A lot of people ask me what sort of aural stimulation I use in my studio. I have to admit that it used to be all music all the time for me. But roughly eight years ago I began to incorporate audio-books and educational materials (The Great Courses, etc). At this point I would say 90% of the time I’m listening to podcasts or audio-books.
Below are my favorite podcasts – and a few illustrations, created with love by me, for the best ones.
While the list certainly changes over time, and though this list doesn’t name every podcast I am subscribed to, the productions below are definitely my go-to audio accompaniments. I’m going to sort them into two groups. The first – Current Must-Listens – are at the top of the heap. The second group – Tried and True – are the ‘casts that always deliver great content and keep me coming back episode after episode, year after year.
The Greatest Generation
Benjamin Ahr Harrison and Adam Prancia bring joyful derision to our favorite Star Trek series – The Next Generation. To me, their repartee breathes new life into a series that has been endlessly parsed. Hilarious ongoing bits about Kevin Uxbridge, PiCosby, and Wesley (the boy? MY SON!) are the X factor. The quality of the production and the overall tone make this one my current favorite.
Highlight: Just start at the beginning. And don’t forget to check in with them on Reddit.
The Last Podcast on the Left
What’s got serial killers, conspiracy theories, and the greatest Jesse Ventura impression of all time? The Last Podcast on the Left does, “LIVE FROM YOUR GRAVE!” This one is not for the faint of heart. Really fun, very irreverent, and willing to make human monsters the brunt of brutal comedy, this podcast is a great mix of humor and information. This production should be considered rated R for language and explicit discussion of what serial killers – and various government entities – do. Kudos to Henry, Marcus, and Ben!
Highlight: The Illuminati with special guest, Jesse Ventura: http://cavecomedyradio.com/podcast-episode/episode21-the-illuminati/
Picking up where Serial (Season 1) left off, Undisclosed brought a granular investigation ethic and unique investigators to the ongoing case of Adnan Syed in their first season. Rabia Chaudry is an extremely educated woman and a person of distinguished accomplishments. She has advocated for Adnan and was the impetus for Serial to get off the ground. She and her team on Undisclosed – Susan Simpson and Colin Miller – have built a winning formula for compelling listening. I appreciate the sound of the podcast, the melodious voice and clear authority of Chaudry, and the sharp character of Simpson. Their second season is absolutely excellent.
See Rabia’s website here: http://www.rabiachaudry.com/
The Tried and True
West Wing Weekly
What else do you need to know? Actor Joshua Malina and Podcaster/West Wing expert Hrishikesh Hirway go in depth and behind the scenes with the amazing cast and production staff of one of the best television shows ever produced. If you love the series, what are you waiting for?
Josh Matejka and Jesse Slade host Reel Friends, an exploration of movies that is both highbrow and lowbrow. You can expect to hear as much about art house films and documentaries as you do about the latest super hero summer blockbuster. There is a nice mix of humor and serious analysis in this podcast, and a real sense of just a few friends sitting around talking about movies.
To My Future Vinyl Collectors
To My Future Vinyl Collectors is Jesse Slade’s baby. He loves vinyl and loves listening to music with good friends over beers with a hearty helping of conversation afterward. I appreciate his commitment to conducting a full listen to the album in question, immediately followed by a conversation from those who heard it. A recurring mix of friends (including yours truly) stops by for these listening/recording parties, and the variety of voices makes it evocative. Definitely worth exploring.
Highlight: Listening Party #5: Fleetwood Mac – Rumors
TMFVC Blog: http://futurevinylcollectors.com/
Star Wars Minute
SWM makes the franchise both more fun and less impressive in an interesting way. What I mean is that when you see the weaknesses and plot holes and poor choices from a minute-by-minute perspective, well, it makes you question not only your own appreciation for the movies but also the sanity of those who made them. So on the one hand you get a wonderful glimpse into the mechanics of what’s happening throughout the scenes and with the characters. On the other hand you get to parse the idiocies and embrace them for what they are – entertainment.
A true crime podcast with an international team, this venture brings a unique perspective to a genre that’s been so dominated by American voices and problems. Sometimes Rated R for descriptions of violent crimes.
Phoebe Judge crafts a distinctive, beautiful podcast that is about much more than criminals and crimes. It’s about the human condition first and foremost, and it causes engaged listeners to question their assumptions. Highly recommended.
Malcolm Gladwell explores history, meaning, sociology, economics, and so much more, all with his distinctive perspective. A challenging, forceful excursion into what is going on in the world.
This is one of the most fun podcasts out there. Geeky with a double dose of Pliny, Sawbones makes medical history – and in particular, the developments that brought us to medicine as it is today – super interesting and connected to every day life. Dr. Sydnee McElroy has a wonderful presence in this podcast, and she plays the straight man to her husband’s jokes with grace.
This American Life
The original and still one of the absolute best, TAL has one of the incredible and comprehensive back catalogs. It simply has something for everyone. My favorite episodes?
John Hodgman on The Phantom Menace, Sarah Vowell on guns, and an abandoned house in the woods.
There are many other podcasts I could throw in this list (I’ve got 22 on my device), but I think this grouping gives the best overview. What are your favorites?