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VPM Staff Favorites: Music Podcasts 

man in headphones

You might not think of podcasts as your go-to digital music experience, but there are plenty of reasons to give them a try. Whether you want to discover something new to groove to, learn more about how your favorite music comes to life, enjoy live music or learn more about a musical genre, there’s something out there for you. Get started with these VPM staff favorites.

1. Sound Opinions - Popular music/criticism

Whether you're an expert or casual fan, Sound Opinions provides smart and engaging music criticism and conversation. Hear artist interviews, pop culture and music industry news, reviews of new record releases and historical context for music trends. On Sound Opinions,“everyone's a critic” and listeners are invited to join the debate.

" Sound Opinions is a great source for learning about contemporary popular music. Hosts Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis are rock critics kind of in the mold of Siskel and Ebert. It's a lot of fun to hear them argue with each other about music or take a deep dive into a classic album. One of their recent shows dealt with how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting the music world. Another took a deep dive into Joni Mitchell's classic album Blue. I particularly enjoy the phone messages played at the end of each program, in which their listeners take them to task about the various recordings they have reviewed."

Peter Solomon, Jazz Host, VPM Music, and FM Operations Manager

Photo Credit: Peter McElhinney

2. New Sounds - Eclectic music

Daily showcase of weird and wonderful music from artists, composers and traditional musicians — all gleefully oblivious of their genres.

"John Schaefer is an institution. For close to 40 years, he has hosted New Sounds, an offbeat, genre-free, eclectic music program. Recent episodes have featured Music Based on Non-Western Forms (including music inspired by the Andalusian orchestras of Northern Africa, Indonesian gamelan, gagaku orchestras of Imperial Japan, and by the classical ragas of India), Northern Songs (music from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland), New Music for Old Silent Films, and Music in Motion (pieces without much movement harmonically or texturally, but with plenty of motoric and meditative rhythm)."

Lanny Fields, Client Services Manager

3. Tiny Desk - Live performance/all genres

Artists across all genres perform a handful of songs behind the cluttered office desk of Bob Boilen (host of NPR’s All Songs Considered) at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“How can you not love Tiny Desk? It has something for everyone and gives you a front row seat to intimate and often vulnerable live performances by phenomenal musicians and performers—from chart toppers to indie artists and from legends to newcomers. Tiny Desk provides a window into a more personal side of artists, offering a different level of connection to the music. One of my all-time favorites is Lizzo—she just radiates such love and positivity; I want to hug her through the screen! Other notable favorites of mine are Grace VanderWaal, Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers and Rare Essence—as a DC area native, I have to throw some go-go in there.”

Kate Prunkl, Digital Fundraising Specialist

4. Song Exploder - Behind the Scenes

Musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Song Exploder features “behind-the-scenes” stories from over 150 artists from Metallica to Yo-Yo Ma.

“I've always been fascinated by behind-the-scenes moments, learning what decisions led to the end product and what got left on the cutting room floor. Song Exploder is an intimate exploration into how your favorite music was created and, at least for me, helps make the songs even more special.”

Gavin Wright, Project Manager

5. Live in Concert - Live performances

Hear live shows from festivals and venues across the country. Folk, indie, soul, and more.

“I’ve always loved live music—the sound, the energy, the atmosphere. It’s electric. Live in Concert, an offshoot of NPR Music’s All Songs Considered series, is perfect for when you want to bring that heart-pumping, toe-tapping experience home with you. You can listen and imagine that you really are at the Newport Folk Festival, or at SXSW, or at D.C.’s 9:30 Club. Whether you’re into Jason Isbell, Mavis Staples, or Lizzo, well, you’ll find them there, and many more.”

Sarah Yount, Development Assistant

6. Alt.Latino - Eclectic music

Celebrate Latin Alternative music and Latino culture. Alt.Latino features music and interviews with well-known Latino musicians, actors, filmmakers and writers.

"I learn so much from host Felix Contreras—especially when he brings his picks to host Lulu Garcia-Navarro on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. He breaks down what's going on in Latin music, including everything from current electronic music to rap to pop. Plus, Contreras gives insight to what he's playing and puts things in context. He also has other radio hosts share what they're listening to. I regularly pick up ideas for the World Music Show from him and feel like I'm 'in the know' when I hear something on his podcast that I've already played on my show."

Ian Stewart, Reporter/Producer, VPM News and VPM Music

7. Piano Jazz Shorts - Jazz

Conversations and improvisations with Marian McPartland and the brightest stars from the world of jazz. This program is no longer making new episodes, but you can listen to past programs in their archive.

"NPR has of course been producing great jazz programs for years, and Piano Jazz was a public broadcasting institution. There are a lot of episodes of the program available on demand. I especially enjoyed the show featuring former Benny Goodman sideman, Jess Stacy. Stacy was the pianist with the band in 1938 in its legendary Carnegie Hall performance and can be heard in brilliant form on Goodman's recording of 'Sing Sing Sing' from that concert."

Peter Solomon, Jazz Host, VPM Music, and FM Operations Manager 

Photo Credit: Peter McElhinney

8. Aria Code - Opera

Learn the stories behind opera’s most famous arias. Hosted by Grammy winner Rhiannon Giddens and produced in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera.

“I’m a sucker for opera. Those rising melodies, those soaring violins, that vibrato! I just love it. I only recently discovered Aria Code, and already I’m hooked. Did you know that the host, Rhiannon Giddens, once trained as an opera singer? Neither did I. But once you listen, it’s clear that Giddens, known today for her incredible skills as a banjo and fiddle player, has plenty of opera in her heart. Each episode features a singer and other experts who work to ‘decode’ an aria, making it more accessible. And then at the end, you’re treated to an uninterrupted performance of that aria from the stage at The Met. It’s a great way to boost your opera comprehension and learn something new.”

Sarah Yount, Development Assistant

BONUS: Making Menuhin (COMING SOON) - Behind the Scenes

This upcoming VPM podcast introduces listeners to the talented youth participating in the Menuhin Competition—an international event known as the "Olympics of the violin." Episodes share the inside stories of young violinists from around the world: how they got started, the teachers who inspired them, the sacrifices they've made and what they express through their music. Each episode includes recordings of the featured performers made exclusively for VPM.

Learn more about Making Menuhin.

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