Like all right-thinking people, I'm moderately terrified of having my tastes for culture and entertainment atrophy as I get older and older. To be one of those people who just read, watch and listen to the same old shit, and to be blissfully ignorant of all the great new stuff out there.
So I often try some new comics, or watch a TV show or movie that is far outside my comfort zone, or start a new one-person book club to find my next favourite author. (This is working particularly well, the last two books have been absolutely excellent.)
But when it come to finding new and interesting music, the task is both easier and harder than it has ever been, but I've got a system set up for that as well - all I have to do is strip out all the context, and focus on the content. Easy.
Sometimes I like to get clear-skin wines - wines that have no real label or brand on them that you can pick up cheap at liquor stores and supermarkets. All you are told is that what kind of wine it is, the alcohol content and the country it comes from, and that's about it.
They're never great wines, but they're never truly awful either, and this averageness can be a bonus. They make good cooking wines, for instance, and can be smooth enough for the roughest pallet after a tough day at work.
Even better, it strips away all the bullshit behind the brand, and means the wine has to stand on its own merits, with no preconceptions or pre-judgements. It is what it is, with no context, and survives and falls on its own merits, and that's the same vague ethos I take with me when I look for new music.
I still like and listen to all the hundreds of bands and artists I always do, all the bands I've loved and lived with for fuckin' decades. That's always there, but this appreciation of good music isn't a bucket with a limited capacity, there is still plenty of room for more.
But it can be so hard to find good, new music, mainly because there is just so bloody much of it - dozens of singles and albums are released every week, all over the world, and the amount of new music piles up and piles up, and so much undisputed genius is lost in the crush.
In this regard, a gatekeeper has never been more important, and it always helps to have a trusted opinion point you in the right direction. But we live in such a playlist culture - radio isn't the mass medium it once was, and nobody can keep up with it all. It doesn't mean you shouldn't try, but you should always be aware of the mammoth task of digging through hours of sonic art.
At the same time, it has never been easier, and you can find almost any recorded song in the history of mankind on Youtube. Radios are still there, and there are all kinds of streaming services, and if you know exactly what you are looking for, you can find it easily enough.
There are also specific radio shows and podcasts that can act as an excellent entry point to new music - I love listening to RNZ's Music 101 show on Saturday afternoons, and not just because I also work there - although it can be easy for good songs to slip through if you only hear them once, and they don't stick in the head straight away.
Everyone follows their own path when it comes to finding the music that speaks to their soul, and my own method of finding the new stuff is just as complicated, silly and effective and as anybody else's, and it uses the cutting-edge technology of 30 years ago.
This is how I do it: I get these free CDs that still come with music magazines, and there are about four or five magazines a month that provide this, usually British mags like Mojo and Uncut. Between all these free CDs, there is a huge variety of new music of all genres, and weird, esoteric old stuff.
Some of the magazines I buy, but most of them I get through the local library, and I rip all the songs onto a hard drive, and there are dozens and dozens of songs every couple of months. And then I burn them back onto another blank CD, which is then full of hours and hours of strange new sounds to get through.
And then I blast them in my car until I've figured out what I like.
The rules to this plan mean I have to listen to every song for at least two minutes, five times over, while driving around. It takes more than a month of driving to and from work and the comic shop, (my two main destinations by car), to get through one of these giant CDs like this.
Even if they're awful, droning bullshit, or whining, irritating novelty songs, they get two minutes, and I go through them five times until I'm absolutely sure of whether I like it or not.
It takes five times. Every time I start a new one, the first listen is always a crushing disappointment because I can't follow any of it, then on the second and third time round, the good stuff starts to stick. By five, I know which ones I like, and which are just too fucking annoying.
There are certainly songs that I like straight away, that are self-evident in their genius, and become instant classics, right from the start, but they're rare.
Repetition works for everything else. It takes the familiarity of a tune to really judge it, we're all still little kids when we find a song we like, and just want to listen to it over and over again, until it lodges in the head forever.
The stuff that strikes the right chord for me is usually rock and roll in some way, but I'll give anything a go, any genre, any artist, any band. I love a fat beat and deep bass and heartbreaking melodies and don't think this is too much to ask.
The names don't come up on the car stereo, so I never saw who the artists actually were until I make the conscious effort to look them up on the internet. There is no hype, and no prejudice in trying this music this way. If it's good to drive around town to, that's all you need.
New tunes on the motorway, skipping through six songs while stuck at the lights, tapping out the beat on the steering wheel. That's how I find the good music.
Originally posted on May 2, 2017. I'm still using this awkward and complicated method to find new music, and it's still paying off big time.