Our Favorite Podcasts for Musicians

Themes and variation

recommended podcast montage

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The team here at Soundfly just recently (proudly) launched our first ever podcast, called “Themes and Variation.” In it, we’re bringing tons of musicians and music lovers together with members of the Soundfly team to break down meaningful songs in their lives with a common theme. Listen to Episode 1 of here on Flypaper to check it out, and click over to Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts, to subscribe.

“Themes and Variation” is conversational, communal, and celebratory of the tangled web of musical styles and influences that make up one’s personal sense of taste, whether as an artist or a listener. In that same spirit of community and celebration, we can’t deny the influence that other amazing podcasts have had on how we’ve organized and produced our own.

In fact, there’s an abundance of incredible podcasts out there that we listen to addictively, and could list here, but since we’re a community built around the needs and interests of musicians, let’s stick to that today… Here are the Soundfly team’s Staff Picks of our favorite podcasts for musicians in 2020. Enjoy!

Martin Fowler (Associate Producer, Mentor)

Twenty Thousand Hertz

Our ears are our windows to the lower-frequency vibrations of the world and universe around us, and this show brings an intimate curiosity to our immense experience of these waves surrounding us and informing a huge portion of our reality. Host Dallas Taylor carries each listener through a highly informed and well-researched microcosm of the world’s most recognizable and curious sounds. While not explicitly focused on musical sound, there’s a constant enthusiasm about the ways our ears react to the world, and the deeper stories we can tell each other — and ourselves — through sound.

Each episode is a multi-faceted journey through the story of a particular sound or sonic concept, from the mega-viral YouTube hit, “Baby Shark,” to the most recognizable scream in all of filmmaking, to the beautiful intricacies of birdsong, and so many stories in between. You didn’t know you loved sound this much!

Recent Favorite Episodes: Copyrights and Wrongs, Seinfeld, The Loudness Wars, Misophonia, The Wilhelm Scream.

John Hull (Head of Production, Mentor)

Synth History

Likely to be the newest podcast on this list, Synth History focuses on the heroes and the instruments that shaped the landscape of electronic music and sound. Only one episode exists when writing this, but I can’t express how excited I am for this show’s future. And since we just launched our brand new online course, Advanced Synths and Patch Design for Producersthis topic is near and dear to our hearts right now.

Episode one details the history of one of the first openly trans musicians, Wendy Carlos, whose record Switched-On Bach not only became one of the best-selling classical music albums of all time — it also influenced musicians and innovators like Giorgio Moroder and Dave Smith. The information is expertly delivered by the show’s host, Danz, and the score and sound-design blend to form a compelling way to look at a topic that I’m always excited to learn more about. So stay tuned for future episodes!

Recent Favorite Episodes: Wendy Carlos.

Mahea Lee (VP of Learning & Curriculum, Mentor)

The Three Track Podcast

I hear about lots of podcasts from coworkers and Soundfly’s subscriber community, as well as friends, family members, and acquaintances who vaguely know that what I do for a living has something to do with music. That wasn’t the case with the Three Track Podcast, which I found while searching for podcasts with episodes featuring the comedian, James Acaster. As the site says, “the Three Track Podcast is lovingly curated by a music nerd, for music nerds” — said “nerd” being knowledgeable music enthusiast and comedian, Gabriel Ebuele.

In each episode, Ebuele sits down with a guest to talk about three of their favorite tracks, focusing on whatever elements they’d like and going on interesting and entertaining tangents. Among those guests, you’ll find a who’s-who of contemporary British comedy, as well as some familiar names from here in the U.S., like Reggie Watts and Aaron Livingston (Son Little). If you like passionate, but casual conversations about music, comedians with a serious side, and the pleasant sound of an English accent, you should definitely check it out.

Recent Favorite Episodes: James Acaster, Reggie Watts.

Song Exploder

song exploder

I’m adding a second recommendation after seeing what everyone else wrote. I’m pretty sure the only reason no one had picked Song Exploder is because we all assumed someone else was going to pick it. This is typically everyone’s first pick when we start talking about podcasts on our office Slack. Hrishikesh Hirway’s podcast features an incredibly impressive roster of musical guests, and gets into some of the most interesting details of their specific song creation processes. Some of my favorite podcast episodes across the board came from Song Exploder, and I’d enthusiastically recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Favorite Episodes : Episode 23: Tycho, Episode 40: Game of Thrones, Episode 69: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Episode 100: Dirty Projectors

Jeremy Young (Head of Growth, Editor-in-Chief)

Questlove Supreme

First of all, how can you not love Questlove? He’s a modern, living and breathing encyclopedia and a collector/diffuser of stories on not just Black American music, but modern music at large. Beyond his scholarly pursuits, he’s a Grammy-winning drummer and songwriter, a DJ, a television icon and tastemaker, a charitable fellow from what I hear, and now a podcast host.

So that’s what you can’t not love about Questlove, but what I love about this podcast is that it combines the riveting long-form interview style, usually featuring one individual artist, with the group “round table chit-chat” radio style that I grew up with listening to on Hot 97 in New York. It’s a bunch of radio hosts, artists, friends, and whoever else wants to grab a pair of headphones and a seat, just conversatin’ and having a blast. As a listener, you want nothing more than to be a fly on the wall in that very room. Questlove moderates, the peanut gallery chuckles and jabs, and along the way, the wild stories of some of pop music’s most exciting talents naturally just flow out. If you want to learn about music and music history, specifically mostly Black music history (on which there aren’t too many textbooks written), with a big dumb smile on your face for an hour, check it out.

Recent Favorite Episodes: Jill Scott, Spike Lee, Solange, Tito Jackson, Babyface, Michelle Obama.

The Music Biz Weekly

The Music Biz Weekly podcast is, well, exactly how it sounds! Hosted by Jay Gilbert and Michael Brandvold, two music industry veterans each with some serious career notches in their belt, the podcast covers topics ranging from news around the industry to marketing and business strategies and approaches catered to the DIY artist.

As a DIY artist myself, I find it really important both to stay informed and to listen to how others have found success. So the discussions Gilbert and Brandvold have with artists and industry insiders are often vital; which brings me to the fact that they recently invited our very own Carter Lee to come on and talk about “Themes and Varation” in a riveting chat. Listen to that episode here.

Recent Favorite Episodes: Carter Lee!

Carter Lee (Community & Mentor Manager, Mentor)

Strong Songs

I recently discovered this podcast and am so thankful I did. Hosted by Kirk Hamilton, Strong Songs delivers highly produced, in-depth narratives of what makes a song tick. Each episode typically features a single track and dives deep into the devices, techniques, performances, lyrics, and literally every other component of a track you can think of, leaving no musical stone unturned. This show also crosses every conceivable genre, breaking down songs from artists like Miles Davis, AC/DC, The Beach Boys, Rush, Muse, Seal, and so many more. The production quality of this show is on an extremely high level and Hamilton’s ability to weave a narrative through some incredibly iconic works is unparalleled.

Recent Favorite Episodes: So What, Paranoid Android, Q&A: Tricky Counting, Straight Saxes and Transposing Horns.

Zoë Young (Director of Digital Marketing)

Broken Record

Broken Record is an interview podcast where author Malcolm Gladwell, New York Times Media Editor Bruce Headlam, NPR’s Justin Richmond, and Rick Rubin, producer of like half the music you’ve ever heard, talk to a wide variety of musicians about their music. It can be pretty all over the place, and in a lot of ways, that’s by design. Sometimes there’s just one interviewer, sometimes they do the interviews together. The hosts have really divergent interests, experiences, and scopes of musical knowledge — Malcolm Gladwell tends to go deep on lyrics, Rick Rubin cares more about production and creative workflows. And the interviewees span all different genres — the James Taylor, Run the Jewels, and Esperanza Spalding episodes are back to back. There’s no guarantee that you’re really going to connect with any given episode; but you’re generally guaranteed a thoughtful interview between a couple of really interesting people. And I often find myself surprised to be getting into an interview I was about to skip over.

And as extra motivation for sharing — I was listening to the Flying Lotus episode before writing this and it’s basically a pitch for our Advanced Synths and Patch Design for Producers course — FlyLo talks about how he spent most of quarantine going deep into learning synthesis, and now his whole creative process begins by building a synth patch. Which is pretty much what we cover in the course, so check that out if that interests you as much as it does me.

Recent Favorite Episodes: Nyle Rogers (the second episode they ever did and I still think about it all the time), Beastie Boys and Spike Jonze, Flying Lotus.

Ian Temple (CEO & Founder, Mentor)

I listen to so many podcasts that it felt weird to me to choose just one! So, here are just a few that I’ve really enjoyed in the past few months:

Dolly Parton’s America

This might have been my favorite podcast of the year. It both gave me an appreciation for the ways Dolly Parton’s songwriting broke the mold by speaking from new points of view that weren’t often reflected in country music and the ways that Dolly speaks to some of the United States’ ongoing schizophrenia as a nation. It’s a single season, created by WNYC and the Radiolab crew of Jad Abumrad and Shima Oliaee.

Recent Favorite Episodes: This is a single season podcast, so you should probably just listen to the whole thing, but if you need to focus, the episode Sad Ass Songs is the place to head.

Music Exists with Chuck Klosterman and Chris Ryan

A fun podcast on the nature of knowledge in listening to music, from two veteran music journalists. It reminds me of the sorts of conversations I’d have with my bandmates while on tour, and I miss that. Topics range from the value of music criticism to how much should artists evolve over time.

Favorite Episodes: What Makes Music Sound Commercial?

Switched on Pop

Switched on Pop Image

We have a lot of nerdy conversations about music at Soundfly. I still remember getting in this amazing argument about what key Rihanna’s “Work” is in. It’s the sort of argument that doesn’t really matter at all, but you find yourself getting really into it. I feel like the Switched on Pop hosts Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan get it. They started out just doing this on their own, two guys chatting about stuff they love, and now they’re on Vox with massive guests and stuff.

Favorite Episodes: They’ve got a lot, but I might recommend some of the earlier ones like Why is the 90s so bizarre?

Water & Music by Cherie Hu

Cherie Hu hasn’t produced a new podcast episode since last November, but last year’s episodes are still up and they are worth a listen. She tends to look at the music industry from the perspective of startups and tech, which makes for a really unique perspective that I don’t hear often. It’s great for tracking trends in the industry at large, in particular, and often teaches me things about the music industry that I had no idea were true. While the podcast isn’t running right now, you can also sign up for her great newsletter here.

Favorite Episodes: The lowdown on lo-fi hip-hop’s past, present and future, Why marketing music to strangers, not existing fans, is more profitable

Analyze Phish

This doesn’t come up super-often, but I did go through a very strong Phish phase in high school. That said, even while I was in it, I don’t think I really understood the people who were deep in it. This podcast involves comedian/writer Harris Wittels trying to convince comedian/writer Scott Aukerman to like Phish in a way that’s both hilarious and bound to fail. Unfortunately, the podcast kind of takes on a bit of a tragic and dark vibe now because Wittels passed away from an overdose after years of struggling with addiction. That context ends up lending a comedic podcast an extra sense of reflectiveness and meaning, especially given it’s covering a band and subculture known for its drug use.

Favorite Episodes: This is also just a single season, so you should probably listen to either none of it, or all of it.

The New Music Business with Ari Herstand

Ari Herstand has an encyclopedic knowledge of the music business. We made a course with him on royalties a few years ago, and he blew my mind with how much knowledge he was able to just call forth. He brings that to his podcast, along with some great interviews, to help DIY musicians navigate creating independent music careers.

Favorite Episodes: The episode about his advocacy efforts against the California law AB5 is a fascinating look into how the sausage is made. Also, his episode on Spotify payments is super-illuminating.

All of Us

Themes and Variation

Once again, go ahead and check out our brand new podcast “Themes and Variation” for an entertaining and educational, and not to mention deeply nostalgic, set of conversations between musicians, composers, producers, engineers, and music lovers breaking down songs relating to common themes. You’re gonna love it.

Themes and variation

Jlin: Rhythm, Variation, & Vulnerability

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