In May of 2017, “The New Yorker” profiled Richard Russell, XL Recordings head honcho, raising the subject of new music. XL occupies rare music industry space as an independent label that consistently punches above its weight, long-retaining a reputation for good music in whatever genre it touches. This crowning commercial glory was signing Adele long before she was hoping to find “Somebody Like You.”
Richard Russell is esteemed for his ability to see gold a long way off, for nurturing new things before their time. What he had to say about new music was devastating and true: most people sooner or later stop caring about it “because of what’s going on in life.”
XL has also a stable of other artists who are not Adele—like Vampire Weekend and Radiohead lead singer, Thom Yorke—but many are relative unknowns, often artists that are not everyone’s gold, and certainly not common-denominator pop magic poised to become the zeitgeist. It will almost certainly be not exactly like anything you’ve heard before, likely drawing on the music traditions while simultaneously stamping a new path.
This is the rub: the secret to good new music is that it is not totally new. New music is accessible and engaging when it has just enough of a flavor for us to recognize the sound as we go somewhere fresh.
The very act of choosing to experience new art, be it music or other forms, makes us aware of the lives of others, helping, even just a little, to erase difference and the invisible barriers between us.”
Russell admits that, while it’s totally okay for people to listen to the same stuff on repeat, “…they’re missing something. Because whatever it is they’re into, that thread’s right there, in something being made now.”
This is an encouragement as much as a sales pitch: there is often an evangelistic bent to many who live and breathe music. And here’s their number one reason to give new music a chance: you are certain to find something you like.
Need more reasons to keep digging for new music?
1. New music connects and keeps us humble about humanity.
The very act of choosing to experience new art, be it music or other forms, makes us aware of the lives of others, helping, even just a little, to erase difference and the invisible barriers between us
2. Expanding horizons through new music affords others the same gift.
Of course many of us “know what we like,” but you got there for a whole host of historical reasons that involved somebody, somewhere listening to something for the first time and sharing it with you. We share what we truly love.
3. New music inspires creativity.
New expressions remind us there are new ways and inspire us to find them.
4. People love to hear about new music.
There is always someone else to bore with a track or band that has just caught your eye. Conversation spills on and over when music is a part of it.
5. Listening to, hunting down and buying new music promotes and supports the creative efforts of others, and again makes us human.
Streaming, downloads, video—it doesn’t matter how (although, in some ways it does since buying is still quite useful for fledgling artists) as much as whether: supporting emerging talent has always been a gift that costs little and can mean a lot. Without those risking careers to make music, our lives would be less rich.
6. Remember 1984?
No? Well, the most important take-away is that no one is making new music anymore apart from Big Brother propaganda. Bottom line: new music needs to be nurtured, noticed and promoted.
How to find new music:
2. HypeMachine is a blog-aggregator, giving you an insight into the new music everyone else is enjoying.
3. Traditional Media, as there are still a few traditional media companies out there who are keen to invest in new music online, like “The Guardian,” who have a “new band” series and “best of” series that are consistently interesting. Or “Pitchfork,” which is really a category of its own due to its status as the independent-music bible.
4. Spotify Playlists, though probably not Richard Russell’s preference. But the reality is that Spotify playlists can still help you uncover “new” music, even if it is curated/sponsored by labels.
6. The Radio, and yes, I did just recommend you listen to the radio in 2018. You will also need to freestyle here as it depends on where you live. BBC Radio 6 can be accessed online, which is a consistently good source for new music.
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7. Gigs are, by far, the most interactive. Pay to be there or go to freebies, research or spin the wheel—there are still so many artists trying to start out this way, and it’s the lifeblood for tons of fledgling musicians in an age when people are no longer willing to regularly part with cash for onstage music.
8. Talk to others, because it’s true: other people like new music too.