How I Plan to Discover New Songs on the Internet + Not Let it Kill My Love of Music

Music journalist Sophie Heawood wrote in the Guardian recently about wanting to free herself from the clutter of her music collection, and promptly disposed of her life’s worth of CDs, LPs, and tapes. She believed the internet, home to nearly every single piece of music ever recorded on the planet, would provide a far greater listening experience–the freedom to listen to anything you wanted, anytime. Instead she found herself listening to only Rihanna, streaming on Spotify, and soon realized that the internet actually killed her love of music. Fairly shocking for someone whose life was defined by music. 

It turns out her relationship with music is a bit more complex than the very black and white physical format versus digital debate, but I can empathize with the overwhelming choice available on the internet as a whole lot less liberating than one would expect. The idea of being able to listen to any song I wanted, whenever I wanted would’ve prompted an ecstatic fit from an 18-year-old me, but in reality, it’s proven to be more overwhelming than thrilling. And the attempt to listen to so much just makes me wanna run to my safe and familiar record collection. I’ve already written about the myth of choice and how so many music lovers like Sophie, have found themselves less interested in music as the result of such easy access to every damn song on the internet. But I wonder if there’s a way to manage the access so that those of us who love to seek out music can feel free enough to do so without going down the rabbit hole.

I’ve always stayed away from sites with lists of songs and youtube videos. It’s just too easy these days to scour youtube for say, country western songs from the ’50s and make a website filled with ’50s C&W youtube clips. If a music writer or fan whose taste I trust implicitly tweeted or blogged about a song that moved them, I’d head straight to youtube to check it out. But the insatiable desire for anyone with a computer to constantly fill blog space with youtube clips and endless music reviews just for the sake of keeping up, well, that’s exactly what drives me away. Blogs, ads, e-mails, tweets, and facebook posts are vying for my attention to check out this new artist and that new band, and as a result I end up just getting out my Jeanette records, and listening to what I know and love. But I don’t want to do this. I long to discover music that’s new to my ears. I’m beginning to think that the less is more approach is the only way to maintain your sanity and your love of music in the internet age.

Last christmas I was given The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, which I had planned to go through, page by page, and listen to anything that caught my eye. I never did. A few years before, I purchased Lost In the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed, written by music journalists and fans who write about their favorite records you may have never heard. This is exactly the kind of guide I should be consulting for new music tips. But nope, it’s still sitting on my shelf. Every weekday I get an e-mail called Record of the Day, which is distributed to those working in the music biz, and offers a brilliant heads-up about up-and-coming bands. The newsletter begins with an actual record of the day, and a link to hear the record. I never click on the link. And the charts. I couldn’t name one song in the top ten today (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration as I’m sure the Daft Punk single is in there somewhere). But I’ve basically given up on the charts.

I don’t believe any of this is due to my lack of interest or love of music. I’m just overwhelmed by too much choice. And I’m wondering if I put a self-imposed limit on digital music, will the eager-and excited-to-discover-new-music old me return? Is there actually a way to make the internet enhance my enjoyment of music? I have a feeling that the “less is more” theory may do the trick, and to test it out, I shall be embarking on a 30-day experiment. Using the books I mentioned above and the internet, I will select five new songs (as in songs I’ve never heard before) per day, five days a week. No more, no less. It’s a mandatory journey to re-discover the joy of discovering music within stricter confines. Even if my reasoning may seemed confused (it is, slightly), I’m just eager to hear new sounds, discover new genres, fall in love with new songs, and enjoy the music discovery process that I used to adore. So here’s the deal……

Songs will chosen from the following five categories.

1. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (the song will be randomly selected from a page I open randomly)
2. Lost in the Grooves (again, the song will be randomly selected from a page I open randomly)
3. My own curiosity (maybe a song I’d read about somewhere, or a friends’ recommendation)
4. Record of the Day e-mail (I shall click on that link!)
5. The current Top 40 charts (I have a feeling most of these songs will be shit, but who knows?!)

If I discover something mind-blowing, I’ll definitely let you know about it. If it’s mediocre or shit, I’ll say so. And I’ll only link to songs I think are worth my time and yours. I’m sure you’ve got your own massive list of youtube videos to watch, so no need to add anything that’s unnecessary.

I’ve actually just been through the process, and must say it has already made me quite giddy. Any of your recommendations would be HUGELY appreciated. I trust that if you’re reading my site, you must have fairly good taste in music ; )

The “How I Plan to Discover New Songs on the Internet + Not Let it Kill My Love of Music” list

Friday June 7th

1. From the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits…. 
Olivia Newton John: I Honestly Love You (MCA, 1974)
America was clearly swept up in Newton John fever when this was released in 1974, as I can’t see any other reason why this would’ve hit #1. 

2. From Lost in the Grooves….
Brute Force: Tapeworm of Love (Columbia, 1967)
Kim Cooper’s review of this comedic songwriter did warn of ludicrous lyrics and an absurd comedic slant, but I guess I was expecting to be a bit more wowed by the songwriter responsible for the Chiffons’ “Nobody Knows What’s Going On In My Mind But Me.”

3. My own curiosity….
Daft Punk: Horizon (Columbia, 2013)
The internet was ablaze with praise for this bonus track on the Japanese release of Random Access Memories. A shimmering synth-ballad with just the right amount of melancholy and kitsch. LOVE! 

4. From Record of the Day……
Watch the Duck: Poppin’ Off (Epic, 2013)
R&B vocal with personality. Check. Smooth bass line. Check. Catchy chorus. Check. Dubstep. AARRRGGGHH!!! I HATE DUBSTEP. Game over.

5. From the Billboard charts…..
Justin Timberlake: Mirrors (RCA, 2013)
I wanted to like this, but it’s all gloss and no substance, and sounds like a desperate attempt to recapture the glory of his mega-hit “Cry Me A River.”

8 Responses to How I Plan to Discover New Songs on the Internet + Not Let it Kill My Love of Music

  1. Paul Sumpter says:

    Great article Sheila B. You can often find yourself wading through a torrent of mediocre stuff desperately hoping to stumble on that gem. But I guess it’s like a relationship (well it definitely is – our relationship with music), and like any relationship, it takes a bit of work and maintaining. When you’re young, it was easy, like when you first start seeing someone, it’s effortless and exciting. But then other distractions in life take over and if you’re not careful you find yourself seeking the comfort of the habitual, whether it be reaching for a timeless Darrell Banks B-side or not getting out of your weekend sweats when the other half comes over. As you say put some time aside, to allow new things to happen as you would to ‘recall in love’ with somebody you’ve grown distant from, in this case music. I did that very thing this week, taking half hour out scoring an intense all consuming film score, and fell upon a wonderful Beatles cover by a little Mexican group from the 60s. Jackpot. And if all else fails, I gave a what we’re listening to little section on my new website (which should go live in a week or so), which might yield some inspiration. I’m obviously a soul boy, but this phrase applies across the musical board, Sheila B, ‘Keep the Faith’….

  2. Julio Niño says:

    Very Interesting experiment.
    The relationship between many old school record collectors and the music in internet can be quite tortuous. As any form of love, the love of music is about desire, need and mystery (and also possession and the construction of identity, I think) and that explains a lot. I don´t know you but I need to follow my own (slow) rhythm discovering the songs to have a chance to develop a love affair with them: the crush and, sometimes, the passion, the deep impregnation that marks you for a lifetime and then the memories. I love information and communication, and therefore I love internet Babelian library of music. I can spend hours wandering through it, but then I need the feeling of intimacy and intrigue to raise my interest in a song.
    It´s something like getting to know interesting people in big cities, you will never meet everyone, you don´t really need it, and probably there´s always more interesting people out there, but if you don´t relax and just enjoy the people you like around you, you probably will be restless and lost in a crowd.
    PS: Of course you noticed that in this chapter the song you liked the most in your list was the one you discovered following your own urges. I can´t wait to see if this repeats in next chapters.
    Julio Niño.

    • admin says:

      Restless and lost in the crowd…..that’s exactly how I feel after voraciously + quickly consuming new music on the internet, only to fall down that rabbit hole, going from one site to the next, and ending up exhausted and barely able to name one of the gazillion songs I’ve just listened to. Maybe it is just about appreciating what you have, and not constantly feeling that you’re missing out + needing more (which is exactly how the internet makes me feel). But at the same time, I’ve always loved searching out new music + can say with 100% certainty that the easier it’s become to access all music, the less interested I’ve become in discovering new music. Perhaps this also correlates with the mystery, intimacy, and intrigue–all of which I feel have been diminished by having everything whenever you want it. As Paul mentioned, it’s like a relationship. I don’t want the guy that’s always available to me! (or maybe I do….hehe!).
      Strangely (or not), now that I’ve made this promise to myself, I would love to spend all morning finding new music. But I’ve forbidden myself to listen to anything new until Monday. I can’t wait! Thanks again for your wonderful input.

  3. admin says:

    Thanks Paul! I couldn’t agree more about the temptation to “seek the comfort of the habitual.” I’m so guilty of that. And I guess there comes a point when listening to what you know just doesn’t feel as good anymore. But then I look to the internet for something new, and find myself going down that rabbit hole, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what’s available.
    And I wonder if I’m even absorbing all the music? You know like when we were kids and used to know every song that played on the radio even if we didn’t really like it. So few songs stick in the same way, and I wonder if it’s because we’re just listening to so much more. Our brains can’t possibly take it all in. So yeah, that’s why I’m limiting my exposure–or working on + maintaining my relationship as you say : ) Glad to hear your 30 minute new music break heralded something fab! It works, huh?! Xo

  4. Bob McCune says:

    Hey, Sheila B., here’s my formula: Short attention span, no formula. I’m constantly finding new sounds floating in the zeitgeist, sometimes TV commercials (wouldn’t have ever known about Clairy Browne without Michelob!), cheapie bins, popcorn playlists, and just the inability to escape childhood and the memory of every song I ever heard and formed a world-view from. (cf. June Valli, “Por Favor”). Good to see you again and to reaffirm that I’m not the only one consumed and driven by the music!

  5. Neil metcalfe says:

    Hi Sheila.
    Please try luxuria music. This is a web based radio station run by independent individuals who just love music. I’m pretty sure they will play songs even you have never heard before.



  6. David Osborn says:

    I run a used bookshop in Omaha Nebraska. (music too) when i get to talking about the death of books vs. Kindle, i always close with this argument: If electronic media had come FIRST, then books printed on paper would seem marvelous ! Try leaving your Kindle on a plane vs. a paperback. Try falling asleep in the bathtub holding a Kindle vs. a paperback. Try ‘turning’ the pages of a Kindle in bed with a child vs. the pages of a big’ol picture book. People would say, ‘paper’ what a concept !
    Then adjust the thinking to the internet. I can’t get Spotify to ‘surprise’ me with anything; i have to type something ‘in’ to get it to ‘play’ so i’m not really getting anything new. If they would shuffle EVERYTHING by the Bee Gees (your ‘girl’ group of childhood) that would be great, but it only will do it to a album or fool you into listening for a few hours and realizing it’s repeating the same 30 random tunes.
    Last.FM has been closest, because its European. . I love Abba, but try going to a streaming site and trying to get it to set up a ‘radio station’ and have it play groups that ‘sound’ like Abba. Good luck with that.
    This is where/why I think wandering into a record shop and buying 15 45s with interesting group names is better. Tactile: plus. Ownership: plus. Solidity: plus. Fitting them into your coffin: maybe on the sides.
    Maybe you could start a Round Robin group where a long string of girl group lovers makes a 20-count 45 batch with the A sides facing up, then they each send the box on to one person in the group; then we could play them ‘blind’ on our turntables and guess who they are/decide if they are ‘good’ without name-of-band prejudice beforehand, then send it on to the next on the list, ect. etc. . Great way to find new music ! (and each month we mail to next lover ! )

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