Screenshot of the Where To Start With homepage
I’d like to introduce to you my brand new site Where to Start With, which I have been working on in my spare time for a while (more on this in future posts).

The elevator pitch for Where to Start With goes like this:

Where to Start With helps you when you’re trying out new bands and artists by providing community-powered recommendations written by die hard fans.

If that new band you want to try has 10 CD’s out, then Where to Start With will give you… well, where to start with them!

The whole idea behind this site came from a need me and my friend found ourselves having; many times we would hear a song or read about a band that sounded interesting but then when we did go to try that band we would find they had a handful of releases out already. Where is the best place to start with them? Traditionally unless you got a specific recommendation for an album you would just try the lucky dip approach and hope you found a winner. If you got lucky you might have just found your new favourite band, however if you picked a rotten egg you may dismiss your potential new favourite band based on your opinion of one of their poorer releases.

A personal example was when I was recommended to listen to Porcupine Tree and given one song to try. That song was awesome, however Porcupine Tree have a massive back-catalogue (9 albums, 6 live/compilation albums and 4 EPs) and from trying a few releases out I found that they are very diverse and I still haven’t managed to get into them, although from that initial song I really wish I could. What I really needed was a guide to tell me where to actually start with Porcupine Tree, for example something that said "for starting out with Porcupine Tree what you really need to buy first is their album X".

This is how Where to Start With was born and also basically how it works — each band or artist will have an article about them which gives a short history/description of the band and each of their main releases (e.g. Albums & E.P.’s) with a little description. Any user can add these articles and each article is in the wiki-style, e.g. anyone can edit the descriptions to add new information and fix mistakes etc.

The real core of the site comes into play when people start adding their opinions on artists, once again anyone can do this, but it is better for people who are currently fans of the artist to add their opinion. Each opinion includes a rating, a recommendation (more on those later) and a personal comment on each of the albums for the artist. We then take these opinions and produce an article that gives you recommendations on where to start with the artist, what to try after that and even sometimes what to avoid.

What makes this different to other sites?

Well, whereas other sites, software and services may give you reviews, the most popular or most listened to albums those may not necessarily be the best releases to start off with a new artist.

For instance Reefs debut album "Replenish" is absolutely amazing and one of my all time favourite albums, however pretty much anyone interested in starting with Reef would be best advised to start with their second album "Glow", which is much more accessible in general. Another clear example would be Nirvana, I personally hardly ever listen to Nirvana’s "Nevermind" album any more (as I know all of Nirvana’s albums inside and out, every cough and guitar string noise included) and I would rate "In Utero" as my favourite album however "Nevermind" obviously would be the album I would recommend anyone new to Nirvana should start out with.

But going further than that after you have tried the "essential" release Where to Start With helps you with which release to follow the essential release with, a wildcard album and even sometimes what to avoid – these can be really difficult to determine from the other methods.

About the recommendations.

Each Where to Start With article can have the following recommendations for each release to help guide you:

  • Essential: The the first release to try, the best introduction to the artist.
  • Follow with: The next release to try after the essential release.
  • Also recommended: Another good release to try.
  • Wildcard: A release that may not be "the norm" for the artist but still could be interesting. If you try the essential release and weren’t so keen this should be different enough to be worth a try.
  • Avoid: Yes, some users will also tell you what to avoid.

The votes of each person on each release are added up to ensure that each article has one of each of the above recommendations (where applicable) and the more opinions that are added the better the recommendations become. You also have access to personal comments of each person who gave their opinion to give you a better insight into why they voted how they voted. And finally, just in case there is a close call between releases you can also see the breakdown of the votes for each release.

Sounds great, how do I get started?

Well we’re currently in private beta and have been running with a small handful of users for the past couple of weeks but are accepting applications to the beta and adding new users on a daily basis. The reason we’re currently in private beta is to ensure that the platform is solid and discover any issues, we’re not sure how long this will take but we obviously want to be out of beta as soon as possible. We also have setup a dedicated blog for Where to Start With which you can follow if you want to be kept up to date with progress of the beta and other new things (as we’re not finished adding features yet).

It’s working for me already!

Even with the small handful of users in the initial phase of the private beta I’ve already found one new band who I would have probably a) never heard of and b) not known where to start with without the site. There is more on this in the post It’s working for us on our blog.

So give it a whirl, and do get in touch to give us your thoughts etc.

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