Break free from the algorithm. Find your own damn music.
A lot of us youngins today get all our music recommendations from the algorithm, whether that be Spotify’s Discover Weekly, YouTube recommendations, or endless TikTok scrolling.
At some point recommendations stagnate. They’re impersonal by nature and restrictive by design. You get shown what you like with little room for discovery outside this profit zone. Algorithmic recommendations can fill the void for the time being but I quickly forget these impersonal discoveries.
We, as humans, can tie our senses to specific memories. Certain smells or sounds will bring me back to a distant bygone time. Hearing an old favorite song can bring back all the times I laughed or cried listening to it. My favorite songs never came from an algorithm. My favorite songs were introduced to me by my close friends. The music I can remember and come back to listen to again and again were my own discoveries.
So how can we break free from the algorithm? From experience, there’s a few different ways:
When I meet someone new, I like to ask “What kind of music do you listen to?“. I hate it when they respond with “everything”. That’s such a cop out answer because the truth is you don’t like everything. People are a bit bashful to strangers, as if I’ll judge them based on their taste in music. I mean, I will judge them but that’s okay because I would have figured that out anyways after getting to know them better. The most fun is when I can get a new friend to show my their Liked Songs and personal playlists. There’s always something good hidden in there.
Another place to share music is the car. When I’m the driver I like to just play whatever music I’m currently listening to. Screw the “car playlists” with popular music for the normies. You get to listen to whatever is currently on my palette, be it rock, EDM, jazz, or k-pop. It’s my car and you’re my captive audience.
At the same time, I love it when I’m in the passenger seat and I get played some niche music I’ve never heard before. I’ll try to get in a sneaky Shazam or just straight up ask for the song. It’s a great way to start a deeper conversation.
You give me recommendations, I give you recommendations. I might not like all the music you listen to and you might not like all my music, but sometimes, there’s a magical thing that can happen. Where there’s a wonderful song that we both love.
Features are a great way to expand your musical tastes. Crazy stuff like Van Halen on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ blew that song off the top charts. It introduced a bunch of metal heads to pop and visa versa.
More recently, I’ve found a few interesting Taiwanese artists from Elephant Gym’s latest album. The track ’Shadow’ features and a Taiwanese Jazz artist named 9m88. She’s got some pretty good music, but from there I jumped again to find a mash up rap/jazz song she did with Kumachan. (If you don’t understand Chinese, you should look up the lyrics, this song is actually pretty funny.) But from Kumachan, I found yet another good song that he did with Julia Wu.
So just to recap:
Elephant Gym -> 9m88 -> Kumachan -> Julia Wu
Besides features, another good method of finding artists is from festival lineups. I remember hearing about Wednesday Campanella from her first appearance at Camp Flog Gnaw in 2016. Joann introduced me to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu after seeing her in the lineup for Second Sky. I don’t think I would have found either of these artists just by trawling around the internet. So thanks Tyler, and thanks Porter.
Coincidental discovery is probably the hardest way to discover music. I would count this as anything that doesn’t come from a purely music focused background.
For me this usually comes from Shazaming some random background music. For example, I recently found this banger of a K-mart 90’s song from the end of this Climate Town video. Or the time I heard ’I Love Poland’ inside a bluk clothing shop in the Taipei underground.
But my favorite story of coincidental discovery is the Coo Coo Birds. Sometime in high school, I went to a random one off show at the Rick Shaw Stop. I didn’t know the lineup, or the theme, I just wanted something to do. And who else was playing but the Coo Coo Birds with their psychedelic rock and brash attitudes. It’s a night I quickly forgot because I was tripping on acid but the next day I found two of my high school anthems, ’Banged A Booker’ and ’Caffeine and Ketamine’. That’s all to say that good songs can come from bizarre places.
I would also count things like movie and video game sound tracks in this category. You weren’t looking for it but damn that track from that game was a banger.
Algorithms are still a good starting point to find music. I’ve found several artists that I do like from my Spotify Discover Weekly, but I try to use it as a starting point and not the entire journey.
We’d all benefit a little from talking to other humans and music is a great way to start a conversation.