Why you should never stop listening to new music (and how to find it) - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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In high school, I read a book called Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. The book’s plot has little to do with this story, but I always found it fascinating. (Trust me, I’ll get to the point of the article. But bear with me for a second.)

Because I enjoyed this novel so much, it’s stayed on my mind since I first read it. Recently, I was in search of new bands to listen to on Spotify and figured I might try simply searching up band names I think could be cool (say, if I were to start my own band or propose a name idea to an existing one). One of my searches was “Oryx and Crake.” A few albums and songs came up, as well as some playlists and podcast episodes dedicated to the book itself. However, I stumbled upon a band called Oryx & Crake, a duo with 36 monthly listeners and only two albums dating back to 2010 and 2015. And, to my surprise, they’re actually awesome.

It boggled my mind how easily and coincidentally this happened. I was able to seek out an artist who’s very quickly become one of my favorites (their album Marriage has been in my daily rotation since this occurrence), despite their current inactivity and somewhat limited discography, simply by investigating what I thought was a silly, insignificant curiosity.

So, without further ado, I present my case: As a music listener, seeking out new things is a crucial practice, and it is when you stop searching for new finds that you limit your enjoyment of the art itself, and your connection to the world of music on a larger scale.

As an example, think about generational gaps in music listening. While the state of music has progressed (i.e., since the dawn of time), it’s become increasingly clear that as people age, they are less likely to seek out new music, whether it’s new to the charts or simply new to themselves. I mention this concept in a recent piece, detailing a fairly new genre of music whose controversies stem from approachability, mimicking the punk era of the mid-to-late twentieth century in that it doesn’t appeal to – and, quite frankly, is somewhat detested by – older generations. It is evident that even on a neuro-scientific level, there is an inherent disconnect between listeners and musicians that develops over time, which can be avoided or mended if the listener is open to what they may find as a result. Many scientific journals refer to this as “open-earedness.”

Generally speaking, throughout your life, music stays with you as you grow and mature, clinging to specific memories or periods of time, especially during adolescence and early adulthood. This is why a lot of the time, older individuals have a nostalgia-based music experience, whereas younger people tend to skew more toward the new and the popular. A large part of this has to do with social experience and the adjustments young people must make in order to better fit in or understand themselves within the context of society, as opposed to adults’ solidified existence in their own spaces. Music researcher Timothy McKenry of Neuroscience News notes, “Adolescents use music as an identity marker and engage with it to navigate social circles. Adults have developed personalities and established social groups. As such, drivers to engage with new music are lessened.”

This is referred to as psychosocial maturation. Ajay Kalia also has a really great analysis of this phenomenon called “‘Music was better back then’: When do we stop keeping up with popular music?” on his site, delving into similar concepts, and presenting research on other factors that come into play such as returning to music one listened to in adolescence or children’s impact on their parents’ music listening. Yet, despite the draw that certain songs, albums, or artists will always have based on your experiences and significant points of life, there is always room to take in more musical information, so to speak, just as there is always room for more experiences and significant events. This begs the question: Why limit yourself to what you’ve known? Sure, it’s easy to settle into a particular thing – say, an album that encompasses a finite period of time in your teen years – but it’s just as easy (if not easier) to find new things, either accidentally or on purpose

Why limit yourself to what you’ve known?

You don’t necessarily have to do what I did and look up an obscure reference to seek out something unexpected, but if you do some digging into the things you already like, you’ll likely find plenty more. There is definitely someone making what you like right now, and you’d never know unless you actively look for it. Mainstream DSPs (digital service providers such as Spotify and Apple Music) and publications like Pitchfork (or the site you’re on right now, which I’d assume makes this reading experience a little meta) are a great place to start. I’ll give an example of some digging you can do on a platform like Spotify: say you’re someone who’s really into the band Big Thief. There are some more obvious connections to spot on the band’s Spotify profile, such as lead singer Adrianne Lenker’s solo music, or the recent project from guitarist Buck Meek. But, if you keep looking around the band’s Spotify page, you’ll find playlists they’ve made for inspiration, including one that’s nearly 24 hours long and chock full of artists with varying styles to explore.

If that feels a little too time-consuming to properly go through (which I don’t blame you for; I’ve only ever gotten about an hour into it myself), check out the “fans also like” section of their page. Julia Jacklin, Sharon van Etten, Lomelda, Haley Heynderickx, and Julien Baker are among the many artists listed in this lineup, and each has something new and different – yet ultimately familiar – to offer in terms of contemporary indie folk. And, better yet, they all have their own artist pages, with extensive discographies and similarly intriguing data to peruse. For more on DSPs, the pros and cons of digital versus physical music intake, and added commentary about music consumption in our society over time, be sure to check out this piece by XPN’s own Atticus Deeny.

Now, let’s also consider some more abstract ways through which you can find new music. There’s always the obvious; paid streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music (via recommended lists, curated playlists, etc.), radio (once again, kind of meta), record shops or thrift stores, and even live shows. But, there is a plethora of other music discovery resources on and off the internet, as long as you’re looking for them. Take premier local music discovery site Bandcamp, for instance. Bandcamp is home to millions of artists, all with the simple goal of sharing their music in the most cost-friendly, authentic, and accessible way. A lot of music on Bandcamp can be accessed for free, which is a big plus. But the biggest plus to using the site is the vast sea of bands and artists that you can find, and the supplemental things the site offers (i.e., lyrics, extended credits, song descriptions, merchandise or physical music, fundraising opportunities, etc.). Although some of these things can be accessed through other sites or DSPs, Bandcamp allows artists to give their pages a special, personal touch, which is guaranteed to make you feel even more connected to them and to the music. Music can find you before you find it, but it’s worth it to try and look for new things for the sake of yourself and artists, especially at a local scale.

There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you like and sticking to it. At 20 years old, I already feel myself getting a bit too comfortable with the things I’ve started listening to in the last few years, and sometimes doubt my ability to maintain my “open-earedness” as I age. But, as most things tend to go, nothing can be changed without a little resistance. Music is everywhere, all the time, and for everyone. It would be quite literally impossible for someone to have heard every song, every EP, and every album known to man. And as long as that reigns true (which it will, objectively, forever), there’s no excuse not to keep exploring. I implore you to try something new to find music as often and as in-depth as you can, no matter what age you are. Also, definitely check out that Oryx & Crake album if you’re into folk-esque, slightly experimental indie rock with soaring vocals and evocative orchestral accents. Heck, while you’re at it, check out the book too. You can thank me later.

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