Recently, Spotify removed a seemingly unmovable object that some say has plagued podcasting since the beginning of podcasting: music licensing. From the start, podcasters have wanted to play licensed commercial music - the songs you hear on the radio or have in your personal music library - on their shows. But that has been verboten thanks to the complexity of music licensing rights and hefty fines for copyright violation.
Because of that markedly unfriendly climate, pioneering music podcasters like C.C. Chapman had to satisfy themselves and their home fries with what became known as podsafe music; music made available under Creative Commons licensing or something similar where the rightsholder gave express permission for this and other certain types of re-use.
A very few, like Brian Ibbott of Coverville, managed to navigate their way through the dizzying licensing and legal structures so they could play commercially available music on their podcasts within the framework of the law. And it’s probably a good idea for me to state this here: It illegal to play any content on your podcast that you do not own if you do not have express permission from the copyright holder. Just because you bought a CD or downloaded an album online, it doesn't mean you own the rights to play any portion of that music on your podcast.
Spotify made all of those troubles go away.
The Phones Are Alive With The Shows With Music
Leaving aside the fact that Spotify somehow managed to find a term that’s less sexy than podcasting, some new “shows with music” are available in Spotify’s app right now. On the iOS app, they’re prominently featured within their own category on the search page rather than being lumped in with podcasts.
As of this morning, there are only seven shows with music listed in this hand-curated section. These seven shows are highly produced by people with serious chops in the music industry or existing podcasters with tight ties to Spotify. But Spotify, via Anchor, is allowing anyone to create their own show with music, using any and all of the 50 bazillion song titles in Spotify in an episode of their new show.
I listened to all of the currently available shows with music last night and I quite enjoyed the experience! Some appealed to me more than others, but all of them were great.
More importantly (to Spotify and the conceit of this article): All of those shows with music were examples of excellent content. Content that I cannot get anywhere else.
Won’t Someone Think Of The Podcasters?
If your hot take is “these aren’t podcasts” or anything else of that ilk: take a time out. For just a moment, please? This isn’t about you. This is about something new. Your arguments against and complaints about this emerging medium aren’t going to stop it from emerging, so chill. Let it settle and soak. You don’t have to love - or hate - everything.
This Is Podcasting’s First Spinoff
At least it’s the first spinoff from podcasting that I can think of that’s demonstrably something different. Sure, we’ve seen lots of efforts tangentially related to podcasting, but none of them have really gained any traction with either creators or listeners on a big scale.
I’m taking a risk betting on the success of a public announcement that’s less than 24-hours old and has a whopping seven shows showcased, but I think we’re in Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok territory here.
Before yesterday, audio-only content creators had two options. Radio was one, but that typically meant internet radio (tiny reach), pay-to-play (distance-limited reach and hefty fees), or by getting a job on a radio station. The other was podcasting, which gave creators nearly unlimited creativity, so long as the creator was creating everything on their own, including the music.
Now, there’s a third choice. A choice with restrictions on format and limitations on distribution, yes. But a choice without legal ramifications from the contents, near-limitless options on music, and a distribution footprint in the hundreds of millions.
Perhaps those restrictions don’t seem quite as limiting on balance?
More People Want To Be DJ’s Than Talk Show Hosts
I don’t have any data to support that claim, but it feels directionally correct. Yes, there are many of us who like producing spoken word content. But it was the late-night DJ and their imagined perfect life many of us wanted yearned for as we drove a lonely road. Not the guy reading the community calendar on our local public radio station.
People listen to WAY more music than they do spoken word, and Spotify is betting that many of them will want to curate their favorite music content on a regular basis, sharing their tastes with the world. And I’m confident Spotify is right in this assumption.
Which leads me to this:
More Shows With Music Mean Less Crappy Podcasts
Spotify’s shows with music will be an influencer magnet. Spotify’s shows with music will allow for a much easier path to monetization, fame, and everything else influencers crave.
As influencers flock - and yes, I truly believe they will flock - to this new offering, the appeal of “hey, I should start my own podcast” will switch to “hey, I should start my own show with music”. Anchor will push new users in this direction, as it’s beneficial for everyone involved - from show creator to music rights holder to Spotify - when Anchor makes it easy to become a real influencer on their platform and within Spotify.
This is something influencers can’t do anywhere else. For them, the choice between making a podcast, getting a radio show, or creating a new show with music on Spotify is obvious. I think those influencers will be rewarded for making engaging content their audiences love just much as they're rewarded in every other medium where influencers reign supreme.
It’s the promise of reward that will cause would-be influencers to be more attracted to Spotify’s shows with music than they are with the pain and suffering that comes from making (and launching, and growing, and monetizing) a podcast. And as the real influencers go, so do the would-be influencers, hopefully abandoning (and removing from podcasting directories) their half-baked efforts at podcasting in the process.
A Boon For Music-Inclined Podcasters In The Making
Allow me to introduce you to my good friend and beautiful human being, Donna Mugavero. Donna doesn't have a podcast, though she’s podcast-adjacent, helping produce the podcast of the next person I’m going to talk about. Donna is a consummate music connoisseur, with music tastes even wider than my own. As such, and for fun, Donna often hosts a mid-day radio program filled with her eclectic music choices on her local NPR-affiliate, WDIY. I listen as often as my schedule allows, but such is the problem with appointment-based media.
I desperately want Donna to make a show with music, pushing out new episodes every week or so. My ears, my brain, and my heart want this. She’d be brilliant!
Then there are podcasting musicians like my good friend (and Donna’s next-door neighbor) George Hrab of The Geologic Podcast. George is a highly-skilled and accomplished full-time musician, and his podcast episodes often feature music (his, mostly) and music commentary (Yes, mostly). No, I don’t want George to dump his podcast in favor of making a show with music on Spotify. The Geologic Podcast is about much, much more than music, and it would be a travesty were it to cease.
During the pandemic, Geo has been putting on live remote concerts every couple of weeks in a series called 13 Songs With George Hrab, where he chooses (see if you can guess) 13 songs around a central theme, and then performs his covers of those tunes on the live video. But it’s more than that.
Geo possesses of an encyclopedic knowledge of music. He researches the why and the how of each song presented. Often he goes into the mind-boggling yet highly entertaining theory behind chord progression, time signature, and other minutia of a particularly interesting aspect of a song, blowing everybody's mind in the live chat room that accompanies the live stream.
No, I don’t want Geo to stop doing the live 13 Songs show. I love the interaction, and I love listening to his own musical stylings on each song he covers. But I would love to see a Spotify-only version of 13 Songs, this time with the official music track presented along with all of Geo’s deep gushing of musical knowledge setting up each and providing commentary in between. That would be so fantastic.
Are Spotify Shows With Music Podcasting’s Existential Threat?
The short answer is no.
The longer answer is nooooooooooooooooooo.
(No, I didn’t write that joke. But I love it.)
Spotify’s’ shows with music have no negative implications for working podcasters like you and me. I don’t think many of us will abandon our podcasts to create a new show with music exclusive to Spotify. I’m sure not going to stop bringing you philosophical thoughts on the future of podcasting just so I can demonstrate how little I know about the music I love so much.
There are, however, many positive implications. Some (many?) podcasters will find great benefit by having a Spotify show with music to accompany their podcast, much in the same way that many podcasters find benefit in having Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok accounts.
Of course, we don’t know what the future will hold. But I’m confident that Spotify’s shows with music are a very big deal for and beyond podcasting. Watch that space.
As a reminder, Evo’s long winter’s nap starts in a few weeks, with no new episodes during November and December. Well… no new episodes from me. I am allowing others to do their own pontificating right here during my absence. If that sounds like something you’ve like to do (and seriously, the size of your audience isn’t at all important to me, only the ideas you’d like to share), please get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I shall be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.