There are few better feelings than discovering a new band you love. It’s the feeling of knowing you have months or years of listening pleasure ahead of you. Perhaps a live show to anticipate too.
But as you get older, musical discovery gets harder. In high school and college, most of us had that friend or two always pushing new music, dying for us to hear the band they were currently obsessed with. In your 20s, you might be introduced a new great band at a party, club, or concert you were invited or dragged along to.
Later on, it gets really tough. One survey of 1,000 people in the UK found that most of us stop finding music around 30—suffering from “musical paralysis” and stuck listening to music from our past.
Of course, there’s plenty of technology that’s scarily good at predicting your musical taste. Spotify and Apple Music offer curated playlists that will serve you up just what you like with uncanny accuracy. There is little true alchemy in it though. The playlists rarely surprise you or show you something outside of your usual wheelhouse, and instead play into what makes you comfortable. Oh, you like Solange? Here are ten other artists as similar to her as our algorithms can find. Not so exciting.
I believe I have found the perfect, algorithm-free remedy for the paralyzed music listener. Here it is:
The South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival is perhaps the most important US event for artists trying to make it. This year, over 2,000 acts were scheduled to play at the Austin, Texas based event, which takes place from March 11-17. Most of these bands are almost complete unknowns, hoping to get noticed.
Since 2009, NPR music has released a playlist of its 100 favorite songs by bands playing the festival. The playlist, which the public radio organization calls “The Austin 100,” is curated by the staff after listening to at least one song by nearly every artist performing. You can either download the songs as mp3s or stream the whole list on Spotify.
The Austin 100 is an incredible source for unearthing new music. Even the professional critics at NPR will not have heard of many of these artists before they put them on the list. And it is a surprisingly eclectic set of songs. NPR music has become a tastemaker by putting a together a team with diverse music tastes: It’s not just folk and jazz anymore.
For about five years now, I have used this playlist to expose myself to some new music, and inevitably, I’ve found a new favorite band or artist in the process each time. I do it by playing a little game. I force myself to listen to at least 60 seconds of each song on the list. That’s long enough to really give each song a chance, but not so long that you are torturing yourself if you hate it.
The whole exercise usually takes 2-3 hours, and it’s perfect for while I am walking around or exercising. (It would also be great for a road trip.) Last year, I fell for the soulful rock of the British solo artist Nilüfer Yanya, the Korean shoegaze band Say Sue Me, and the intense pop of Australia’s G Flip.
The best part of the exercise is that you will be forced out of your comfort zone. In addition to finding a number of bands that were right up my alley, this year’s list offered me two great surprises. I would never have stumbled upon the off-kilter hip-hop of Leikeli47 or the orchestral dance music of Daniel Brandt—but now I can’t stop listening to them.
Give it a try. Your new favorite band may be just 60 seconds away.