How did this become a culture with such a voracious appetite for podcasts? Fifteen years ago nobody had even heard the word; for a while after that it appeared the concept would never quite take off; nowadays you can learn in weekly instalments about anything from insects to dentistry.
Almost everybody you meet has a recommendation for you, but it can be a rough tide to navigate since podcasts have become so ubiquitous – not to mention of such wildly varying value – and that’s no more the case with any other subject than music.
Here we’ve put together ten of our favourites, which includes some choice mixes, artist interviews and plenty of delving into theory, history and music culture. So go forth and learn, discover and, most of all, enjoy.
This has fast become one of the most listened-to and celebrated music podcasts going. The premise is simple: an artist speaks about one of their songs, breaking it apart – or exploding it – and explains how it came to be. Song Exploder’s ever-growing popularity has meant an increased profile of its guests, and it has welcomed R.E.M., Lindsey Buckingham and Iggy Pop during its 162 episodes so far.
If you’re on the hunt for an electronic mix, you need look no further than the RA Podcast. Its number counts 680 episodes and rising since Troy Pierce first took the reins in 2006, having hosted a variety of legends, heavyweights and emerging DJs along the way. The RA Exchange, meanwhile, is a series of 461 (so far) interviews with artists, labels and promoters discussing the electronic music landscape.
Switched On Pop
Should you care about Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber? Can algorithms write pop songs? Why does every intro sound like it’s underwater? While you can barely move for think pieces on classic records by critics’ darlings, the world of mainstream pop music has been somewhat neglected. Musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding remedy that with Switched On Pop, where they explore the craft of creating some of the world’s biggest pop songs – and do so with genuine love and admiration of their subject matter.
Monday Morning Mixtape
Okay, so this might not be a podcast in the truest sense, but Stamp The Wax’s Monday Morning Mixtape is a blissful weekly mix of laid-back sounds from around the world, easing you gently out of the weekend and back into work. It’s hosted on Mixcloud, which means you can download it from there using various apps as well as streaming from their website.
BBC World Music Service
This next trio proves the BBC’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to music-related podcasts. Its World Music Service podcast is a predictably globetrotting selection of documentaries focussing on various artists and movements, with its sporadic episodes covering subjects such as Indian classical music, synth pioneer Yevgeny Murzin and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
Composer of the Week
A more regular podcast this time, Radio 3’s Composer of the Week does precisely as is promised by its title: each Friday Donald Macleod takes a composer – some well known, others not so much – and views their life through their music. Expect to learn about Dora Pejacevic and Witold Lutoslawski just as much as Beethoven and Bach.
Sound of Cinema
The last of our BBC trio is Matthew Sweet’s weekly exploration of the world of film music. Rather than picking specific scores on which to focus, Sounds of Cinema generally delves into cultural movements, movie genres and sonic themes, often finding ties that until being explained you may not have heard.
Beats In Space
The creation of New York DJ Tim Sweeney, Beats In Space is a weekly radio show (as well as a record label) dating back to 1999 and the mixes are all uploaded to be heard via its website. Nearing its thousandth edition, like the RA Podcast this is a go-to for discovering new electronic music and the DJs responsible for pushing the envelope.
For those looking to get granular, the ever-fascinating Reasonably Sound isn’t focussed only on music but with how certain sounds happen or are created, and why we interpret them the way we do. You won’t need a doctorate yourself to follow, thanks to some sympathetic explanation, but it can get quite science-heavy in parts so is perhaps not for the most casual of listeners.
Tiny Desk Concerts
NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast, a weekly voyage of music discovery, could easily have made this list, but the Tiny Desk has become so iconic it would feel negligent to leave it from this list. The conceit again is simple: NPR gets some of the world’s most interesting and exciting artists, crams them into a small space and has them perform stripped-back versions of their work. You’ve likely seen a few on YouTube, but their availability as audio-only makes them ideal for the commute.