Finding new good music on the mainstream radio has become increasingly rare these days. Flip through stations playing the latest Top 40 hits and you’ll mostly hear songs about clubs and sex with repetitive patterns and bland rhythms. On occasion, you’ll come across a good recent song containing meaningful and relatable lyrics or a feel-good song with a memorable melody and variation in its rhythm, but in today’s mainstream, listeners are usually bombarded with some rather lifeless beats and dull melodies. The question is not only how do you find good music these days, but also where do you find good music these days?
Before exploring the answer to this question, remember when in previous decades, whenever something was new to the mainstream, it was met with critics who also romanticized older music? When people discuss music they like from the 1980’s or 1990’s for instance, most of their selection is based on some of the most memorable hits, not the ones they would have deemed the worst. As with any opinion, listeners’ definition of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music always has been and always will be subjective. The way to distinguish a ‘good’ song from a ‘bad’ song is not based on the decade it came out or what instruments were used (i.e. synthesizers or acoustics). Sometimes our mentality favors the ‘what I like’ bias thought process rather than examining what goes into the making of a good song. With that mindset in place, listeners can make informed choices and discussions about what’s working in modern music and what isn’t.
So, what does today’s music offer that previous decades didn’t? The Internet, of course! It’s an obvious answer, but there’s no denying it. Because of websites like SoundCloud, Bandcamp and perhaps the most obvious, YouTube, independent musicians can start a fan following online. If you search artist after artist, you will find there is an abundance of music you might not have thought was being made today. In her article, 10 Reasons Today’s Music Industry Doesn’t Suck on GuitarWorld.com, Laura B Whitmore delves into the many ways today’s musicians collaborate, communicate and distribute their music. Options that didn’t exist twenty or thirty years ago are now at artists’ and their listeners’ fingertips. One of the examples Whitmore pinpoints is that “[t]here are more options than ever to get your music heard”, in which she writes “[w]ith loads of media outlets, blogs, distribution sites and more, there’s no doubt you can take matters in your own hands when it comes to music distribution”. The wealth of outlets enables today’s musicians to showcase their talents where listeners have easy access to. They are not limited to just the radio.
A little personal story, this was how I discovered most of my new favorite music and artists. I simply Googled 2016 love ballads in hopes of finding modern music that gave me the same positive, pleasant feeling as popular hits of the 80’s and 90’s. Sure enough, I found plenty, if not more than I expected. I came across a New York based pop duo known as Paperwhite and their song entitled Pieces, which I found on a YouTube channel called NewViceCity by Fernando Martinez. The channel features a wide variety of songs and artists from recent years whose music is influenced by the classics with a modern spin. There’s Haim, Pure Bathing Culture, St. Lucia, Susanne Sunfør, Fire Tiger, Allie X, Great Good OK Fine, Savior Adore, Gavin Turek and Phoenix to name a few who might peak the curious music fan’s interest. Even Carly Rae Jespen’s latest tunes are featured on the channel, (which are a huge contrast from her Call Me Maybe days).
Another YouTube channel I also listen frequently is New Retro Wave, where I’ve discovered some interesting 1980’s and early 90’s influenced musicians such as Wolf and Raven, Dance with the Dead, N I N A, KRISTINE, Dana Jean Phoenix, Le Brock, FM 84, Timecop 1983, Michael Oakley, The Midnight and Robert Parker. While I consider New Retro Wave a favorite of mine, to step out of my own bias, I'll address the channel’s shortcomings. There are some songs (mostly the non-vocal tracks), that sound rather similar. Because the channel is catered to fans of retro music and 80’s/early-90’s pop culture, this is where personal taste can easily overshadow other perceptions of what constitutes as ‘good’ music. What listeners critique about today’s mainstream music, regarding it to sounding all the same can also be said about some of the music showcased on NRW. That’s not to say NRW is not recommendable, but it has its intended audience who would be looking for the familiar synthwave tropes, which brings us to another pointer in finding new music: niches.
When it comes to defining good music, the target audience a radio station or a YouTube channel is dedicated to can also play a major role in the listener’s selections. Whether the music is ‘indie’ or ‘mainstream’, the listener can also tune into any station playing their favorite genre. Take Sirius XM for instance. When scrolling for a specific station and you’re looking for adult contemporary ballads or light pop, stations like The Blend or Velvet might appeal to you. Some good examples of today’s best artists listeners can find on Sirius XM include Tori Kelly, Gavin James, Josh Kaufman, The Revivalists, Mary Lambert, Matt McAndrew, Colbie Caillat, Rachel Platten, Michael Buble, Jordan Sparks, Josh Groban, Leona Lewis, Adele, Susan Boyle, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, Kelly Clarkson, Idina Menzel, John Legend and (I kid you not) One Direction.
To further illustrate this point about the relevance of niches, author and Wall Street Journal writer, Jim Fusilli examines older listeners’ bias towards the music they listen to and why they refuse to engage with modern music in his book, Catching Up: Connecting with Great 21st Century Music. According to Fusilli, the target audience for music has always been geared towards youth and that the music business always knows how to effectively market towards them. Music catered to older listeners don’t receive the same amount of airplay or promotion. Because of this approach to marketing music, older listeners tend to feel alienated from most of the current music scene and therefore, often don’t know where to begin their search. He also has a website called www.renewmusic.net, which as its tagline, “Music for Grownups” implies, is devoted to helping adults find new music that appeals to them.
Finding good music today can be a bit of a challenge if you only restrict your selections to the radio only, but if you expand your searches online and on various stations, outlets, streaming services and YouTube channels you might be surprised by what you find. Because music is at its most expansive in its reach than it’s ever been, discovering your new favorite songs and artists can be sought out with a simple click of the mouse.
Imagine a store where shoppers could scour scores of timeless memorabilia with no expectation of what they might discover. It could be a vinyl record for a popular band from the 1950’s or a collection of photos from a bygone era. It could even be a small set of trading cards or figurines from the early days of famous cartoons from the 20th century. At first glance, it sounds like the type of store that the younger generation might not easily latch onto. But if you happen to visit Virginia Beach and swing by the Pembroke Mall, you will be in for a big surprise when you come by a store filled in every nook and cranny with neon lights, statues and images of iconic film and animation characters like the Blues Brothers and Betty Boop and portraits of Marylin Monroe and Elvis Presley.
Cool and Eclectic, fittingly known for its slogan, ‘Where it is usual to find the unusual’, is an independently owned gift shop, consisting of a wide variety of vintage and contemporary items. From vinyl, to comics, to décor, to toys, to even clocks, their inventory will not only invite the customer to shop for hours, but also encourage both the older and younger generation to bond over icons from both past and present.
This year was my 9th annual family vacation to VA Beach and as always when I’m there, I never miss an opportunity to stop by Cool and Eclectic. It has always been one of my favorite stores from the area and knew it would be a great topic for the blog. As usual, the store owner, Larry never fails to deliver on the store’s promise. Although Larry was away when I visited, I had the pleasure of speaking to two other employees, Mark and Diana, whom I briefly interviewed for this post:
Q: In terms of the lease, how much longer do you suppose Cool and Eclectic will remain at the mall?
Mark: Well, it’s kind of up in the air. We don’t know exactly as far as expenses and things like that. We don’t really know if we’re doing well or not. I know we are hindered by the construction at the [main] entrance [to the mall]. I think it has affected our sales.
Diana: Yeah, the construction has affected it. We used to get a lot of traffic through there.
Mark: The construction has taken longer than they said. It’s been months beyond what it was supposed to be. Sunday was not a good day for me in the morning, but later on, we did really well.
Diana: Usually we used to get maybe two or three slow days, but the rest of the days, it was busy. And usually weekends, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays used to be busier.
Mark: I think our loyal customers have helped us exceedingly to stay afoot. They appreciate our variety. They appreciate us being there for them to find them things that they like and the regular customers come regularly because they know we’re going to help them out. We appreciate our VIPs a lot. We give them extra discounts cause they’re regulars. We value them and that’s why they stay with us.
Q: When it comes to your customers, do they rank from just about any generation? They could be millennials or baby boomers.
Mark: Absolutely across the border of all generations. We have every generation come in and like our variety. Because we have a good enough variety, they all appreciate their own time period. We have enough to cover everybody’s time period and we find that they come back because we match their time period very well, whether it’s a millennial or it’s, like me, a baby boomer. We appreciate a lot of stuff and even beyond the baby boomer.
Diana: We get younger generations and they appreciate very old memorabilia, which is very surprising.
Mark: It is. It’s refreshing to see younger people like the older stuff, too. They’re getting a bit of history when they come in.
Q: How did the store concept come to be?
Mark: If Larry was present, he could tell you more about that, but…he’s being doing this store for a very long time, far beyond me and before our friendship has evolved. He’s been doing this for quite some time…at least twenty years.
Diana: Yeah, I don’t know how long, but he’s been doing it a long, long time.
Mark: Cool and Eclectic has probably been around at least then. Maybe twenty years. I might be off a little bit, but it’s a long history. We’ve moved to different locations.
Q: At first there were two stores, one at the Lynnhaven Mall and this one here at Pembroke. Eventually the Lynnhaven location was moved to this mall. Thus, Pembroke operated two Cool and Eclectics under one roof and now it’s just this one.
Mark: Yes. Not out of our desire. It was out of our control (laughs). Basically, they got bumped out of both [malls]. The Lynnhaven [location] was bumped out of there first and we moved here into [Pembroke] mall. And we got bumped out again and not having another location to go to, we merged our two Cool and Eclectic stores together. So, we are now one and hopefully we have the best benefits of both, the old and the new. The old one, which is this one, tended the older stuff, but now that we’re infused with the other one, we have a lot more new stuff. And I think that’s a good, positive thing for this company.
Q: Sounds like it’s a huge blessing especially when you have people from all walks of life really appreciate what they see here. When people come to Cool and Eclectic with their kids, does it become more of a chance to bond over the classics and the contemporary?
Mark: Oh, yes! The children come in and they buy the things that they have seen with their parents. The parents buy them for them and they’re all happy and excited when they’re going out. And they’re good family heirlooms that these kids, if they keep them, they can pass them onto their kids and their grandkids.
Q: How do you feel about the future of the store?
Mark: I’m very hopeful it will continue because everybody can appreciate a little bit of history, which this [store] has. It has the history. It has the vintage items. The LPs, I hear, are experiencing a resurgence because the sound quality is unmatched. The digital does not hold a candle to the LPs and apparently, they can do it with the LPs. So, it’s going to be something amazing if we see a resurgence of LPs coming back again. I’m hoping to see them back into the movie soundtracks again, too…and hopefully [this trend will] infuse our company to put some new stuff and keep it fresh and alive and going.
Once again, a huge thanks to Mark and Diana for their time. To learn more about Cool and Eclectic, check out their Facebook page.
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