes of just poking around this site I learned that a folk metal band that I saw in San Francisco a while ago, Eluveitie, is coming out with a new album, a singer for a band that I was planning on seeing had to leave the band’s current tour (Killswitch Engage), and that Mike Portnoy, the drummer for Dream Theater, just finished filling in for The Rev (RIP) on Avenged Sevenfold’s newest studio album. The website also has a “Best of 2009” list with some fantastic suggestions.
7 + 8 ) Daytrotter, suggested by my friend Miguel, has a relatively large archive of acoustic performances for a number of underground indie/alternative bands (similar to purevolume), a small collection of reviews, another small collection of concert videos, and a list of shows being promoted by the website. He also suggests Beatcrave, which appears to cover a number of different genres, although both websites tend to be dominated by indie and/or electronic.
Although I don’t regularly read any music blogs, some of my friends have suggested the following:
1) Delusions of Adequacy (DOA), suggested by my friend Justin, features a number of album, song, and concert reviews and also includes “interviews, features, and more.”
2 + 3) My friend Addy suggests Pitchfork and “i guess i’m floating.” As someone who favors rock/alternative/etc, I immediately recognized a number of bands from purevolume on “i guess i’m floating,” which looks pretty awesome from my perspective. I also recognized a few bands listed on Pitchfork, such as The Morning Benders and Caribou, although I’m not sure what genres it covers.
4) Hype Machine, or hypem.com, suggested by my friends Rebecca and Morgan, is a music blog aggregator, which means that it consolidates a number of music blogs into a single website. As hypem states, “Every day, thousands of people around the world write about the music they love– and it all ends up here.”
7 + 8 ) Miguel suggests “music induced euphoria,” which appears to be a true music blog, and “mindset,” which creates a “cut the crap” playlist each month of some decent/good-sounding tracks (see the archive here).
Some general suggestions
1 +2) Honestly, the best ways to discover new music are to go to shows (listening to each band) and to simply talk to people. Bands tend to tour or book shows with groups with a similar sound or fan-base, so, chances are, if you go to a show for one of your favorite bands, you’ll probably like at least one other band that’s playing. Open mic nights or bars and other venues that regularly have live music are also great ways to support local music and to get acquainted with local bands, such as Wave Array (East Bay, CA), Luke Franks or the Federalists (East Bay, CA), and D.R.A.M.A. Kings (Washington DC). Also, some venues, like the DNA Lounge (metal) in San Francisco or Yoshi’s (jazz) in San Francisco and Oakland, generally only host a specific type of genre, so you can always look at their calendars for upcoming shows. Talking with friends who have a similar taste in music is another fantastic way to learn about new bands and genres.
3) Amazon.com also has a feature listing related purchases. So, for example, if I were viewing The Best of The Ink Spots, I could scroll down to “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” and see suggestions for The Mills Brothers and The Andrews Sisters.
4) Wikipedia pages for bands tend to, if they’re any good, list some of the band’s influences. For example, Children of Bodom’s page lists Yngwie Malmsteen as an influence for their album Something Wild. Wikipedia pages also tend to list “epic” and/or memorable tour lineups, such as the Wacken Open Air 2008 tour discussed on Children of Bodom’s page which mentions Iron Maiden, Sonata Arctica, amd Avantasia.
5) Look at band labels. For example, Fueled By Ramen has signed a number of prominent and underground alternative, indie, and punk bands, such as The Cab, Cobra Starship, Friday Night Boys, This Providence, The Academy Is…, and A Rocket To The Moon. Jomar also suggests Metal Blade Records, which features bands like Cannibal Corpse, GWAR, and As I Lay Dying, Relapse Records, which features bands like Dying Fetus and Mastodon, and Southern Lord Records, which features a number of bands that I haven’t heard of but am now interested in.
Anyway, I hope that this was helpful! I should note that, due to my own musical interests and subsequent musical knowledge, this collection somewhat neglects a few genres. Please feel free to expand upon anything that I missed or to contribute some information towards a genre that I was unable to provide specific information for (off the top of my head: opera, classical, country, jazz, R&B, and hip hop).
I would also like to thank some of my friends for their suggestions which I have attempted to incorporate into this article.
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