Music Remains Sidelined from “Immense” Podcast Opportunities

For many years, people have wondered, “Why doesn’t Saving Country Music have a podcast?” Many other websites and members of the media have been podcasting for a decade or more, and it seems like a natural fit for a music outlet.

There actually is a podcast affiliated with Saving Country Music. It’s the Country History X podcast that you can find on most any podcast network. It was started in April of 2021, and recently was re-stared with new episodes. But that podcast is more about diving deep into specific country history topics as opposed to a more general podcast about the big music stories of the day.

The hesitancy to start a more general topics podcast over the years has been based on two primary reasons:

1) You can’t play music on podcasts without extremely laborious and often expensive licensing deals that make it prohibitive or impossible to pull off with any sort of efficiency or ease.

2) Too many colleagues have worked for years to build up a following for their podcast only to have it completely pulled, deleted, or the threat of such action jeopardizing its future, often for questionable reasons and little or no recourse. This happened with W.B. Walker’s Old Soul Radio Show, for example.

It all seemed to be a hassle not worth getting involved in. The idea was that when the music industry finally got around to implementing a reasonable way for podcasters to play songs or clips of songs in podcasts, then I’d dive head first into the format. After all, allowing an easy way for podcasts to promote tracks, albums, and performers while fairly compensating them for their art seems completely intuitive and well past due. It’s felt like only a matter of time before that transpires.

Yet here in 2024, we’re still waiting. Saving Country Music has been complaining about this for over a decade, and wrote a dedicated deep dive into the issue in 2020 when another important and popular podcast, The American Music Show, was shut down after 452 episodes. This is a problem that should have been solved 12-14 years ago, yet persists today.

During the massive CRS (Country Radio Seminar) in Nashville in late February, a partner from research company Sounds Profitable named Tom Webster talked about this very issue.

“The potential for music in podcasting is immense. Imagine podcasts that dissect classic albums track by track, that tell the stories behind iconic songs, or that explore the intricacies of musical genres from around the world. These aren’t just hypotheticals; there’s a real, pent-up demand for this content,” Tom Webster said.

The podcast takedown issue is especially prevalent on YouTube, despite it being one of the most popular places for music-based podcasts.

Sounds Profitable has conducted research that shows music is significantly more popular among video podcast viewers than it is in the broader podcast listening audience,” Tom Webster continues. “This discrepancy isn’t due to a lack of interest but to a lack of supply, constrained by the current licensing frameworkFor the first time, more podcast listeners say that they have watched a podcast in the last 30 days than have listened to one. Yet, simply popping your pod on YouTube is likely to fail.”

Spotify now allows podcasters who use their format to place songs into podcasts. But this is only available on Spotify itself—meaning people who listen to podcasts on YouTube, Apple, Amazon, or anywhere else cannot hear or see these podcasts. You also have to play the entire song in a slot you designate Spotify to place the song in. This makes it entirely useless for a podcast that might want to only use a sample of a song, or talk over the intro or outtro of a song.

UPDATE: According to Spotify, this service will end in June of 2024.

The micro licensing of songs is something we have seen work very well recently on the Instagram format. Now anyone can take a clip of a song, and sync it up with a photo or video. It has opened up tremendous promotional opportunities for songs. And unlike TikTok, which is currently in a battle with Universal over the payouts and protections it extends to the massive label’s roster of artists, Instagram has a more reasonable and lucrative deal for creators.

Of course, artists are still only earning penny fractions each time a clip is used, but it’s the promotional factor that at scale can result in incredible uplift for a track or artist that ultimately translates into streams, downloads, physical purchases, and concert sales for an artist whose track gains popularity, or goes viral on the format. Instagram has quickly become one of the best formats for sharing and networking in music since MySpace.

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But in part to insulate Saving Country Music from the onset of AI-generated audio versions of articles, and to at least plant the seed of a future podcast when music licensing comes around, a more full-featured podcast was launched called the Saving Country Music Roundup podcast in October of 2023. The idea was to offer some of the articles found on Saving Country Music in audio form, and to delve deeper into certain topics. It would be an alternative for people that don’t have the time to read everything.

On February 29th, Spotify—who had been the original host of the podcast—sent out an email saying that the Saving Country Music Roundup podcast had been removed from all formats due to violating Spotify’s monetization guidelines. This seemed beyond strange since the podcast wasn’t monetized whatsoever. There were no ads, ad reads, sponsors, silent money partners, nothing. A monetization mechanism was hoped to be added down the road, but none existed at the time of the email.

Then, less than a minute before the first email came in, another email came in explaining that the podcast had been fully removed, and the entire account had been deleted for “suspicious payments activity.” Again, there were no suspicious payments, because there weren’t any payments of any kind, and less than a minute was given to address or comply to whatever non-issues that had been automatically flagged by bots before the death penalty on the podcast had been imposed.

A few have reached out since then offering to help to re-populate the podcast using a different host. But why? Podcasting was avoided for a decade due to the lack of being able to use music, and from fear of punitive and aggressive takedowns with no recourse. Now those fears and concerns are only exacerbated, and you still can’t use music.

In truth, the podcast environment is so cluttered and competitive these days, it may not be possible to launch a new podcast. Country History X actually does very well, because it was established before everyone wanted to have a podcast. But even if the ability to use actual music in podcasts is adopted, there may not be any space for these audio-rich podcasts to thrive.

As radio continues to lose market share and podcasts continue to gain it, it is beyond imperative that the music industry address this pressing issue that should have been solved in 2012, let alone 2024. At this point it’s not just about keeping up with emerging formats like TikTok. It’s about deciding if songs and music will be a part of the long form video and audio landscape moving forward, or if it will be virtually locked out because of the music industry is lagging so far behind the changing paradigm.

© 2023 Saving Country Music