Dig in: The art of self-imposed curator guidelines

curate something: (especially on the Internet) to collect, select and present information or items such as pictures, video, music, etc. for people to use or enjoy, using your professional or expert knowledge — Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries

The A Song A Day crew of curators work hard to root out exceptional music for our listeners. In addition to poking around obscure websites, Shazam-ing songs in public, and generally pulling music from anywhere, we each seem to have our own set of rules for selecting which of the culled tracks make it out every week. The work doesn’t stop with just finding songs, it’s all about offering a compelling mix of music throughout the week.

Below, a few of us share the self-imposed guidelines we use in choosing the songs we share every week.

Bryan Strang: I have a bunch of arbitrary rules I’ve made for myself that dictate what songs I can and cannot send out. One of them is that I don’t want anything to be more than three months old by the time it gets it to you.

Caroline Fay: Monday is always my fave discovery of the week and Friday is always something upbeat. I strive for gender balance, racial diversity and good LGBTQ representation.

In my notes, I try to inject as much personal info as possible without scaring people and try to describe the music without comparing it to another musician (suh hard!).

Jesse (industrialest8): Gender/race/ethnicity mix is a must. I think I do ok on gender but need to improve on race/ethnicity. I always look for diversity in band origin/locations. I also look for other languages but I don’t stray much further than Spanish.

I try always to do new, but punk history is littered with little known/heard bands. It’s also a good time for punk because a lot of labels reissuing really great gems. I’m glad I haven’t received too much “thanks dad” feedback. I will repeat a band if they’re good but would always have to be from a different/new release.

I try to always link to the band’s song on their Bandcamp page. It’s the closest thing to a band’s merch table you’ll find online these days. With Bandcamp, you can usually find free downloads, digital, and physical copies all in one place.

Shannon Byrne: I curate garage rock and lo-fi — which means a lot of music from white people. That said, I’ve found a lot of relevant artists and bands in Latin America and elsewhere that are always a hit. I frequently share music in other languages and am always on the hunt for up and coming artists in other countries. My top has probably been Brazil, but I’ve also shared a ton from Australia, UK, Iceland, and more.

By nature of the genre, I’d say female vs male is pretty even. If I feel like I’ve shared too much of the same white guys playing guitars, I try to switch it up, though I don’t think much about it.

When I curated the group by myself, I tried to include two shredders, two low-fi and one wild card each week. For three out of five songs sent, I aimed to keep them newer than 11 months old — the sweet spot is no older than four months. The less plays something has the better. I don’t have a solid benchmark, but I am for less than 10,000.

I’ll send a throwback once in a while, sometimes even 2/week — but always obscure or relevant to a current event — a death, a holiday, an unfortunate tragedy, a global celebration or milestone, etc.

Laura (me): I try not to repeat bands, or play things from the same album, more than once every six months. Throwback Thursdays happen occasionally, though I’ve been doing those pretty regularly with the World group.

I also aim for a good gender mix every week. For World, I aim for a balance of 2–3 Afrobeat/African/Cuban influenced tracks, and then 2–3 from other musical parts of the world. So far this has included India, China, Ireland, Sweden, Faroe Islands, Japan, France, and Iceland, among others.

I try to touch on different influences listeners mention in their favorite bands/songs/notes (I find this most challenging).

Matthew Ström: I will typically keep my three songs in a similar vein. If it’s mood, energy, lyrical content, or subject, I like them to all dovetail nicely together.

Like Shannon, I pay attention to plays/views/etc. The fewer, the better. However, I’m a bit more hipster (lol) and like to find those meaty thousand-play songs. The newer the music, the better.

I don’t pay attention to ethnicity/gender. I tend to get really stoked on non-English stuff, so my songs are pretty balanced on that front.

Even without any formal guidelines, it’s clear that curators have their own frameworks they use to create a varied listening experience, with lots of exploration and discovery. Sign up at A Song A Day to get curated music delivered to your inbox every day.