On Spotify, an Arranged Marriage Between Music and Podcasts

Danyel Smith used to make a podcast in her kitchen. Smith, an creator, journalist and former editor in chief of Vibe journal, recorded it together with her husband, Elliott Wilson, a fellow journalist and the founding father of Rap Radar, between the sink and a bowl of fruit.

As one may count on of a present hosted by longtime music journalists, the podcast, “Relationship Goals,” which ran from 2015 to 2016, featured numerous music — in between playfully adversarial banter about home and skilled headlines. The tune placements, just like the present itself, had been accomplished off the cuff — with out a lot forethought, skilled help or official permission.

“It was a little bit of pirate podcasting,” Smith stated. “We weren’t a part of a network, and this was before podcasting had become super popular. We would just sit at our little kitchen table and play music and talk about it.”

In its lack of licensed music, “Relationship Goals” wasn’t uncommon — the method of licensing music from official rights holders typically takes sources that many unbiased podcast publishers don’t have. But when Smith determined to start out a brand new podcast final yr, impressed by her work on a coming e-book concerning the historical past of Black girls in pop music, she knew she wished to do issues otherwise.

As it occurred, so did Spotify.

Black Girl Songbook,” Smith’s new podcast, is certainly one of a number of music-focused reveals launched on the platform within the final yr that take a novel strategy to one of many trade’s oldest issues. It makes use of a hybrid format, which Spotify calls “shows with music” or “music and talk,” that allows creators to incorporate full songs from the service’s huge catalog into their podcasts freed from cost. (Spotify takes a 30 p.c minimize of advertisements arrange via the service.) The format offers podcasters easy accessibility to music that might be tough or too pricey to achieve on their very own and presents listeners with a seamless interface for studying extra a couple of tune or including it to their library.

Those listeners must be utilizing Spotify — the format, designed to take advantage of Spotify’s present offers with music corporations, isn’t appropriate with different platforms. And solely customers with a premium subscription will hear full songs; everybody else will get a 30-second preview. But for Smith and others, the trade-offs have up to now been price it.

“Full songs are where the magic is,” Smith stated. “There’s nothing like teeing up a song that means so much to me and that I know will mean so much to others if they just have the opportunity to hear it.”

All podcasters who need to use third-party, pre-existing music have confronted the identical impediment. Unlike radio broadcasters, who should buy blanket licenses that give them rights to hottest songs, copyright regulation requires podcasts and different types of on-demand media to license songs individually. The prices, which, for a typical three-year time period, can vary from $500 to $6,000 per use, add up shortly. Last fall, Hrishikesh Hirway, the host of the popular music podcast “Song Exploder,” introduced on Twitter that he would have to remove some episodes of the present due to mounting licensing charges. (The tweets had been later deleted. Hirway declined to remark.) “Relationship Goals” confronted related challenges — most episodes of the present are not on-line.

Many podcasts that characteristic music get round licensing via an exception to copyright regulation referred to as “fair use,” which permits for the utilization of small parts of copyrighted materials for particular functions, together with remark and criticism. But fair-use defenses have an inconsistent monitor document in courtroom, and as podcasts have grown in reputation, rights holders have develop into extra aggressive.

Deborah Mannis-Gardner, a music clearance knowledgeable — she has labored on the podcasts “Broken Record” with Rick Rubin, Malcolm Gladwell and Bruce Headlam; and “The Midnight Miracle,” with Dave Chappelle, Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli — stated she has seen an uptick in inquiries from D.I.Y. creators.

“They have to determine how important the music is to them, how relevant it is to the podcast and whether or not that’s worth the few dollars they have in their budget,” Mannis-Gardner stated. “I always tell people, ‘If you just want something that sounds cool, have a composer do a work-for-hire or use a music library.’”

When Smith was conceiving of “Black Girl Songbook,” she wished to create a platform that celebrated and uplifted artists, significantly the missed or underappreciated. Her e-book, “Shine Bright,” due in September from One World, is an element memoir, half reappraisal of Black feminine musicians via historical past, from Big Mama Thornton to Rihanna.

The podcast takes an identical strategy however brings collectively private reflections, archival recordings and artist interviews alongside the music itself. One episode charts Sade’s journey from London-based immigrant finding out style design to worldwide celebrity; one other revisits Natalie Cole’s media-fueled rivalry with Aretha Franklin; an interview with Corinne Bailey Rae connects her ebullient hit, “Put Your Records On,” to her early experiences carrying a pure coiffure.

“So many times when I’m interviewing someone, the women will say to me, ‘No one has ever asked me that,’” Smith stated. “Even when Black women are in the spotlight, they’re rarely getting the kind of critical attention that they deserve.”

As with all music-and-talk reveals on Spotify, the themes of “Black Girl Songbook” obtain not solely the same old press publicity however compensation: Artists are paid for performs inside the present similar to they’re elsewhere on the service. (Many musicians say these funds remain too small.) Courtney Holt, a vp at Spotify, in contrast the format to Spotify playlists, describing it as a brand new approach to deepen the corporate’s relationship with customers.

“We think more people want to have these types of content-based conversations around music,” he stated. “It ultimately drives more music engagement, it drives more artist love, and it makes Spotify that much more sticky.”

Spotify permits anybody to create a music-and-talk present via Anchor, the podcast-production software program it bought in 2019. There are at present over 20,000 music-and-talk reveals on the service, lots of that are related in tone and construction to FM radio. Most of the extra formidable reveals up to now are produced by Spotify or its subsidiaries: “Black Girl Songbook,” for instance, is produced by The Ringer; and “Murder Ballads,” a story-driven sequence that spotlights lurid people songs lined by the likes of Nirvana and Johnny Cash, is from Gimlet.

Rob Harvilla, a longtime music critic and the host of one other Ringer music-and-talk present, “60 Songs That Explain the ’90s,” stated the podcast, his first, affords him a extra tactile relationship with the music he covers. Each week, the present dives into a distinct tune from the 1990s — Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” — with an opening monologue from Harvilla and a dialog with a particular visitor.

“What cracked the show open for me was being able to interact with the songs,” Harvilla stated. “People listening can hear the tone of voice, the lyrics, the guitar solo — it makes things so much more vivid, whether I’m doing astute critical analysis or just a dumb joke.”

For Smith, who, because the editor of Vibe within the late ’90s, was an early champion of artists like Master P and Lauryn Hill, the brand new format has meant a return to outdated rules.

“At Vibe, my entire life was about putting people on the cover that other magazines wouldn’t — people that couldn’t get booked to perform on ‘The Tonight Show,’” she stated. “I wanted to create more space to serve the underserved, not only for the women who are featured, but for the listeners who don’t get enough of what makes them happy.”

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