Much like your favourite meals, you may love the musicians and artists you listen to, but sometimes listening to the same musical diet can get bland and you may find yourself craving something new to satisfy your musical palate. But where do you start? Most people do not go out of their way to spend their time finding new music, often settling for the music they happen to come across from friends and family, or from entertainment such as Radio or Film. Therefore, going out of your way to find new music, particularly when you have certain style, genre or sound in mind, can often be a lot harder than it initially seems due to us not possessing the skills and techniques to discover new music. Well do not worry any longer; Below I have compiled a series of tips and techniques for finding new artists to reinvigorate your musical listening.
It is so simple that it might be easy to forget but Google and other search engines can be your friend when you are exploring for new artists to blow your mind. There are so many keywords and search terms that can be used to help you in your search for new sounds. You can ask the search engine to find music similar to a band or artist that you love, or to find music within a certain genre or scene, maybe you are curious as to what the hottest new singles, EP’s and album releases are at the moment; the options are endless. From the results you can follow the links on the search results page to blogs, videos and articles that can answer your query with more information. You will be surprised how quickly you will find new music using this method.
Using streaming services
Streaming services are something that is still fairly new to the world and yet, in such a short space of the time their use has become fully ingrained into our day to day lives and with its many advantages it is easy to understand why. We no longer need to dedicate large amounts of space in our homes to our music collections, we can carry whatever music we want with us in our pockets and have an endless library of music to explore. There are a number of ways you can find musicians on streaming services like Spotify. First are playlists curated by both real people and algorithms. You can use them to follow specific musical styles, the top releases and popular songs on the platform. Spotify’s algorithms will also curate playlists (What are called Daily Mixes) with a mix of artists you already love, along with new artists that are yet to listen to.
Another option is to go the sites such as last.fm. Last.fm will analyse your listening habits across multiple platforms and then make suggestions for new music you should listen to.
Follow Niche Blogs
As music fans we are probably familiar with the big online music blogs such as Pitchfork, NME, NPR and Stereogum, if you are not they are definitely worth checking out and are a useful tools for finding new music. However, they do come with their own problems. The big blogs tend to focus on bigger acts that can pull large amounts of traffic to their websites and therefore finding underground acts through these sites can be difficult. They also tend cast a wider net in terms of the musical genre’s and style’s that they represent. This can be great for eclectic music lovers who will listen to anything and everything and are looking for something to surprise them, but for those of us who have a more refined and specific music taste, such blogs are pretty inefficient for finding new artists to satisfy out interests. So why not look for smaller blogs with smaller followings and a more specific taste of music. There are so many advantages to this. Firstly, small communities of people can build up around these blogs for you to interact and share artists with. Secondly you can guarantee a lot of the music that you hear from such blogs will fit your personal tastes as opposed to the hit and miss nature of the big blogs.
Social Media sites and forums such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit provide a number of options to help you find new music. On Facebook and Twitter, you can make a post to your friends or followers asking for music recommendations and you may be surprised just how many replies you receive; people love to share what they think is amazing music. You can also follow pages and other users who are likely to post new music regularly on places like Facebook and Twitter for example: music bloggers, magazines and reviewers who you have discovered and like. Facebook and Reddit also gives you the opportunity to join forums (Groups in Facebook or Subreddits in Reddit) dedicated to a particular music scenes or genres giving you the opportunity to share and discuss with folks who have a like minded music taste.
Music Podcasts and Radio
One of people’s regular complaints about radio stations is that they tend to play the same music over and over again and more often these songs do not fit our personal musical tastes. Sure, the music played on the radio might be entertaining enough for your drive to work, but it will rarely introduce you to new musical flavours. So what things can you listen to that will introduce you to new music or music that fits your specific tastes. Well first: actually do a read up of the schedules of your favourite radio stations; You maybe surprised to find that there are specific radio programs that either target new and unknown music or that target specific genres that fit your tastes. Also do not hesitate to find new radio stations, again some stations such as Kerrang! target certain scenes and genres whilst others like BBC Radio 6 target new and underground music. Second: hunt around for some podcasts, there are often podcasts that specialise in certain genres and musical topics, and the best thing about podcasts is you can listen to them any time you want. Many radio stations will offer their shows as podcasts but there are also podcasts available that are set up by as little as one or two individuals and as such will introduce you to artists far outside of the mainstream. Third, there are a number of online radio stations that are not available on standard frequencies or even DAB radio. Many of these online stations will specialise in a particular scene or genre and as such you are bound to find one that fits your personal music tastes. College and University radio is also great as they will often look to play new and unheard music that would no usually appear on underground radio.
Look up touring acts
Looking up tour posters can be great if you are looking to find when your favourite artists are going to be playing in a city near you, but they can also be great for finding music from artists that you have never heard of. To do this simply keep an eye out for when your favourite artists announce new tour dates anywhere in the world and then research who the supporting acts are. Most bands will have 1-3 acts who will open the show and warm up the crowd for them. These acts tend to have a few things in common. They tend to have a smaller audience than the headliner and are not as well known and they tend to play music from sam or another similar style of music. By doing this you will quickly find your list of artists to check out will start getting very long very quickly.
Music Identification Apps
How often do you find yourself hearing a piece of music that you fall head over heels for only for there to be no chance for you to find out the name of the tune that your ears cannot help but crave more of. Maybe you hear it in a film and cannot track down the music online, or on the radio and the announcer forgets to tell you what the song was, or maybe you were just in your local coffee shop or record store when you heard the song. We have all been there and it can be absolutely infuriating. What you really need is someone with you who has the largest knowledge of music known to man who can hear and track and tell you what it is within seconds. While there may not be such a person in existence, there are apps that are able to achieve this. Apps like Shazam, TrackID and Soundhound listens to the music that is being played and compares it to a cloud database before retrieving the information and showing it to you on your phone. With one of these apps in your pocket you will no longer have to miss a single track and wonder if you will ever come across it again, just take your phone out and find out in seconds.
Record shops maybe few and far between these days and may seem much more like a novelty than they once where but they can still be a great place to find music and can provide a unique fun experience that the other methods of searching for new music just do not have. Do not be afraid to go and have a look, talk to people working and visiting the shop and ask what they recommend; Go flicking through the CD’s, Vinyl’s and Cassettes to see if there are any covers that catch your eye, look in the sections containing the genre’s you love most and see if there are any recordings that you do not recognise the name of and if the record shop has a listening booth and use it; it might also be worth bringing a friend along and showing each other what you find and share your ideas and thoughts together whilst hunting. Exploring record shops can not only help you find new music but can ensure you have the most fun whilst doing it.
Auto-tune, it is everywhere, from its overt use for its distinctive sound by artists like Drake to artists who have used it less obviously to tidy up vocal lines that they sang slightly out of tune. It also sparks hot debates and makes many individuals furious claiming it symbolises everything wrong with the modern music industry. Some hate the sound that the overt use of auto-tune creates, while others find the use of it to correct vocal lines dishonest and believe that it is used to make talentless individuals sound like amazing singers and some musicians even refuse to use the technology on principle. However, many believe it is a useful tool either helping to tidy up great takes or for its use as a creative tool both for transcribing or adjusting the melody of recorded takes after the fact and even for adding a unique sound that other forms of audio processing do not possess. So that leaves the question: Is Auto-tune a useful creative tool or a form of musical cheating?
In the analogue world of music, before the development of auto-tune, you could only use takes that had been produced by the artist, and though takes could be manipulated with certain outboard gear and the pitch of a take could be changed through the speeding up or slowing down of the tape the recording was on, very little could be done to change the pitch of a single note on a vocal or instrument. This meant to get recordings with all the best performances from various takes required the cutting and splicing of multiple-takes to get the desired effect. However, the destructive nature of cutting and splicing tape meant that the technology could not be used excessively without ruining the natural sound of a recording, as such many pre-digital recordings feature vocals and instrumentation that was out of tune. Many argue that the imperfections found in these older recordings adds character and a feel to the music that is often lost in todays world where every second of music is polished to perfection.
Auto-tune, is widely recognised to have first appeared on Cher’s 1998 track ‘Believe’ where it was used to distort the vocals in an interesting and unique way. Though this is truly the first use of actual auto-tune, there is a huge gap between what auto-tune actually is and what what the general public believes auto-tune to be. Auto-tune is a form of what is more broadly known as pitch-correction and there are devices that have been used to correct the pitch of vocals and instrumentation since the 1970s. But much like how brands such as Hoover have become synonymous with vacuum cleaners, the name auto-tune has become synonymous with all types of pitch correction whether done automatically like the actual auto-tune by Antares Audio Technologies or done through a more manual method like the Eventide H910 Harmonizer.
Here in lies the problem, many people hear the name auto-tune and automatically assume that the term is being used to describe the correction of the pitch of a poor vocal performance when in reality auto-tune is used to describe a wide-range of methods and techniques to affect the tuning of audio in numerous ways and for numerous reasons. There are examples of how pitch correction has been used to tidy up vocals in a way that may make sense to many. For example, as a producer there are many elements you are looking for in a performance; tuning and timing are a couple of those elements but there are others; the timbre, emotion, power and dynamics of a performance are just a few examples and if as a producer you have to choose between a performance that is in tune but does not have the power and emotion that the song requires or a performance that is slightly out of tune but carries the weight and emotion that you want from that part of the song, you may forgive the producer for picking out the slightly out of tune vocal and correcting a mild mistake.
Pitch correction can also be used in a creative way that creates a unique sound, instrumentalists utilise systems such as talk-boxes and vocoders to create interesting sounds that you just cannot achieve with any other method, and auto-tune is often used in this way as well. We often hear these uses in a lot of modern pop music from artists like Kanye West who uses it in many tracks including ‘Love Lockdown’ and Bruno Mars who uses a vocoder in the introduction of ‘24k Magic’. But plenty of artists have used these techniques in the past, Kraftwerk used vocoders in a lot of their work including their 1978 song ‘The Robots’ and even the The Beatles manipulated the pitch of their songs by speeding up and slowing down tape; the perfect example of this is ‘Strawberry Fields’ where the speeding up and raising of the pitch of the track can be heard at around the 1 minute mark.
That being said, where does auto-tunes bad reputation come from? As I have just explained, much of it comes down to the difference between peoples’ expectations of what auto-tune is used for and what it is actually used for. With such expectations it is no wonder that people feel auto-tune is being used as a way to cheat talent. This coupled with a number of on stage performers such as Britany Spears and Katy Perry being caught lip synching vocals live and certain talent shows such as the X-Factor admitting to using auto-tune on their contestants then you begin to see why people may feel cheated and mislead when it comes to modern pop music.
So are there plausible uses for this technology? I would say yes, to an extent. Of course I have explained how it can be used in really cool creative ways that have changed how music sounds forever, it has also been used to make the most of the best takes to ensure a track can sound the best it possibly can. And though it may seem that its use in a live setting is cheating, the reality is that auto-tune cannot turn a bad singer into a great one. The technology itself only goes so far when being used live, as it can only be used to bring a note that is within a semi-tone of the desired pitch in tune, and to sing that close in tune consistently requires a strong and confident vocal ability. In such a setting in can be argued that is no difference between auto-tune and other audio-processing that is used in Live performances. No matter who the performer is, auto-tune or no auto-tune, other processes are used to bring the best out of a vocal performance with EQ being a bare minimum and the use of reverb, delay and compression also being perfectly normal processes to improve the sound of a vocal, how is the slight use of auto-tune any different?
Now this is not to say that the technology gets off the hook completely. Many people argue that the music of today has lost much of the feel that music used to gain from its imperfections. What used to be an art-form that relied entirely on imperfect human beings who, no matter how good, would always play slightly out of time and out of pitch when recording themselves to tape, a medium with limited editing ability, has now been replaced by computers and algorithms that can ensure that music recordings can be edited to produce perfectly timed and pitched music in a way no one could have ever imagined. Now it is important to realise that auto-tune is not the only culprit in this problem with modern music as there are loads of different modern recording techniques such as midi and audio-quantisation that helps in the creation of super-clean and super-perfect music of the modern era, but perhaps auto-tune is part of a trend in music that has seen the thing that made music so human disappear: imperfection.
What's is you opinion on auto-tune? Do not hesitate to comment below and start of a discussion on auto-tune and whether it is cheating or a useful creative tool?
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