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As Plugged In's music guy, there's one question I hear more frequently than any other from parents who write to us: "What do you know about music by ________?" Even though I spend over 40 hours a week submerged in pop culture, there are so many musicians in our increasingly specialized and fragmented media world that it's impossible to keep tabs on all of them. Therefore, I rely on a few basic tools to uncover the facts about unfamiliar artists or songs—online resources you can use as well to help your children evaluate their music's appropriateness:

Band websites. Virtually every band has a website. Most of them feature a "BIO" tab that gives a snapshot of the group today. Many also contain links to songs, videos and, sometimes, lyrics. This is a great starting point for getting a feel for the act and the image it wants to project. Just type the band's name into your preferred search engine, and you're off.

Social media. Facebook, Myspace and YouTube are vital components of most artists' online marketing efforts. Those three destinations usually provide links to audio files and/or videos. Again, just type in the band's name, followed by the site you'd like to search.

Wikipedia. Wikipedia.com offers another avenue of information. Because it is user generated, it's a good practice not to take Wiki entries as gospel truth. On the other hand, few folks are as passionate about getting the details right as a musical act's most rabid fans, which means you may glean insight through Wikipedia (including links to interviews and additional articles) that you won't find elsewhere.

Lyric sites. Next, you may want to explore what a particular song actually says. If you can identify the title, type it into your search engine, followed by the word "lyrics." You'll find a plethora of sites devoted to providing them. I prefer metrolyrics.com and azlyrics.com. Since lyrics pages are also typically fan-generated, it's worth visiting a couple different sites and comparing results.

Urban Dictionary. I regularly come across slang words that are unfamiliar (especially when reviewing rap). Urbandictionary.com is a user-generated site that offers multiple definitions for emerging slang and colorful euphemisms. A word of warning, however: The descriptive language on this site can get pretty raw.

Metacritic. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of music review sites. One place to check out multiple album reviews simultaneously is the aggregator metacritic.com, which compiles dozens of reviews on a single page, and assigns an overall score.

There's more music out there than ever these days. Fortunately, the Internet is the great equalizer when it comes to finding out about it. In just a few minutes, you can do what the Plugged In team does and arm yourself with enough information to have an informed, intelligent conversation with your child about the latest band or solo artist vying for their attention.

Published February 2012



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