Do you know anybody who is completely stuck on one particular musical genre? Getting tired of listening to their same stale music from that other era? Have sympathy, because it can be a chore to embrace new music and most people don't even know how to do it. I'll try to offer a little help.
If you care about good music, you've probably had some help along the way. Maybe you had that cool, "indie" friend in high school. Or maybe it was a cousin, a sibling, or a crush.
My first musical influencer was my best friend at age 16. My friend Tucker led me away from the likes of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. It was a long, hot Wisconsin summer and I spent so many days at his lake house. Tucker's enthusiasm for U2's Achtung Baby infected me and changed me. We'd turn his stereo up so loud that we could swim to the floating dock on the lake, lay in the sun, and still hear every guitar riff and brilliant lyric through the open, rattling windows of his upstairs bedroom. I hope his neighbors shared the same enthusiasm for his music as I did.
Tuck and I would then would move on to Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend album, R.E.M., Jane's Addiction, and so many others. It isn't that any of his stuff was all that obscure (it wasn't), but what is important is that he pulled me into a genre I would have never otherwise ventured into. His enthusiasm was contagious and I guess it changed my life.
Unfortunately, friends can lose contact and (worse yet) they can change. Without the internal desire or willingness to seek out and embrace new music, even the best of us can find ourselves wandering in a musical wasteland. But a life without a healthy amount of great music, (including new music that sounds fresh) is the life of someone who is slipping toward old age and death. New music keeps us young inside.
I'm a massive music fan and I'm proud to say that I kept myself moving forward on a continually satisfying and stimulating musical journey. I'm not gonna tell you what to listen to (although you seriously should check out this super-obscure band called Abscondo), but I will tell you about 5 steps that will help anyone move past a stale music collection.
1) Find at least one source you trust to stay updated on a wide variety of new music. It could be a magazine like NME, Q Magazine, Rolling Stone, Spin, or Pitchfork. Go to the bookstore and check out a few mags. See which ones seem to fit your preferred genre. Ideally, there will be at least a few references to bands you actually do know. Otherwise, check out KEXP, NPR All Songs Considered Podcast, or a local indie publication or website (like Seattle's The Stranger, for example) for reviews of bands that are coming to your area.
2) Make plans to get out and seeing shows! Find out who's touring near you, read reviews, commit to going to a show as often as you can (even a few times per year helps). If there is a band touring in your area, don't buy the tickets just yet, but first go to step 3. Better yet, just buy tickets to to a summer music festival then go to step 3.
3) Before you go to said concert or festival, check out the band online and listen to a few songs. If you like the songs at all, or can imagine the possibility of liking them, just buy the album. But don't expect to fall in love with their music right away!
4) Before you see the show, listen to the album at least 5 times (regardless of what you think after the first spin). You don't even need to listen to the whole album...at least listen to the first 5 songs at least 5 times (even as background music while you're working). This is the natural process of allowing the sounds to penetrate your consciousness. It takes a bit of time! After 5, 6, 7 spins, you will know whether this is something you are falling in love with or not. If not, you will naturally gravitate toward some of the other bands you're considering. But if you kind of dig it, commit to going to the show.
5) Convince a friend to come along with you to the show. Shared musical experiences add to the magic! Oh, and then when the day comes...you should actually go to the show! Maybe it's been a long day at work or perhaps you have to get up early tomorrow morning. Who cares? The energy and inspiration you will get from the music over the long-term is more important than any minor short-term discomfort.
Don't expect to be blown away every time. At the concert, you will be left standing too long waiting for the band to come out, maybe even yawning. Even during the performance, you may end up checking your watch a few times and wondering how many songs are left in the set! But, in the end, (at least some of the time) you will have fallen in love with a new band...in so doing you will have found one of the secrets to eternal youth and lasting coolness.