Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Music, Music Everywhere, But Not a Note to Plink

I'm on a constant need to discover new music. It doesn't take long for me to get bored with something. Mostly, that's because I play something so much when I'm into it that I make myself sick of it. (currently overdoing it on Katy Perry)

This started in High School. I listened to a lot of heavy metal. And I wasn't choosy about it. I listened to everything from Slayer to Poison. I read a few magazaines religiously (Circus, Hit Parada, Metal Maniacs), watched Headbanger's Ball on MTV (I'm sure our readers remember when MTV played music, right?), listened to the rock radio stations, and traded tapes and albums with friends.

When those resources weren't enough, I'd tune in WMSE (91.7) and listen to alternative radio (REAL alternative radio), watched 120 minutes on MTV (I was the only person I knew listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More in 1986), and found more obscure magazines (like Thrasher, the skateboard magazine that covered hardcore) that covered lesser known bands.

Then I hit college and it all exploded. I spent two years in the dorms re-configuring my head. Instead of being the kid that listened to all the unusual music, I met person after person who had entire collections of music that I had never heard of. There were amazing music stores like The Exclusive Company and B-side Records; and many used CD/vinyl stores where you could swap and trade like mad. We signed each other up for BMG and Capitol music services (BMG was better since you only have to buy one CD, and got two for every friend who signed you up) and increased our music collection exponentially.

Then I graduated. And I wasn't around a music scene. And I wasn't living in a place with a high concentration of young people looking for something new. And yet, I still wanted to learn about new bands.

For a long time, I subscribed to the CMJ music magazine and got a CD every month of 20 or so songs from new albums from established artists and tracks from new artists. It was great for a long time, and then in 1998 or so, what I got via CMJ didn't interest me anymore. What was I going to do?

We did have satellite television, which gave us satellite radio. That was cool. But whether it was Sirius or XM, there wasn't enough variety for me to find new stuff. We watch the Brit Awards, and that gives us new British music that isn't covered here in the States. iTunes gives me Internet radio, but in some ways it makes me feel overwhelemd with choices (current German pop? um, how much do I have to listen to before I can move onto one of the other 100 international stations?). We watch VH1's Top 20 countdown every week, and that at least keeps me on top of popular new music, but where do I find the edge stuff?

This isn't a unique problem; people often get stuck in the music they loved in High School or college. It's comfortable and familiar. It makes you feel young. It was one time in your life when you HAD time to follow music.

I'm too busy these days to scour magazines or chase around the internet for music. I tried to wrestle Marcus away from Sophie, but she won't give him up. Any suggestions as to how/where to find new music?
PS-Sorry for the long time away, folks. I was essentially out of town for a few weeks. There's a more detailed story here if you're interested.

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  • At 9:27 PM, Blogger Laura said…

    I listen to accuradio.com's "Listening Post" channel. And I watch the Hills. :-)

  • At 9:38 PM, Blogger Yankee Librarian said…

    Ah, you went to the University of Wisconsin. I lived at B-Side while I was in library school. I was there last fall; I stop by whenever I am in Madison.

    Keeping up with new music has been hard at times. Sometimes it was trading music with friends in other parts of the country. For a long time I listened to KEXP (KEXP.org) while at work. And then I kind of gave up. I'm trying to get back into it myself...

  • At 10:01 PM, Blogger Jessica Ferguson said…

    I love Paste Magazine - it, like CMJ, comes with a CD every month but it is generally a different type of music than CMJ.

    I also still feel pretty strongly that public radio and college radio stations are the best places to find new stuff. Try streaming WXPN out of University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia or WFUV out of Fordham University in NYC. WFPX out of Louisville, KY has a surprising array of shows.

    Of course, there is also Pandora internet radio - you just put in the name of someone you like and they play lots of songs you MAY also like. There is a long convoluted study going on there, too but I will let you visit the website instead of trying to explain it here!

    I don't consider streaming these stations as "chasing" music around the internet - if you are at your desk and have a disc on anyway - stream the station for awhile - maybe something new will show up for you.

    Good listening!

    - Jess

  • At 5:15 AM, Blogger Lazygal said…

    A friend of mine once opined that we get "stuck" in the music we listened to when we first fell in love (which usually happens during HS/college). I think that's partially right, because there are other "love" connections that lead to other music. But love+music=memories, painful and happy and wonderful and horrible all at once, which explains the stuckness!

  • At 6:47 AM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    First, having read the longer story of your time away from online, stay healthy!

    Second, and most unfortunately, ReadWriteWeb reports that Pandora is on the verge of going kaput, which would be a terrible loss. I love love love that site.

    Meanwhile, WXPN's YRock on XPN stream is really good (and you don't have to take my word for it -- Marcus is now listening to it at work since BBC 6Music switched their streaming default from Windows Media Player to Real Player, which he says is not nearly as reliable as WMP).

    Stereogum has a weekly e-mail newsletter called The 'Gum Drop that is quite good, and their MP3 blog looks pretty good, too. There are tons (TONS!) of other mp3 blogs out there. I'll get a list from our friend Alex & post them.

  • At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I like The Hype Machine, which aggregates mp3s from various music blogs. You can look at the most recent posts, most popular, or listen like you would internet radio.

    Speaking of which, WOXY is pretty cool, too.

  • At 10:07 AM, Blogger andrew the a/v guy said…

    Pandora is what I enjoy listening to while computer working. You never know where Pandora's "Music Genome Project" (whatever that is) is going to take you.

    Or you can have a job as a collection development librarian and order music for a library. You get paid for looking for new music, but have a few moral/ethical dilemmas:
    1. Does the library really need more country and smooth jazz?
    2. How long do I have to wait after ordering before I can put my name on the hold list for new titles... 15 minutes seems fair.

  • At 10:11 AM, Blogger andrew the a/v guy said…

    Just read the article on Pandora.


  • At 10:39 AM, Blogger John Klima said…

    Lots of great ideas here. I totally forgot about the Hype Machine.

    @ Yankee Librarian yes, UW-Madison, *sigh* I get back there a few times a year, although I have not stopped in B-Side for a while. Just thinking of the UW makes me want a Dotty's Dumpling Dowry hamburger...yum!

    I just wish I had someone pushing artists/songs at me. I know, I know! I want the world. :)

  • At 10:57 AM, Blogger Katie said…

    I second the recommendation for Paste. For example, they have a new article this week on "The Best of What's Next."

    For internet/public radio stations, I like Minnesota Public Radio's The Current.

  • At 12:42 PM, Blogger michelle yeager said…

    Try MAGNET magazine, published bi-monthly out of philly.


  • At 1:20 PM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    Hi, Michelle -- as a longtime subscriber, I agree that Magnet is a great suggestion!

    The one problem with Magnet is that they don't offer any kind of review code (stars, grades, Q/P ratings a la VOYA), and that is a barrier for me. I don't really want to bother with reading 2-star reviews, and you kind of have to read everything to get a sense of where they stand. As I get older & grumpier, I get annoyed with that.

  • At 3:53 PM, Blogger jamie said…

    I second KEXP, if indie rock is your thing.

    I fell in LOVE with Indie 103.1 when I was at ALA Anaheim. This is the station that the Sex Pistols Steve Jones does the afternoon show. David Lynch does the weather! Timothy Olyphant does the sports! Sarah Silverman and Kevin Nealon were guest djs one day, and Rosanna Arquette and Chrissie Hynde another day. they play a great mix of old and new stuff. This is the only station I listened to in LA, and I actually looked forward to getting in the car to see what they were up to.

    If you really wanna get weird, I love WFMU. Not every show is for you, and they play as much old as new, but when you find a show to your taste, you might get a little obsessed.

    I never could get into Pandora - it seemed no more accurate than Amazon's similarity search to me.

  • At 3:44 PM, Blogger Cynthia said…

    I regularly scold people for thinking the best music ever made was what they heard in high school--it is the quickest way to make yourself old before your time.

    The best way to find out about new music is to ask. We are librarians--teens come to the library and volunteer at the the library. They are you best source. Another excellent source, go to your local independent record store (oh, right only a few still exist--well go to them) and ask. The folks who work there are usually on the extreme-alternative side of things, but that sounds ok for you.

    In this world of technology, we often forget that we are allowed to actually speak to other humans to find a good movie, a good resturant or a new band to hear...


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