Do you listen to podcasts? I do. In case you don't know, a podcast is basically a radio show that you can listen to on your computer, or download to your phone and take with you while you are walking the dog or doing yardwork. Oh, but they are not actually on the radio, so the quality varies and there are swear words.
Among the podcasts I listen to, there are three that are music related that will help you appreciate our musical culture. Really. These are well-produced shows that are a pleasure to stick in your head.
Song Exploder. I love the idea of Song Exploder. Host Hrishikesh Hirway talks to songwriters about how they made their record. This can be a matter of how they came up with a lyrical idea to how they got an unusual bass sound. It's as much about record production and engineering as it is about songwriting. The only reason I don't love Song Exploder more is that I don't know many of the songs, or the artists covered, so it's a fairly abstract exercise for me as a listener. But they aren't totally obscure, I mean, U2 is on the list of episodes.
Pitch. Pitch is more like ethnomusicology, the anthropology of music. Music is the theme but the topic is really people. They have episodes about the cd longbox (remember those?), an actress who got a part and then had to learn to play the piano on stage in a matter of weeks, a drummer with one hand, and product placement in country music.
Switched on Pop. Switched on Pop may be my favorite podcast about anything right now. It's hosted by two knowledgeable fellows, a songwriter and a musicologist, and produced a lot like Radiolab where it sounds like a spontaneous conversation but they are dropping in song snippets and illustrations that clearly suggest a fair amount of planning or post-production. Switched on Pop is an analysis of pop music songwriting (less about the production like Song Exploder). How does going from major to minor change how a song feels, or contrast with the lyrical content? Why is there so much saxophone on the radio right now? The hosts are also unabashed pop enthusiasts, so the songs they are analyzing are by the likes of Taylor Swift, Adele and One Direction. Nothing too obscure here, but they will give you a good understanding of how the songwriters are using different tricks to present a particular experience to their audience.
So to summarize: Song Exploder focuses on record production and songwriting, Pitch tells human stories around the topic of music, and Switched on Pop offers an analysis of musical forms and decisions. In rehearsals, Chris Eastburn often will comment about musical decisions that thrill him and set a tone for a song -- time or key signature changes, particular intervals or harmonies -- those are the focus of Switched on Pop.
Happy listening, and let me know if you have other musical podcasts you enjoy, or if you have a favorite episode of any of these.