Illustration: George Wylesol
Looking to dive outside your algorithmic bubble for music discovery?
In recent years, many of us have naturally become reliant on the well-designed algorithms of Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc. for music discovery. While these are all certainly powerful and can lead to great finds, algorithms alone don’t capture your nuanced taste and curiosity. And even if you keep up with new releases and charts, the albums with the biggest marketing budgets bubble to the top.
It can be not only highly satisfying but also incredibly fun to venture beyond these go-to sources, dig deeper, and feel like a true curator.
Circa 2013 – 2014, there was a golden age of music discovery tools and sites. That’s before streaming platforms added curated and personalized playlists. Although most of those have shut down, some great ones still exist. In this article, we share 11 online tools that you can use to supplement your music discovery process. If you love crate-digging and reading liner notes, you’ll dig these.
11 music discovery tools and websites
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. Other interesting places to look are their curated playlists and community picks. And while you don’t have to, you can 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 songs and records with an excellent tagging system designed for music 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.
A small bonus resource to check out is Buy Music Club, which is a place for creating and browsing lists of independent music purchasable on Bandcamp. Anyone can make a list, but the site curates and shares 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 takes note of what you’re listening to and makes recommendations. You can create unique libraries of your favorite discoveries, which can get lost in the shuffle on other platforms. It’s also a lot of fun to see what music is trending among the community, explore charts and new releases, and more.
Despite its intimidating look for the non-programmers out there, cmd.to/fm is such a fun tool for music discovery. 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 will play.
You can also explore the site’s categories, distinguished by instrument and genre and organized alphabetically.
8. Indie Shuffle
Indie Shuffle is another music discovery website that’s 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 discovery and marketplace 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 truly 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 that offer 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, which represents Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Battles, Flying Lotus, and 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 resources: Online magazines, radio, podcasts and more
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.
Journals, blogs, and magazines
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 over the years, but there will always be music lovers providing sincere journalism. Here are some more potentially lesser-known 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- The Alternative: The Alternative provide intentional interviews, reviews, premiers, and more with a focus on—you guessed it—alternative music.
- Various Small Flames: This team is dedicated to sharing music from independent artists, especially home recordings and DIY releases.
- 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 recently published an excellent write-up on the value of internet radio on our own blog with a list of his favorite stations. I’m adding BFF.fm for consideration.
Community radio is my personal favorite music discovery resource. The ultimate curator is the passionate DJ who knows everything about the musical niche they dedicate 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 close 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. And while there’s nothing that can replace the experience of browsing through their catalog in person, you can always 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? Start a conversation with us on the Splice Discord.
September 15, 2022