NPR Music: Widening the breadth of musical awareness

Paul Smirl

With blog culture riding high and thousands of websites offering quick and easy song downloads, finding free music is as easy as getting the runs from eating at Andrew Commons. Yet, like the cafeteria, the music found on the Internet can sometimes leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Walking towards the metaphorical music serving line, you see an array of options. But, due to the layout, each option’s smell blends with all the others and nothing seems to look appetizing. And while an underground blog may tempt you with ‘indie’ cred, most appear either watered down or too salty.

Now, readers, I know that you already have your favorite musical artists, be they John Coltrane, the Emerson String Quartet, maybe Adele or, perhaps, Radiohead. But where can you go to find a database that covers all of these artists, provides in depth analysis of new music, streams free albums before they are released and live concerts from across the nation. Could it be — gasp — a radio station?

Indeed. NPR Music, a branch of National Public Radio, was launched in 2007 “to present public radio music programming and original editorial content for music discovery.” Just over four years later, it appears that not only has NPR accomplished this goal, with listeners nationwide reveling in unique insights taken from unique programs such as All Songs Considered and World Café with David Dye, but they have changed the music industry in the process.

To continue the food analogy from before, NPR is an organic farm, an open-air market and a corner bodega, all with the national outreach of a supermarket chain. Oh, and did I mention that their services are free?

I know, I know — you can just torrent your music and find trendy leaks from the indie-er-than-shit blogosphere, but what if you want music podcasts, or to hear live, in-studio sessions from touring bands, or to stream your favorite group’s set from across the country as it is happening?

NPR has all of these thing, and with its diverse range of pop, hip-hop, classical, jazz and world content, things taste pretty good to me.

Yet, what is really delicious about NPR is their influential “First Listen” service, programming that works to the advantages of not only listeners, but the artist themselves. “First Listen” offers the public a free, legal way to hear full albums weeks before they are released. In doing so, listeners can sample music before buying it, and artists are able to profit on their unreleased material because of subtle advertising. I promise it doesn’t get in the way of the music.

Supporting the art of the album and promoting an array of new musical styles, NPR has recently covered Neil Young’s “Bridge School Concert” album, Daptone/Voodoo Funk anthology “El Rego” and Joseph Calleja’s new opera record, “The Maltese Tenor.”

With their broad tastes and insistence on quality, NPR is helping sculpt modern music culture, widening the breadth of musical awareness and creating a friendly, appetizing way to discover and listen to music — without giving you the runs.