As lead Instructor for the College Media Network Journalism Course, I’m always emphasizing to my students the importance of finding and including accurate music information in their work. This includes release dates, labels, correct spelling of musician’s names, song titles and even extends to finding out which instruments are used on specific tracks.
But we live in the era of information overload and fake news, which makes finding trustworthy info a challenge. With so much information available to music journalists — or anyone for that matter — where should you turn for consistent and accurate info?
Over years of working as a writer and instructor, I’ve found that the five sites below are excellent and accurate sites that every music writer should use on a regular basis to improve their work.
This massive database of releases and information is maintained by record collectors, writers and music obsessives all over the world. According to their website, “more than 475,000 people have contributed some piece of knowledge, to build up a catalog of more than 11,500,000 recordings and 6,400,000 artists.”
Yes, that’s 11.5 million recordings. And new items are added everyday.
You can sort by artist, album, song, format (vinyl, CD, cassette, etc.) and even by specific edition. There is also a Marketplace with more than 23 million items available.
The information posted is constantly reviewed by the community (similar to Wikipedia) for accuracy, so the quality of information is very high.
Get started: Visit the main page and use the search box to start getting familiar with world of Discogs.
Pro tip: Proceed with caution. For music lovers, this site is addicting. Before you know it, you may be spending hours every day on it. And potentially lots of dollars, too!
This long-running site says they are a “comprehensive and in-depth resource for finding out more about the albums, bands, musicians and songs you love.”
I agree with the above statement, but where AllMusic really excels are in their album reviews. They have detailed reviews on millions of records and they are organized into chronological discographies. This is a fantastic resource for writers.
If you are assigned a piece on, say, Public Enemy, and you want to find out how they developed and which parts of their catalog are the most important, this is the place. You can simply type in a search for Public Enemy, click on the Discography tab and get everything you need.
Get started: Head to the main page and use the search box in the top right.
Pro tip: Don’t pay too much attention to the star ratings you find on AllMusic pages. While they are somewhat helpful, music is far too complex and nuanced to be categorized by a one-to-five star rating system.
Since the age of sampling dawned sometime way back in the 1970s, a two-way street opened up that is endlessly fascinating to music lovers. Suddenly, you could not only discover which artists influenced others (based on the original tracks they sampled), but you could listen to a brand-new creation made from those samples.
Simply put, WhoSampled is creating a database of who sampled who. And when they did it. And what the results were. Or, as they put it, the site is the “world’s most comprehensive, detailed and accurate database of samples, cover songs and remixes, covering the entire history of music spanning over 1000 years and documenting all the fascinating musical connections along the way.”
At the time of writing, they list 318,384 samples contained in 602,758 songs made by 201,249 artists. Like Discogs, it’s community sourced, but moderated by experts, making the info much more accurate and reliable.
So, if you’re working on a story about Drake, you can head to WhoSampled and check out the 1207 samples, 270 covers, 67 remixes they have listed for him. That should keep you busy for awhile 😉.
Get started: They have a great intro video that explains everything.
Pro tip: Use the Browse section to dig deeper on genres and years. It’s a great way to come up with story ideas.
This unique site seeks to confirm, clarify and document that incredibly slippery — but vitally important — aspect of the music business: sales and chart positions.
While it’s far from comprehensive, you can find really good, accurate info on subjects like the best selling artists, albums and singles of all-time, a list of artists they have studied so far and an ongoing section where you can request they study an artist they haven’t gotten to yet.
Chartmasters also offers lots of thought-provoking stats and graphics, like the one on the biggest streaming debuts by country.
Get started: Read the about page. It explains methodology and resources in a simple way.
Pro Tip: A handy way to keep up with the latest from Chartmasters is to follow them on Twitter.
It’s something that music writers like me — who actually did music journalism (gasp!) before the Internet — used to dream about: One place with every setlist ever played, by every band, ever.
And while setlist.fm isn’t that, it’s about as close as you can get. Like Discogs and WhoSampled, the site is community sourced. They even call themselves “the setlist wiki.” They currently have more than 4.5 million setlists on the site.
Setlist.fm has grown a lot over the past few years, so in addition to sets being posted just hours after a band finishes a gig, there are a lot of historical items available. Want to see every set the Beatles played in 1964? Here you go. Curious as to how many gigs the Wu Tang Clan has played? Got it right here.
Keep in mind, though, that of all the sites listed here, Setlist.fm probably has the least amount of moderation. It’s up to the fans and attendees of shows to verify info. That can be problematic if only one person went to a show. So if you are doing a live review, remember you still need to keep your own notes.
Use Setlist.fm as a backup to double check your info. And if you see only one person has edited a setlist, be wary of using that info. But if it has been edited by multiple people and many users of the site indicated they were there, you’ve got a pretty solid source.
Get started: It’s all about search with Setlist.fm – go to the homepage and get started.
Pro Tip: You can sort each artist by year, by specific tour or even by venue. Use the filters available after you do an initial search.
If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.