Podcasts and music are a natural, obvious pairing. They’re both audio-based mediums, providing the perfect opportunity for podcasts to augment the music listening experience by including commentary, conducting interviews with artists and putting songs in conversation with one another.
Experiencing music in a large, crowded venue like Coachella is one way to enjoy music, but listening to a song in the context of intimate storytelling is an entirely different way that can be just as enjoyable and informative. These four podcasts take deep dives into your favorite artists, introduce you to new music you’ll enjoy and provide insight into the music industry.
All Songs Considered
Started in 2000 as NPR’s first original online-only program, “All Songs Considered” quickly became the foundation for NPR’s robust music journalism desk. The show is hosted by Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton, two veteran music critics whose affable attitudes and unwavering excitement for new and old music give the podcast the kind of good-natured charm one expects from a public radio show.
The podcast’s episodes come in a few different formats. “New Mix” episodes bring together music from different genres connected to a theme, with Hilton and Boilen’s commentary interspersed. “New Music Friday” episodes feature new songs from artists that aren’t dominating headlines when the slew of album releases come out each Friday. And “Guest DJ” episodes are part interview, part music discovery, as the hosts hand the remote over to artists so they can play songs that inspire them as Boilen and Hilton talk to the musicians about their personal lives, backgrounds and creative process.
The podcast largely centers on music discovery, as Boilen and Hilton usually feature small, independent artists who often see huge success years after “All Songs Considered” features them. Boilen and Hilton also make sure to feature music outside of their own tastes by bringing in public radio journalists from around the nation to recommend everything from heavy metal and country to Latinx pop and jazz instrumentals.
From Spotify, “Dissect” tracks an iconic artist through the deep exploration of one of their albums. Each episode lasers in on a single song, as host Cole Cuchna teases out the artist’s history and influences over the course of a season.
So far, Cuchna has taken on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly,” Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” and “Blonde,” Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and is currently dissecting Tyler, The Creator’s “Flower Boy.”
Cuchna analyzes each lyric and musical note with the same diligence an English professor would bring to a lecture on Shakespeare. He also puts each song into the context of music history, breaking down the inspirations for the composition and illustrating the impact these groundbreaking artists had on the music industry and artists that came after them.
While he comes across as something of a professor in each episode, Cuchna is just as much a music superfan. His voice exudes appreciation for the music he discusses in every bit of each episode — he’s the music nerd who just can’t wait to tell everyone about the albums he’s listening to on repeat. The Kanye season is a great place to start, or follow along with the Tyler, the Creator season, which debuted just last week.
A Radiotopia podcast hosted by talented singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen, “Song Exploder” sets itself apart because it allows musicians to take the wheel in each episode. While the podcast is rooted in interviews between Nguyen and an artist, in the final show, Nguyen’s role is minimal, with only the artist’s end of the interview played.
Each week, the podcast has a musician pick apart their song, from its inception to the final product. Artists discuss the inspiration behind their songs, the instruments and melodies they used and the meaning behind their lyrics. Along with the artist’s explanations, you get to hear the melodies, instruments and lyrics talked about — stripped down demo versions, the individual instruments that you barely hear in the final version of the song, the preliminary vocals. It’s like a better, audio-forward version of Genius Lyrics.
The podcast primarily features independent artists, offering a method of music discovery that stems from hearing the creation of a song before ever hearing the artist’s music, but has also featured popular artists like Janelle Monáe and Solange.
But the other standout this podcast features is music that often flies under the radar — themes from TV shows like “Stranger Things” and movies like “Moonlight.” As composers break down their scores, listeners develop a new appreciation for the music in their favorite on-screen stories.
I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats
Hosted by “Welcome to Night Vale” creator Joseph Fink and housed by the Night Vale Presents network, “I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats” features conversations between the quirky Fink and the equally quirky John Darnielle — usually the solitary member of the Mountain Goats.
Darnielle is a prolific artist — the Mountain Goats have released 16 albums since its first in 1994, and its latest, “In League with Dragons,” comes out this week. The Mountain Goats have a relatively small but unequivocally passionate cult following — while it might seem like this podcast is just for those superfans of the band, Fink and Darnielle use the podcast to discuss broader themes of music creation, artistry and the relationships between a musician and their fans.
Darnielle is incredibly open on the podcast — he eagerly explains how he uses music to philosophize about the human condition, answers Fink’s probing questions with extensive details and is unafraid to discuss mistakes he’s made throughout his life and career.
The first season of the podcast takes on the 2002 album “All Hail West Texas,” with each episode tackling one song. The show also featured fan-made covers of each song in their respective episodes.
Its second season debuted this month and breaks down songs from the band’s latest album, “In League with Dragons,” inspired by tabletop games like “Dungeons & Dragons.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that “All Songs Considered” started as a radio program. It was started as an online-only program. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.