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Music on Trial: How to discover great new music

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I live in fear of waking up one morning and realizing that I’ve fallen deep into a rut. You know, having the epiphany that I’ve worn variations of the same outfit and pondered variations of the same thoughts while the world around me thrashed, and then oops! years have passed, and I’m closer to death with nothing to show for it.

One of the ways I try to ensure that this will never happen to me is by constantly seeking out new music. However, perfectly-curated playlists don’t arrive in my PO with the same regularity as solicitations from credit card companies and letters from my dear friend, Sallie Mae. Thus, I’ve learned to exploit the resources at my disposal, and I hope you will too, with this handy guide to discovering new music…

Method 1 – Songza: I list this first because it is my personal favorite. I have yet to find another site as comprehensively organized around moods – anything from “aggressive” to “raw” to “nocturnal.” If you’re like me and need your playlist to be 100 percent aligned with what you are feeling in a given moment, check this out. Unlike Pandora, which leans heavily on popular singles, Songza will probably expose you to a song or artist you haven’t heard before.

Method 2 – Word of mouth: Find that kid with the slouchy beanie and black-framed glasses and ask him what he’s listening to these days. Surely you will be enlightened. Just kidding! It’s always a fun conversation starter to ask friends and acquaintances if they’ve heard anything good lately. You can also learn everything you need to know about people by asking them what their favorite song is.

Method 3 – The Current playlist: The only thing Oles love as much as fair-trade coffee and nose piercings is the Current. No shade; it’s totally justified. The radio station consistently delivers a spirited mix of cutting-edge new stuff, forgotten treasures, campy “No Apologies” tracks and indisputable classics. When you hear a song you like, take note of the time, then get the artist info on the station’s daily playlist, which is always up-to-date online.

Method 4 – The Hype Machine: This is for the person who’s already heard everything on the Current – hell, they DJ the Current. This person needs something fresh, something ahead of the curve. The Hype Machine features tracks that are being released and blogged about in real-time.

Method 5 – Spotify “related artists” feature: This is kind of cheating, because it won’t really take you to any truly breathtaking new territory. It will, however, deepen your understanding of some of your favorite genres and eras. It’s cool to see which artists are in conversation with each other.

Method 6 – Movie/TV soundtracks: If you know how to secure a job being the person who selects movie soundtracks, please hit me up immediately, because that would be a dream. Sometimes even the lamest, soapiest productions xoxo, Gossip Girl feature awesome music from bands outside the mainstream. Try to remember one key lyric so you can Google it later.

Method 7 – Live music: Very few “broke” college kids would shell out the money to see an artist with whom they weren’t at all familiar. The opportunity to see a random act perform live at little/no cost does present itself, though. Check out the group rocking one of the dinky, lesser stages at a festival. Show up for the openers for the band you paid to see, instead of just assuming that they’ll suck.

When all this is finished, you’ll experience the adrenaline rush of a successful hunt. Gaze upon the bloodied carcass – I mean, new playlist – with pride. By soundtracking your life in a new way, you might start to see things in a new way.

grosse@stolaf.edu