Where are you finding new music these days? As ever more music is entering the marketplace (that “democratization of the music industry” mantra again), the vehicles for promotion and distribution are equally diverse and individually less reliable for building an audience. I grew up during the dominance of radio. The FM band was once the realm of classical and “beautiful music” stations (think ‘elevator’ for the later category). But in between the culturally uplifting and the mind-numbing stops on the dial were pioneering, edgy rock stations—the place you heard the long versions of tunes that often spanned the entire side of an LP.
As FM became a more popular medium (stereo, less noise, more dynamic range—prior to hypercompression, at least), the spectrum filled with a plethora of options. The Wild West and local nature of FM radio gradually gave way to corporate domination, homogenous playlists, but also became the driving force in artist development and popularizing tunes.
In certain categories—say, country and CCM, perhaps Top 40—radio is still a potent vehicle for debuting artists and material. But radio’s dominance as the way to launch new music is more often a thing of the past. In my market, there’s but one commercial station I can listen to for any length of time (Lightning 100—a real treat is Retro Lightning on Saturday morning, where host Fred Buc spends four hours in a single year of “progressive radio’s past”). The station’s regular fare blends classics (but digging far deeper than the standard oldies repertoire) and a broad genre-hopping cross section of modern artists. A few satellite radio offerings are also consistently entertaining, if narrowly focused within genres.
There’s also the music-based reality shows, though even the winners have a spotty record of post-show success. The Disney Channel launched careers. There are the internet streaming services—Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora and many more—vying for your ear. And YouTube is a prevailing way to break an act today (just ask Justin Bieber).
My belief is that only 10 percent of any genre is great (perhaps I’m being generous), but how do you sort through all these options to find the 10 percent that’s not dreck? It’s hard, especially if you don’t want to waste a lot of time on the other 90 percent. And, I still delight in finding music I’d forgotten in the better than a year’s worth (if played 24/7) of music ripped into my iTunes collection—music I know I’ll like. I have chased an occasional lead from a track used as part of a television show or movie’s soundtrack. I’ve followed tips from friends and other sources like Lightning 100. I’ve even downloaded piles of iTunes free tunes and Amazon samplers until I hit what I thought was a point of diminishing returns in terms of time-invested vs. rewards. Music festivals can lead to discovery. Still, I often feel that I must be missing some great music by great artists that I’ve never heard of—that my next musical love is somewhere just around a corner.
Comment on how and where you find new music, how you or your clients have achieved an audience for their art (besides talent and your great recordings and live mixes). What’s working, what’s worthwhile?