You could ring Pavlov’s bells and it wouldn’t cause as strong a reaction as I feel when the first percussive beats of “The Pills” by The Eskimos introduce a new episode of Gamespot’s Hotspot podcast. The catchy song and enjoyable podcast become entwined in ways that movies and television shows have used to superinject moments with added emotional importance (yes, conversations about Duke Nukem can involve an emotion).
This bit of production work provides a nice middle ground between the excesses of morning zoo radio and the let-us-rec0rd-a-conversation aesthetics of other podcasts. It makes me seek out the band, the song, and if there’s anything else out there like this great song. And the reason it’s possible, as discussed by the show, is that one of the hosts is related to a member of the band.*
* A similar situation also applies to the always-enjoyable NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour, which welcomes listeners each week with a sugar-sweet instrumental from the podcast producer’s band.
Royalty fees and music rights have made any attempt at using recorded songs a fool’s errand. Many shows have worked around this limitation by soliciting original works, including the likes of The Jonah Keri Podcast and Doug Loves Movies. Others embrace the limitations of the form, using royalty-free music. The Basketball Jones weekly audio show took a potential negative and turned using “Steppin’ On The Beach” (aka “Dirty Talk” by James Wallace) into a weekly highlight. Still, while I understand the fear of allowing shows to distribute licensed music for free on one section of iTunes while the other section asks for $1.29 a song, podcasts have matured enough as an artform that record companies should realize the potential benefits of allowing popular shows with loyal fanbases to use their artists’ songs.
At least one record company took a step in that direction this past week, when Up and In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast announced a deal with Bloodshot Records. The podcast – hosted by the excellent Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks – incorporates music as bumpers between segments of the show. In the past, the show has used music beyond the line of sight of litigous record companies, all the while exposing some relatively little-known bands to a whole new audience. Bloodshot has embraced new ways to reach listeners, including free samplers through Amazon’s MP3 store, and this agreement falls in line with those efforts.
Podcasts and revenue are still mutually exclusive, even for the most popular of shows. The costs of server space quickly turn popularity into a financial burden. But the audience – well, there’s gold in them hills. Advertisers s…l…o…w…l…y have warmed to the concept, as any listener of the Adam Carolla Podcast can attest. And by wont of RSS feeds and iTunes, the audience welcomes new content in a delivery system that direct mail marketers would envy. I’m not saying a band like Muse – with U.S. popularity propelled by the Twilight films – can be replicated through the smaller audiences of niche podcasts. But when you’re gambling on viral YouTube videos, early morning MTV airings and maybe a spot on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to put some faith in an intriguing new bet.
In other podcast thoughts:
* Dan Levy at On the DL Podcast recently announced that his weekday show will end with show #555, giving fans about seven more episodes after today to settle in with a sports podcast staple. The show prided itself on long-form interviews with sports media personalities, but I always appreciated the days when media criticism and ruminations on the sports blog world dominated the conversation between Levy and his co-host, Nick Tarnowski. It became a staple of my early morning routine, with a hot shower and some interesting and/or provocative point jump-starting my brain. The show was thoughtful and entertaining, two attributes I wish sports talk radio could possess. And it will be missed.
* The AV Club has begun a regular feature called Podmass highlighting the best in a week’s worth of podcasts. Time commitments and the ocean of podcast content makes it difficult for most of popular culture to regularly focus on the medium. But the rise in quality, guest-laden comedy podcasts in the Los Angeles area makes for an easy hook, and this feature supplements a roundup of those podcasts with recaps of other shows you might have heard of. It’s a great resource, and it exemplifies some of the notable work done by the likes of Slate and NPR (with the aforementioned Pop Culture Happy Hour and Hang Up and Listen) in advancing the form and providing something eminently enjoyable week after week.