How to Discover New Music

Trade Secrets from WFUV Program Director Rita Houston.


“In my mind, that spirit of musical discovery does tap into a certain kind of person who never wants to stop learning and stop growing,” said Rita Houston, the Program Director at WFUV in New York. Houston applies over two decades of experience on the radio to curate a range of music that fits the station’s tagline: “Music Discovery Starts Here.” The goal, she said, is “to have that feeling of the first time you dropped the needle on the Clash record, or the Bowie record, or the Grateful Dead record.”

For Houston, seeking out the inspirational power in new music is a service to those listeners who fondly remember the music they first heard in high school and college, but over the years since have had difficulty finding new music. Having a full-time job, a smaller social circle, a family — these responsibilities trump the search for new tunes for many. And while online streaming services — Spotify, Soundcloud, Tidal — offer a seemingly endless array of musicians, the scope of unfamiliar artists isn’t necessarily inviting to many would-be listeners. With a more curated selection, like what you’d fit on an iPod, or a selection of CDs from friends, exploring a range of new artists becomes much more approachable.

Because music is so abstract and yet so personal, connecting to new tunes takes an openness from the listener. “I like to think it’s unique, that spirit of musical discovery,” Houston said. “It’s that thing that lights us all up inside when you feel like you’re discovering something. It moves you, it makes you want to call your friend and be like, ‘Did you hear this, I’ve got to play this for you.’” And to help cultivate that spirit, Houston shared a few tips to help expand your listening horizons.

Be Patient. “I do think there is a weird thing that is happening in music right now where music is judged in 10- or 20-second clips just because we can hit the ‘next’ button so easily. The beauty of that convenience has brought us down some tough roads, and in my line of work you really have to fight against that. That’s a little dangerous in art right now, with things being so at our fingertips — we can move on so quickly.”

Be willing to embrace something you don’t know. “Listening to music that’s unfamiliar presents its own set of challenges, but it’s so rewarding when you sit through it. And that’s about patience, and that’s about respecting art that somebody else has created. When you realize that someone else created something, you think, ‘I can sit here and listen to this for three and a half minutes, and really open myself up and see what happens here.'”


Show up for the opener. “Last week, we went to see Radiohead and Dawn of Midi opened. I’d never heard of them, but if Radiohead asked them to open, I thought, ‘I’ve got to see this band.’ So I think seeing the opening act, whatever show you’re at, is also good advice for discovering music.”

Follow your curiosity online. “There’s a lot of stuff that comes to you through the process of online discovery. You go and hear something on a blog and it leads you to something else, and that leads you to something else and that leads you to something else. So that process of following a chain of things is a big way that music gets discovered, now, for an individual.”

Do a round of “What are you listening to right now?” New music is mostly discovered through our friends. Start an email thread called “My New Tune Tuesday” to share your new finds.

Trust a public radio DJ’s taste, and use Spotify as a tool. “I use Spotify a lot, and I use Soundcloud a lot. All these things are tools for all of us, but my mindset is just so steeped in where I came from as a kid, growing up in the ‘70s here in New York, listening to Vin Scelsa and Scott Muni and Meg Griffin, and now my colleague Dennis Elsas on WNEW. So my culture tends to take me to the radio, and that version where the DJ is rapping to you about something and playing you a record. But I recognize that there are so many other ways now that people are discovering music — Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ is amazing.”

Additional Illustrations by Silvana Volio de la Fuente

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