How To Find Good Music: Quench’s Guide

Words by Maya Dean, Megan Evans, Natalie Graham and Alex Payne
Photo by Alex Payne

Very few people could have predicted how accessible music was going to become over the past decade; armed with just a couple of quid and an internet connection, anyone can now listen to whatever they like, whenever they like. The Monkey’s Paw style twist that comes with this dizzying freedom, is that no-one told you what is worth listening to! Thankfully, some of Quench’s contributors are here to walk you through how they discover the very best music out there.

Finding new music doesn’t have to be an impossible task as long as you do one thing; keep an open mind. Usually, the way I find new tunes is through my Spotify discover. It’s a positive feedback loop; the wider your Spotify search history, the better range you’ll be presented with every Monday ready for you to pick at and find the gems hidden within. Mine can range from 2010 throwback hits, to movie soundtracks and beyond. You never know exactly what you’re going to get. 

Similarly, just keep an ear out for new music in your day to day lives. That TV show you like has a good opening credits song? Shazam it. A trailer for a new film coming out has a catchy backing track?  Google it. That song playing in the background of a TikTok trend video is catchy? Save it. There is literally no shame in where you find a song! Just head out into the world with an open mind. The last way I’d suggest finding new music is heading to gigs for bands you don’t necessarily know (once COVID is a distant memory obviously). I’ve found some of my favourite bands by going to random gigs I’ve been invited to by friends. Really, experiencing music live for the first time is the best way to be introduced to a song, as from then on every time you listen to it, you’ll be reminded of the experience. It’s a pretty awesome way to jump straight in. 
Maya Dean

I find that really good music comes from the most bizarre of places. I could be on a shift at work, about to collapse from all the stress, and then hear a good tune blasting that puts my mind in a better place. I could be on Instagram, watching a friends story with a tagged song that I may end up looking into more if I am already on the hunt for better songs for one of my playlists. I have even found good music through recommendations on Spotify, Soundcloud and YouTube itself, giving me a full playlist dedicated to me from what I have already played prior. A hack that has helped me get drawn to the artists I will genuinely listen to, is from exploring on apps such as Apple Music and Spotify, reading articles from magazines, particularly independently published ones that promote local bands etc, instead of through the mainstream, and listening out to music through films and TV shows. If I hear a song, I will immediately research that artist online to see what else they have recorded, people that they have collaborated with etc.

Reading what other people have felt through particular songs and artists will generally motivate me into investigating further what else I may like. If I already gravitate towards certain artists for music, I will scout their favourite artists- such as Jorja Smith- on Apple Music there is a playlist called ‘Jorja Smith Essentials’ compiling a range of songs and artists that are similar to her style, or have influenced her music. Usually if I like that artist, I will be open to listening to artists that are of a similar genre- such as Alternative, or playlists that are labelled, like ‘Acoustic Hits’, or ‘10s Dance Party’. Having a broad taste also helps to discover new names and keeping an ear out to whacking out ‘Shazam’ which has been a lifesaver for grasping names and songs!
Megan Evans

It’s the catch 22 of priding yourself on your niche, avant-grade music taste. You’ve managed to curate a playlist Rough Trade can only dream of possessing, but after only a few weeks of listening to nothing but said playlist, the sound of lo-fi hip hop, no longer provides you with a warm mellow feeling. Instead, a blatant feeling of animosity arises towards the banal harmonic distortions, and so the pursuit of new music begins. 

The obvious choice would be to sit and examine Spotify’s discovery weekly suggestions with forensic detail, but I’m not about to state the obvious. My way of finding good music in a world of streaming is increasingly old school, taking the form of music documentaries. From vintage Top of the Pops which focuses on chart hits to Old Grey Whistle Test that specialized in non-chart music and albums, or a Scorsese produced feature length music documentary (Living in the material world on George Harrison, or Rolling Thunder Revue on Bob Dylan I highly recommend). There is a lifetime worth of new music waiting to be found. The thing about ToP or OGWT is that you get to hear a variety of artists from across all musical genres through live performances, and I guarantee you will hear at least one artist with a back-catalogue worth researching. 

Naturally, the majority of music documentaries and archive episodes do not cover contemporary and current music. NPR Tiny Desk fills this void. For those of you who haven’t yet stumbled across Tiny Desk, it’s a video series of live concerts hosted by Bob Boilen and NPR Music. The artist is confined to a desk, there’s no elaborate equipment and the stripped back performance is posted to YouTube or the NPR Music website. From Yo La Tengo to Rex Orange County to Yo-Yo Ma, NPR has a back catalogue so varied you can’t help but stumble across new music.
Natalie Graham

Separating the cream from the crop is no easy task, but I’ve found it helps to use your existing favourites as an initial launch pad. It’s always worth checking who they’ve toured/shared festival line-ups with, and who’s on the same label, because they’ve usually been designed from the ground up to appeal to the same groups. Admittedly, that’s a big part of the discovery process; there’s no sense in putting in the effort to find new music if someone else has done the leg work. It’s also rather handy to see what else the fans of your favourite artists listen to. My trusty strategy of sifting through “Fans Also Like” pages on Spotify and Bandcamp has recently been trumped by an AI powered software (how zeitgeisty, I know) called Gnod. Billed as “the tourist map of music”, you simply enter your favourite artist, and it’ll visualise exactly what other fans of that artist listen to in a neat spider web diagram. 

When in doubt however, I go back to basics. Print magazines may be going extinct at a rate paralleled by rhinos alone, but there’s still a wealth of publications, especially online, dedicated to uncovering the freshest artists. Pitchfork’s weekly newsletter, Dork, Pigeons and Planes, So Young magazine and Bandcamp Daily all manage to consistently churn up obscure acts that often go on to explode onto the mainstream, and the latter often approaches the task regionally, which has become rather rare in the age of the internet. Finally, it can be wise to tap into the unsettlingly vast amount of knowledge that fans of one genre often have. Smaller blogs and radio stations usually operate outside of the claustrophobic grasp of PR teams and editors, and have more agency over what they chose to publish; in practice, this often means lots of bands I’ve never heard of. I’ve found myself coming back to Sleeping Village Reviews when I fancy any flavour of doom metal, Independent Music News for the latest indie rock bands, and Radio Tfsc/Radio 6 Music for anything in between! 
Alex Payne