The internet is a vast pool of resources waiting to be fished out. However great it is that we have all of this information at our fingertips, it can be a bit intimidating as well. When we have a question, we often don’t get much further than Wikipedia (or worse, WikiHow). Although we will have gathered some more information on our topic of interest, it would be an overstatement to say we’ve actually learnt something. For those really valuable tips on where to get proper information that will truly enrich our lives (for free), we often still depend on word of mouth. If you’re a curious person like me, you will appreciate this list of resources, big and small, for real music nerds.
Coursera is changing the game of MOOCs. A Massive Open Online Course is aimed at providing university-level education for anyone with an internet connection. Coursera gives you the option of taking part in real, accredited courses offered by Stanford, Berklee, Yale, and many other big universities from all over the world. Although you need to pay to get a certificate, and not all courses have free access, the costs are low and there are plenty of free options for curious minds looking for a useful pastime. I am currently enrolled in Music Business Foundations (offered by Berklee), as well as The Fundamentals of Music Theory (offered by the University of Edinburgh), and there are a number of other music-related topics I am eager to explore in the year to come. Courses come with a syllabus with weekly lecture-style videos, reading material, and quizzes. Many have subtitles in numerous languages and transcriptions of the videos with timestamps. Quizzes can be re-taken until you pass (three times every eight hours), and there is an online community in the form of Facebook groups for any questions, comments, or general networking. All in all this is a great option for people all over the world looking to expand their horizons.
Most people will know that there is much more to YouTube than just cat videos and Buzzfeed clickbait. Again it can be hard to find the content you are actually looking for just because of the vast amount of bullshit drifting on the surface. A lot of quality content is hiding in strange corners and it is really a question of stumbling upon them and sharing it with your community. Below is a short list of suggestions of where to start.
- Sound On Sound magazine: has very technical tutorials and reviews that are way too complex for me, but also really insightful interviews with sound engineers like Jeff Ellis (on Frank Ocean) and Cenzo Townshend (on The Maccabees).
- Discover Classic Samples on Power 106 Los Angeles: one of those random gems my boyfriend happened to come across. DJ VinRican masterfully explores samples on albums like Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City by mixing the original sample into their new interpretation seamlessly. With the camera aimed at the DJ controller this series is ego-less and all for the love of music. There are many other channels that show you who sampled what, but there is something about seeing someone mix the vinyls that gives the Discover Classic Samples videos the heart and character that is often missing in others.
- Future Music: similarly to Sound on Sound’s channel, Future Music offers a lot of in-depth, technical videos for musicians and engineers, which is great if that’s what you do, but perhaps a bit too niche if you don’t. But this channel, too, has some great interviews and behind-the-scenes style videos. This interview with Jean-Michel Jarre (on the track “Close Your Eyes” which he produces in collaboration with Air) for instance is incredibly insightful.
- Liner Notes on Pitchfork: Pitchfork is great at easy-to-process YouTube content (perhaps to make up for some of its dense written content?), and for instance their Over / Under series is very entertaining. Although their YouTube channel might not seem like the most likely place to look for quality content, they actually have some great videos that will enlighten you in under 10 minutes. I particularly like their Liner Notes videos which basically serve as a general introduction to famous albums. There have been quite a few of these already, and the albums in question range from Kanye’s Graduation to Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights, and the videos usually coincide with a meaningful anniversary of said album.
Information can’t be much closer than when it appears in app-form. There are thousands of music-related apps and I don’t want to go into this topic too much in this post (although I might do in the future!), but there are a few incredibly handy apps that are great for those “what’s this again” moments.
- WhoSampled: free for Android, but unfortunately £3.99 for Apple users, this app is like the Shazam of samples. Simply look up the song and find all the samples used in it. There’s also some informative lists on e.g. the most sampled artists (James Brown is no. 1), most remixed (Madonna), and top samplers (Madlib – sampled 2421 tracks).
- Genius: a gigantic source of lyric annotations, provided by staff, the community, but also the artists themselves (verified comments by artists or songwriters are signposted in green). Although the website/app started as a platform for annotating rap, it has steadily grown to include notes on music from all genres. This website is mainly peer-reviewed and so some comments are more valuable than others, but Genius is definitely your go-to source for lyric interpretation.