Our voracious appetite for podcasts doesn't seem to be abating any time soon. Quite the opposite: podcasts are appearing all the time on topics new and old, on wide-ranging subjects spanning specific films, insects, ancient history and more.
Pretty much anyone can start a podcast these days and recommendations aren't hard to come by, but it can be a rough tide to navigate given that podcasts have become so ubiquitous and are of such wildly varying quality. Nowhere is that more the case than on the subject of music.
To help prod you towards the ones worth listening to, we’ve put together our pick of the best music podcasts here, all of which span a variety of genres and formats, from artist interviews to insights from the industry and deep dives into the theory, history and culture behind the music itself. You can download many of these episodes, stream over websites, listen on dedicated podcast apps, or even access them through music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.
So go forth and learn, discover and, most of all, enjoy (with a good pair of headphones, we hope).
This has become one of the most listened-to and acclaimed music podcasts going, now celebrating its 10th year running. The premise is simple: an artist speaks about one of their songs, breaking it apart – exploding it, if you will – to explain how the track came to fruition. Song Exploder’s ever-growing popularity has meant it has welcomed the likes of R.E.M., Lindsey Buckingham and Kae Tempest during its 260+ episodes thus far.
And to celebrate its 10th anniversary, there is now a special, deluxe edition episode of its very first pilot episode (which aired on 1st January 2014) that focuses on The Postal Service's The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, with new interviews and new insights added in.
And The Writer Is...
What goes into the process of writing a song? That's the topic of the And The Writer Is... podcast, which shines a spotlight on all the songwriters behind your favourite tunes. Hosted by two Award-winning songsmiths, Ross Golan and Joe London, each episode takes a peek behind the musical curtain and goes in-depth into the alchemical musical writing process and the rules each songwriter has to bring the songs you know to life. With over 170 episodes, there are insights from artists ranging from Mike Shinoda to Charli XCX via Lin Manuel Miranda.
If you’re on the hunt for an electronic mix, look no further than the RA Podcast. It has over 900 episodes and counting ever 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 nearly 700 interviews with artists, labels and promoters discussing the electronic music landscape.
Switched On Pop
Should you care about Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus, BTS and Justin Bieber? Can algorithms write pop songs? Why does every intro sound like it’s underwater? Did you know John Denver is huge in Asia? Although one can barely move for think pieces on classic records by critics’ darlings, the world of mainstream pop music has been somewhat neglected.
To remedy that, musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding are here with Switched On Pop, a podcast where they explore the craft of creating some of the world’s biggest pop songs – and refreshingly, they do so with genuine love and admiration for 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.
There's a caption under each of the 396 mixtapes (to date) to give an indication of what you can expect in this week's offering, so even if you don't fancy "1968 spiritual and 1976 Romanian modal jazz to New York cool and 2002 free funk", for example, there are hundreds of others to choose from that will suit your mood and tastes. (395's "Alternative pop and deep Detroit groove to piano ballads and b-side soul" sure sounds good, no?)
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 focusing on various artists and movements, with its sporadic episodes covering such varied subjects as Indian classical music, synth pioneer Yevgeny Murzin and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
You can download each episode as well as subscribe on BBC Sounds (all free, of course).
Composer of the Week
A more regular podcast this time, Radio 3’s Composer of the Week does precisely what it says in the 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, Witold Lutoslawski and Errollyn Wallen just as much as Beethoven, Puccini and Bach.
The current five-parter on Stravinsky – a What Hi-Fi? favourite for testing hi-fi – is fascinating.
Sound of Cinema
The last of our BBC trio is Matthew Sweet’s (the journalist, not the musician) weekly exploration of the world of film music. Rather than picking specific scores on which to focus, Sound of Cinema series generally delves into cultural movements, movie genres and sonic themes, often finding ties that, until being explained, you may not have heard or noticed before.
What makes a band or an artist a cult icon? Why do some bands/artists develop a cult following, and what is it that fans love about them? Host Yasi Salek invites experts to talk about some our fave cult bands and artists – Death Cab For Cutie, MF DOOM, PJ Harvey, Pavement, Deftones – while artists such as Sleater Kinney and Gavin Rossdale from Bush pop by to chat about anything and everything in between.
- Listen to Bandsplain on Spotify
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 is now broadcast on Apple Music every week. Already way past 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 focused only on music, but also with how certain sounds happen or are created and why we interpret them the way we do. There are episodes about the voice quality of Siri and Alexa digital assistants, the ecological effect of our shifting tastes when it comes to music (vinyl vs digital), and the secret of the "ice cream truck jingle".
You won’t need a doctorate yourself to follow, thanks to some sympathetic explanation, but it can get quite science-heavy in parts, so isn't perhaps 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 Concerts has become so iconic it would be remiss to leave it from this list. The concept 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. And each episode is only around 15 minutes. You’ve likely seen a few on YouTube (Lizzo's is one of the most joyful), but their availability as audio-only makes them ideal for the commute.
Song by Song
We won't make it a habit to recommend podcasts focusing on just one single artist or band, but Song by Song deserves a special mention, as it's dedicated to Tom Waits. For the past eight years and spanning over 400 episodes, hosts (and superfans) Martin Zaltz Austwick and Sam Pay have gone through Waits' entire back catalogue, tackling every album, song and scrap from beginning to end, and talked about it.
This podcast is just pure love and appreciation for Tom Waits' exceptional body of work, with a wide-ranging guest list spanning all corners of professions swinging by to talk about their favourite track. It's a love letter (and sometimes less than love, too) to one of our musical greats.
The Horne Section Podcast
Thank you to the reader who suggested this for inclusion – it's risky but we're here for it. If you're unacquainted with 'Little' Alex Horne, Greg Davies' sidekick-slash-slave on the brilliantly funny TV celebrity game show Taskmaster (and even if you are), get ready to giggle as he showcases songs and compositions written and performed live by his rather talented band, The Horne Section, while they engage in a lot of "nonsense talking".
Will you get the latest instalment from Jesus and Jorge, the horses from Lagos? Will you finally learn whether Alex actually saw a UFO – because that is what he thinks he saw? And with whom will Alex hold a musical discussion this week? (Hint: it's usually a celebrity guest from a certain TV game show...)
Made by Music
We told you everyone was doing a podcast now; even hi-fi brands are getting in on the action. London-based Cambridge Audio used 2023's High End Munich show to launch an unusual product: a podcast series where music journalist Sean Hannam interviews legendary artists and producers about "the moments in music that shaped their lives and careers."
Hosted on Spotify, Made by Music now has over 25 episodes and has featured musicians, producers and other creatives such as Boy George, Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), Irvine Welsh and, the Toast of London himself, Matt Berry. In each episode, they talk about their musical history, the records that influenced them, and specific artists/bands and songs that were milestones in their careers.
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