Best music podcasts: welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best music podcasts, from discovering new tunes to learning about the classics.
How did this become a culture with such a voracious appetite for podcasts? Fifteen years ago nobody had even heard the word, and for a while after that it appeared the concept would never take off. Nowadays you can learn in weekly instalments about anything from insects to dentistry to music.
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.
We’ve put together 11 of the best music podcasts, including 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, even sparking a spin-off Netflix series (opens in new tab)! 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 (opens in new tab)’s ever-growing popularity has meant it has welcomed R.E.M. (opens in new tab), Lindsey Buckingham (opens in new tab) and Iggy Pop (opens in new tab) during its 224 episodes thus far.
If you’re on the hunt for an electronic mix, look no further than the RA Podcast (opens in new tab). Its number counts 813 episodes and rising since Troy Pierce first took the reins in 2006 (opens in new tab), having hosted a variety of legends, heavyweights and emerging DJs along the way. The RA Exchange (opens in new tab), meanwhile, is a series of 592 (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? 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 (opens in new tab), 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 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 (opens in new tab) 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 377 offerings (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 376 others to choose from.
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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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.
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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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. 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 (opens in new tab) isn’t focussed only on music but with how certain sounds happen or are created, why we interpret them the way we do, and even the ecological effect of our shifting tastes when it comes to music as a physical product. 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 (opens in new tab) podcast, a weekly voyage of music discovery, could easily have made this list, but the Tiny Desk (opens in new tab) 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. You’ve likely seen a few on YouTube, but their availability as audio-only makes them ideal for the commute.
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 TV celebrity game show Taskmaster (opens in new tab) (and in fact 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. 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 who will Alex hold a musical discussion with this week?
Although the most recent episode was at the end of April (at which point the band took their success on the road), there are still 61 to get through if you've yet to have a listen – and then you can petition for them all to stop being quite so successful and get back to the pod.