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The Beat Elusive

This story was published August 9, 2005, during an internship at Richmond.com.

The beat elusive. The elusive beat. It’s a far-reaching problem that affects people of all races, ages and ethnicities. It’s the problem of finding new music.

I am told that I take an extreme approach to enjoying music. What, everyone doesn’t alphabetize their CD collection? Am I the only one that plays music in the background… and then does nothing else but listen? Do I stand alone in refusing to destroy an album’s intended continuity by playing it on shuffle?

Is this thing on?

Music is my life. That said, I’m willing to entertain the idea that I take it a little too seriously. But you can’t rely on radio stations or the TV to deliver new sounds and beats to your doorstep. The media has their iPods on repeat, so to keep myself feeding on fresh tunes, I’ve designed the Seven Steps to Musical Nirvana . It’ll help you find the beat elusive, no matter how stealthy it may be.

Check out local music stores

I was interviewing a band once and asked each member for their top five favorite albums. Things went smoothly until it was the bassist’s turn. He shook his shaggy head and said, “No way, man. I used to work in a record store.” Aside from learning never to rely on musicians for a solid interview, I realized that the kids who work in music stores are exposed to a lot of stuff. The most helpful salesmen will make smalltalk as they help you – don’t let this invaluable information slip in one ear and out the other. If you’re especially gutsy, you could even ask the cashier about his or her most recent buy.

Visit Amazon.com and Listmania

As if locating that long-lost video series, letting you taste test songs before you buy and offering (marginally) helpful reviews weren’t enough, Amazon.com now has a recommendation section. The program takes your search and purchase history and links similar items that other people have bought.

Another stroke of genius from Amazon comes in the form of Listmania. When I searched for “Father of the Bride” on VHS, Listmania provided me with a list called “So You’d Like to See Some of the HIPPEST Flicks…” The list was compiled by Angela de Gregorio, self-proclaimed “coolest girl on Earth.” At this point, I bet you’ve spotted the flaw in Listmania – things are so very subjective. I would never list “Father of the Bride” as one of the HIPPEST flicks and the jury is still out on whether Ms. De Gregorio is in fact the coolest girl on earth, but the important thing is that commonalities can direct you to things you wouldn’t ordinarily have known about.

Read the CD jacket sleeves

You know the last page of the little booklet that comes on the inside of CDs? That’s the place where artists thank the people, deities, recording studios and other bands that helped them along their way. I’d estimate that most CD jackets contain the names of four or five other bands. For example, one of Catch 22’s albums thanked a band called The Aquabats. I checked them out, and sure enough, both bands play fast-paced, cheerful, old-school ska. It’s like getting a personal recommendation from your heroes and my favorite way to find new music in the styles I prefer.

Make friendly with the record labels

If you’re looking for a sound that’s similar to a band you already like, check out their record label. Some of the big companies, like BMG and Columbia, have a wide array of genres and artists, but the smaller businesses, such as Victory Records or Saddle Creek, tend to stick to the same style of music when they select their artists. The easiest way to get a crash-course in any labels’ preference is to get on the mailing list. You’ll get updates on artist news, receive special downloads, free sound bites and discounts on merch.

Join music Web sites

Aside from being a great place to sample music from both big and small fish swimming in the musical pond, both My Space (www.myspace.com) and purevolume (www.purevolume.com) have a daily Featured Artist section. The bands showcased are usually those on the up-and-up, who have a stable following and are about to break into the national media scene. All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com) has the most comprehensive New Releases list that I’ve found. They also have a wonderful site feature which links bands according to collaborations, genre, similar time period and interestingly, the emotional style of the music. My favorites emotional categories are Snide, Knotty and Clinical. The adjectives may not be helpful, but at least they’re available. BRINGTHENOISE (www.bringthenoise.com) is a hip-hop and rap oriented site with a comprehensive news directory that draws stories from MTV, Yahoo! News and ESPN, among other sources. This is a great place to visit if you’re looking for the most recent activities of your favorite urban artist.

Listen to the elevator music

I haven’t forgotten the day I discovered Jack Johnson. (Enter dream sequence music, fog…) I was browsing through a surf shop in North Carolina when I heard the airy vocals and feather-light guitar work wafting from the store’s PA system. I worked up the nerve to ask the cashier what was playing. He laughed at my hesitation and gave me a crash course in everything Jack. I left the store with a seashell necklace (my purchase) and a Jack Johnson CD (which the cashier gave me, along with these instructions: “Share the love and the sweet, sweet vibe, sister.”).

You can find great music in any store out there. I came across Snow Patrol in a hardware store and techno master J Ralph while I was riding in an elevator. Don’t expect the usual, tired muzak to back your grocery store visits. Even commercials have stepped things up, so if you hear something you like, put some effort into checking it out.

Surf the band’s Web site

It seems as if bands are doing more these days to court their listeners. Promotional deals, contests and free stuff are staples of many artists’ Web sites. Don’t get sidetracked, though; the real goodies are in the links section. Not only do you get to see what interests the members of your favorite group (many bands list political organizations, booksellers and music venues they support) but you get to see which bands they respect and identify with. Sometimes, the bands are so closely-knit, that you’ll end up making circles, following one link back to another. This method of finding new bands is equally as useful as reading the CD jacket, only it’s in larger print.

As a music critic, journalist and avid listener, I encourage you to dig deeper into your favorite style of music. Take the time to discover new artists; it’s like giving yourself presents that you can use over and over again.

Music is my life. Make it yours, too. Go get ’em, tiger.

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