Cast a long shadow: Why the music business needs the podcasting revolution to pay its way

Ms Banks and DJ Semtex

At times lately, it’s felt like more people are producing podcasts than actually listening to the bloody things.

But, as streaming companies target spoken word as their next big (and, conveniently, lower-cost-than-music) growth area, it’s clear that the music business and podcasting are having a moment. Hence Music Week's podcast special in this week's edition, starring Ms Banks & DJ Semtex (pictured).

So Universal Music Group has hooked up with Wondery to “develop premium original podcasts drawing upon the breadth and depth of UMG’s renowned musical catalogue”. Warner has launched Atlantic and Rhino-related podcasts, while Sony has formed a podcasting JV with Adam Davidson and Laura Mayer.

Much of this is presumably about a landgrab: if Spotify is pushing podcasts over music (and the streaming service has splashed out on multiple podcast firms), the labels will want to make sure they have a piece of the action. And artists’ own podcasts can play a key part in positioning: Team George Ezra, for example, will tell you about the vital role his George Ezra And Friends series played in his gigantic second album success. And the format certainly chimes with the biz’s current obsession with ‘storytelling’: creating that elusive narrative that makes fans buy into an artist, not just a song.

But while the financial advantage for the streaming services in replacing music consumption with spoken word is obvious, it’s less clear what’s in it for the industry. Time spent listening to podcasts on streaming services may be time well spent but, in pure economic terms, it's time spent not listening to revenue-generating music. So if podcasting is to become an essential component of the music biz content offering, whether it be for labels or associated media, it will ultimately come down to much more direct monetisation.

With most audio free, or at least feeling like it through streaming subscriptions, the podcasts that do make money – and there are fewer of those than you might imagine – do so through advertising and sponsorship. Those are areas that some musicians may feel less comfortable about embracing. But the biz also needs to work on getting the consumers to take the leap from listening to a podcast about an artist, to actually listening to the artist’s music and generating some income.

After all, content may be king. But so is cash. For pod’s sake, everyone needs to work out a way for both to rule.

* To read Music Week's podcast special in full, see this week's print edition, available now. To read our cover story with DJ Semtex and Ms Banks, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

PHOTO: Paul Harries

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