Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

How do you discover music?

I find that I never really seek out new music; rather, I just end up listening to whatever happens to fall into my lap by way of radio or whatever my friends happen to be listening to. I guess I don’t really mind this, because I enjoy the music I do listen to, but at the same time I’m sure there’s an ocean of music out there that I would enjoy if I was exposed to it. My problem is, I’m not really sure how one goes about discovering less popular songs and artists without sinking an excessive amount of time into searching. Additionally, I saw Leonie mention in her post that we would never be exposed to the musics we discussed in this course if ethnomusicologists didn’t actively seek it out. However, they do such things for a living, which really isn’t an option for us. So then, how does one go about discovering new music?

Like I said, this is something I don’t do particularly well with, so maybe take my answers with a grain of salt. A few things that I have imagined working, although I haven’t acted upon them at any great length, are listening to something like Pandora or Apple radio, both of which will play songs/artists similar to ones you like and/or choose, or searching through playlists people create on Spotify. Discover Weekly is a good place to start, but that’s just 30 songs a week, many of which you may already know or may end up disliking. I find that one of the main ways I’m exposed to new music (new to me, anyway) is by listening to other people’s playlists and then looking them up afterwards and taking songs that I like. Again though, that’s hit or miss, and it requires lots of luck and quite some time as well. Im still sure there are better ways to discover new music that may require some more active effort, I’m just not really sure what they are. The benefit of listening to radio or playlists is that they require minimal effort, but I’d be willing to put in some effort if it meant I could discover music as a much faster rate; I’m just not sure where to start. Any suggestions?


  1. I personally listen to music almost exclusively off of recommendations of friends. This is not out of laziness, but rather a reliable pattern that I have noticed over the past few years. For me personally, I find that my friends tend to be people whose artistic taste and aesthetic are always complimentary, if not identical, to my own. For instance I have several friends with which I am so compatible in this manner that if they like a song that I have never heard of before, I am almost guaranteed to enjoy it as well.
    There is of course a lot of criticism I could receive about this methodology of finding my music. After all, when explained at face value it does seem as though I am surrounding myself in an echo chamber of like minded people. However, it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish with the music. “How do I discover new music?” Well, what are you looking for in said music? For me music is largely about being able to connect with people and associate certain people, interaction and places with different songs, so that when I go back and listen to this songs it is as though I have recorded important events in my life to listen to as I please. My closest friend and I often talk about music together, and critique albums and such for hours–“I liked his voice, but the lyrics were kinda stupid. The tempo kept changing and that bothered me,” etc. I do not get to see them often, and listening to a song that we talked about, in a moment of loneliness, is comforting to me.
    So then I guess I look to being comforted and artistically entertained. I also personally use music as a crutch to relate to other people (I’m sure we’ve all done this at one point–awkward conversation? Just start talking about music!) but the one thing I don’t really ask my music to do is challenge me intellectually. While I will not shy away from material that challenges me intellectually, I do not actively seek it out because I feel as though I am challenged enough academically as it is, and I just want music to be an easy, noncommittal emotional outlet.
    I know that “well, it depends,” is not the greatest way to answer your question, but like I said before, I do not believe this question has one universal answer. It really does depend on the individual, and I just wanted to share my own personal use for music on the offhand chance that someone feels the same way and can relate.

    • jalenmadden

      May 1, 2016 at 14:33

      I used to be the person who got “stuck” on one artist for weeks. If a new Drake or J. Cole album dropped, I would listen to it until it until I had every verse, word, and story memorized. The only problem was that once I get hooked on one artist, I wouldn’t even attempt to listen to another. I hated confining myself because I would constantly miss out on a lot of good music, but I kept doing the same routine over and over again. In the mist of my frustration, I discovered Pandora. I found something that gave me a plethora of musicians. Pandora prevented me from getting “stuck” all over again. However, I eventually wanted more.

      After my Pandora phase, I got into Soundcloud. This website/app takes listening to music to a different level. Unlike Pandora, Soundcould doesn’t limit you to only mainstream artists or the force you to listen to a premade playlist. With Soundcloud, you have to the power to post any song and make any playlist. The best part about this website is that it allows up-and-coming artists to get their voice into the ear of people all over the world. The age of passing out mixtapes in the mall has passed. Soundcloud has created a space for publicizing the nonmainstream musicians. I find some of the best musicians on this site.

  2. Allen Barry

    May 1, 2016 at 22:10

    When I go about looking for music, I usually have a genre in mind or a song that I am really in the mood to listen to. I usually youtube it or something like that, and listen to the song, maybe once or twice or ten times, but then I find myself scrolling through all of the suggest songs on the side of the screen. All of a sudden I see a song that I like and click on it, then listen to that, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. I could start of listening to country music and finish the night, an hour and a half later, listening to strictly instrumental music. And the cool thing with all of that is that I can feel my emotions and productivity shifting along with the music as it changes, song after song. Depending on the tempo, the lyrics, and so many other factors, I can feel myself speeding up and slowing down along with the music. I do the same thing with apps like Pandora, except the app kind of does the choosing for me, which I am sometimes in the mood for and other times I am not. Sometimes I am in the mood for new music, but other times I like to stick to songs I know and know I can really work along with. Regardless, the whole flow of music and how it keys in with my emotions is one of the coolest aspects of my musical discovery. If I work well with a song, or if I am feeling the lyrics and the beat, it becomes part of my musical repertoire. If not, I just keep scrolling along the “suggested songs” bar or skip it on pandora. I find this to be one of the best ways to seamlessly and effortlessly discover new songs, because most of the time when I start off with music I know I like, the hits are just going to keep on coming.

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