SXSW Report | Musical tastemakers share methods of discovering new songs, bands

03/13/2014 6:54 PM

03/15/2014 5:41 PM

More music is being produced than ever and the opportunities to listen to all this music are flourishing, from terrestrial and internet radio stations to blogs, web sites and music-streaming services, many of which track listeners’ habits to provide them with recommendations for new music.

But with all that music out there, where can the ambitious music fan go to find filters and recommendations that he or she trusts, that will lead them to music they will appreciate?

A panel here at this year’s South by Southwest Music Festival addressed that question in a session titled “Be Your Own Tastemaker: Music Discovery in 2014.”

The panel comprised four people steeped in the process of exploring and discovering new music: moderator David Greenwald, music critic at the Portland Oregonean; Greg Katz of the music publishing group Angry Mob Music and owner of the record label New Professor Music; Marion Hodges of public radio station KCRW in Los Angeles; and Andrew Jervis, chief music curator for Bandcamp, an online music/social media store.

Streaming services like Spotify use algorithms to provide recommendations to listeners. It’s useful, but can be limiting. Human curation is better, said Jarvis, which is what Bandcamp subscribers can get from fellow subscribers: a tracking of music people are buying often with no algorithmic link.

Katz agreed, saying DJs on college or public and community radio stations can create links between songs, whether it’s by lyrics, producers or other factors, that streaming services like Spotify or Pandora won’t take into account. And those connections can lead listeners to music they haven’t heard and might never consider but would like.

“I’m not too interested in paying a service to tell me what I should like,” Jarvis said. “But I can see how it would be great for others, for the convenience.”

Bandcamp takes a different tack. It tracks listener habits and lets subscribers know when two or more have bought the same album and may want to compare their listening and buying habits. Many of those subscribers are musicians, whose listening habits are typically adventurous. “Artists know best,” he said.

Hodges said her station tries to give its listeners a mix of the familiar, the new and the way-out-there.

“Our average listener is very adventurous,” she said. “People are willing to go to the end of the earth with us. So we give them a little something they’re familiar with so they’ll take my hand and go to crazy places.”

Katz said he regularly streams Soundcloud, an audio platform in which bands or artist pay to upload their music and expose and promote it to tastemakers like himself. Most of the music is from very new, raw and undiscovered artists, which, as a label owner, is what he is looking for constantly. “We want to be the first to greatness,” he said.

Some of their observations and recommendations:

• YouTube remains an enormous player and viral trendsetter in the world of music discovery.

• Blogs and web sites remain a reliable source of recommendations. Among those mentioned: well-known sites like Pitchfork, CMJ and Stereogum and others, like The Finest Kiss, which focuses on indie pop, and SoulSides, a self-described dedicated to the best in soul, funk, R&B, hip-hop and other sounds for “rhythm addicts,” according to its Facebook page.

• Pay attention to shows and commercials on television, which often feature songs from new or unsigned bands. Music supervisors, who curate those connections, can be as influential as old-school, taste-making radio disc jockeys.

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