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.
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