Podcast listeners say the content they’re most interested in is music, but because of copyright issues few shows touch on the topic to avoid paying royalties. In recent months there has been some movement toward finding ways to grow the genre, and in the latest move Universal Music Group has struck a development deal with podcast creator Wondery. The two companies will jointly develop and produce podcasts that draw on UMG’s music catalog as well as its roster of artists and labels. Financial terms weren’t made public. UMG notes it has been producing podcasts since 2012.
“The new podcasts will serve as an extension of the compelling narratives and content that UMG is already creating around its artists, labels and catalog,” the record company said in a statement, adding, “Working with Wondery’s network of storytellers, the podcasts will provide fans and new audiences alike with deeper perspectives on artists, music and events that influence and shape culture.”
Wondery is best-known for its nonfiction work, producing podcasts like the true crime podcast Dirty John and Dr. Death, a podcast that investigates the American medical system. Its portfolio does include some entertainment programming too, like the Ellen On The Go podcast produced for Ellen DeGeneres.
UMG says the podcasts will become an “incubator” for the music company’s growing slate of film and television projects, as well as a platform to reach audiences with content from short and long-form programming from the company’s Polygram Entertainment division that was launched in 2017 to produce film and TV programs.
Survey data released last week by Edison Research showed American podcast audiences are craving more music. When asked which topics they were interested in, 39% of monthly podcast consumers said music. That was the strongest response for any genre. “Today it’s cost prohibitive to feature music in a podcast so we don’t often give it a second thought but I would submit there’s a tremendous opportunity,” SVP Tom Webster said on a webinar.
In recent days there have been a number of other music-related moves in podcasting. They include the soon-to-release Bear and a Banjo podcast on iHeartRadio that will feature an album coming together during the eight-episode series. Rhino Records announced the Rhino Podcast has surpassed one million downloads in its first year. And indie rock darlings Pixies are working with Signal Company No. 1 to produce a podcast series following the process as they produce a new studio album. The 12-episode Past Is Prologue documentary podcast series will release on a weekly basis starting June 27.
“We’re starting to see more and more of those, but really what these data are crying out for is a simplified, less draconian way to license music for podcasts,” Webster said. “If that happens, that takes the last remaining cap off for potential growth for this medium. Because most people mostly listen to music and if music can be incorporated into podcasts, then that represents a real tipping point to continue its growth into the mainstream.”