Is New and Interesting Music Getting Harder to Find? I Think So

Part of my job involves sorting through dozens, hundreds, of new songs each week, looking for something that will float my boat. When I find something, I make recommendations through this website or in some other capacity.

This is exhausting. Not because I don’t enjoy discovering new music, but because it’s getting harder to search for it. There’s just too much music. Forget the metaphor of drinking from a firehose; it’s like trying to drink Niagara Falls. Quantity is great, but there are some terrible drawbacks.

  1. There’s no way anyone can sift through it all. If you think there’s too much on TV, try to keep up with all the releases that come out every week.
  2. Because the deluge never stops, you never get to live with those songs/albums/artists that require repeated listening before the penny drops. The result is that an unconscious bias towards hooky songs that catch you right away. How much truly great and innovative stuff gets missed because you didn’t spend enough time with it?
  3. Listener fatigue inevitably sets it. You no longer listen with fresh ears.
  4. No matter how great the song you’re listening to now is, you have a nagging feeling that there’s something even better out there. You consume the song, enjoy it for a while and then move on, often to never go back to that song/artist ever again.
  5. Finally, this is contributing to the death of the album. Seriously, when was the last time you listened to a full album front-to-back? We’re all grazers now.

The Economist–which writes about music infrequently but always intelligently–feels the same way.

KEEPING up with popular music’s latest trends has never been easy. In the 1980s and 1990s the Billboard 200, America’s singles chart, featured 500 different artists a year, while 30,000 new albums would hit the shelves annually. Only fanatic listeners could sift through mountains of mediocrity to find occasional unpolished gems. In 2015, such a task would be impossible: the output of albums has doubled, while Billboard’s rankings contain twice as many artists.

Certain filters do offer themselves. Most online music libraries offer recommendations based on individual preferences. Apple’s iTunes store, historically the digital marketplace’s biggest music stall, suggests tunes to purchase and download. Spotify offers unlimited access to an enormous library, with personalised offerings. Meanwhile, the number of online publications critiquing the latest tunes has increased. Consumers have more products to choose from—but also better information and access.

Improving consumer choices was the goal of two mergers in the online music industry last year. The first was the purchase of Ticketfly, a concert ticketing agency, by Pandora, a digital radio service. Pandora is competing with Spotify and Apple Music in the rapidly expanding streaming market: the number of songs listened to across all platforms increased by 50% last year. The Financial Times reported last week that Apple Music had accrued over 10m paid subscribers in the six months since its launch—Spotify took nearly six years to reach that figure. Of the 78m active users of Pandora, only 3.9m pay for its premium service.

You can read the whole article here. Meanwhile, what your thoughts on this? Does quantity trump everything? Or would you rather we go back to the days where cultural filters like radio stations, video channels, music magazines and record stores filtered everything for us?

There’s no right answer here, of course. But as music fans, we need to develop personal strategies from satisfying our musical jones.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Is New and Interesting Music Getting Harder to Find? I Think So

  • January 22, 2016 at 8:32 am
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    I read blogs like yours, check out rolling stone, nme, etc. I’m always going to shows hoping to hear a band I haven’t heard before that I dig. And I still have a few friends that do the same, so it is still possible to find new and interesting music if you’re committed. In the past year and I bit,

    And I still listen to albums front to back as much as possible. That was actually the main reason why I got back into vinyl was to force myself to change my listening habits.

    Reply
  • January 22, 2016 at 9:41 am
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    I ran a music store throughout the 1990s, and I used to pride myself with how well-versed I was with modern music.

    There was a time when making music required work and access to recording equipment, which was an effective way of filtering out the less talented and less driven people. Now that any kid with a smart phone can easily throw together a song and upload it to the pile it’s become increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, and frankly I don’t have the time for it anymore.

    The major label system has now merged itself into consumer corporations who data mine listeners so they can craft an endless cycle of perfect pop songs to maximize profits. They don’t have time to nurture artists anymore and they’re far more interested in quick financial gain than having a well-curated roster of artists like we saw on Columbia and Warner Brothers in the early 1970s.

    Toss in a terribly stagnant terrestrial radio network that has also merged into a faceless conglomerate of the same repetitive formats and playlists as well as streaming services that (again) data-mine to provide the listener with exactly what they want, losing the opportunity to challenge the listener or try out new ideas.

    So as I get older I look at critical consensus more than anything and approach every album and artist with an open mind, trying to judge each recording or album on its own merits. But otherwise I’ve decided to “catch up” with genres and artists that I skipped the first time around when I want new music. For example, I’ve explored 1990s hip hop and pre-1950s jazz to great satisfaction.

    tl;dr – The democratization of music-making and the corporate approach to delivery has weakened music, and this guy has come to find more satisfaction in the thrift store bins.

    Reply

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