A conversation with Morgan Bimm, Kate Galloway, and Amy Skjerseth, Guest Editors of the Journal of Popular Music Studies Special Issue “Recast, Podcast, Broadcast: Podcasting Popular Music

JPMS‘s current issue is devoted to a discussion of podcasting. This special issue—which we are pleased to make free to read for a limited time—situates podcasting as a cultural practice that engenders knowledge creation and taste-making; traces music podcasts as part of a longer lineage of material and media histories that have shaped criticism and popular engagements with music; and explores podcasts as spaces for developing critical listening practices, reflecting on music production, exposing the sonic centering of whiteness, and unpacking gendered narratives about artistry, affect, and authenticity. We asked the issue’s guest editors, Morgan Bimm, Kate Galloway, and Amy Skjerseth, to tell us more about their use of podcasts and the increasing role podcasts play in discourse about popular music, including how podcasts are being used in the classroom.

Morgan Bimm: I think at first glance, the idea of recentering sound studies and doing a special issue all about the voices and bodies present in music podcasting might seem simplistic. But the more scholars dig into this topic, the more they dig up entrenched beliefs that extend far beyond this fairly new medium. The special issue grew out of a panel that Amy and I put together for the annual, at that point still very hybrid meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) in spring 2022. I think we were both delighted but also maybe a little bit surprised by the enthusiasm and energy generated by our papers, from the audience and also from Norma Coates, who chaired the panel and who has written an incredible coda for the JPMS special issue.

Norma’s sustained involvement in this project felt really meaningful, with her being a more senior feminist popular music studies scholar who all three of us have looked up to and cited for years, with an understandably different relationship to podcasting as a newer form of music media.  

Amy Skjerseth: There’s been an incredible amount of work on this question of “what is podcasting?” (for example, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Radio, Audio Media, and Podcasting Scholarly Interest Group ran a great panel on it a few years ago). Our goal in focusing on music podcasting for this issue was to include as many disparate voices in the conversation as we could. As a sound studies scholar, I often feel guilty for not listening to podcasts as much as I should. I’ve joked with others that they’re my most “critically distant” medium. But they also allow me to put my media studies and musical training together in often surprising ways, from musings about medium specificity to pinpointing cultural biases across podcasts’ spectrum of artistic production and creativity. Kate and Morgan, do you listen to podcasts on a regular basis? What has surprised you the most about this medium?

Kate Galloway: I didn’t always listen to podcasts. I began listening to more podcasts when I started assigning them to students in my popular music and sound studies seminars to change up the kinds of “reading” they were doing. It wasn’t just because of the increased screen fatigue experienced by many of us. I wanted my students to critically listen critically to the array of sonic information they encountered in their daily lives, and for many, that includes podcasts. I hoped it would help them consider the different audiences they might be writing for in their own projects (e.g., their audience did not have to be me, their professor) and that they could explore a variety of voices and writing styles as they experimented with different forms of written and spoken delivery. I would often pair an episode of Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding’s podcast Switched on Pop with an excerpt from the book version of the podcast. Most recently, I’ve assigned Nate Sloan’s article in Contemporary Music Review, “Taylor Swift and the Work of Songwriting” alongside a selection of the Switched on Pop Swift episodes (such as “The Oeuvre of Taylor Swift” or “folklore: taylor swift’s quarantine dream”) to illustrate how Sloan negotiates these different discursive spaces that contain overlapping communities of listeners. 

Over the past few years I’ve also taken a number of extended train trips, which are great for podcast listening. It started during COVID lockdowns when I would take the train from Albany (just minutes from Troy) to visit my family back in Ontario. When the border was closed and I had to walk across the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls through customs it was a six-hour journey; when the train started running across the border again, it was closer to ten hours. In 2023 I challenged myself to conduct all personal and professional travel by train after I read Catherine Grant’s work on the cultural and environmental impact of “academic flying” and this temporal shift in my personal and professional physical movement led to an increase in long-format listening. I listened to more podcasts, curated playlists, and full albums from start to finish — and I turned off shuffle mode.

MB: My relationship with podcasts has also changed a lot over the last few years. For me, the biggest shift has happened since moving across the country for an academic job. I used to stay on top of multiple shows, listening as I was zipping around the city on public transit or — during COVID lockdowns — taking long meandering mental health walks through Toronto’s west end. Now, I live in small town Nova Scotia and drive an old pickup truck with no Bluetooth capabilities, so podcasts make up far less of my day-to-day media consumption. One thing that has struck me, however, is just how many folks come out as secret podcast nerds when they find out you’ve written something about podcasts. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned this work and suddenly someone is listing off music analysis podcasts I had no idea they even listened to! It’s wild how far some of these shows’ reach truly is.

KG: When our special issue was in production and I had our final proofs in hand, I tagged one of the podcast hosts of The Swift Talk to share the final product from my research,  just as I would share my work with other communities of listeners and musicians in one of my other ethnographic projects.

One of the benefits of launching this issue as a free issue (for a limited time) is that those in the podcasting community could continue the conversation across their social media pages or respond in their podcasts. Our special issue addresses the value and range of knowledge production produced by fans and industry professionals in the public sphere. The makers, hosts, fans, and listeners of the podcasting community typically do not have institutional access to journal subscriptions and other academic publication venues. One of the hosts from the Holy Swift podcast—a song-by-song Taylor Swift podcast and the makers of Taylordle (Taylor Swift Wordle) tagged me and remarked that this might be the first and only time their thoughts of Swift would be cited in an academic article. Why do we continue to discount and devalue the cultural knowledge, critical listening, and embodied perception of fans and other kinds of listeners in popular music studies? Why can’t fan knowledge in the form of a podcast, a fan forum post, or an Instagram reel be just as important as an observation I make as an academic who happens to also be a fan? In a way, this issue is also a call for scholars and podcasters to work together!

AS: There’s huge potential for scholars to collaborate more with podcasters, as Stacey Copeland demonstrates in her special issue piece, and in Neil Verma’s incorporation of interviews with Kaitlin Prest for his article “Pillow, Talk: Kaitlin Prest’s The Shadows and the Elements of Modern Audio Fiction.” We can also include creators in the classroom, as Briana Barner does in her Black Podcasts class (#BlackPodClass) at the University of Maryland, where she invites creators to speak with her students; contributor Anjuli Joshi Brekke also teaches courses in community-based podcasting and digital storytelling at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. In the classroom and in scholarship, the question of audience is so important — who are we speaking to, and how and why? By inviting creators into our conversations and also imagining them on the other side of our computer screens as we write, we can build academic and pedagogical futures that give a broader view of what scholarship can be. 

MB: I also think we do ourselves a disservice when we think about these categories of podcaster and scholar being entirely distinct identities, when the truth is somewhere closer to a lumpy Venn diagram. A lot of the best podcast scholars are interested in the field because they are also creators. There are also those scholars who have realized the potential in podcasts as a form of knowledge mobilization, not to mention one that challenges a lot of the rigidity and gatekeeping endemic to more traditional forms of academic publishing. The Amplify Podcast Network here in Canada, a project managed by special issue contributor Stacey Copeland, is a great example of this type of innovation. Amplify has partnered with Wilfrid Laurier University Press to explore this idea of peer-reviewed podcasts and offering aspiring scholar-podcasters training and resources, which I think offers a really expansive model for how academia might embrace podcasts as part of this bigger shift towards public scholarship.

AS: I’m also inspired by all of the work that’s been done to include graduate students on podcasts (Phantom Power, for example, which I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of) and to create networks that especially have had virtual lives in the past few years. There have long been conversations in our various fields—music, media, and more—about the difference between scholars and critics. And that conversation keeps resurfacing, most recently with Conde Nast’s decision to fold Pitchfork into GQ. With so many scholars voicing their support for Pitchfork, whether they got their start there or continued to submit articles, we must remember how crucial it is to not gatekeep boundaries between cultural intermediaries, but to be in community with one another. And there are so many ways of doing this work. I love special issue contributor Alyx Vesey’s playlists, which gorgeously interweave scholarship and criticism. Digital and pandemic landscapes have instigated new ways of breaking down traditional boundaries, including how we collaborate. So much of the special issue work was done entirely virtually because the editors were in three different countries and time zones. Morgan and I only met face-to-face at SCMS in Denver in spring 2023, and Kate and I met face-to-face in December 2023. It wasn’t only an interest in music podcasts and such audio intimacies that brought us together, but a deep fascination with new ways of doing scholarship and collaboration.

KG: One of the reasons I find podcast studies fascinating is the porous categories of the listener/podcaster, fan/podcaster, and artist/podcaster. Our work on this special issue made me think deeply about who are the podcast creators, who are the listeners, where do these identities overlap, and what kinds of knowledge do they offer the podcasting discourse? I was re-watching the episode “Fan Fiction” from Season 1 of Only Murders in the Building on the train back to Troy last week for the start of the semester  and remarked on their accurate yet satirical portrayal of podcasting, specifically true crime podcasts (e.g., Serial) and podcast fans. One of the fan-listeners, Sam, a self-described “day one” fan who asks: “What does it mean to be a fan of something?” And for this fan it means undying, absolute loyalty, for others the heated anticipation of the next episode and inside perspective,  while for others in the group it means the ability to critique the podcast, but do so from a loving place. The small group of diehard podcast fans who call themselves The Arconiacs sit outside The Arconia holding DIY signs posing questions to the pod and calling out to their favorite hosts—Oliver (Martin Short), Mabel (Selena Gomez), or Charles (Steve Martin)—and the cast of characters featured in their true crime story.  When Oliver engages them in conversation, they offer insight into the case the podcast hosts are trying to break, contributing connections between clues that were not caught by Mabel, Charles, or himself. The podcast fans are the podcasters before the podcasters became podcasters. They are one and the same. This vignette from the series articulates the value of fan knowledge and illustrates some of the important ways fan knowledge is circulated and advances discourse that I encountered during my study of Taylor Swift podcasting. Both podcasters and listeners are expert listeners who are also avid fans, challenging the stereotype that avid fans are only amateur listeners. 

We invite you to read JPMS‘s special issue, “Recast, Podcast, Broadcast: Podcasting Popular Music” for free online for a limited time. For ongoing access to this and other JPMS content, subscribe to JPMS, ask your library to subscribe, and/or purchase a POD copy of this issue (issue 35.4).