Podcasts have always had instrumental music – now some have vocals too

In the podcast series Eternity is long, listeners hear a man gently asking his relatives about the details of their failed marriages. Then they hear him sing a song about it.

Host Ian Coss was a musician before he started producing and designing podcasts, and has long used songwriting to make sense of his life. When he needed to deal with the messy and emotional topic of divorce, he sang first. Then he interviewed his family for more answers than he was looking for. Neither would be complete without the other, he said – he “wanted it to look like an integrated whole.” From there, a hybrid of an album and a podcast was born.

Many musicians have applied their skills to the production of podcasts, creating the instrumental and original theme songs heard in many shows. But songs with lyrics? Integrated there in an episode? There has historically been no room for them since they compete with the words spoken. But a desire to incorporate vocals anyway has led several creators to reinvent the structure of the shows they produce, creating songs that are meant to live on alongside interviews and discussions. As with Coss’s creations, their songs become just as important as the speech around them.

Talking and singing have already mingled in podcasts, but above all fictitious. The scripted series Electric Easy guides listeners from speech to song by presenting musical performances directly into the plot; The same applies to Halloween in hell, which concerns a singing competition organized by Satan. But it’s less intuitive to follow when songs slip into something like a chatcast or interview-based show, which may not have a natural transition between the two formats. Listeners can be turned off when they are shaken from one to the other, especially since they cannot be guided through the transition by visual images like they can while watching movies or television. .

Beyond the fictitious podcasts that roughly follow the Joy format, the interaction of song and speech has mostly been limited to things other than podcasts. Think of hip-hop and rap albums, which oscillate between musical pieces and interludes and spoken scenes. Another example is the FM radio model, where DJs surface between songs as a joke, often on things other than music. Coss says he couldn’t find podcasts that struck the balance he was trying to find, where the songs purposely related to the discussions or vice versa; instead, it took inspiration from musical concept albums, like Point by Harry Nilsson, as well as Woody guthrie “three hours of song and conversation” hosted by the Library of Congress.

With these examples in other audio fields, audiences have had years to get used to the idea that the mediums will mix; to avoid turning off listeners in podcasts, the producers sought to be as unsurprising as possible with the way they presented the music. In the scripted series Here is the break, the show’s narrator interviews real musicians for a fictional podcast (in this real podcast), on which artists debut actual tracks they recorded in the real world. To prevent listeners from being confused by the otherwise non-musical plot suddenly switching to the song, the music is always placed at the end of an episode; it is the same with the spectacle of Coss. Both podcasts also keep their content the same episode-to-episode length – around 30 minutes – which, as industry standard length, gives listeners a familiar element in an otherwise unknown concept.

A musician and producer experimented how far podcast listeners are willing to go to hear the songs she wants them to hear. The film-discussion podcast You are good, hosted by Sarah Marshall and Alex Steed, features both covers and original tracks from the musician Carolyn Kendrick (who, thanks to his technical skills, also produces the show). In one episode, listeners hear a conversation between Marshall and Steed, a song that Kendrick recorded to complete the discussion, and then return to the conversation.

“I really do songs a lot shorter than if I were doing a regular album,” Kendrick says. Creating songs for the middle of an episode, as opposed to the end, also requires generalizing the lyrics and “cutting the fat” that doesn’t directly support the discussion, she says. “My number one fear is that the music will be distracting, and I hope it isn’t.”

Far from being distracting, given that You are good is both silly and serious, lyrical music can be a useful transition tool. After the hosts joked in the first few minutes of a episode on The brilliant, the listener hears low and creepy notes on a piano, with Kendrick repetitively singing the phrase “all the work and no playing makes Jack a boring boy,” which she said “conveyed goosebumps from this story”. It works as a transition to the much heavier conversation between hosts that follows.

The music in these podcasts can be their selling point, says Brady Sadler, CEO and co-founder of the audio company Double elvis, who produced Here is the break. In this particular show, which has been dubbed a “music breaking podcast,” the songs debuted exclusively in episodes, and the musicians acted as an “integrated influencer base” to increase the drops on the networks. social, says Sadler. “Having the exclusive music definitely achieved what we hoped for,” he adds: getting people excited to hear a song in the context of the podcast and its characters, even though they knew they could hear the song via wide distribution the next day.

The generally positive reception of these shows may be due to listeners’ expectations which are already beginning to change. As Coss points out, Spotify released Daily Drive Playlists for years mixing music with the news reported, and Sadler speculates that, more generally, many listeners have become accustomed to going to one place (e.g. Spotify, Amazon Music) to hear both music and podcasts, although the two mediums are not often played in rapid succession.

Maybe Spotify knows something these creators can only speculate: that listeners indeed want content that combines talking and singing. This would give the impression that projects like You are good and Eternity is long have arisen in response, drawing inspiration from the biggest players in the industry.

“The timing is interesting, isn’t it? That I would be drawn to this kind of project at a time when musical audio and narrative intersect more and more, ”explains Coss. He laughs, “I sure don’t want to give Spotify credit. ”

The “longer arc” around this point, he says, is probably more personal. He, like Kendrick, was a musician before becoming a podcast producer. “I brought these skills with me to narrative audio as a new place to explore and create,” he says. “I think there has always been a desire to bring these things together.”

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