The bad thing about ruts is that once you realize you're in one, you only have yourself to blame.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that of the almost 8,000 songs I've listened to on Spotify this year, I was mostly revisiting the same 100 tracks by half as many artists. That felt complacent and lazy, given how many independent albums go unnoticed without label marketing support.
To be fair, this ocean of music is vast and intimidating to explore, so sticking to the islands of what you know can be tempting. However, new avenues for consuming music, often for free, essentially have turned listeners into their own DJs. We're no longer limited by the homogeneity of most radio stations or our personal libraries to guide our choices.
So if you, like me, are feeling isolated by your listening habits, here are a few ways to make a break for freedom.
1. "Band of the Day." As the name suggests, this free Apple-exclusive app (sorry, Android users) offers up a new band every 24 hours. If you miss a day, you can peruse the last month of artists, and the pickings are hugely diverse, from "electrified hip-hop" to "banjo-laden roots rock." Each selection includes a bio and tracks/videos to stream.
2. Openers. Most people go to shows to see specific bands, but it's a mistake to come late so you can avoid the openers, like trailers before a feature film. You may miss an artist you'll love even more. This is how I stumbled on fantastic artists such as The Spring Standards (opening for the everybodyfields) and Kishi Bashi (opening for Of Montreal).
3. Stream it. A few years ago, I spent a small fortune buying friends' album recommendations for my Essential Listening Project. While it was a great way to expand my horizons, you can do the same thing on the cheap with Pandora or Spotify, which is free unless you opt to listen on a smartphone for $10 a month. Even better, the radio-station function on these services further expands your horizons by queuing up new bands with similar musical DNA.
4. The Hype Machine. Don't have music-savvy friends? This website (HypeM.com) compiles the tracks that are getting the most attention on music blogs for your listening pleasure. Even better, it won't even expect a birthday card. Also available as a $4 iPhone app.
Happy exploring, folks. If you come across something spectacular, send me an email about your discovery.
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.