Bring up your podcast game with music and sound, it’s not as hard as it seems.
Last week, we went over some of the basic background music principles for YouTubers – you can check that out here. This week we’re going to cover podcasting, and all the magic you can do with your podcast just by sprinkling in some music.
Don’t overdo it
Like with YouTube videos, overdoing music can be easy to do. Music is powerful and can do a lot to shape and harness your production, but it can also do a lot to ruin it. And I’ll be honest, you don’t necessarily need music, your production might be perfect without it. It’s a highly subjective thing, and you should sit down and first think if music fits your podcast at all. And then approach it with caution, keeping these principles in mind.
Keep in mind that music plays two roles: It’s part of your branding and it’s part of the story you’re telling. These two roles don’t always overlap. But your “sonic branding” as it’s called, can be a very important part of your production. This is part of your brand, after all, and should be done with equal consideration as you would your logo or your colors (see here for more advice on branding).
One unique advantage of using a stock music service like Create Music is that for every song, we have three or four variations that keep the feel of the song and using these throughout your work can keep it to a single brand.
Remember though, your podcast is about storytelling. So it really must fit the story that your telling, as that’s what your brand needs to fit as well. Some podcasts use entirely different music during each episode, some use the same music because they always have the same topic, and others use the same title music but change up the other fills.
The most common place to have music is for the introduction. If you have it anywhere, this is where. Your theme should be something that fits both your style and content.
You don’t want something overly complex or even long, and you should stray on the side of simplicity. In my blog on intro music (found here), I noted that your intro should be no more than 30 seconds, and this holds true even for podcasters.
You’ll want a sound that’s recognizable but not distracting. Just a rhythm or a few notes works best. On Create Music, you can find your favorite track, and then use the mixer to change it up, easily editing out the melody or only playing the melody, and then you can introduce different elements throughout.
Generally, there are a few common ways to do the intro. I’ll go through each with an example or two so you can see how it works in real life. If there’s a sponsor or a trigger warning, those pretty much always go before the intro.
Start with a lede, then cue the music, then introduce the blog.
Myths and Legends is a podcast that retells the stories of famous, well, myths and legends. Though technically a little combined with the third style, Jason Weiser has a great style. He starts with a lede – a hook statement that catches your attention – then cues the theme music. Though the theme music doesn’t seem to match the subject matter.
2 Bears, 1 Cave
2 Bears, 1 Cave is a comedy podcast where the two comedians, Tom Segura and Bert Kreischer, just get together and say silly stuff. Notice how they start. Their lede is actually a funny snippet from later in the podcast. Then they play their intro and then they start the actual show.
Cue the music and introduce yourself over the music and the podcast.
Darknet Diaries goes over the dark tales of the internet, led by host Jack Rhysider. Before Rhysider talks about a hack or data breach, he gives a very lengthy introduction to the episode over a backing track. The soundtrack very slowly fades out when the show itself finally begins.
Cue the music, let it play, fade out and introduce yourself and the podcast.
Listen here on Apple.
Forever 35 is one of the biggest Beauty podcasts on today, covering topics from unflattering Instagram photos to the joys of emptying your closet. Hosts Kate Spencer and Doree Shafrir start every episode with their theme song, an upbeat rock medley, which plays for 10 seconds. Then they begin the vocal introductions.
Longform Podcast is an interview series that gets the low down from various authors, journalists, filmmakers, and podcasters and is another good example of this. Max Linksy usually mentions sponsors or news, and then they play the title music followed by the actual podcast.
Introduce yourself, then let the music play and introduce the episode.
Code Switch is a program about race brought to you by two hosts of color, exploring how race effects different facets of society. Though it varies, Code Switch uses this format most consistently. They’ll first put a sponsor and trigger warning, then they’ll introduce themselves and the podcast. The music cues in very softly and they start the episode while bringing up the subject.
Notice how the music slowly builds louder and louder, taking up more sonic space. Then as they finish the introduction and move onto the meat, it fades back out.
The podcast Birth Hour, a show about childbirth, also takes this approach. Bryn Huntpalmer uses the same theme music every episode. She has the first two notes play somewhat loud, then pulls the volume down as she speaks over it as she introduces the episode.
For longer form podcasts, it’s often best to split it up into segments. Anything over 20 minutes you’ll want to start considering breaking it down into manageable chunks. Each chunk can be like a mini-episode and you can even link straight to it, giving the advantage that people who you’d lose at 20 or 30 minutes might pick it back up later when they have time.
There are two ways to handle the music in a transition.
Play the music first.
Anyone who’s been around in the podcast realm knows This American Life, a variety show that’s been going on so long that it actually started as a radio show (and I have no idea if NPR actually still plays it on the radio). It’s now one of the most famous podcasts around, and every episode, Ira Glass takes us through the loops of a completely different thing of interest.
They divide each episode up into half a dozen segment, and each segment starts with some music to break it up. The music is almost always related to the subject of the content, and when it’s not, it’s usually a walking bass jazz line.
Play the music through the next segment.
20,000 Hertz is all about sound (so it only fits that I mention them on a blog about sound), from the sounds of movie trailers and blockbuster hits to sonic branding.
It might be tempting to have music playing the whole time. Maybe you think your voice is lacking a beat, or the pacing lags, or perhaps there are a lot of flaws picked up in your recording. But having background music for these reasons is already flawed. Either you need to learn to make your voice more exciting, write better pacing, or get a better mic or treat your room better.
With music – especially on a podcast – less is more. Music should always be used to reinforce an action – an intro, outro, or transition. Just having it play randomly in the background isn’t something good to do. It often ends up distracting or, on the other hand, unnoticed. So don’t do it unless you have a solid artistic reason to do it. But you’ll note that even blogs about music don’t have music playing the whole time…
To each their own
At the end of the day, how you use music in your podcast is up to you and no one else. These are just some tips and links to examples, hopefully helping you along the way to make a better podcast. Cast on! And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.