Illustration: George Wylesol
Looking to dive outside your algorithmic bubble?
There are tools for that.
It’s only natural to become reliant on the well-designed algorithms of Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc. But algorithms don’t always capture your nuanced taste and curiosity. Even if you keep up with new releases and charts, the albums with the biggest marketing budgets bubble to the top. It can be satisfying to dig deeper and feel like a true curator.
Circa 2013 – 2014, there was a golden age of music discovery tools. That’s before streaming platforms added curated and personalized playlists. Although most of those have shut down, some great ones still exist. Below, we share the online tools we use to supplement our music discovery. If you love crate-digging and reading liner notes, you’ll dig these.
I’m obsessed with Radiooooo. The site is an interactive map for exploring the music of any region in the world through any decade, from 1900 to now. I just listened to a stellar Tanzanian jazz song from the 1960s.
You can filter options by ‘fast,’ ‘slow,’ and ‘weird.’ If you want to broaden your options, select shuffle mode. Taxi mode lets you select multiple countries and decades. Or, check out their curated playlists. There’s also a community component. You can (but don’t have to) create an account to save songs, add songs to the database, and follow other curators.
2. Lost World Radio
Musician Monk Parker created Lost World Radio for us to get lost in vinyl cuts spanning genres and generations. There are fewer options to refine your search than Radiooooo, but that’s a part of its charm. I suggest hitting play on a category of music you’ve never explored before – it’s a joyous experience.
3. Every Noise at Once
Every Noise at Once presents thousands of musical genres plotted across the page in a seemingly random arrangement. However, these genres aren’t so random. The scatter-plot of the musical genre space is based on data tracked and analyzed for 4,322 genre-shaped distinctions from Spotify, updated daily.
The site says, “The calibration is fuzzy but in general, down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier.” It was created by Glenn McDonald of The Echo Nest, a music data company acquired by Spotify. The site also provides three playlists for each country: current, emerging, and underground.
Bandcamp is a place to buy music with an excellent tagging system designed for discovery. Try exploring unfamiliar genre tags, or check out artist recommendations at the bottom of their profile pages – a feature that’s reminiscent of Myspace’s glory days.
Hand-select your own curators by following other users. I follow radio show DJs, record label people, music supervisors, etc. Subscribing to Bandcamp’s expertly-curated blog is another option.
Music publicist Seth Werkheiser launched a fun YouTube series where he plays ‘Bandcamp Roulette’ with recently purchased albums from the Bandcamp homepage. If falling down tag rabbit holes isn’t working for you, give it a try.
Similarly, Buy Music Club is a place for creating and browsing lists of independent music purchasable on Bandcamp. Anyone can make a list, but the site curates and presents their favorites on the homepage.
5. Hype Machine
I’m so happy Hype Machine still exists. Founded in 2005, the website indexes hundreds of music sites and collects their latest posts for easy streaming and discovery. Users can favorite tracks, and those with the most votes chart on the site’s ‘popular’ page. The team also collates the most-posted artists of the week and popular music videos. I highly suggest subscribing to their weekly Stack newsletter where they share hand-picked tracks curated by the team.
Last.fm is a huge community of music lovers. The site tracks what you’re listening to and makes recommendations. Create a library of your favorite discoveries, which get lost in the shuffle on other platforms. See what music is trending among the community, explore charts and new releases, and more.
cmd.to/fm is such a fun tool. Use a play command to enter a genre or artist, and a track is randomly generated. For example, if you typed “play disco,” a random disco track would play.
You can also explore the site’s categories, distinguished by instrument and genre and organized alphabetically.
8. Indie Shuffle
Indie Shuffle has also been around for many years. The site generates user-submitted tracks for discovering music from enthusiasts around the world. They also staff a team of writers to provide thoughtful context around each track.
Vinyl lovers have been enjoying Discogs, a music marketplace and discovery platform, since 2000. The site says, “Imagine a site with discographies of all labels, all artists, all cross-referenced, and an international marketplace built off of that database. It’s for the love of music, and we’re getting closer every day.” It’s a collector’s paradise.
Boomkat is an independent online record store. The beautifully designed website offers a diverse collection of records with clear genre tags and album descriptions offering writers’ unique points of view. It’s like talking to a record store clerk – without all the pretension. 😉
Bleep is similar to Boomkat and Discogs. It’s an online record store with a knack for catering to music discovery. Their sister company is Warp Records, who represent Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Battles, and Flying Lotus, among many other heavy-hitters. I was on the site for three minutes and discovered Caleb Landry Jones’ The Mother Stone, which is exactly what I felt like listening to at that moment.
Other places for music discovery
Beyond specifically-designed tools, there are so many places available for finding your next favorite album. The additional resources below might already be a part of your daily routine; it’s a matter of looking at them through a different lens.
The big music publications still alive and kicking today include Pitchfork, Fader, Rolling Stone, Stereogum, EDM.com, Complex, NPR, Brooklyn Vegan, etc. Music journalism has changed but there will always be music lovers providing sincere journalism. Here are some examples of those leading the charge:
- Gold Flake Paint: Gold Flake Paint is a curious music journal and online blog founded in 2010 showcasing writers from across the globe. They offer a heartfelt and in-depth look into their favorite new music. They feature indie music with a lean toward singer-songwriter, folk, garage, and psych (think: a lot of slide guitar), while covering a lot of ground.
- Dummy Magazine: Dummy is an online platform highlighting visionary artists across rap, grime, R&B, electronic, pop, Afrobeat, and beyond.
- Listen to This by Jen Monroe: Submitted by René Kladzyk (who perms as Ziemba) as her favorite blog for discovering older treasures, Monroe’s write-ups are more like personal essays and are so fun to read.
- Aquarium Drunkard: Founded in 2005, Aquarium Drunkard features daily reviews, interviews, features, podcasts, and sessions. Digging globally, AD bridges contemporary sounds with psych, jazz, avant-garde, folk, garage, funk, and beyond. It’s for heads, by heads.
- The Alternative: The Alternative provide intentional interviews, reviews, premiers, and more with a focus on, you guessed it, alternative music.
- The Grey Estates: Indie rock’s favorite blog shines a spotlight on the demographic diversity within the genre. You’ll find all things post-rock, punk, bedroom pop, garage rock, singer-songwriter, and beyond.
- Sometimes Magazine: Sometimes is a print publication featuring in-depth interviews, profiles, reviews, and more. It’s focused mostly on psych and psych-adjacent music and is beautifully printed on a risograph. It’s a vibe, for sure.
- Various Small Flames: This team is dedicated to sharing music from independent artists, especially home recordings and DIY labels.
- Bandcamp Daily: Bandcamp’s daily blog features some of the most diverse and well-written music journalism out there. It’s a music nerd’s paradise.
- Dancing Astronaut: Dancing Astronaut might be considered ‘mainstream’ to some, as it’s a massive resource for all types of dance and electronic music.
Internet and community radio
Erin Rioux on our team recently published an excellent write-up on the value of internet radio with a list of his favorite stations. I’m adding BFF.fm for consideration.
Community radio is my favorite music discovery mechanism. The ultimate curator is the passionate DJ who knows everything about the musical niche they dedicate several hours to every week. Some of my top stations include KOOP in Austin, TX, WFMU in NYC, and WMNF in Tampa Bay, FL. Of course, public and college radio are excellent resources as well.
There are so many great podcasts highlighting new and old music available today; check out some of our favorites here.
Record / sample labels
Keep up with the latest releases from your favorite record and sample labels by subscribing to their newsletters and following them on social media.
Films and TV
The art of pairing music to moving image is a precious one. Music supervisors and directors are a unique and special type of curator. As you’re binging your new favorite show or spending time with a film, pay attention to the music and Shazam the songs that pique your interest.
Record stores (websites)
Discogs, Boomkat, and Bleep are all online record stores, but physical record stores are the OGs of music curation. Yes, we all look forward to the day we can return to our favorite local shop and let the grumpy clerk shame us for our crappy taste in music. In the meantime, check out their websites and sign up for their newsletters to see what their staff is excited about today.
What’s your favorite music discovery tool? Share it in the comments below.
July 2, 2020