Alicia Vanden Heuvel (Aislers Set, Poundsign, Speakeasy Studios): 10 years ago I was mostly touring and going to live shows. frequenting my local record shops, especially Aquarius records here in the Mission, which sadly closed in 2016. I saw Elliott Smith perform there solo once. 20 years ago, it would be through college radio, zines, live shows, indie websites, touring…. 30 years ago, I could barely get a radio station out in the desert where I grew up (Desert Hot Springs, California). There was no internet, we would hitch rides to “civilization” where we would go to Tower records, and spend all our savings buying like one or two records.. I’d sit at the radio, trying to get KROQ, taping my favorite songs, then sit late into the night waiting for MTV’s 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation to come on, so I could “maybe” see the Cure or something good.
Daniel Handler: I remember going to record stores and humming songs I’d heard on the radio to confused clerks. Now I know what the song is called but not what it sounds like.
Clare Wadd (Sarah Records): With difficulty back then I think. People might play you things, but you couldn’t necessarily buy them. John Peel used to play some older records now and then. Now you hear a lot of older music on 6 Music alongside the new, and of course you can track down anything via reissues or online.
Janice Headley (CF, KEXP): Chickfactor, the “thank you” sections in CD liner notes, band t-shirts other bands would wear in their publicity photos, record label rosters back when labels had a defined aesthetic, TV and film soundtracks. Nowadays, I discover bands through my day job (at a radio station), social media, algorithms, labels that still have a defined aesthetic.
Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Seeking out specific label’s catalogs (Factory, Creation, Sarah, Subway…) and now I learn about it on Instagram or friends sharing info on bands I may like.
Kristin Thomson (Tsunami, Simple Machines Records): I now learn about it through (1) college radio, (2) friends, and (3) Spotify.
Stuart Moxham (Young Marble Giants): I grew up in a musical world; my father was a singer (he’s too old now, at 92,) and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classical and stage music. We had radio, records, I also had an elder brother who had a stereo and headphones in the early ’70s because, as a sailor, he’d been to Japan. Girlfriends and their older sisters’ record collections majored too. In terms of making music, I sang as a child in church and later in musicals which my dad starred in. I’m pretty much self-taught at playing and composing, obviously influenced by friends though and the records I’ve loved.
Beth Arzy (Jetstream Pony): My cousins were like my sisters and used to give me their old records so I had The Monkees, Olivia Newton John, John Denver when I was 3-4. My mom worked at an easy listening radio station in Northern California when I was 5-6 and I used to get all the records that weren’t easy listening so my life started with vinyl. Now it’s bands we play with who I love, word of mouth, and (this won’t make me popular) algorithms suggesting things I may like. They’re often right!
Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: When I met Stephin and other friends in the ’80s and ’90s, we discovered music through Boston’s amazing web of college radio stations. Also, by going to record stores and reading indie zines and the larger music magazines. I also learned about music through a combo of friends (like you!) telling me what they were listening to and going to see shows. Today, I still sometimes learn about music through the radio, while driving in my car or through online radio stations. Stephin’s monthly online DJ session on Lot Radio is fun, as is “How does it Feel to be Loved?” Obviously, the internet- Online music magazines, online performances on Youtube, etc. I also learn about music by reading the NY Times, New Yorker and listening to NPR. Sigh. I am definitely a 50-something East Coast liberal.
Theresa Kereakes: Thirty years ago, we still had reliable radio without too much consolidation. But I mostly learned about music from indie record stores. Going back to when I was at UCLA in the ’70s (gasp, 46 years ago), I learned about music from the late Gary Stewart, who worked at the Rhino Records store on Westwood Blvd. I bought Elvis Costello and Jam records from him the moment they arrived at the store. I also learned about music that preceded my consciousness from the Capitol Records Swap Meet. Twenty years ago, I was producing a radio show for Sirius, and labels, both major and indie, sent me new music. Ten years ago til the present, I rely on friends, favorite record stores, and interviews with my favorite musicians if they’re asked what they’re listening to. I discovered Roxy Music because David Bowie mentioned to either Dinah Shore or Dick Cavett that he liked them (this was during the Eno era). I learned when I was working at the very mainstream VH1 that mainstream artists don’t always have mainstream tastes. Elton John loved Blur back then, and now, he loves Aaron Lee Tasjan.
John Lindaman (True Love Always): Obviously eternally from surrounding yourself with friends with better taste than you. 30ish years ago I worked at B Dalton Booksellers, and I would read every guitar/music magazine that came in. I also took care of my guitar teacher Tony Geballe’s record collection when he went to Turkey for six months, and it was loaded to the gills with Fripp/ECM/Frith/Eno type stuff, the closest thing to an encyclopedic music streaming service that existed then. An amazing opportunity for a young person—sorry I probably scratched up your records, Tony! 20 and 10 years ago it was from going to good record stores, and the glory days of Emusic. I got downloads of tons of great out of print Brazilian albums from a site run by a guy named Zecalouro, which has since gone dark. Now BANDCAMP.
Gail CF: 1992: Working at Washington City Paper and then Spin. Promos. Combing record stores. Pam & Co. Mike Schulman at Vinyl Ink Records recommending things; Chris, Josh and Jeff at Kim’s (later Other Music) suggesting things. Reading Option, NME and Melody Maker and zines. 2002: Putting out CF15 after 10 years of CF, I learned about music via the internet, Other Music and friends, bands giving me music. 2012: Doing an issue (CF17) forced me to dig deep into what had come out in our 20th anniversary year; PR folks helped. The internet, maybe Soundcloud. WFMU online. Friends, DJs, bands giving me stuff. 2022: Bandcamp for sure; labels, bands/PR folks sending me stuff; WFMU; blogs and friends doing music stuff!
Fred Thomas: 10 years ago: That was probably the tail end of the blog era for me, where I’d read about or blindly download obscure music from small blogs or bigger music criticism/culture sites. ¶ 20 years ago: Working full time at the record store and taking chances buying whatever came through that sounded interesting or a friend I trusted was excited about. Seeing shows in the same way. There was already an ocean of new music then, but not as much information, so I didn’t always know much about the music I liked. Some of it was blank CDRs or tapes with no track-listings. ¶ 30 years ago: that would have been when I was just getting out of relying on MTV and the radio as the primary sources of new music and started listening to stuff played by friends’ older siblings or the older punk kids who weren’t too annoyed by me at the record shops. Once in 1992 an older record store clerk asked me if I’d help them clean up the house they were moving out of and they paid me with about 70 dubbed tapes of music I’d never heard of before. That was a pretty formative moment. It’s interesting because presently I draw on parts of all the means I’ve used to learn about new music for the past 30 years, just more fragmentally and less from one main source.
Tracy Wilson (Turntable Report): Thirty years ago I learned about music through talking to customers at the record store I was working at, by reading every music fanzine I could get my hands on, from the sales people at all the different labels and distros I purchased music from, shopping at other record stores, and by going to shows at least three days a week. The only thing that has changed now I that I go to less shows during the pandemic and I have the internet.
Pete Paphides: 40 years ago: Smash Hits, Record Mirror, the information on record sleeves and labels, hanging out in record stores ¶ 30 years ago: Melody Maker, NME, the information on record sleeves and labels, hanging out in record stores ¶ 20 years ago: hanging out in record stores with Bob Stanley ¶ 10 years ago, hanging out in record stores both with and without Bob Stanley; going in looking for one record, coming out with something completely different because of what was playing, or because something caught my eye.
Kevin Alvir (Hairs): in 2012: Pitchfork (puke) and assorted music blogs. in 2002: reading Spin Magazine or whatever played on MTV. But I was real into Athens, GA… so whatever those associated labels put out. in 1992: I sat in the passenger seat of my brother’s car. He played Hüsker Dü, Replacements, Dramarama, etc. and those albums mean so much to me.
Dickon Edwards: My memory is very bad about this. But I think in 2012, I had drifted away from listening to new music, but was still going to gigs at the Boogaloo and other smallish London venues. 2002: Word of mouth, reading the NME, still listening to John Peel. 1992: All the music papers, Peel, BBC Radio 1, music TV like The Chart Show.