We get told all the time to support small. Shop at small businesses, eat at local restaurants, support small creatives. But it can be hard sometimes. We don’t always have the time to seek out these things, and when we do it can be hard to know where to start. To help you out in this regard, I have taken the liberty of finding some great small musicians for you to support. I asked my friends and scrounged my own music library to find some artists that I think are worth checking out. I hope this gets you on your way to finding more amazing undiscovered gems.
2020 was supposed to be Baltimore-based quartet Pinkshift’s year. And it was, although not in the way they had expected. The band had planned to release their debut EP and follow it up with a tour, which would have been their first with their current lineup, but the pandemic shut those plans down. However, they had a breakthrough when their song i’m gonna tell my therapist on you blew up when it came out over the summer. Many resonated with the angst-filled, punk-rock tune that personified feelings like anger and exasperation. The song blew up mostly by recommendations from small music blogs and social media site Reddit. The song features guitar riffs akin to something My Chemical Romance would have put out 15 years ago. A lesser-known song of theirs, Toro, showcases their musical range, starting off as a guitar rager before winding into a slow psychedelic backing track all in less than two minutes. The band has an astonishing ability to pull genres like grunge, emo-rock, and psychedelic music into coherent pieces of music. The band brings a refreshing diversity to the punk-pop scene, and not just in the genres they utilize in their music. The all BIPOC, South Asian femme-fronted band is gaining buzz in a scene that has been dominated by white men over the past 20 years. They represent a larger trend of BIPOC being given platforms in spaces that have ignored and even actively excluded them. And I think it is more than fair for them to be at the forefront of that change. Pinkshift is the punk-rock moment many have been waiting for; I can’t wait for everyone to wake up and realize it.
2. Park Hye Jin
When I was in eighth grade, I had an EDM phase. Like a major EDM phase. And I said that I grew out of that phase completely, I would be lying. The reality is that it just morphed into something a little less homogenous. Now instead of listening to the same fifteen white men with long lists of radio hits, I try to seek out more experimental figures in the genre. Enter Park Hye Jin, South Korean DJ and producer. While Park’s first EP, IF YOU WANT IT, stays within the bounds of quintessential house music, she gets more experimental in her latest EP, How can I. She explores various genres like techno and trap, making for a project full of surprises. Her songs are all anchored by hooks that she delivers in a voice that sounds sing-songy and monotone at the same time. The beats she produces can appear starkly minimal at times, an anomaly in the sea of often overproduced music in the EDM genre. This minimalist production approach lends to the playability of her music. Park is a DJ, yes, but she makes the type of EDM that is just as likely to be on a Spotify study playlist as it is to be played in a club in Ibiza. This sort of appeal to multiple audiences has allowed Park to cultivate a dedicated fan base despite releasing her first EP only three years ago. She has come a long way since she learned how to DJ in 2017, and something tells me she has a long way to go.
3. Carter Vail
This could just be me, but I am always on the lookout for music to listen to while I work. I love all the music I listen to (it would be pretty weird if I didn’t), but some songs make it really hard to focus. I can’t exactly focus on math problems when I’m listening to Rico Nasty. Consequently, I am always on the lookout for music that is mellow without being boring. Musician Carter Vail is an example of someone who does this with ease. The Connecticut native has a remarkable ability to tell a story through his lyrics. He tells tales of leaving loved ones in Tigers on Trains, and of changing relationships in his biggest hit to date, Melatonin. He wraps his storytelling in mellow production filled with soft guitar strums and dreamy synths. The songs from his debut album, Red Eyes, come together to tell a compelling and cohesive story. 2021 has seen Vail become more explorative with his lyricism with the release of his EP, The Interstellar Tennis Championship. He uses space metaphors and sets scenes on different planets to tell stories. It is an EP that could also double as a visual project, though I’m not sure he has the budget to do that as an independent artist. I can dream though. The past year has seen Vail start to come into his own as an artist; his two last big releases are substantial bodies of work. If those projects are any indication of what’s to come, I am very excited for the next few years.
4. Modern Baseball
In times of distress, people often turn to nostalgia to soothe their worries. We have seen hallmarks of certain eras go in and out of fashion, only to be picked up again by a new generation. One thing that will never go out of style is the quintessential 1995 to 2006 romcom. Some of the most iconic teen fiction movies came out of that era; think Clueless, Mean Girls, and 13 going on 30. One of the best things to come out of this era was the perfection of the art of making a movie soundtrack. Sometimes, I find myself turning to these movie soundtracks for nostalgia (even though they were made before I was born). And while they started making music long after the golden age of teen-fic movies was over, Modern Baseball sounds straight out of the 10 Things I hate About You soundtrack. The emo-rock band from Philadelphia pair well-read cultural references and potent self-awareness to make angst-filled tunes. Their biggest hit, Your Graduation, sees lead singer Brendan Lukens reminisce about a toxic person in his life move on without him. Their song Wedding Singer speaks of two people who don’t want to let go of a broken relationship. They approach these topics with witty candor all the while making great music. Modern Baseball is the most established act I have talked about so far, with three full-length albums and four EPs. Their discography is consistently enjoyable, with many gems sprinkled throughout their less popular EPs. Unfortunately, the band is currently on an ‘indefinite hiatus’ which is music industry-speak for a break-up. They have been on hiatus since 2017 and have made no signs of reuniting. But if they actually make a comeback, it will be well worth the wait.
The artists in this list are amazing, but this selection doesn’t scratch the surface. Small artists are everywhere. They are playing at local cafes, in the background of your favorite YouTuber’s videos, and in the sounds used on TikTok. The rise of social media has made small musicians more accessible than ever; they are at your fingertips, quite literally. This enables you to find small artists in the most unlikely places. Maybe your favorite fashion influencer mentions their music career in passing; don’t just ignore them; check the music out. Sometimes you stumble upon a song you really like in the background of a YouTube video; check the description, and I’m sure you’ll find who sings it. You could even get the occasional band TikTok showing up on your for-you page; give them a chance. Trust me; the algorithm rarely gets it wrong. It knows you a little bit too well , if you ask me. And if all else fails, just type random words into the search bar of your streaming service of choice (Spotify, of course). There are so many small artists out there that even random words could easily produce optimal results. Regardless of your genre preferences, you’re bound to find someone.
Tenreyro, Written By Tatiana, and Tatiana Tenreyro. “Meet Pinkshift, 2020’s Perfect Antidote of Pop-Punk Angst.” Spin, Next Management Partners, 15 Nov. 2020, http://www.spin.com/featured/pinkshift-interview-2020/.