I have a bit of a music addiction. Or love of music? Need for music in my life? I don’t know what to call it, but I just checked and I have 9,000 audio files in my iTunes account.
Keep in mind that this is music I’ve purchased from Apple as well as the songs I kept from the hundreds of CDs that I finally loaded onto my computer and then gave away.
So at some point I owned more music than that. And, granted, some of the files on there are foreign language files. If you want to learn Thai, I’ve got you covered.
(If I’m going to a foreign country for a vacation I try to at least learn the basics of hi, how are you, my name is, where is, how much is, how to count to twenty, and thank you. Which means I can sometimes randomly spout something basic in Czech, Greek, French, Spanish, Croatian, and Thai. But I digress. As always.)
There’s also a fair amount of classical and opera on there because I tried to be cultured at one point before deciding nah, not me. I like songs with lyrics I can understand.
Anyway. I have 9000 audio files in that account. 252 of them are on my favorites list which generally consists of songs that really make me feel something when I hear them. Some are sad, some are thoughtful, some are fun (so I smile and feel uplifted). They’re across a wide variety of categories from pop to hip hop to country to blues/jazz to rock to alternative and probably span seventy years of music.
And it occurred to me the other day that even though I have 9000 songs that I own and could listen to and that 250 or so have made it to my favorites list that it’s quite possible that there are other songs out there that I would also love that I’ve just never discovered.
Which made me wonder how I discovered the songs I did.
Back in the day it was pretty easy for mainstream music. You had the radio and that’s what you listened to in the car for the most part or at home. We had cassette tapes when I was young and then CDs later. But a lot of music time was spent listening to the radio.
Which is why I still try to listen to the radio when I’m out and about even though that is somewhat rare these days. I think I drive twenty miles a week if I’m lucky.
But that was always a curated “popular” list driven by the choices of that particular radio station so it was always limited.
I of course also had my parents’ influence. That’s where The Eagles, Jim Croce, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and the like came from. And my brother. I got so I could recognize AC/DC every time it came on the radio and he was also the Guns & Roses source. And friends. That’s why I have fond memories of 2Pac and Salt-N-Pepa and Bell Biv Devoe.
I also at one point had a pen pal from Germany or somewhere like that who made me a mix tape of all sorts of bands I hadn’t heard before like Soup Dragons.
But at one point I’d also just randomly buy music that looked interesting based on the CD case. One of the songs on my favorites list is called Music Gets the Best of Me by Sophie Ellis-Bextor and the only way I found it was because I was in Australia and there was a two-CD collection called Mint 2 that I picked up because why not.
I did the same thing in Iceland. And I discovered Reggaeton music while listening to the radio in Puerto Rico.
Another artist I discovered (Lizz Wright) was because I walked into a bookstore and they were playing the artist’s CD. Some I’ve discovered via television shows or movies. My dad and I both discovered Nina Simone that way. It was the background music to that movie about a female convict who becomes a trained assassin and then escapes.
Nowadays I sometimes discover music because it went viral in some way. Like the song F2020 by Avenue Beat which took off on TikTok first and then was shared on Twitter. It took some time to get to iTunes where I could buy it.
I even discovered a couple via commercials that aired in New Zealand. And one from an America’s Got Talent audition.
I also troll the top 10 lists on Apple for both songs and albums. And I look through new releases to see if anything looks interesting.
I love to buy albums where I like at least two or three of the songs by an artist in case there’s some undiscovered gem on there that isn’t on a top ten list. Sometimes my favorites aren’t the most popular by an artist.
I’ve tried to use the Apple “artists like this” option, but it’s never terribly inspiring.
I also used to find a lot of songs in the weekly or monthly (I can’t remember) free song that Apple offered. And if I really liked that one song I’d go and see if I might like other songs by them. But that doesn’t always work. (There was a great free song I got from the Rizzle Kicks called Down With the Trumpets but then none of their other songs at the time had that same joy to them.)
Oh, and recently I also bought a song off of an advertisement for the song that ran on Hulu. (More commercials like that please.)
Why am I rambling on about this? What does this have to do with writing?
I think there are a few important parallels here.
First, someone can listen (or read) a ton and find lots of things they like and yet still never stumble across what would be their absolute favorite.
Second, a lot of the ways I’ve found music (and books) over the years are driven by the artist or company behind them selling someone else on the product. In a movie, commercial, tv show, on the radio, etc.
Third, being popular matters because it’s a quick and easy way to for someone to find you.
Fourth, and I didn’t mention it above, but price matters. Those Hulu commercials? I think there were four of them I saw during the time I was watching Hulu. I liked two of them, but only bought one. I didn’t want to spend $1.29 on the other one whereas I would have spent 69 cents on it.
Fifth, it helps if what draws people in matches with the rest of what you do so that they buy more from you.
Also, a final point. Individual tastes are eclectic. Every once in a while there’s a “like this tweet and I’ll post a song I like” trend that hits Twitter or I’ve seen at least one author do something similar on their blog and sometimes I’m like, “ooh, new songs” but more often I’m like, “hmmm, not to my taste.” So recommendations can be great, but they often fall short just because of the differences between people and what they like.
(I once asked a guy I liked to tell me his favorite song thinking I’d get a really good recommendation of something new to me and…no. It literally changed my entire perspective on him. Like, all the music in the world, and that’s your favorite? Oh. Hm. Let me now rethink everything I know about you.)
Anyway. Trying to figure out where/how you find the things you like is an interesting exercise, both as a person who maybe needs to expand their repertoire and as an artist hoping to find a broader audience.