Nowadays, our taste in music can be shaped by Spotify recommendations, TikTok algorithms and whatever friends happen to suggest. In this sense, any new music you may encounter won't drastically deviate from the genres and music you already listen to.
To break up this cycle and expand your horizons, student radio – especially UNC's WXYC 89.3FM – is a great place to start.
Opening up Spotify oftentimes serves as a way to self-reflect on our music listening habits. When you first hop onto the app, you have access to a scrolling feed of curated playlists, such as one based on songs you've recently played or album picks based on songs you've listened to. Algorithms dictate most of our listening behavior, but they don't have to.
Furthermore, some of the music you love on Spotify or other platforms won't always be there. In the past, artists like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young have pulled their music over concerns that Spotify enables far-right commentators and misinformation.
The lack of music might not even be on artists themselves, but sometimes an issue of technical issues. This happened on March 8, when Spotify’s servers were temporarily down. If Spotify was your only means of listening to music, you couldn’t hear your favorite songs that entire afternoon.
What you could have done, on the other hand, was turn to student-led radio. UNC's WXYC, accessible both at wxyc.org and on their iPhone app, is always broadcasting and usually plays interesting, new music that you might not have discovered otherwise.
WXYC DJ Sean Sabye said it is important to shift away from traditional music streaming services.
“Before I became a DJ, I think a lot of my more obscure music choices were predicated on whatever my music streaming platform denoted as 'obscure,'" he said. "Now, I think I’m far more open to music that doesn’t find its sole appeal in its ease of listening"
The idea of “ease of listening” is key – it's perfectly reasonable to listen to relaxing, comforting music that you know and love, but listening to the radio is a fun way to branch out and support the students curating these playlists and tracks.
When listening to WXYC, Sabye said he will oftentimes listen to songs that are completely different to songs he's heard before, and quickly become song of his favorite songs.
“Even the possibility of creating a unique musical experience like that with a song on my show makes every needle drop feel like a moment of importance," Sabye said.
Listening to WXYC can be also a sort of communal exercise. The on-air DJ will take the opportunity to explain some of the contexts behind the music you’ve heard, while also making note of things going on in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. In addition, listeners can call in and make song requests.
“I feel like WXYC is the student organization on campus that has the most peculiar relationship with the public of Orange County," Sabye said. "Music is a very intimate thing to share, and therefore DJs kind of jump all barriers of closeness with their listeners. Hearing from the public on sounds they enjoy or music they want to hear more of is always a positive thing.”
Don't get us wrong – the social media-esque design and algorithms of online streaming services can be fun. But if you really want to mix up your music taste and feel more connected to the UNC community, WXYC is a fantastic place to start.
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