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TBC Selects

How Colin Joyce Discovers New Music

August 7, 2023

TBC's senior editor uses methods both analog and digital to uncover his next favorite thing.

When I started writing about music at age 17, I didn’t realize my email inbox would never be the same. It began as a trickle of promo downloads of unreleased records—a nice perk in exchange for my free labor as an indie rock-obsessed high schooler—but before long it was a torrent. During my time working at VICE, I once calculated that I got around 300 emails a day containing new music (largely accompanied by requests to write about it), an unwieldy volume that meant great stuff always got lost in the mix. I’d guesstimate even now that every day I receive emails from publicists in the low triple digits. All of which is to say, I can’t listen to everything that makes its way into my inbox, let alone the vast world of underground music outside of it. So where do I even start?

Frankly, almost all of my digging has had to happen outside of my inbox. While I am extremely grateful to the publicists who know what I like and hit me up with really cool stuff, looking at email is a task that I try to avoid when I'm not compelled to for work purposes. My favorite way to discover new music is the opposite of that: I go outside. Going to gigs remains, for me, the best way to encounter music I’ve never heard before. Whether it’s showing up early to catch openers for a band I like, pulling out my phone to Shazam a track I love at a DJ set, or just paying a visit to a venue that I know consistently books cool stuff, there’s no better feeling than that IRL spark of newness. I live in New York, and I know it's a privilege to be able to go out and see something interesting any night of the week. But even when I lived elsewhere, I made a habit of seeking out the bands lower on cool-looking bills. It didn't even matter if the gigs happened to be several hundred miles away.

That said, the great majority of my listening happens at my desk, so sorting through the digital deluge is a necessity. I make a habit of checking out as many major music publications as I can—your Pitchforks, your Faders—but often the stuff they cover is already on my radar in some capacity or another. If it’s not, that’s a sure sign I need to check it out. But these publications tend to reflect the consensus opinions of their staffs. 

The real gems come from people and blogs with truly idiosyncratic tastes. I have my favorites—like blogger billdifferen, who has an ear to the ground for internet rap, baile funk, and other SoundCloud-born experiments—but the joy in this is in finding your own sweet spot. I recommend just following a bunch of critics, labels, and curious listeners on Twitter (or X, or whatever social media platform you prefer in the post-Musk era of that site) and seeing whose taste aligns most with yours, or who consistently shares tracks that push you out of your comfort zone. If they ever post something you haven’t heard, that’s your signal to drop everything and seek it out. 

One other great tool that’s stuck with me since my earliest days as a curious listener is the website and forum RateYourMusic. It has charts—based on ratings from the site’s users—stretching back through the whole history of recorded music, across any genre you can imagine. While I wouldn’t say that my taste always aligns with the people who are active on the site habitually, it's useful in an encyclopedic sense. If I want to dig super-deep into a specific genre—say ‘90s black metal, or drone music from the ‘80s—I can use RateYourMusic to look up some of the most highly regarded records in that genre and give myself a brief history lesson. 

At this point, I use countless sources beyond these to keep up—from poring over publicly available charts on streaming services to Googling the lyrics of songs I hear blasting out of cars in my neighborhood. I’m of the opinion that your next favorite song could be lurking anywhere out there, so it’s important to keep your ears open. It’s about learning to accept that you can’t hear everything, while still trying your hardest to. Sometimes that even means I have to open some emails.

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