Stealing, Burning, Tuning In and Dialing Up: Discovering Music Before Spotify Curated It For Me

This month I started reading Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 by Lizzy Goodman, which describes itself as "an intriguing oral history of the post-9/11 decline of the old-guard music industry and rebirth of the New York rock scene, led by a group of iconoclastic rock bands." Similar to Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, Meet Me in the Bathroom provides the necessary context of a prominent cultural moment, with New York City serving as the backdrop. The moment of time of the early aughts captured in the book was the rise of online publishing and digital music distribution, when social media just barely emerging as a way to share recommendations and Spotify was not even a thing (until a year later).

What I love about Meet Me in the Bathroom is that it explains how bands like The Strokes and Interpol rose so quickly through word of mouth (supported by the density of New York City) and eventually getting coverage in magazines and blogs, mostly because the same crowd of people hung out and worked together. The early aughts was still the first decade of the millennium, and happened to include my formative years from junior high all the way through a year post college.

My name is Reb and I am indeed a millennial, and as a marketer, I know what everyone thinks they know about millennials, and the actual research about millennials. The fact is, technology and communications have changed so rapidly that generations such as Gen Y and especially Gen Z have to be described with a ton of caveats. Having been born before 1990, the Internet of my childhood included AOL, instant messenger, and MySpace, and social media as we know it (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) was something I wasn't a part of until college (the class of 2010 I'm pretty sure was the last group of Facebook users who needed a college email to sign up).

I was born and raised in Newark, Delaware, which is about a 30 - 45 minute drive from Philadelphia and over an hour to Baltimore. The only major music venue I can recall was the original Stone Balloon, which was graced by the presence of renowned artists like Bruce Springsteen and Metallica over a number of decades, only to be closed in 2005 (way before I was old enough to get in). There was a church reception hall that would transform into the Harmony Grange on the weekends where a ton of post-hardcore and emo bands would play over the years, including Brand New, Hidden in Plain View, The Wonder Years, Four Year Strong, Armor for Sleep, Halifax, Paramore. I somehow would convince my mom to drop me off at shows starting in the 7th or 8th grade and throughout high school (I think it closed in 2015). It was definitely a scene that was a far departure from the Dave Matthews Band that played on constant repeat on the radio, and while I have great memories from those shows, it took me a while to find music I could really connect to, mostly because it wasn't something I could discover by walking down the street.

In a small town where your mom had to drive you everywhere, during the time when the Internet was just barely flourishing, these were the measures I had to take to actually learn about music, roughly in order from junior high to late high school:

Dad's Record Collection

My dad has a respectable record collection and growing up I acquired a fondness for bands like Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. We used to have a tradition of listening to records after dinner when we were little, and I have many memories of my sisters and I dancing on the fancy rug in the living room to Stevie Nicks and Madonna. The first time my Dad got very angry at me was when I stole and hid his Led Zeppelin CD for about a year.

93.7 FM's Top Songs of All Time July 4th Marathon

One prominent radio station in my area was 93.7 and every summer they would have listeners nominate the best songs of all time and they would play all top 500 over the Fourth of July weekend. I was absolutely addicted and would force my family to listen to it every year, no matter what we were doing on July 4th. I think I even made my dad use the radio on his sailboat to tune in. That's where I had my first introduction to Prince and would sing "Little Red Corvette" everywhere, only half understanding what I was singing.


My parents started their own business when I was 10, and despite having some sort of job since I was 12 or 13, I never had a ton of money to buy new CDs (the fact that CDs were around $20 just seems criminal now), so I will now freely admit that I went to the local library, checked out CDs, and then would burn copies for myself at home, like a garbage person. The one I remember playing on constant repeat was a compilation of Ray Charles' hits released after he died.

AOL Music / NetScape Radio I feel like I must have dreamed of NetScape Radio because literally no one else my age remembers it existing. Once the local radio stations were no longer an option, I started searching for stations online to listen to and for some reason some random station from Netscape labeled something like "Modern Alternative" was my go to. I would listen to it for hours in my basement, discovering Jet, The Roots and Hot Hot Heat, just in time for me to have something to talk about my first day of high school.

Burned CDs/Mixes

In my high school, the prevalent music of choice was Top 40, Dave Matthews Band, and whatever rap or hiphop was playing on the radio. Those who weren't into Top 40, DMB, or Nelly gravitated towards classic or indie rock, leading to a ton of mixed cds being made with Rilo Kiley and Jimi Hendrix somehow being placed next to one another. Because CDs were outrageously expensive and we were all desperate to curate larger music collections, we would all burn CDs from our collections to swap with other another, or create mixes with the track listing meticulously written out on the CD.

100.3 FM / Y100

Y100 was I believe a Philadelphia-based radio station that maybe have been the only local station that played alternative rock. You would have the expected Pearl Jam and U2, but occasionally you would hear The Mars Volta and Kings of Leon once in a while. Then, one morning in 2005, I remember getting ready for school and putting on the radio to Y100 - and hearing rap. Later that night, I went to see The Used, My Chemical Romance, and Senses Fail during their Philadelphia stop on their Taste of Chaos tour (please do not judge, the two major scenes in the tri-state area was literally Dave Matthews Band and emo) and there was literally someone from the tour making an announcement that Y100 shut down because of a decline in listeners, to which the few thousand attendees booed. If you don't believe that there was a public outcry over it, read this Reddit thread.


My family didn't have cable until I was in high school, which I'm sure made an impact on what I was exposed to. Luckily, we got it in time when MTV still played music videos. My favorite jam though was VH1 when they would play their own curation of music videos. On Saturday mornings while I was cleaning my house (I still weirdly like to clean my house on Saturdays), I got introduced to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Modest Mouse, Scissor Sisters, and Franz Ferdinand. VH1 is where I also watched Purple Rain for the first time. I can say with sincerity that I don't know where I would be without VH1 introducing me, finally, to something that reminded me of the classic rock I loved listening to as a kid, but more modern and with some sort of attitude with it. I remember watching the music video for "Maps" for the first time and wondering what planet Karen O came from and how I could get there.

Thrift Stores/Indie Record Shops

It makes me very sad to think about the current state of thrift stores, consignment shops, and indie record stores. A number of the ones I used to frequent have since closed, which is a shame because two of the most defining moments of my musical education and inspiration began inside two such stores. The first was at Bert's CDs on Main Street, Newark (now closed). I think it was my junior year, because I finally could drive and have some sort of independence. I must have been killing time after school, because I remember driving to Main Street specifically to hang at Bert's by myself. I went to the listening station and saw an interesting CD cover with a disco ball as one of the options. I put on the headphones, and heard something I've never heard before. The lyrics felt like punk rock, but the music was definitely meant for dancing. One song in particular I immediately connected with, as the vocalist played a cynical character who claimed to know everything and anything about music, and I weirdly felt very old and very young at the same time. It was "Losing My Edge" from LCD Soundsystem's self-titled debut studio album. I bought it. With my precious after-school ice cream scooping wages.

The second was during Senior Week after high school graduation, where essentially all the graduated high school seniors in the local area went to the beach for a week to drink and revel in debauchery. Of course, myself and my friends were in a consignment record shop in Rehoboth Beach one afternoon, definitely not drinking. My friend picked up a random DVD that had live footage of a music festival we never heard of. He bought it, and then we all went back to someone's dad's beach trailer to watch it and eat hamburgers. The entire thing was almost two hours, but to this today I vividly remember watching Fischerspooner, with costumes, strobe lights, and music that was unlike anything I've heard of. I am also happy to say that I'm 70% sure this clip is from the actual DVD, which turned out to be a collection of life performances from Coachella 2004.

Then I finally went to college right outside of New York City and made a ton of friends from actual real cities who told me about all kinds of music. We would dance to The Knife and Junior Boys at parties, see Matt & Kim perform at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and travel to Coachella together to see Beach House, Of Montreal, and Jamie Lidell. I joined WRHU and hosted Airwave for about three years, snagging free student tickets to CMJ. I was in the thick of it, right when indie rock was peaking and then slowly declining. But that's a story for another day.

Long story short, the launch of Spotify in 2012 has made my ongoing musical education a heck of a lot easier, but I have to pat myself on the back on how resourceful I was in my youth to try to find what I didn't know I was really looking for music wise. I think we tend to take for granted how easy it is to discover music today, and the fact that there is literally something available for everyone, on many platforms and mediums of our choosing. Kids these days just don't understand.

#musicdiscovery #socialmedia #millennial

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