I have always been a music lover but didn’t become a music journalist until 2021. In that time, I’ve interviewed lots of musicians, done album reviews, and the like. What I’ve learned during this time is a pretty universal truth: Streaming has changed how we discover and listen to music. Before streaming, I found music through friends, colleagues, and music video channels on TV. Or just by going to a show and discovering the opener for the band I came to see. Apple Music, Spotify, TIDAL, and other streaming platforms came into the fray and brought with them algorithms that are supposed to tell what you like by seeing what you listen to already.
Anyone who has a streaming service can tell you these algorithms are often off, show you popular artists in the genres you already listen to, and don’t necessarily introduce you to new genres. If it wasn’t for working as a music journalist in Pittsburgh, I wouldn’t have met and listened to many of the underground musicians I know now.
With this in mind, I set out to make a playlist after getting an email from a band about their new single. Faint Shape emailed me to spotlight their song “I Wanna Be Your Bed,” and since I’m always down to check out to something new, I gave them a listen. When I went to their Spotify profile, I was shocked to see how few streams they had, because I really vibed with their music. Faint Shape is a queer-fronted band, so of course I wanted to take the opportunity to shine on their music, and the idea for a playlist for queer musicians that haven’t broken out yet came to me.
Before I go any further, I need to say this, because I know it to be true. Spotify numbers are not equivalent to talent. Great musicians that have their music on these platforms often don’t have thousands or millions of streams like musicians backed by major record labels, it doesn’t mean they aren’t talented. Also, just because I’ve never heard of this person or band doesn’t mean they are necessarily unknown. Many of them are probably recognized artists in the cities they live in, probably drawing out big crowds in their towns.
I also need to acknowledge that Spotify is deeply flawed. They have the lowest pay rate per stream among platforms, so artists make a lot less. The reason I’m using it is because of the monthly listener metric that paints an (albeit not full) picture of where these artists are in their music careers. I also find that despite its reputation, a lot of people use Spotify. If some of these artists have Bandcamps or places where you can buy directly from them and they see more of a profit, I’ll do my best to link those here.
All of the artists on this playlist have less than 10,000 monthly listeners, with many having less than 100 in total. I chose 10,000 as a number because, for me, it’s a good baseline to measure whether or not people outside of that person’s circle and city have found their music. If you have more than 10,000 monthly listeners, you’re probably doing pretty good as far as discoverability across platforms and Spotify. You might have a few of your songs on one of their curated playlists as well.
I tried to include a wide variety of genres and wanted to focus on queer artists of color, so you will find some of them here. Mostly, I wanted to spotlight their songs I felt were exceptional and deserve to be heard on a wider scale.
Okay, so, let’s dig into some of these songs.
Faint Shape’s “I Wanna Be Your Bed” is a great shoegaze-y track that is fast and severe, but still playful. The vocals of the lead singer, J, give the track that playful lightness that sold me on the song on first listen. The playlist kicks off with this song, and I think you’re in for a treat, dear listener.
“AMEN” by Oompa is a braggadocious track that really hits. It’s a head-bobber for sure. Oompa has been around for a while and has performed with lots of acclaimed artists, which really speaks to my note about how Spotify streams aren’t indicative of talent. She’s been cosigned by other big artists, so don’t be fooled by the Spotify numbers, she should definitely be on your radio. Also, this track is a collab with Pittsburgh’s Benji. Shoutout to the hometown!
When I posted a call for artists on Twitter, many people recommended Ekko Astral, and their song TRANSDEMIC, BABY! is so fucking good. Another shoutout to Pittsburgh, an artist that I know from there, f3ralcat, is also featured on the playlist.
I think my favorite song on the playlist is Thurmon Green’s “Creature from the Deep,” slow and tantalizing, this song has body. And vocals! And soul! The last song on the playlist is “How Could You Say” by Claudine Magbag, an artist I found on TikTok. She has been trying to get this song to go viral on the platform, so run it up when you listen!
Here’s a link to the playlist for you to stream. Happy Listening!