Men's Life Today: Entertainment
Where the Best Unknown Bands Are Hiding
By Mark Yarm
If you think Top 40 is not so tops and want your tunes to be more cutting-edge, you need to know where to find the best music. Read on.
Your local radio station plays the same 10 songs over and over again. MTV is too busy airing "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" marathons to actually bother showing videos anymore. Print music magazines are rapidly dying off.
So where can a music fan such as yourself find out about the newest, edgiest tunes? Here are a few expert tips for discovering music outside the realm of the Top 40:
Enter the Blogosphere
Blogs are a great place to learn about -- and, just as important, to hear -- indie and alternative rock. The challenge for beginners is finding the good ones.
“There are roughly 5,094,947 music blogs on the Internet,” jokes Ryan Dombal, a staff writer at Pitchfork, a popular indie rock Web site (technically not a blog) credited with helping break acts like the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. “Pitchfork breaks through the MP3 din, hitting on things people care about” via album reviews (the site employs an infamous 0.0 to 10.0 rating scale), artist news and interviews, and links to the latest videos and audio files.
Another good starting point is the indie rock blog Stereogum. “After you find one blog or site that corresponds with your personal taste, check out the other blogs or sites it links to,” Dombal recommends. “It’s a process of trial and error, but it's worth it when you’re eventually exposed to your favorite new band.”
Tune Into the Net
“Commercial radio is all about finding that mass-appeal audience, and if mass appeal is your bottom line, you’re going to cut out a lot of interesting music,” says Mike Taylor, program director and DJ for the Cincinnati-based Web site WOXY. A terrestrial radio station in the past, WOXY has been broadcasting exclusively online since 2004. Its DJs cater to a select audience; current station faves include the female singer-songwriter St. Vincent and Brooklyn indie rockers White Rabbits. If you like a song you hear on WOXY, you can click on the link to the Web site Lala and buy the MP3. “We act as a filter for new music,” Taylor says.
To find other online broadcasters catering to your tastes, check out station aggregator Web sites like Shoutcast or Live365. iTunes also offers free Net radio streams. Or let a computer try to figure out what you’d like: Web sites like Pandora, Last (.fm) and iLike will personalize playlists for you based on your top artists.
Get out of the House
The Internet is a wonderful tool for discovering cool new tunes. But sometimes it’s nice to talk music with an actual human being -- you know, face-to-face (like back in 1999). If you’re lucky enough to still have one or more independent record stores in your town, visit! “I think it’s easier to talk to someone working at a store than hunt down music on different blogs,” says Scott Wishart, co-owner of Lunchbox Records in Charlotte, N.C. “I can recommend something similar to what they like and play it for them on the stereo -- or they can listen to it on headphones in the back.”
Wishart advises developing a rapport with a local record store clerk so he or she can get to know your tastes and avoiding the snobs (think: Jack Black in High Fidelity), if possible. Finally, once you’ve found music you love, separate yourself from the computer as often as possible to see your new favorites live. “Show up early for shows and catch the opening bands,” advises Pitchfork’s Dombal. “That’s how I first heard about this band called The Strokes. And if the opening act sucks, you can make fun of them with your friends.”
Mark Yarm is a former senior editor at the music magazine Blender and is currently writing an oral history of grunge for Crown Publishing.