There is an axiom present among collectors. That is, when you start adding to collection, you initially feel like as you accumulate your collectible, you are making reducing the amount of items in the universe. But the reality is that as you start collecting, your universe expands significantly so that you feel the endline to your collection getting further and further away.
This has happened to me often, especially as I was collecting psychedelic folk records for the past 20 years. This also applies to trying to keep up with music, both new and old and try to figure out who you want to go see live and whose record you may want to buy. There are many ways to develop your game plan for this and at a reader's request (long ago) I will write up the things I do and have done over the years to try to keep a decent knowledge base for all things musical. There will be other good ways of doing it, but I want to list out my methodology both to give anyone tips if they want them and to show how certain biases may occur.
First, one point to keep in mind. There is no way you can be expert at everything, a fact that does not take long to prove if you read enough of my reviews. I have long ago realized that I cannot keep track of everything going on in all genres of music. Even my favorite styles are impossible to have a complete handle on. I just try to relax and do the best I can. Sometimes that flies out the window when I wonder how I could have been so stupid to have missed the first 15 years of Richard Buckner's 17 year career. Ultimately I laugh at that and just look at how much music I have kept up with and stay happy with that AND enjoy a new belated discovery.
Before I list the various areas I explore for new music, let me discuss two out-dated concepts that I miss.
Twisted Shout, Denver, CO
(A) Hanging out in Record Stores - I met so many friends who were behind the counter or were just hanging out shooting the breeze at the multiple record stores in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio. Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" captures this scene quite humorously. I remember plucking up the courage to buy a used copy of the Stranglers as my first punk rock record worrying that I would be laughed at by the clerks or other customers. Instead, the two guys behind the counter were thrilled at my purchase and said I would love it, etc. Well, I did and I also stayed pretty close with those guys over the years where before I had not said more than a few 'how are yous' to them. There are stores out there where this can be done, but they are few and far between. If you have one, use it. I still try to buy from real stores when I can.
(B) Radio - Beyond Clear Channel, I suppose there are some college radio stations still around. But I don't look for them any more, just sticking to National Public Radio for other programming and some music. I was even a punk/new wave DJ myself in 1979 and 1980, so I am sorry to see what has happened to radio. It had been important to me in the early 1970s as I transitioned from pop radio to album oriented stations. While learning to enjoy the heavy sounds of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin, I was fortunate enough to have DJs that also played Budgie, Montrose, and Rush (back when they were an opening band). Now if they had only played Van der Graaf Generator, Comus, and Pentangle, then I really would miss radio. But I don't wax as much nostalgia for radio like I do for the record store.
There are certainly web alternatives here, but I rarely explore them. If you do, I think LastFM is much better than Pandora. I've tried others, but I just do not find this important for me right now at this stage of my life. I did listen to Jack Rabid's "Rabid in the Kennel" show at times (now closing), as he is an extremely sharp historian and he has bands on to interview where they also showcase the John Peel like cuts made in a studio for exclusive airing on the radio show. I do miss John Peel and was thrilled to listen to some of his shows before he died as he was still driving all over the UK, going to shows, playing 7"s and cassettes that bands handed him right up to his last show (along with a Fall cut seemingly every show). The Steve Van Zandt show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage" is something I should listen more to.
Here is my methodology for keeping track of the DC live scene, which I will discuss before my more general ways of discovering new and old music.
(1) Club advertisements - I glance at the ads in The City Paper (more thorough than the Post) and carefully review Club websites that I have bookmarked. I then add the most interesting dates to my calendar. Most of them have descriptions and/or links to band pages, so a few clicks and I can sample a band to see if the description of 'modern psychedelic brilliance' really fits. Don't forget to look at the hardcopy advertisements on the table at the Black Cat and if someone hands you a flyer after the show, take it as it just may have a nice event at a location you have not heard of and can't afford to advertise in papers.
(2) Hard copy media - I still read papers. Friday's Washington Post and the City Paper both provide a lot of information on some of the events going on that are worth checking out. I often will see a band that someone briefly writes up as sounding like some of my favorites and if the day is free, then it goes on the calendar.
(3) Publicity agents - This is something that I use more and more as I get more readers. There are several PR agents (and some record labels) who alert me to news of their artists and tours to DC. Not only does this help alert me to interesting bands, but I often get comped for the show. i will try to promote it and occasionally do interviews as well.
(4) Local bands - One of the surprise pleasures of doing this blog is the connection with the local scene. I had not forgotten how rewarding it was for me to be part of the punk rock scene so many years ago. But I thought I had outgrown that and was content just being on the outside of this difficult business. However, the up and coming bands are far more interested in what I do than the big time headliners rolling through. And that has translated to me getting to many of the bright and talented musicians in DC and beyond. I have been able to learn and relearn a lot of things this way. But as far as identifying music, there is one important item I have noted. Some of the local bands are particularly cognizant of working with great area and touring bands. I have tremendous respect for a show with Kohoutek (and the related)Kuschty Rye Ergot) and the Mostly Dead, since just about every time I see them, I am exposed to other fascinating bands on the bill. There are many more examples of this, just pay attention over time and it can become clear.
(5) Opening bands - Always come early and watch the opening bands. It gives you exposure to bands that you will see headlining, perhaps quite soon.
(6) DC blogs - I read three blogs and know a couple of the writers. First, Michael Darpino does not write as much as he used to, but he is still at We Love DC and still has a keen grasp of the excellent music coming through this town. Megan of Fuzzy Logic is doing some booking these days, but that does not stop her from regularly posting live reviews, interviews and record reviews specializing in DC, Richmond, and beyond. I don't know the folks at the 1st Five, but they post a lot of good fresh information on DC music. There are some good national blogs, but I don't hit them regularly enough, although I wish I had the time or discipline.
Next up are my general ways of finding new music. Some are obvious, although personal choices will vary. But there are a couple of really interesting ways that have helped me discover some great music that I would have never heard otherwise.
(I) Magazines - As a youngster, I lived off of Rolling Stone, Cream and Circus magazines. In college, I started a 20-year reading of the Village Voice which had great music and film sections. Now, I read Mojo and Uncut regularly along with Jack Rabid's The Big Takeover. I highly recommend Jack Rabid's long running zine turned major magazine. It only comes out twice a year but is jammed with tons of reviews from thoughtful and enthusiastic fans. The interviews are priceless as they actually showcase a fun conversation among friends as opposed to many of the major magazines featuring cold and dreary back and forth cliches. I look a bit on-line at these and other sites, but I like a good paper magazine kicking around the house. I really don't do Pitchfork or the Brooklyn Vegan as much as I should, but I do check in on specific bands at those and other sites.
(II) Festivals - I have not been to the major festivals such as Coachella or Bonaroo, but I have gone to smaller festivals which were great as they did not have the unwieldly crowds. Unfortunately many of those such as Terrastock don't have the funds to keep it going. Hmmm... small crowds, great bands from around the world, it appears that business concepts still rule the day. There have been some nice psyche festivals in Austin and there are ATP events which have been pretty exciting in the past, but most seem to occur in England these days. But there are smaller festivals to try to hunt down, so keep your eyes open to all the media sources and you should be able to find them. And if you have the stamina for the bigger festivals, go for it. The side stages will offer some exciting surprises.
(III) Forums - I have been on excellent psyche-folk forums that have faded away but I do keep me eyes on a couple including the coverage of progressive music and one on Dag Nasty which covers punk rock pretty well. My brother just gave me a link to Punknews which is pretty cool. There are some good progressive sites as well, as progressive fans do the detail with frequency.
(IV) Record Collecting Conventions and Newsletters - I was surprised at how much my breadth of knowledge expanded when I started getting lists from sellers. Sure, I expected it in the areas I was collecting, but scanning through a good list with descriptions gave me a lot of knowledge of rare and interesting bands from all over the world and in every genre. My favorite convention is the biannual convention in Utrecht, Netherlands and have had a lot of fun at this massive event. There are some good ones I know of in Austin and New York City if you want to stay on this side of the Atlantic. And my buddie, Hans Pokora, puts out some great collecting books with full album cover photos and basic information for you to start research. There are others (many out of print) that have been great to work off of. This may be another article.
The main thing is to keep having fun with music. One minute, people are chatting with me and I am exposing them to all sorts of new and old bands that they should explore and I can pull on nearly 40 years of work which show me off as a bit of an expert. Then perhaps the next time, my friend and I can go over to visit Byron Coley and Thurston Moore and after the conversation gets going, I will end up feeling like a 12-year old who only follows Top-40 radio. Well, it really was not that bad, but it was intimidating and when we were debating the qualities of the Gwydion album "Songs for the Old Religion", Byron slipped away to bring in a sealed copy of this 1974 rarity. So I guess the last point to be made is to hang out with knowledgeable people and don't be shy. Share what you have and keep an open ear and mind for what they talk about. If you spot me at a club, come up and chat with me between bands. I love to talk music (and it is easier than writing about it).