I had a moment the other day, as I was explaining what a ‘podcast’ was to my daughter, where I realized that my whole mode of music accumulation has changed radically over the last decade or so.
I really quit listening to FM radio over a decade ago. I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Especially when local station KBCO finally went corporate (it was a holdout agains totally corporate schlock for a long time, but you can’t swim upstream forever). I hadn’t listened to country radio for ten years before that (Shania Twain pretty much wrecked country for everyone).
But that leaves sort of a hole. If you are a music fan, you are looking for new stuff all the time, but where are you going to get it when the radio has gone to crap?
I have enjoyed the luxury of living in a town with an awesome music festival. I go to the merch tent and buy, well, pretty much everything. But even that isn’t enough to feed a serious music habit. There were also some more traditional routes that worked. I actually was a member of one of those music ‘clubs’ where they send you something (a cd) every month. And with the ability to fine tune your choices via the internet I got some interesting music that way. That’s how I discovered the Drive-by Truckers in 2003 or so.
Over time, as I figured out how to use the new social media, I discovered more and more music by following musicians I liked on twitter. They would be talking to, or about, music or musicians they liked, and on twitter you can pick up on that. With youtube as a way to preview a lot of stuff, it worked pretty well.
But as many people smarter than me have said, trying to take in the internet is like drinking from a firehose. You need a method to control the flow, or ‘curate’ the internet, as the term goes. So recently I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts, which like radio, curates the flow of music, but unlike large corporate radio, is not interested in hyper-rotation of songs for maximum profit. It’s a whole different model. It’s the DIY principle applied to the idea of radio.
And wow, it’s like back when radio was cool, only better. I can listen to things whenever I want, wherever I want. Stop when I need to stop and start again when its convenient. And the same flexibility applies to the creators- they can do what they want, not what is profitable. Pretty cool. And there are some really great podcasts out there. I live mostly in Americana/Alt-country land as far a musical taste goes- I have no doubt that if you are into reggae or speed-metal there are great podcasts too (I just don’t happen to know what they are).
For new music I’ve been listening to Americana Rock Mix a lot- some really great stuff there. Also, Twang Nation does a great mix of music. So does ninebullets.net. For interviews I really enjoy Thanks for Giving a Damn, by Otis Gibbs, and Country Fried Rock with Sloane Spencer. If you are into the same music I am, then you also haunt No Depression, the magazine turned website named after an Uncle Tupelo album named after a Carter Family song.
Then last night I was talking with a friend as we waited for the Drive By Truckers to hit the stage in Boulder. It’s a funny music world out there. There will probably always be the big arena rock shows, and the pop icons will continue to be pop icons. But its a very fragmented world after that. And in some ways, that’s is a good thing. People want good music. There will always be some sort of indy, alternative, underground thing going on. But now there are so many more ways for that music to get out into the world. The artists who figure out how to reach their audience will do so, and the audience will respond, because that’s what they want.
There are many more sources of curation now. the Columbia House Record and Tape Club was a form of curation, so was radio. The label system is also a form of curation. But those are all forms of curation that cater to the broadest possible spectrum-if your label is Sony. If your label is Bloodshot Records (home of Justin Townes Earle) or Lightning Rod Records (home of Joe Pug and Jason Isbell) you are still pretty cool.
The hip guy in your math class who always had the cool indy albums (how do you think I discovered the Cramps and The Replacements?!) now can reach a lot more people than he did in the back row of sixth hour math (though I’m grateful he was there) without changing his sense of music. Now he can blog, or podcast, or post his own videos online. And if he’s willing to work, he’ll find an audience. And the same is true of the musicians. You might not be drawing a huge crowd, but if you draw anyone, then you know there are others. Reaching them used to be tough, but in the era of interconnectivity the tools to get to your own niche audience exist, if you are willing to do the work.
If you read this far you must have an opinion on this. Where do you get your music? Same as me, or have you figured out something else? Leave a comment- especially if you know of other cool outlets for my kind of music!