Setting the Tone: Why your Podcast Music may be Losing you Listeners

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The intro song of your podcast is the first thing your listeners will hear. Take a moment to think about that.

Regardless of how well-crafted the rest of your introduction is — whether you’ve strategically drafted and adhered to a rigorous discussion guide, or took an improvisational approach and recorded your unscripted episode ‘on the fly’ — your show’s music will form new listeners’ first impression of your podcast.

There are approximately 90,000 new podcasts added to Apple Podcasts every month. Do you want to stand out from the crowd for the right reasons, or the wrong reasons?

Setting the Right Tone for Your Podcast

On a surface level, the intro music will set the tone of the episode and your podcast as a whole.

The podcast audience now expects high-quality audio and your opening music should reflect this. As the medium becomes more and more ubiquitous, there is less forgiveness from the wider audience for poor audio.

As podcasts grow and cement their place as an important entertainment format, people expect higher production values. So, why would you not invest in the music the same way you invest your money into a quality microphone and unattractive soundproofing, or your time into an episode guide?

Remember that the landscape has changed and while podcasting can still maintain the DIY spirit of the early days, competition is now fierce as celebrities and corporate entities enter the field. Podcasters are using studios regardless of their ‘off the cuff’ branding, or at the very least are ensuring that their output is studio quality.

Listeners, meanwhile, are investing their time when consuming podcasts, but they have limited hours in the day. If poor audio drives potential listeners away can you afford not to include production in your budget?

What Your Podcast Music Says About You

It’s also important to consider the mission of your podcast. If you are aiming for a young group of listeners then classic rock or out-of-date electronic music may be an instant turnoff for them. By the same measure, if you are looking to motivate your audience, then the ethereal sounds of a harp may not be the effect you want to create.

Music is much more than a mood-setter, though. It is also your first chance to show an element of your personality. Authenticity is key to building the connection between host and listeners that all podcasters strive to achieve. As one guest said in episode 48 of the Strategic Momentum Podcast, “What people want to hear is who you are, your personality, how you talk to these people. And they really want to feel like they connect, and they know who is hosting the show that they’re listening to.”

Allowing an insight into your musical tastes up top is an easy way to establish camaraderie with your audience before you have even spoken a word.

How to Source and Choose Your Podcast’s Music

There is a myriad of pre-existing music communities — both online and offline — based on specific genres, and having a nod to one of these can create that instant connection. Countless stock music websites can provide royalty-free music for a one-time price. Practically every imaginable genre is available to sample and buy — seriously, I mean every genre — and some business-savvy sites now offer ‘corporate’ compositions, tailor-made for that professional, sterilised sound.

The best of these providers will even include the ‘stems’, which are the individual instrument tracks. A savvy audio engineer can repurpose these for any additional scoring you may require. This is an ideal way to differentiate a segment of your show, while still using the familiar melody of your intro.

Remember, the goal is to enhance the listening experience, not to not interrupt the flow of your podcast. A musical interlude that begins with a heavy drum beat could prove jarring compared to the spoken word audio that precede it. Consider using a piano or guitar stem instead.

Using copyrighted material without the owner’s consent is a major and potentially costly mistake that may be tempting but should be avoided. While this may seem like an obstacle in reaching your end goal, it can actually be an opportunity. Is someone in your network a musician? Can you send some work their way and strengthen that relationship while also benefiting from their network as they share their work as featured on your podcast?

Or maybe someone in your family has been producing music for years and would love to contribute! Being able to share that personal connection with the creator of your podcast’s score with your listeners can greatly help the ‘world-building’ element of your show, and encourage people to invest in the collective story of your team.

Creating Continuity and Comfort in Your Podcast

Listeners also like familiarity and often turn to podcasts for comfort, especially during the current anxious times we live in, when COVID-19 has swept the rug of predictability out from under our collective lives. As such, your score should be created with this in mind. A good audio engineer will have no problem layering your intro narration over the music, hitting the same timing every episode and creating those signature elements of your show that listeners will come to recognize. Just as in good radio guidelines, make sure you are not speaking over any sections of your score that includes singing, as this ‘dueling vocals’ effect will be difficult for the listener to understand.

Music can also be used to break up longer episodes, transition to and from advertisements and narration breaks, or signal the start and end of recurring segments. This is where the stems referenced earlier can really add production value to your podcast. These short pieces of music essentially become the ‘story beats’ of an episodic television show, that subconsciously lets the listener know of a change, without having to state it and interrupt the flow of an episode.

Here, again, you can reveal more of your personality or highlight the level of care that goes into your podcast. Veteran podcast Stuff You Should Know features the same transition music in most of its 1,000+ episodes, but dozens of versions of the jingle have been recorded in different styles, so that the genre of music can tie into the subject of the episode where possible. It is this level of detail that can set your podcast above the rest.

A version of this story originally appeared on the Flywheel Associates.

A writer, creator, and overthinker. I like History, Music, Podcasts, and Comedy.

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