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Three ways to discover local music in 2024

Headphones lean up against a collection of vinyl records.
Cleveland Scene writer Jeff Niesel says local music can bring a greater connection to your community.

Cleveland is home to the Rock n’ Roll Music Hall of Fame and early punk pioneers. Dayton is known as the “land of funk”. Cincinnati housed a former record label that turned out R&B hits and Columbus was once teeming with jazz legends.

Music history pervades the state, across genres, with artists like John Legend, Dave Grohl and Tracy Chapman all hailing from the Buckeye state. This broad musical legacy is part of what made Jeff Niesel, music writer for the Cleveland Scene, excited to dig into local music in northeast Ohio. He’s been covering local acts for more than two decades.

Beside just broadening your musical horizons, Niesel said small concerts featuring local artists can be some of the best places to connect with your community.

It just builds like a great feeling and sense that you're tied to the community in some way and helping support local musicians who are usually struggling to get by,” Niesel said.

Here’s Niesel’s advice on how to get out in your community and discover local music.

Keep track of small venues’ calendars

In order to discover local bands, Niesel said it’s important to get to know where they might be playing. He recommends seeking out the small venues in your community, who often invite local bands to their stage.

Then, make it a habit to check their calendars. Many times, venues will have descriptions on each artist coming to play and whether or not they’re local. Mark a few down in your calendar that sound like they might appeal to you and go to their gigs.

Local music festivals can also be a great way to pack in a lot of local acts in one day or weekend, and give you lots of options to sort from.

“I think everyone would get some satisfaction out of discovering, you know, three or four local bands in their community that they really enjoy listening to and can support and go out and see on a regular basis,” Niesel said.

And once you do find a band you like, Niesel said it can be helpful to follow them on social media, so you can find out where they’re playing next or what other bands they open for.

Tune into a local radio show or music critic

Not every city has a local music radio show, but if yours does, Niesel said it’s worth a listen – even if it’s only broadcast at midnight on weekdays. Tune in a couple times and see if any bands pop out at you.

Here's some Ohio radio stations that feature local music:

  • Columbus - Tune in to CD 92.9 FM at 9 p.m. every week day to hear Tom Butler's picks of best local music.
  • Cincinnati - Local music is in constant rotation with alternative records at Inhailer Radio, an 24/7 online stream.
  • Cleveland - On Sunday nights from midnight to 2am, WJCU 88.7 FM plays past and present local artists from northeast Ohio in their NEO Rocks show. Plus, you can listen to Ideastream's Shufflepodcast to hear the stories behind local musicians.
  • Dayton - WYSO 91.3 FM's radio show Kaleidoscope plays a mix of local and national emerging artists. Plus, you'll get to hear interviews with southwest Ohio's local musicians and live music performed in studio.
  • Toledo - On the "The View from Nowhere Radio" from WAKT106.1 FM, DJ Alan Goldsmith spins local music from 8pm to 11pm on Fridays.

If that’s not an option, find the Jeff Niesel, or music writer, of your own community.

Niesel may be a bit biased, but he says alt-weeklies can often be a great source of information on local bands. They’re not as influential or prolific as they once were, but Niesel said following any sort of music writer – whether that’s in a newspaper or in an online blog – can help you get to know the major players and be the first to know about up-and-coming acts.

Subscribe, if you can, and start keeping a list of albums of interest.

Be open to getting out of your algorithm

Many of us have Spotify or Apple Music or whatever preferred streaming service downloaded on our phones. We have playlists with artists we already love and scarily-accurate algorithms sending us a steady stream of recommendations.

And while there’s nothing wrong with putting on the new (or old) Taylor Swift album for the zillionth time, Niesel said making some room in our listening time for something different can push us out of our comfort zones and into the community.

“It's just kind of enriching to find and hear some local musicians who are making great music and probably playing at a much smaller club than whatever concert venue Taylor Swift is going to play at if she comes to town. There's something great and intimate about that,” Niesel said.

He likes to remind people that, though it may feel like it sometimes, not every song makes its way to the streaming platforms. And the only way to find those hidden gems is to go out and look.

“Looking to see what your local community has to offer is probably more effective than just waiting for an algorithm to find it for you,” he said.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.