With so many of us spending a lot more time at home looking and listening for new ways to pass the hours, there’s never been a better opportunity to seek out fresh sounds. Hey, why not go on a musical exploration, or broaden our horizons with industry insights?
Are you looking for particular information, instruction, inspiration, or just a soothing voice to keep you company? Chances are, no matter how specific your musical fascinations are – no matter how niche – there’s a podcast that covers that in depth. But there are a lot of them. Like – a lot, a lot.
A word to the wise – like any piece of music itself, what hits the perfect note for one person just won’t do it for everyone. To find your must-listens you’re going to need to do some research to uncover the music-related podcast that offers what you are looking for. Hopefully, this will point you in a few worthwhile directions…
Before we get to that, one caveat: for our purposes, we’re going to use ‘podcast’ as an overarching term. This will cover both actual podcasts (i.e. listening experience you download to your device, where it lives until your phone, tablet or computer starts wheezing and begging for you to free up drive space) as well as on-demand audio, which, for a whole host of reasons regarding rights, usage, and so on, you tend to come across, listen to five minutes of, get caught up in something else, and inevitably have great difficulty finding again. Okay, let’s move on…
What’s out there? Everything
Public broadcasters are great starting points given the likes of NPR, CBC, and the BBC cater to virtually any taste with a huge number of offerings.
Interested in the space where music and politics/policy collide? Check out NPR’s Louder Than a Riot, which focuses on the interconnection between hip-hop and mass incarceration with each episode exploring “an artist’s story to examine a different aspect of the criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts Black America.” Then there are CBC offerings like Inside the Junos which serves up a behind the scenes view of Juno Award-winning songs by ‘Canadian Master Musicians’, and more recent additions including Frequencies – a show hosted by Errol Nazareth and freshly launched in February 2021 which focuses on “musical storytelling from cultures and communities across Canada and around the globe.”
Don’t just listen, learn
Maybe you prefer context and content that digs deep into a specific musical topic; like – just who inspired what? For example, the similarly named, but wildly different The Muse Podcast and Muses (note: one digs deep into the process of making music, the other into “the musical importance of lovers, inspirations, and groupies”.)
Looking for something song-specific? There’s always the broadcast behemoth Song Exploder, available as both an audio-only podcast and a Netflix documentary series.
Another hugely popular choice is Broken Record. With interviews conducted by the likes of Rick Rubin, Malcolm Gladwell, and former NYT editor Bruce Headlam, it’s billed as the audio equivalent of liner notes – a must listen.
Curious about the music industry, musical trends and technologies, or in-depth profiles of people who’ve worked in wildly different areas of the industry? For that, you’ve got industry standards like the New York Times Popcast, the audio-focused People & Music Industry (presented by technology heavyweight Sound on Sound) and – for opinions on all things music-related and more, The Bob Lefsetz Podcast. It’s important to note that some of these also come in an in-depth blog format, offering companion reading that, particularly in the case of Bob Lefsetz, often informs the podcasts themselves.
Music History and other ongoing stories
Prefer straight-up history to opinion? Check out Alan Cross’s Ongoing History of New Music and New Zealand-born, UK-based musician, producer, DJ, and podcaster Zane Lowe’s The Zane Lowe Interview Series – both worthy additions to any melomaniac’s pod-library.
Looking for something artist or genre-specific and long-form? Check out Phil Taggart’s Slacker Podcast and The Early Music Show, or Cocaine & Rhinestones: The History of Country Music – a pod-doc that digs deep into country music history in song and story.
Fact is, if there’s an artist, genre, or geographical area you’re interested in, there’s a music-focused podcast that’s a perfect – and in some cases a custom fit – for you. Case in point – Song by Song, which, as the title suggests, focuses on records on a song-by-song basis, but specifically on Tom Waits records – the entire catalogue. The very fact that this exists means that someone else is doing something eerily similar for many, many other artists.
If you’re a fan of true crime and music, then Disgraceland – which combines “the worlds of music and murder together to tell little-known stories involving some of the most impactful artists of all-time” – is just the jam for you.
Prefer to dig into the secrets behind the success of artists and celebrities ranging from Melba Moore to Weird Al Yankovic in their own words? Check out Questlove Supreme.
Going stir crazy? Travel the world without leaving your home
What better way to explore the world’s musical and cultural traditions during a pandemic than by searching and consuming new and traditional music from, well, everywhere? There are far too many places and far too many podcasts to go into great detail, but this should get you started…
African music aficionados can pick and choose from a variety of independent offerings at Sound Africa. Or check out Afropop Worldwide; a show for the “curious and the connoisseur” that transports listeners not only to African musical capitals like Dakar and Cairo but all around the globe, in an effort to explore all facets of the music of Africa and the African Diaspora worldwide.
If you prefer to cast a wider net, take an audio trip to BBC 3’s Music Planet; a weekly, short format podcast covering music from every corner of the earth – from Serbia, to Southern and Northern India, to the DRC and everywhere in between.
The list is, literally, endless. If you search for virtually any type of music, from the music of the Arab world to Swedish heavy metal, you’ll find more than you could ever possibly find time to listen to.
Tuck into a known quantity like The Pitchfork Review to find some inspiration and direction, or narrow your search terms with podcasts about podcasts like The Big Listen, and/or lists based around the ‘Top 100’, ‘Best Of’ past and present, or those focusing on specific countries on sites like Feedspot.
Granted, we’ve mostly focused on podcasts about and/or featuring recorded music, but as this Now Magazine piece points out, the ‘podscape’ is constantly evolving to include offerings that are less about music that’s already been made, and more about ‘creating music from scratch’. Whatever your interest, taste, or whim, there’s a whole world of music and musical docs out there. All you have to do is look and listen.