HowSound Reviews “Song Exploder”

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I could use your help with something. I’m trying to find podcast reviews. Actually not just podcasts but reviews of audio storytelling in general — podcasts, radio, audio tours . . . I’ve done a little bit of digging (probably not enough) and while I haven’t come up empty handed, there’s not a lot to discover.

Yes, there are many, many websites and newsletters and listicles like “The 50 Podcasts You Need to Hear Right Now!” They’re typically the equivalent of TV Guide for audio. A list of shows and a description of the content. That’s not what I mean.

I’m looking for the equivalent of the New York Times Book Review or Pitchfork or Rotten Tomatoes. Something where the author provides an overview of the content but also offers insight about what works and what doesn’t.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s Transom. This site makes available a lot of critical analysis of the craft. But, the articles and manifestos here are more “how to” and educational. They aren’t reviews.

Another great resource is the Bello Collective. Their newsletter and website is essential reading. I find lots of new podcasts through Bello listicles. From time to time they venture into criticism like this article on the podcast Broken Harts.  But, reviews like that aren’t common at Bello. Though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ma’ayan Plaut’s excellent “What’s There and What’s Not: A Guide to Constructive Criticism for Podcasts.” Plaut provides a clear guide for listeners on how to critique and why podcasters should welcome those critiques, but it’s not actual criticism.

Sounding Out is great if you’re looking for discussions of sound art. It’s quite academic with articles like the recent “Hearing Change in the Chocolate City: Soundwalking as Black Feminist Method.” But once again, no criticism in the style of film and book reviews.

By far and away, what I’m looking for is typically found in Sarah Larson’s column in the New Yorker, “Podcast Dept.” Larson regularly reviews a podcast for its content and offers a critique. Her review of Case Closed, a podcast produced by a book publisher, was particularly scathing and on point. Rather than being a podcast cheerleader — as so much out there tends to be — Larson wrote of Case Closed, a true crime story:

“It’s startlingly dull. “Case Closed,” though produced by apparent masters of true crime, squanders the opportunities of audio storytelling. It’s first mistake, but not its greatest, is making the series feel like an ad . . .” (The sound quality of some phone interviews) ” . . . is that of a hostage negotiation tape — and they’re not edited with care.

Larson is clearly leading the charge in audio critique (please review radio, too!). There are now over 700,000 podcasts and counting, listenership is on the rise, and there are 24-hours a day of audio content on public media. It makes sense that there should be more critiques not just in writing but in sound, too.

Why? What’s the point? Well, for starters, how else is the medium of audio storytelling going to improve if there isn’t criticism? When Larson points out that the phone interviews are unlistenable, or, as I note in this episode of HowSound, that too many breaths are cut out of interviews in Song Exploder, there’s a chance those producers (and others) will take in those notes and up their game. Or, they may ignore the critique completely but, in the process, consider why and stand firm on their approach.

Criticism improves listening, too. Developing a critical ear is an important part of media literacy. And, I don’t need to explain why that’s important — especially these days.

What am I missing? What other criticism of audio storytelling is out there? Please post links. Let me know.

My review of Song Exploder is my modest contribution — along with the last episode, which reviewed “Stay Free: The Story of the Clash.” It’s new to me. I’m just figuring it out. If you’re up for it, offer some criticism of my approach.   

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  • skye

    8.06.19

    Reply

    Also: Fiona Sturges at the Financial Times and Miranda Sawyer at the Guardian/Observer. The Los Angeles Review of Books’ Podcast Review website: https://podcastreview.org/. And the podcast Crime Writer’s On… provides excellent critique of pods in crime/investigative category.

  • Rob

    8.06.19

    Reply

    Skye! Thanks for these. Much obliged! — r

  • Tally

    8.08.19

    Reply

    There is also Constant Listener: http://constantlistener.com/
    True, he seems to have taken a break, but his reviews are very thoughtful and qualify as critiques in the style of film or art criticism!

    • Rob

      8.08.19

      Reply

      Thanks, Tally!

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