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Striking the balance: podcasts and music

Discussing the merits of podcasts.

Image credit: Susanna Hayward via Marie Claire.

Podcasts are everywhere. Emerging out of obscurity only a decade ago, they’ve become one of the primary forms of audio entertainment, making us laugh, educating us, providing distraction or motivation. They have become an indispensable slice of my time. I went from exploring content related to any and all of my interests — to finding joy coming to know the hosts of my favourite shows — to relying on them to keep up to date with the news. But recently while walking down the street, I found myself selecting a show I was only vaguely interested in, and realised my music playlists had become tired, and even boring. Listening to podcasts has become a habit, rather than a pleasure, and the love I’d developed for finding new music had wavered, in favour of lazy selections of the shows that provide me comfort, but engender little enthusiasm. 

By no means is it my intention to rag on podcasts, a medium that has grown immensely since its inception, becoming more stylised, focused, addictive, and available, to name only a few of the forms numerous qualities. The vast array of subjects and approaches now at our selection can hook anyone looking for entertainment that engages the mind in a unique way, serving their listeners in every way from impersonal storytellers to confidants that instil a sense of companionship in their audience. 

But the thought of all those unheard songs and unknown artists waiting patiently to reveal themselves to me begs the question: am I missing out? 

To think of all the classics I haven’t given the time to, those albums serenaded in blogs and news articles as ‘life changing,’ or that ‘forever changed music history.’ Yes, Pet Sounds will still be there in fifty years, but why not listen to it now? Instead I find myself half listening to an assessment of Biden’s latest policy struggle, a conversation worth hearing, but one that’s quickly forgotten amidst the chaos of constant news and daily life. Of course it shouldn’t matter what random publications deem essential listening, just whether you’re entertained and enjoying the content you select. However, there’s something to be said for the emotional power music possesses that no podcast can match. We’ve all found those songs that make you walk a little faster, with more purpose and a new perspective, or those that peer inside your head, knock you down, then tell you something about yourself or the world you’re glad to know, if only fleetingly.

So I’m advocating for a balance between these two mediums, one that I am sure millions of people have already formulated, but that has recently escaped my grasp. I have no desire to become numb to the pleasure of a great podcast. In fact, of the thousands downloaded every day, I’m sure I will come across many that return my enthusiasm, maybe by offering hilarious banter between two comedians and lifelong friends, or presenting a disturbing portrait of an unhinged serial killer, as seems to be the preference of so many. We absolutely should keep supporting podcasting, a young mode of expression that promises to only improve as the more technologically savvy generations coming through take hold of it, but don’t let music’s appeal suffer in the process, or become any less involved in shaping our view of the world and global pop culture.   

My idea of a healthy relationship between the two doesn’t involve a designated time split or set number of hours, rather a personal feeling that I’m appreciating the creativity and artistry exuded from both. Music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have made it easier to discover under-promoted new bands, as well as  lesser-celebrated older ones easier than it has been at any time in history. This privilege makes exploring hundreds of years of musical accomplishment all the more rewarding. 

So next time you plug your earphones in, and find that your playlists feel stale, or that your podcast slate is too narrow, listen to something new. Hell, not listening to anything is a pretty valid alternative itself, probably even healthier. For now, I’m just in need of the next song that throws me down the rabbit hole of an artist’s discography and the accompanying online forums debating their musical merit. Join me!

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