Discovering New Music That Sounds Good!

Finding good music that also sounds good can be a challenge. Let’s forget about high-resolution for the moment and just consider the issue of connecting with an artist or a piece of music. It used to be that music discovery happened because you heard a song on the radio…at least that’s how it worked for me. If you liked the tune, you’d purchase either a 45-RPM single or the entire album. I never purchased singles. If an artist managed to get my attention, then I’d spring for the vinyl LP.

But things are very different today. I’ve heard that YouTube, Facebook, Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music are the go to places to “discover” new music. Radio is still important but losing ground to the streaming world.

I discovered a new artist today. Although, I realize now that I’m very late to learn about Ed Sheeran, a UK singer/songwriter that has videos on YouTube that have eclipsed 147 million views (that one was associated with the most recent installment of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”) and has been nominated for the “Best New Artist” Grammy. You can click here to add your view to this tune.

In a world that is dominated by tracks that have either been written, produced, and engineered by Max Martin (if you don’t know who he is, do a little research. He’s responsible for a major percentage of the commercial/pop hits on the radio) or inspired by his style of production. Think Taylor Swift in the current iteration. A bunch of heavy beat-laced tunes with thick, synthesized textures, built around very repetitive…but catchy…melodies. The fidelity of these recordings is terrible…all loud all the time. They have to be to keep up with the competition. I get it.

But along comes a young guy that actually writes from the heart, can sing and play at the same time, and hasn’t yet bought into what Joni Mitchell famously called the “hit making machine”. He’s a 21st century James Taylor in some ways. The story I heard on the radio yesterday as I drove to school mentioned that his big hit “Thinking Out Loud” was co-written before he was a big deal with a lady friend. It seems she had fallen off the radar and was struggling in her own career. She asked Ed to include “Thinking Out Loud” on his album. Miracles do happen. The song is a runaway hit, he paid off her mortgage, and she’s traveling the world on her portion of the songwriter royalties. That’s pretty cool. And the song is gorgeous…if somewhat overproduced for my taste.

Other videos show this young artist simply singing and playing. Like James Taylor and John Gorka, if a singer/songwriter can make magic happen with just a song, their voice, and a guitar to accompany them, I’m all in.

My bet is that Warner Brothers will chart a path for Ed Sheeran similar to Adele…and the magic of this emerging artist will be lost. I hope not.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

42 thoughts on “Discovering New Music That Sounds Good!

  • Oliver

    Do not get me started on adele. She has a lovely voice and does not need any “help” on her recordings. She has a number of simple mike live session captured on video at a bookshop? where she sounds glorious.

    Sadly all her studio albums and especially her latest one is so overproduced, compressed that it is not funny. This from a grammy award artist with tons of producers/arrangers and whatever. Top selling album too.

    • Admin

      The standard operating procedure is to crush the dynamics, add everything into the arrangement but the kitchen sink, and tweak the bass and treble. Sad.

  • Rodrian Roadeye

    In my younger days I was obsessed with what my brother would call “Great Unknowns”. And I took a lot of ridicule for that. Sometimes one of them would break into mainstream, and he would hum a tune. I’d remind him that I was into that band a year before they made radio. Too often a band loses that style that made them noticed before they became famous. They call it evolving. I call it placating the masses. A producer can alter them beyond recognition. Only sometimes for the better. The digital streaming age has opened up the music frontier for the better. An unknown band can garner a bigger audience with just a small loyal band of fans promoting them on social media. But today it takes real talent to last longer than your five minutes of fame without the backing of a major label. Some do better on their own without that, some don’t.

  • Thanks for posting but not my cup of tea.

  • Camilo Rodriguez

    Hi Mark,

    For a knowledgeable guy that has been in the music industry for decades, I have to say this post makes you sound like the typical American who has little interest or curiosity in music NOT made in America, not sung in English, and not played on Guitar, Bass, Drums and Synths.

    Allow me to correct you on a few things:

    First of all, not all of us discover music on any of the media platforms above mentioned, as most of us know what they stand for. Some of us know many other places where to find huge concentrations of music NOT produced or written by the same guy, or even near to looking for advice elsewhere on how to compose, produce, or even record.

    I can name a few places just for the fun of it, but I’m not even close to knowing what much younger people than I frequent:


    etc., etc., etc.

    Second, if you want good sounding music, that really IS music, then look for labels as much as you look for artists. There’s good chance that labels who recorded one interesting artist, will have recorded more. There are thousands of labels out there, and a search at discogs, CDbaby, BoomKat or even Qobuz, will drop your jaw at the amount of labels in existence today.

    Again, and just for fun I’ll make a list of labels that I believe everyone who listens to music seriously, should absolutely know by now. I listen to a lot of contemporary Jazz, Electronica, Post-Rock, and Modal Music, so that will certainly reflect, but there’s so much more. These are a few ones among the nearly 600 labels that I have bookmarked in my browser:


    1etc., etc., etc.

    In other words, Mark, to discover, you really have to get out there, and find what you didn’t know existed, what the radio will NEVER play, and what the pop charts will never show you… and what even a hub as large as Youtube will most likely never have in store for you.

    I won’t comment anything on the artist you shared, because that’s for sure not gonna sound very nice here, I’ll just say he comes close to Celine Dion on my taste buds.

    Happy Holidays!

    • Admin

      Thanks for the lengthy post and the links. I’m guilty…I don’t spend enough time exploring. But I do like the sentiment and vibe from Ed Sheeran.

  • Just ordered his X album off ebay with the Thinking Out Loud cut on it, I liked that one. 70 minute Deluxe Edition CD with 17 tunes on it. $8.99 shipped, not too bad. Hope I like a majority of it. 😉

  • A great way to find new music is Bandcamp. Some of the recordings are pretty awesome and most of the revenues go directly to the artists. You can listen to most of the albums without buying first. On some of the albums you can “name your price”. I find most of the artists and labels pretty open about their recording and they will gladly answer your questions. They even have some true 24/96 FLAC files.


    P.S. I have no affiliation with the site.

    • Admin

      I agree Bandcamp is a wonderful place to search for new music and talented artists. However, there’s a lot of bad stuff there too.

  • Victor


    I’ve mentioned previously that you should blog every other day as quality is more important that quantity, so good job Mark. It’s also good to read an article that’s not about contentious issues such as DSD, audiophiles, hardware etc. Bravo!

    • Admin

      I’ve stopped everyday because I need the time to focus on the book.

  • We’ve seen Ed in concert twice. Very talented. Dan

    • Admin

      Thanks Dan. This is a guy that deserves to be recorded like I produce records.

    • Admin

      Thanks Dan. This is a guy that deserves to be recorded like I produce records.

  • Soundmind

    Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. If what passes for music today was all there was, for that matter what’s been called music for about the last 50 years, a boombox would be overkill for me. Only when music rises to the level of a fine art does it merit the kind of effort and money audiophiles routinely lavish on recordings and equipment. This stuff IMO is all crap. Music is so dead, no one can even write a decent jingle for a TV commercial anymore. Awful compositions, awful performers, awful, awful, awful. Drek!

    • Admin

      There’s all kinds of music and I’m glad that I can appreciate a post modernist serial string quartet as much as a folk tune by John Gorka. There’s lots of really terrific music being written and produced…some sounds good and a lot sound bad.

      • Soundmind

        To each his own. I have my own definition of music and most of what I hear doesn’t fit. Some look at a blotch of paint on a canvas and see art. Others see a Rorschach test that reminds them of their last visit to their psychiatrist. Me, I just see a blotch of paint.

        BTW, got any recommendations for a recording of John Cage’s 4′-33″? It will play perfectly on any stereo system. All you have to do to hear it is turn the system off.

        Some call this music, I call it Drek, about the same as Neil Young, James Taylor, Taylor Swift, etc.

        John Cage “Water Music”

        • Admin

          There are lots of ways to organize sound or notes into a composition AND there are valid methods of expression that seek to deliberately remove the “ego” or the composer from the process. I met John Cage and studied with one of his contemporaries and collaborators Earle Brown. While you may snicker at a recording of 4’33”, I attended more than one concert that included this important work. During the concert there are no notes performed but plenty of sounds…and that’s the point as much as Malevich’s painting of a white canvas is also important.

          Elliot Carter is on the other end of the spectrum…lots of imagination and detailed control over each and every note. I appreciate both approaches. Music is much more than a string of pretty melodies and lush harmonies.

          Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and plenty of others write and perform music that makes an emotional and intellectual connection with me. Taylor Swift is just another pop music making commercial music.

          I love abstract art as well and own a variety of prints by Alejandro and Mercedes Otero and Hans Burkhardt…there’s room for all of it.

          • Soundmind

            Thank you for your reply to what in retrospect was probably my impertinence. I have to admit I just don’t get it. When I lived in Manhattan I must have spent countless hours staring at paintings at the Museum of Modern Art and had so many people try to explain them to me. It just never made any sense to me. Same with a lot of what other people enjoy as music, like compositions by John Cage for example. That also makes no sense to me. These things do not demonstrate coherent thoughts to my brain. And frankly I do not react emotionally to any music which is probably rare since so many people seem to. There are some sounds I enjoy, some I find banal, and some simply unbearable to hear to the point where I’d like to be someplace else, anyplace else at that moment.

            I’ve taken up more than one challenge about music. A few years ago at the request of an acquaintance I listened to Wagner for two months straight, nothing else. I finally figured out why I don’t like most of it. Despite all of the remarkable technical compositional skill in writing it, orchestrating it, with only a few notable exceptions I don’t see it as being structured to contain melodies. Occasionally phrases but that’s all most of it ever arrives at. It’s like phrases in speech that never evolve into complete sentences. Most of the exceptions are outstanding but as I said they are few and far between.

            Several years earlier, on a dare I bought a deluxe 2 disc set of John Coltrane’s composition “A Love Supreme” which many contributors on another site said would be their choice if they had only one recording to hear while marooned on a desert island. I even went so far as to sit at a keyboard and write down every last note. My reaction, it said nothing to me and went nowhere. It was monotonous, that’s the best word I can think of to describe it.

            A lot of “stuff” winds up in my house inexplicably. I have no idea how it gets here. To my surprise I’ve got two copies of James Taylor: Greatest Hits, one on CD and the other on vinyl. I didn’t buy either of them and the only other person here wouldn’t have bought either of them. Someone must have left them here as a gift or something. It sounds okay but I certainly wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on a sound system to hear it. I wouldn’t even spend $5 in a store to buy it.

            I’ve got more than enough recordings I’ve never heard to last me the rest of my life, many of them inherited (that’s not where James Taylor came from.) On the rare occasion I hear something new I really like, say on the radio, I’ll go out of my way to buy it. Out of my way means identifying it on Sound Hound or Shazam and ordering it on Amazon.

          • Admin

            Mark, the best thing about music, art, fashion, architecture, and a variety of other creative pursuits is that everyone is free to enjoy or dislike any of them. I happen to love modern art. I’ve argued for hours with my oldest son about the merits of art that is “easy to do”. He’s a very gifted draftsman and refuses to understand the merits of things that don’t require any real craft skills. But art is about more than that…at least to me and many others.

            I know people that don’t react emotionally or intellectually to music. While I’m falling about over a tune like “So Sad” sung by Jennifer Warnes, they’re polite for a few minutes and then ready to move on. Ok fine.

            Just find what you like and cherish it. Happy holidays.

          • Soundmind

            The reason I took up the challenge of analyzing Wagner and Coltrane is that it is important for me not to just know what I like and don’t like but to also know why. Where I was taught music, there were said to be four basic elements to it, melody, tonality, harmony, and rhythm. I’m not sure about harmony though. A solo unaccompanied singer or an instrument that can only produce one note at a time performing a solo can’t create harmony but can create music. I consider music a collaboration between the composer, the musician, the creator of the instrument, and in a sense those who create spaces for music to be heard, that is acoustic architects. Improvisation is where the musician and composer are one and the same and the composition is spontaneous coinciding with the performance.

            I analyze these elements to see what is pleasing or at least interesting. If some elements are missing like melody, I will not like it. If tonality is irritating or just annoying I won’t like it either. The droning thump thump thump of many rock songs is boring as are the simplistic melodies and banal lyrics. The driving rhythms and climactic melodies whether of a Beethoven Symphony or the Rite of Spring are the opposite.

            I make no apologies for using the highest standards as my reference. Popularity does not influence me and I’m not part of the largest segment of the mass music market. A friend has a violin for which he paid 1.8 million dollars. I don’t like the tone it produces. I had the rare privilege of hearing an amazing violin, the 1741 Guarnari del Jesu ex Kochanski now ex Rosand in many places including in my parent’s home. Astonishingly it is as loud as a trumpet and had no problem filling the 900,000 cubic feet of Carnegie Hall with sound right up to the last row of the highest balcony with its wonderful tone. I’ve heard Heifetz and Segovia perform live at Carnegie Hall too. Those are experiences you don’t forget. I’ve spent the last 10 years learning to tell the difference between a Steinway and a Baldwin piano by sound alone. We occasionally judge a lot of musical instruments in this house, mostly violins, instruments students have borrowed to consider buying.

            At their best, interesting compositions that show great insight into how to create music that meshes with my brain (Dr. Oliver Sacks recently deceased was a neurologist who drew the connection between music and the human brain, nervous system, and other body systems), artists who have not merely the technical skill to perform them but the insight and ability to reveal all of their potential subtleties, the remarkable tonalities of instruments that evolved over centuries to where creating them is an art in itself, and in spaces that enhance the sounds produced, these performance are of sufficient value to be appreciated as an enhancement to life and to be recorded and recreated at a later time and elsewhere as accurately as possible. That is the reason I find it interesting.

            Unfortunately America and much of the rest of the world has become populated by musical ignoramuses IMO. Not only isn’t any of this taught in most schools, most people aren’t even exposed to it. They exist on a diet of MacDonald’s music. EI EI O! They’ve never experienced a great steak so they don’t even know what it is.

            Pandora has proven remarkably able to find a lot of music I’ve never heard that I like very much. I’ve got about 60 radio stations with all kind of music. Beyond the usual classical music and jazz I’ve got stations for traditional Chinese music, Celtic music, Klezmer bands, and others off the beaten path. IMO bad music like bad wine is no bargain at any price, even for free.

    • Camilo Rodriguez

      I posted a bunch links to labels doing a great job recording fabulous music, and as you google one or two of the artists you may like, you’ll find that they have recorded with other labels and artists, and that’s how, navigating from one label and artist to the next, you find another treasure trove of music just waiting to be heard.
      It never ends, and you won’t be disappointed. Music is very much alive and it is nothing short of miraculous when you find the good stuff.
      I am sad to say that music and musicians in America are subjected to a climate so adverse to culture. The governments in Europe spend more on culture and the arts than the US spends on education, and this is sadly reflected in the quality of music being produced in the US today.
      But we live in a global world today, you can travel anywhere through music and discover what will seem like new planets compared to mainstream commercial music.
      Give the links I posted a try, that was why I posted them, to share a little of the treasure.

      Have a nice one!

      • Admin

        I will check out some of the links…thanks.

    • Mark U

      Soundmind – For most, but not all, popular music I agree with you, but for other music genres quality recordings of new serious works are still being made. Try listening to the SFS multi-channel recording of John Adam’s Absolute Jest and Grand Pianola Music.

      • Admin

        I worked with John Adam’s doing live sound a couple of decades ago. A wonderful person and great composer. SFS is doing some amazing productions…I authored a whole bunch of their Blu-ray discs.

  • Jeff Starr

    As usual, late to the party. I discover new artists and sometime groups/artists that I missed, on my local college radio station. Carson Daly often breaks new bands that haven’t had any exposure. For the person above that claims most new music isn’t worth playing on anything more than a boombox, is what is wrong with some audiophiles. To claim no benefits to listening on a system, where you here everything in the mix is silly. I have recently downloaded a local band’s music from Bandcamp. Recordings are not great, but I can listen past that, and get all the detail, lyrics, and feeling they tried to put into those records. Take Arcade Fire, their last two albums are dense, a little biting, but I like the content. Take the Velvet Underground, there banana album is poorly recorded, but the content is ground breaking. When we stop listening to our systems, something I believe should only be done for evaluating changes, and just listen to the music, that is when you can listen through those bad recordings. I spent years listening to live Grateful Dead shows on cassette, all about the music. Having the authorized Dick’s picks is nice, but I’ll never stop listening to music I love, due to sound quality. Would I like all music recorded as well as AIX does, of course, but that is a small catalog. And, as we know, our requests for true Hi-rez, dynamic recordings is not getting through to the masses.
    Not that long ago, I talked to someone about where people discover new music, and then came to the conclusion that the internet, if searched, offers way more options then I had, in my younger days.

    I recently saw Ed Sheeran do “Ain’t No Sunshine” A Bill Withers tribute on Colbert’s talk show, he is talented. I seldom criticize peoples taste in music, there are a few groups like “Train” that if life was fair, they would be the house band at a Holiday Inn in Muncie Indiana. But if you like Train, your opinion is as valid as mine. Music is whatever brings you enjoyment, it is lyrics you can relate to. One last example, I recently transferred four “Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers” albums from vinyl to 24/96 digital. I had only heard a few of his songs over the years, always liked “Roadrunner”. First time I played the album “Back In Your Life”, I was reading. It stopped me, I was first caught by the enjoyment of the recording, the mix, the harmonies. It is a little corny, but there are some clever lyrics, and every time I listen to it, I smile. I have burned copies for friends, and so far, they don’t hear what I hear. Doesn’t matter, it brings me enjoyment. And that is all music needs to do. Expand your horizens, I turned 61 today, and still love rock and punk. I also listen to every genre expect opera, and hip-hop. I hope to be discovering new music until I die, or go deaf.

  • P J S

    Mr. Starr should realize that “burning copies” for his friends is probably illegal and screws the original artist. BAD practice!

    • Admin

      The unfortunate reality of today’s music business is that it’s considered free. Any album you want is available without charge…and people wonder.

  • If you like metal, I know a good site. 😉

    • Admin

      Alex, I’ve gotten to know a little about metal (especially math metal) from my son and I worked on a DVD by Tool some years ago. I’ve even attended more than a few performances…I can do without the overwhelming volume but it works.

      • That’s great Mark! Like a glass of red wine, there is a metal band for everyone.

        Anyway, there is plenty of dynamic metal out there. When you get a chance, you might enjoy this:

        Click for example.

        • Wow, my edit got completely screwed up! Anyway, you get the gist of it.

          Side note: I wish you could edit posts. Since you are a WP shop, have you thought about using Disqus? It’s works really great and has a much richer interface than what comes with WP. Moderation is fully supported too. Think about it Mark (it is TRIVIAL to setup since they have an official WP plugin – check out the link’s comment section for an example).

          • Admin

            I will…thanks Alex.

  • An open mind, curiousity and persistence is all you need to find ‘music, that sounds good’.

    • Admin

      And some time to explore…

  • Soundmind

    Here’s some music that I think sounds good.

    Example 1

    and another

    Example 2

    If I spoke German and was 25 years younger I’d be on the next plane to Berlin Germany to chase Suzanne. Ya.

    Where are today’s Liszts, Chopins, Beethovens, Schuberts, Gershwins, Porters, Kerns, Berlins? There aren’t any. I don’t think John Cage could write music like this if his life depended on it.

    • Admin

      I’m not a big fan of Liszt and I find the over done flourishes of the Gershwin over the top. That’s just me…give me more Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, and Bartok. There are plenty of contemporary or 20th century giants…but they’re not writing music in the style of those you mention. What would be the point of that? Check out some music by Frederic Rzewski, Morton Feldman, John Adams, or György Ligeti (Lontano is a masterpiece). This stuff is every bit as the music by those you mention but in a different style.

  • Jeff Starr

    I happen to be very aware of music piracy, and I don’t make discs by request. I would think that what I did, was help promote that artist. The two friends who received copies of a vinyl transfer, would never have purchased that music, without hearing it first. If they like it, they will explore the whole catalog.

    I don’t know how old PJS is, so maybe he doesn’t remember making road trip cassettes, or making cassettes, of a record. The idea, and end result was, that new music was heard, and then purchased on vinyl.

    Unfortunately most bands/artists don’t make a lot on their releases, touring is where they make a living. Downloads I buy on Bandcamp, I always pay at least one dollar more than the band is asking for. Bands often see their recorded material as a tool to promote their live shows.

    I just don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea. I’m not in the habit of ripping off artists, but I’m not the saint that PJS must be, never sharing music.

    • Admin

      It is different than the days when we would copy LPs to cassette. In the same amount of time, I could digitally copy thousands of albums for you…music has a value.

    • I had written a long treatise on copyright but you already know what is right and wrong. As for me – I’m well over 60 and have been involved in the music business as a musician, recording engineer, sound reinforcement technician and roadie since before the Beatles hit America. And yes, I pay for the music I play, always.

  • Soundmind

    Here is an example of music which IMO is NOT good. This pianist has absolutely stunning technical capability. She comes from what I call the Soviet school of piano banging. I used to think that they just told young kids starting out to hit the keys as hard as they could but then I found out that the Soviets built these red pianos that you had to bang on to get anything out of them. When they get to a real piano like a Steinway and pound away at it, the sound is gigantic. What she and others like her lack is everything else that makes sound into music. There is a flatness to all of it that makes it boring. There’s very little in the way of dynamics, modulation of tempo, no nuances, never so much as a hint of a rubato, in short she plays like a machine. So do others of her ilk. It’s also the way most people from the far east play and not just piano but other instruments like violin. An American violinist who plays the same way IMO is Joshua Bell. Stunning technique, fabulous tone, but not really music. This is evidence that music cannot be written down, the notes on the page are only a guide. It takes a human element to turn that into music and these people don’t have it.


    One piece in this selection that doesn’t need too much interpretation and is therefore interesting is Liszt’s Totentanz (dance of the dead.) It is a monster of a piece. See if you don’t agree. It is based on the 11th century chant Dies Irae that fascinated so many composers from Berlioz to Rachmaninoff centuries later. The technique required for many of these pieces is mind boggling. Watch her, listen, and you will see top notch technical skill. I don’t know of anyone who can play more notes faster. But that capability while necessary is not sufficient. What a shame, what a waste. It all comes out ho hum like warmed over mush. There are fifty pieces in this collection, most of them requiring extraordinary technical skill. (Diana Krall, eat your heart out.)



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