Discovering New Music

One of the most fascinating chapters in Daniel Levitin’s book “This is Your Brain on Music” is about how musical tastes are often set early in life and become quite hard to change later on.

It has been a while since I read the book but Levitin goes into much more detail on why we like what we like. The question I was looking to answer though was “Is there a Way to flip people back into music Explorer mode?

It turns out that short answer is “no- not really”. The music that we like is very much connected to our own culture and identity and often from a particular time like our teenage years. I’m over simplifying here but we develop our own schemas which are like a musical map or filter that becomes part of our music processing brain.

Levitin also has this idea that we might be able to tune our music systems like tuning to a new radio station. In real life though many people go with what they are comfortable with and this extends to our expectations about new music from our favourite bands.

I’d say that Elvis Costello fans will be on the high adventure end of the scale since Elvis is clearly an explorer and new styles, sounds, ideas and reinvention is part of his brief.

OTH many bands almost get trapped into a particular “sound signature” where new songs often reference their earlier work. The art is to make new music but take your listeners with you on that journey.

I was struck by this when local faves ELEMNO P released a new song “Slow Down” which sounds very much like an old song (not a bad thing at all), much more like their 1st and second albums than their 3rd album. Listen for yourself as you can download it for a tweet from But I digress

In the same chapter about musical likes Daniel muses about the possibility of an

“adventuresomeness knob …that will control the mix of old and new etc.”

In this time of sharing and socialising our likes and activities it is no surprise that Spotify is launching in NZ soonish. Spotify socialises the sharing of musical playlists with your friends. It is very closely tied to facebook as there are some common shareholders.

For more background read – Spotify’s Daniel Ek: The Most Important Man In Music – Forbes

For a alternative service check out LetsListen and their site is

However I tend to think that most people know someone in their extended group who is a tastemaker of sorts and for those who like to explore new music there are many that are very well established now.

The Hype Machine is one of the better ones and as the PBS video below shows there are many other great “tastemaker” sites out there. Maybe this is the real “adventuresome” music button?

Off Book: The Evolution of Music Online from PBS Arts on Vimeo.