Sound Signal Soundoff: How We Discover New Music
Sound Signal Soundoff: How We Discover New Music
Sound Signal

Sound Signal Soundoff: How We Discover New Music

Finding new and emerging artists can be a tricky art to master, but we have a few tips.

This is Part 2 of our Sound Signal Soundoff, celebrating a year of Third Bridge Creative’s Sound Signal newsletter and its talented contributor team. If you missed Part 1, where we predicted 2024’s biggest music trends, you can check it out here.

With so much music released each day, it can be hard to sort through all the noise. While it may seem like our Sound Signal contributor team can pick the freshest new artists out of thin air, the truth is that they have a way of sifting through the madness. From scrolling social media to attending live music shows, there’s never one way to find someone with star potential, as you’ll see from excerpted conversations we had with a few of our contributor cohort. Below, they talk about the ways they discover music, how they see the discovery landscape changing, and the value of human cultural expertise.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Music discovery is communal, no matter if it happens online or offline

Colin Joyce: It feels kind of crazy to say, with how bad this platform has gotten as a user, but Twitter is somehow still the best discovery tool for me. I’ve developed a list of cool people and labels and musicians that I follow that are always posting cool stuff, whether it’s stuff that they’re releasing or stuff that they’re into.

Leah Mandel: I spend a lot of time on Twitter. A lot of music also comes to me through Instagram: friends, labels, writers that I follow. A huge amount is from journalism, even if it’s just blogging or someone’s newsletter. Also friends telling me about some new song that they’re into that I hadn’t heard of.

Jaelani Turner-Williams: I probably discover the most meaningful music through social media. I like to look at best of the year roundups and even festival curation just to see what everyone’s in tune with, as far as how that will change in the new year. Now, since I’m based in a new city, I’ll probably be going to a lot more album release parties, and maybe some showcases every now and then to gauge the temperature of what people are listening to.

Michelle Hyun Kim: The people I follow who I trust, like music writers, other artists or musicians, when they post about songs, that’s one of my favorite ways where I find really good stuff. It’s the digital version of word of mouth. I also look at touring bills. I think for me, what I really like to do is subscribe to the newsletters of different venues in New York that I really love going to. I open up the emails when they announce they have a new lineup coming up, and I always look through the bills and scan the names. There are always people I don’t know, so I find things through there.

Vrinda Jagota: I’m invested in thinking about musical community. One way that I’ve always discovered artists is by seeing who’s opening for people I like on tour. A few years ago, I started listening to Yaya Bey, who’s now one of my favorite artists, because I saw her at a tiny venue opening for my friend’s band. More specifically, I write a lot about South Asian music or South Asian diasporic music, so there are a couple of places I go to. There’s this Instagram account called Discostan. It’s also an LA-based event space. They put on shows, and the person who runs it, Arshia, does DJ sets, so I try to pay attention to what she’s posting. 

That’s how I discovered Arooj Aftab’s music a few years ago. I’d known of Arooj because she opened for Mitski years before, and the name was in my head when Discostan posted it. I was like, “This sounds familiar.” I listened and was totally blown away. I pay attention to another account called Digging In India, which is this cool account run by this guy, Nishant, who keeps a really close eye on interesting samples, and songs that sample South Asian music in an interesting way.

CJ: There’s huge stuff that just doesn’t get talked about. Stuff can be number one of charts and most music journalists have never heard of it. In the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the single “La Diabla” by Xavi, who is this regional Mexican artist. By some measures, it’s the biggest song in the world right now, and most people who write about music don’t know the song and have never heard of it. It’s such an interesting phenomenon, especially when you’re thinking about non-English music. That there’s this stuff out there that’s making such a huge impact, that is still under covered and under-discussed. So opening your eyes and paying attention to what’s actually popular is big.

Music outlets are shrinking, but writers and bloggers are finding other ways to publish their work

CJ: It’s definitely scary thinking about the lack of journalistic outlets as that continues to happen. The amount of people who post about new music for their job is less than ever. While I don’t know if that’s necessarily a death knell for anything, it’s gonna change the ecosystem for sure. Especially as you think about smaller artists having their first looks at getting press and getting interviews and stuff like that. It just makes breaking out in that traditional way a little more complicated. 

In terms of how I think it’ll change, I don’t know. This might be wishful thinking, but I feel like the tides are turning on TikTok being the sole driver of new breakout songs. It feels like there are other routes again, and maybe we’ll see that continue to happen. I don’t have data to back that up necessarily, but if we were having this conversation in late 2021 or early 2022, TikTok would be the only thing that’s happening. Now it feels like there’s more, which I feel like is a positive development. 

There are a lot of newsletters out there that younger people are doing for the love of the game. I don’t think that’ll go anywhere. 

LM: It’s definitely weird out there. I certainly have worries about the potential death of the album review. But at the same time, I was thinking this morning actually about how a big way I found music when I was a kid was random people’s music blogs. Not that people are really using WordPress for that or Tumblr for that purpose anymore. But I was thinking about that, and I was thinking about this kid, sign crushes motorist, the slowcore kid who was blowing up on TikTok. But the way he was blowing up on TikTok was not viral. It wasn’t people using clips to soundtrack a trend or a challenge. It was kids doing music recommendation videos. I guess my hope is that would be part of a way forward. But then again, music journalists should get paid because we know what we’re doing. 

The best finds usually come from our own kind

MHK: I have been really enjoying going down Reddit wormholes lately, especially in my research for stuff I write for Third Bridge. There are different questions I have about genre boundaries or different artists that are suddenly viral again, and I want to learn more about what that community is thinking and feeling about these acts. I usually just google questions about the bands, and I find that other people on Reddit ask similar questions. It’s nice when there’s some kid online that’s like, “does anyone have a recommendation that sounds like Duster?”

VJ: Michelle and I are friends and I love finding music from her and from my friends. I’ll go over to Michelle’s house and we’ll watch music videos for hours.

MHK: I remember we were talking about discovering songs through Instagram stories, and I remember you posted a song from this artist named Sheherazaad a couple of months ago, and then when we saw each other in person, we were having out with friends and were like, “I really liked that Sheherazaad song you posted.” You were like, “people listen to the songs I post on my instagram stories?” With such a transient form of social media, Instagram stories, it kind of feels like—is anyone even paying attention to this? Does anyone care?

CJ: For any source that you like, you have to find the corner of it that has someone that aligns with your taste, basically. Whether it’s a radio show or someone you follow on Twitter or Instagram or whatever, you have to do the work of finding people that you align with. I also try to do my part in sharing music that I like because I feel like I’ve been contributing to that ecosystem in some way also. 

LM: A month or so ago, I interviewed Angel Marcloid, who performs as Fire-Toolz, and she put me onto this artist, Lipsticism, and this album, Elapsed Kiss. It’s one of my favorite albums from this past year. I would have never known about it if Angel hadn’t told me. Stuff like that is important too.

Brandon Ousley: I do wonder about artificial intelligence. It’s here, so to speak, but I could see the disadvantages and the advantages of AI. I can’t really go into depth about it, but I’m a little befuddled by it all because it just seems like it takes away some of the personalization of the music listener’s choice.

MHK: The reason why AI can never really take the place of human curators in music is because we can tell when there’s honesty, that emotional connection [from artists.] Especially with people who put cameras in front of their faces and make TikToks, I think that people who can actually command a presence outside of that small vertical screen are going to be more important than ever, especially with these artists going into a live context or even trying to make music videos. Not all of them can do that.

Thanks for reading our Sound Signal Soundoff! We have some more interesting content coming down the pipeline, so if you haven’t already signed up for Sound Signal, what are you waiting for? Sign up right here. 

Our Contributors Are:

Brandon Ousley: Bandcamp Daily, Pipe Wrench Media, The Coda Collection, Albumism, Dive

Colin Joyce: Senior Editor at Third Bridge Creative, Vice, Pitchfork, The Fader, Spin

Jaelani Turner-Williams: Complex, Dwell, Elle, Nylon, Rolling Stone, VMP

Leah Mandel: The Fader, Vice, Wall Street Journal, SoundCloud

Michelle Hyun Kim: New York Magazine, GQ Japan, Rolling Stone, NPR Music, Pitchfork, Teen Vogue

Vrinda Jagota: Pitchfork, NPR, Bandcamp Daily, The Cut, The Juggernaut

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