Three Free Places to Discover New Music

(This article was written for Vallarta Tribune, edition # 1166.)

There comes a time for folks that truly enjoy music to explore new artists. This used to be a lot simpler when less music was produced around the world. Not today, however. According to Susy Frankel, Daniel Gervais’ book, The Evolution and Equilibrium of Copyright in the Digital Age (Cambridge University Press), the number of CDs released around the world used to be about 40,000 per year, but that’s gone up by about 150% in the last decade and a half to over 100,000 per year. That’s a lot of music!

One could easily pay attention to the Grammy nominations for a nice cross-section of extraordinary music being produced and released around the globe, but of course, Grammys are only presented once a year. Another annual option suitable for classical music lovers are The Gramophone Classical Music Awards, launched in 1977, and considered one of the most significant honors bestowed on recordings in the classical record industry.

What if you do not wish to wait for a year? Here are three free places where you can discover new music, gain a new perspective on music you may already know and love, and celebrate with your friends and loved ones.

National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concerts

Tiny Desk Concerts is a video series of live concerts performed at the NPR Music offices in Washington, D.C. The project came about in 2008 when Bob Boilen, host of All Songs Considered (a weekly online multimedia talk radio program started in January 2000) found himself frustrated at a bar where he couldn’t hear the music over the crowd noise. A friend joked saying that musicians should perform at his desk. What ensued is more than 800 concerts that have been performed and videotaped at said offices. The Tiny Desk Concerts are available on YouTube where they have been viewed a collective 2 billion times. 

Tiny Desk Concerts have showcased a broad variety of artists, from familiar names such as Adele or Yo-Yo Ma to many indie rock acts you may have never heard of. There have been many international musicians (including Mexican pop sensation, Julieta Venegas) and even Big Bird, Elmo and the rest of the Sesame Street gang have been there. They usually last between 15 and 20 minutes and can be found on NPR Music’s YouTube channel. Simply visit YouTube online, and search for the channel and subscribe to be notified of new concerts.

Song Exploder

In order to truly appreciate the beauty of this extraordinary podcast, an important clarification is necessary. Just as films are created out of many different takes at different locations (often out of sequence) and subsequently pieced together by a film editor, music is recorded in separate audio tracks, allowing sound engineers precise control over the sound of each individual instrument during the recording process, and equally precise control when it’s time to mix the individual tracks down to the stereo mix we enjoy as the final product.

Song Exploder producer and host, Hrishikesh Hirway.

Song Exploder is a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Each episode is produced and edited by host and creator Hrishikesh Hirway in Los Angeles. Using the isolated, individual tracks from a recording, Hrishikesh asks artists to delve into the specific decisions that went into creating their work. He then edits the interviews, removing his side of the conversation and condensing the story to be tightly focused on how the artists brought their songs to life. 

There are presently over 160 different episodes available at his website, songexploder.net, and again, the variety of artists that have been his guests is quite broad in scope and musical style, from Fleetwood Mac to Norah Jones and many more. A particularly beautiful episode with Mexican superstar Natalia Lafourcade comes to mind. So, if you browse the episode list and run into an artist you already know and love, chances are that you will gain new insight as to how a particular song was produced.

Song Exploder was named “Best Music Podcast, 2016 and 2017” by the Academy of Podcasters. New York Times said about the podcast: “In the world of beautifully produced podcasts, Song Exploder is the beacon. Short version: It’s a show that dissects a song. Long version: It’s a show filled with serious lines of honesty, cinematic production and peeks inside the creative process.”

Your Own Home

Are you throwing a dinner party and your guests are asking what to bring? Put someone in charge of background music! Just make sure you have the proper cables to hook up their cell phones or portable music player to your stereo system. Better yet, put together an evening with your friends in which you ask each one of them to bring a handful of songs they like and have them take turns sharing the music and the reasons why they are drawn to it. You may think you know a lot about your friends, but you’d be surprised at how much music you can discover by sharing musical tastes this way. Not only will you likely gain a few favorite performers, but you will also strengthen your friendships at the same time.

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