You don't know who I am. I have no music industry credentials. Yet I've decided to post something here. You see, I'm a big fan of music, and I especially love finding new unknown bands that I like, because the industry as a whole has left me feeling hollow and empty inside. No big deal, except I've been having a little problem. I've been having a problem finding new music on the Internet.
Today in the car, I was listening to a series of mixed CDs of various songs I had downloaded from unknown bands and artists that put their stuff freely out there. It started with the hard-rocking ATP, a Japanese quartet with powerful female vocals singing in both Japanese and English. After that, World Without End, a prog-rock band from the early eighties who never made it, but recently the bandleader cleaned up the old recordings and put them online. Then came one of my very favorite discoveries, ALamantra, a Birmingham, Alabama-based "prog punk" band, for lack of a better description. (The second capital L is not a typo, by the way.)
In-between those were many other discoveries I've made. One of the Boys, a quartet from all over the United States who have never met in person and collaborate over the Net. And of course, Gypsy Caravan, a one-man prog-rock outfit from Austin, Texas, who I heard only because I made friends with him in an IRC channel. The CD ended with a song by Ded Serius, another one-man act, this time from Arizona, and another person I have come to know through the Internet.
It sounds as if I have no troubles at all finding new music. So what's the problem?
Every single one of these discoveries were from eight years ago. Since then, I've had no motivation to try finding new unknown bands posting their stuff on the Net.
The majority of these are from the heyday of Mp3.com, at the time Michael Robertson's classic "unknown bands" site. Mp3.com was vast, and it was sometimes difficult to find stuff because it depended on bands self-categorizing themselves. Most of the time, though, this worked, and I was able to work through different categories to find new bands. I'd download tracks here and there, and most of them didn't work for me, but some would grab me very quickly. This is how I found ATP, One of the Boys, ALamantra, Phreeworld, and a number of others. Phreeworld became my very first CD purchase of an unsigned band found on the Internet.
Sometimes, I would download something just to satisfy my curiosity. I simply had to hear the Sexual Pantalones after seeing their name come up in a search. Surprisingly, I ended up liking their songs and still listen to them. You just never knew what might happen. It was exciting and magical to come across something, sometimes by total accident, and say, "wow, this is good!"
What's changed since then? Everything. Mp3.com has been sold off twice and is now a major label tool. IUMA, the Internet Underground Music Archive and the place I discovered Nighthawks 2000, is still around, I think, but is so bog-slow it might as well not exist. I can't even get the site to load anymore.
It shouldn't be all bad. Last.FM has some new technology pointing the way to new bands I might like. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs I can go to for every genre, looking for someone to post something I might like. But if all of these new tools are out there, why am I having such rotten luck? Perhaps it's because these services have no joy of discovery left to them.
The magic is gone. Blogs have tastemakers telling me what they think is good. I can do my own tastemaking, thank you very much. Last.FM has spiffy new software that can group together like bands. It always fails to work on me. It's not about genre or sound. It's about the song, and no computer can tell me whether or not a song is good. I want to get back that thrill of discovery as I go through directories of self-categorized artists all posting their mp3s for free download, as I download and listen, dismiss and keep, eschewing a Saturday afternoon spent down at the lake in exchange for a few new tracks that I'll still be listening to in ten years. The new services try to do this for me, and make it difficult to do myself.
Now, don't get me wrong, I have been discovering new music, in the traditional sense. I was turned onto Sparks by a clip of "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" that someone posted to YouTube. A friend (indeed, the same friend who is Gypsy Caravan) pointed me to Porcupine Tree, who I find very good. These aren't quite the same, though, as finding some song in an obscure corner of some out-of-the-way web site that so few people will travel to, and actually liking it. I feel like I'm getting in the ground floor of a new experience that I now have to tell others about, like I'm now part of an exclusive club of so few other people who like this song.
I'd like that feeling back, please.
Darren Landrum is an engineering student currently studying to get his first degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is also a budding music maker in his own right, interested in progressive rock and experimental forms of electronic music, inspired as much by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop as by Yes. Lately he's been into math, DSP programming, and figuring out how to write about himself in the third person.