As Spotify invested heavily in podcasting in 2019 — including a deal with Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground production company reportedly worth over $10 million — labels were also getting in on the action. In April, Universal Music Group announced a partnership with Wondery to produce original audio content based on its catalog; the following month, Sony Music Entertainment unveiled a partnership with renowned podcast producers Laura Mayer and Adam Davidson to create shows across a variety of formats and genres.
“It’s still early days as far as revenue is concerned,” says UMG executive vp content strategy and operations Barak Moffitt, “but we’re really interested in what’s happening in the space as an opportunity for our artists and their visions, personalities and stories to reach fans in new ways.”
Perhaps no figure dominates the music-podcast conversation quite like Joe Budden, the retired rapper whose wildly popular The Joe Budden Podcast became a Spotify exclusive in 2018 and frequently makes headlines for his unfiltered takes on other rappers. Yet all kinds of artists have used talk programming to grow their audiences. Thanks to her award-winning food podcast, Table Manners, British soul singer Jessie Ware will release her first cookbook in March. Last year, indie singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman rolled out his topical album Peace of Mind as a nine-episode series that featured interviews with thought leaders about the songs’ lyrical themes. “Because of the popularity of political podcasts and society/culture podcasts, it kind of fits in there,” he told Billboard in 2019.
Some companies, however, are combining original music and podcasts in surprising ways. Last fall, Tenderfoot TV, which produces a slate of true crime and anthology podcasts, announced a partnership with indie label Lakeshore Records to release soundtracks of its podcast scores. And then there’s iHeartMedia’s Bear and a Banjo. Created and produced by Jared Gutstadt, it told the story of a fictional folk duo through voice actors like Dennis Quaid and a soundtrack co-written by Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd (Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey) and produced by T Bone Burnett. The ambitious podcast, which premiered in October and unveiled new episodes and stand-alone songs on a weekly basis, hints at the storytelling possibilities of the form.
“With the best creators in the world working with almost total creative freedom and the ability to test ideas fast in front of audiences at scale, podcasting is a gold mine of good new ideas,” says iHeart Podcast Network president Conal Byrne.
And at a time when Hollywood has found success by both adapting podcasts for the screen (Dirty John, Homecoming) and greenlighting projects based around legacy artists’ catalogs (Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman), music-focused podcasts that could live on in other forms are already a priority. Says Moffitt: “We’re investing considerable time and energy into mining our catalog to develop ideas that could potentially have derivative life in film and TV.”