Used to be there was something exciting about discovering music. It was a challenge, and an accomplishment. It was something exciting and to be proud of. I’ve been talking about this a lot, and telling these stories because it’s something that actually means a lot to me.
Growing up in Florida and being into punk rock, finding the new stuff that I would be into wasn’t easy at all. Or rather, it became easy through a set of practices but at face value was next to impossible. I live in Bradenton and if I wanted to buy records in person there were exactly two stores that I could consider. Daddy Kool (which was in Bradenton originally but moved to Sarasota pretty early on) and Alternative Records in Tampa. Both of these were an hour away all things considered. Take into account that at this time I was also not yet driving, so getting anywhere relied on organizing a ride with someone else. Anyway, once I actually got to either of these places – ideally on Tuesday as that’s when new records came out – I’d start flipping through records. Labels were a huge part of this. They were almost curators. You could generally be safe picking up a record by a band you’d never heard of if they were on a label that had some bands you knew you liked already. If Revelation put out a new 7″ I’d buy it without ever hearing it and know that I wouldn’t be disappointed. But so would everyone else, so that was obvious.
What was less obvious and often the source of some real gems was thanks lists. Every record came with liner notes – lyrics, credits and a thanks list. In punk rock you would get no where if not for your friends and the way to repay those friends was a mention in the thanks list. In fact not mentioning people could be seen as a real diss. (There are records that I’m not thanked on that I’m still bummed about.) So if I liked a band I’d read their thanks list and see what other bands they thanked. These were likely bands they had played with or bands that their friends were in. Maybe bands they lived with or shared a practice space with. I’d write down the names of those bands and then go to the folks at these record stores and ask them to track down any music by these bands. They’d make some phone calls, and in 2-3 weeks – if I was lucky – a 7″ or cassette would show up with some songs from one of these bands. Sometimes those songs would be amazing.
After that I’d make mix tapes of new stuff I’d found and give them to friends, asking in turn for mix tapes of stuff they’d discovered. Some of the most influential bands in my entire life I learned about from these mix tapes. Knowing about the new stuff meant you’d get the records first, and in the world of limited pressingings due to limited budgets, if there are only 500 copies of a 7″ made ever – you might not have a second chance to get something. And if you heard that a band was good but couldn’t get the record, you might never get to hear those songs. It took me 5 years to get the first Shudder To Think album – I hunted for it relentlessly – and I’d never once heard the songs on it. I knew I liked the band, I knew the record existed, but there was no way to hear the songs unless I had the record. It was incredibly rare and I didn’t know anyone who had it. When I finally got it and got home and pulled the record out to listen to it, I don’t even remember how many friends had rushed over to hear it for the first time as well. A lot for sure.
So it was a big deal to know about new stuff. Hip hop and death metal (the soundtracks to my youth) were similar. And there was some serious feelings of ownership when you found something first and then got to be the one to introduce all your friends to it. There was some real skill and value in being that guy.
Now, any band we talk about you can hear online in seconds. There are a million options. That impossible to find Shudder To Think album? It’s all over YouTube. Anything you want is within reach. Which is great, but also not so great. The thrill of finding something new and awesome is gone. The sweet payoff of finding something you knew about but had never had access to is gone. Everything is available.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. How that excitement has been lost, and how it could be regained. How it could be exciting again. How it could be special. I’m not sure I have the answers, but I have some ideas…