From Netflix to Spotify, from Disney Plus to Deezer, our watching and listening habits are now dominated by algorithms. You could sit yourself down in front of YouTube, and have it pick enough recommended videos to last you the rest of your life, based on what you've already watched on the platform.
This is part of a series of articles exploring all the ways we're using tech to thrive in 2024. Read them all here.
That can be helpful if you're stuck for something to watch, or want to discover some new music artists. But I've decided that I'm going to rely much less on algorithms when it comes to discovering new films, shows, and music through the course of 2024.
This plan is still a work in progress, but here are the best of my ideas so far. If you also want to be more deliberate and less AI-influenced in your content choices over the next 12 months, you might find some of them useful – and you can always go back to the recommendation engines if you need to.
Spoiler alert: it's all based on people.
1. Social media sparks
The TechRadar team is big on podcasts as a way to discover lesser-known treats. For movies, our favorites are Empire, You Must Remember This, and Little Gold Men. And for music, try Switched on Pop, Song Exploder and All Songs Considered.
Letterboxd and Musicboard
We've already explained why every movie fan should use the Letterboxd app, which combines a movie database, personal journal and social network in one. What's the closest equivalent for music? We reckon it's Musicboard, which is also available as an app for iOS and Android.
It's nearly 2024, but you can still get curated copies of physical media delivered straight to your door. For movies in the US, there's Loved Again Media, while in the UK DVD Locker (from £6.99 a month) will mean you're never short of a good DVD or Blu-ray to watch. For music, VMP (from $36 p/month) and The Retro (from £25 a month) will help expand your vinyl collection.
Social media networks aren't always the most pleasant of places to hang out in, but they're still great for reading opinions on the best music and movies that are worth your time. To some extent you need to be following the right people to find the good stuff, but you can easily run searches on sites like X and Reddit as well.
Some of my best music and movie finds of recent years have come through spotting random recommendations on social media, and there are also threads on topics like the best thrillers of all time or the best jazz albums in history. It isn't the most efficient way of discovering new stuff, but when it works, it really works.
Where should you start? Some subreddits that are well worth diving into include r/MovieSuggestions, r/ifyoulikeblank (which groups similar music artists together), and r/Letterboxd for film suggestions in a variety of formats.
On Reddit, you can go a step further by creating a Custom Feed (gathering similar communities under a theme). Head to a subreddit that's good for recommendations, go to the 'About Community' box, clicking the three-dot in the top-right and choose 'create a custom feed'. Start with the three subreddits above and you'll be well on your way towards going off-piste from the movie and music algorithms.
2. Asking the experts
There are plenty of professionals out there whose job it is to review music and movies – the reviews sections of publications may not hold the sway that they once did, but they're still there, offering ratings on all the recent releases.
I'm determined to keep seeking out the views of critics on the web, in newsletters, and on podcasts, and these experts often know what they're talking about... especially the ones at TechRadar.
I'd particularly recommend checking out the podcasts Kermode & Mayo's Take and The Big Picture for movie recommendations, while Flow State is an excellent email newsletter if you're looking to discover music to work or chill out to.
3. Picking a theme
All kinds of interesting avenues for music and movies can be explored with the help of sites such as the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia: the top films by a certain director, for example, or albums that are hidden gems in a certain genre.
In 2024 I'm planning to watch and listen to more stuff made by people that I already like. I'm also keen to work through the Best Picture Oscar winners (going back to the 1920s) and the Mercury Prize winners (going back to the 1990s).
You get the idea: pick a theme and then work through it, whether it's Japanese crime thrillers or the most popular bands of the 1980s. Unless you've only just started listening to music and watching movies, you'll have numerous starting off points to work from.
4. Follow the music (or movies)
If you're of a certain age you might remember the buzz of seeing your favorite band on the front of some music magazine or other, and then avidly reading through every word of the feature. These features haven't gone away of course, but they're mostly online now or dedicated apps.
These features and interviews have always been great for discovering new music that artists you already like love, and it works the same for actors and film directors too. If you're already a fan, you'll know you can trust their recommendations, and you can easily find them in written form, in videos, on podcasts, and so on.
One good place to start for this is the Readly app ($11.99 / £9.99 / AU$14.99 per month, with a one month free trial), which lets you subscribe to hundreds of magazines on your iOS, Android or iPad device.
A word too for good old radio stations when it comes to music discovery – there a huge number of them available online and through apps, and the playlists picked by DJs will often lead to something new. It's another resource I'm planning to tap into next year.
Pitchfork remains one of the best ways to keep up with the best music of the moment, while BBC Radio 6 Music is well worth a listen if you want to discover new artists. For movies, Sight and Sound (not available in Readly) is one of the finest magazines still in print.
5. Friends and family
Here's something I'm going to try when I'm stuck for small talk conversation in 2024: "have you listened to or seen anything great lately?" It's not often you come across someone who doesn't have some kind of show, movie, or musical artist on the go at the moment, and it's a plentiful source of recommendations to tap into.
Meeting up isn't always necessary either – I can just message people and ask the same question. I will, however, be limiting this to the friends and family whose taste I actually respect, otherwise I might find myself obliged to watch or listen to something terrible.
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Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.