I like to discover my music anywhere but the radio: playlists, TV soundtracks, best-of lists, subway bands, TikToks, overheard songs in bars and stores and coffeeshops... and podcasts. What a fantastic medium for trying out new music. A music podcast is like your favourite radio show on demand — and of course many of the best are simply rebroadcasts of actual radio shows, with quieter commercials and no wacky morning DJs. These are my favourite shows for discovering new and new-to-me music, or re-discovering old favourites.
Each show title links to the show site and to the Apple Podcasts page.
Musicians, comedians and other artists talk about their favourite music, playing some samples and full songs.
Interviews, discussion, and play-throughs of new music, leaning toward popular releases that can still appeal to snobs. The hosts have that classic NPR air of intelligent affability and a discerning but wide-ranging taste.
On the site you can play YouTube embeds of the songs from the show. You’ll also see more out-there recommendations, like operatic Japanese prog rock, in the “Viking’s Choice” playlists.
Jazz sets with minimal commentary, each week following a different theme, and with frequent tributes to recently deceased jazz greats. Covers a wide range of jazz styles, subgenres and eras.
Episode themes include bluegrass/jazz crossover with Béla Fleck, “superstition” songs for Friday the 13th, an anniversary celebration of Bitches Brew, and “moon” songs for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Host Ken Laster loves to find a particularly good version of a jazz standard. See track lists on the blog.
An excerpt from DJ Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show, featuring a five-minute DJ mix from a different guest DJ on each episode. These highly engineered mixes reveal new details from old dance-club favourites; I especially like the playful references on the “Who Sampled Who” mix.
Each episode is a deep dive into the creation of one song, narrated by the artist.
Like Annie Mac, Song Exploder is a great way to rediscover a familiar song, or appreciate a favourite artist’s new work. Each artist discusses their lyrics, melody, various tracks, effects, and the decisions at every stage of creation that led to this recording — and what other directions they could have taken.
When the full track plays at the end of the episode, you’ll pick out the details, and you might even hear the song that didn’t come to be.
Carnival Mix (Apple)
Wall-to-wall upbeat Caribbean songs. Good for a party background.
Wall-to-wall chillhop with no vocals or interruptions. Mixes mostly hit around 45 minutes, sometimes longer, and make great quiet background music.
It’s a commodified genre, this subgenre of chill known as lo-fi hip-hop chillhop anime beats to work/relax/study to. It’s popular on YouTube streams and Spotify playlists full of one-song artists, which some critics suspect are commissioned anonymous rights-free work calibrated to minimise royalties. It works because there’s not a lot to differentiate songs in this genre: it all has the same sound. But that sound is good.
Some episodes begin or end with a track by show creator Bamf, which you’d never notice if you didn’t read the show notes, as they fit in smoothly with the rest of the mix. Bamf’s album Dreaming is on all the usual streamers, including a full-album YouTube video with the required peaceful anime art.
Vintage blues and soul, an hour an episode. A few famous artists like the Temptations, the Shirelles, and Jackie Wilson pop up among less obvious acts like Little Bob, Titus Turner, and the Grand Prix’s.
The audio quality is dodgy, but appropriately so, like an old guy — old enough that his fedora and shades don’t look ridiculous — sat you down in his eighth-floor walkup to listen to some records. Every now and then he passes you a piece of paraphernalia from a concert in ’62 and shares a little gossip about the sax player.
Well it really is an old guy playing records. The site has a full playlist for each episode, including the format each song is played on — mostly seven-inch 45s.
Mixes of indie, rock, and assorted other genres from Seattle public radio station KEXP. If All Songs Considered is a great survey course in the best popular music, KEXP builds on that knowledge, spending more time with artists you haven’t yet heard of.
If you’ve followed public radio over the last two decades, you’ve noticed the programming get less western-centric. Before, “world music” often had its own programming block; now it’s more likely to be welcomed in with Western music, and the two are more likely to share (and acknowledge) each other’s sounds. The recent Music That Matters episode “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” presents rock, pop, blues and dance music by (and inspired by) indigenous artists, and every track slaps. (Try, for example, “The OG” by A Tribe Called Red.)
Each daily episode is just one song, with no cruft. If you don’t have the bandwidth for the full Music That Matters mix, this is an excellent sampling. Here’s the single plucked out of “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
Most of each episode is dedicated to nitpicking a very famous song, second by second, and then performing a parody to “fix” it. And that’s a great way to learn about an old song.
But at the end of the episode, the hosts and guests name their “unpunchable jams”: songs that are already perfect. They keep a running Spotify playlist, with 255 unimpeachable tracks from all kinds of genre and era.
Wall-to-wall playlist of mostly background-friendly, but still distinctive and colourful, music. The site includes playlists of these deep cuts and forgotten tracks. Whenever you hear two tracks merge seamlessly into one another, one is probably a 1970s Indian single, and the next is a new track from the Netherlands.
There’s zero commentary, introduction, or interruptions, which means you could easily miss that, say, the episode “Tim Hill - Payador” is an exclusive full play-through of a new album released only on vinyl. Every track smells like a roadside bar with pool tables, Michelob signs, and peanuts on the floor. You know I bought it.
These two shows are over, and they’re not entirely about the music, but I’ve picked up some favourite tracks from each, and so will you.
Six-episode audio drama miniseries with frequent music.
Twilight World takes place inside a fictitious radio broadcast of a sexy late-night show with a hilariously unsexy host. In between his bumbling and increasingly hostile interactions with audience, guests, and station management, the host plays some real top-shelf get-it-on music.
90s music interspersed with bizarre, disturbing comedy sketches.
Chris Morris, the British satirist behind Brass Eye and Four Lions, made this late-night sketch and music show for BBC Radio 1 in the late 90s. It came on at midnight, although Morris really wanted it to air at 3am.
While the sketches were sometimes horrific or offensive — one episode was taken off the air mid-broadcast — the music wasn’t. Listen to this bootleg feed to remember or discover some great 90s alternative.
I am ready as always to hear about the hundred excellent shows I missed.