Robert Plant, Touring With Children, and Lennon's Last Album: March's Best Podcasts for Music Makers

Welcome back to our Best Podcasts for Music Makers series, where we set out to find and share podcasts that dig beneath the level of biography and style to get at the heart of music creation.

Every month, we’ll look back on some of our favorite podcasts, highlighting the best moments that discuss the techniques or gear behind a given sound, professional tips for musicians and audio engineers, or a flash of inspiration that might just stoke your own creativity.

Below, you’ll find the folk artists that first inspired Led Zeppelin, the difficulties of touring as a parent, and producer Jack Douglas’ stories from recording John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. Have a podcast we should be checking out? Let us know in the comments.

Celebration Rock is a podcast hosted by Stephen Hyden, a music critic whose upcoming book Twilight of the Gods looks at the generation of classic rock stars that are now aging, retiring, or otherwise dipping toward the horizon. On this episode, Stephen talks to one of rock’s original golden gods—Robert Plant.

But the conversation doesn’t dwell on Led Zeppelin’s golden years, instead looking back at the female artists in the British folk scene that Robert Plant looked to for inspiration, including Sandy Denny, the lead singer of Fairport Convention and Fotheringay that would later duet on Zeppelin’s "Battle of Evermore."

Fotheringay - Live at The Beat Club, 1970

"Sandy Denny and all that deal, you can go through so many other great British singers that are around still—June Tabor, Maddy Pryor—these people really do sing," Plant says. He calls out this performance of Fotheringay’s "John the Gun" on German television as evidence of how great Denny could be, especially alongside Jerry Donahue’s Telecaster playing.

"And of course Jimmy was no stranger to all that too," Plant says, highlighting the impact of British and American folk guitarists on his partner Jimmy Page. "I mean, he was into Davy Graham, Bert Jansch, Sandy Bull, John Fahey—all that was there. It just so happened that we had tight jeans and kicked ass as well."

"The Way I Feel"
From Fotheringay, Island Records, 1970
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Folk and alt-country singer-songwriter Laura Veirs launched her Midnight Lightning podcast to explore the challenges and rewards of being a parent as a professional musician—an often overlooked reality for many touring performers. In this episode, she speaks with Tahirah Memory, a Portland-based R&B artist and backup vocalist.

Tahirah Memory

Tahirah, the daughter of a professional jazz musician, had her father to serve as a window into the music world from an early age. She recalls that hearing him play his trumpet at all hours of the day and night was as natural as hearing the TV. Now, she’s raising her own daughter in a musical household.

"I live a great life and don’t have to work very often," Tahirah says, and that astonishes other parents in her child's life, like those at soccer games who don’t believe that she can make a career out of singing. But Tahirah, who released her debut solo album in 2015, has spent years serving as a backup singer for acts like Esperanza Spalding, Jarrod Lawson, and k.d. lang.

When she had her daughter at the age of 25, Tahirah figured she’d have to drop music and focus on building a more normal, middle-class life. But the singing jobs kept coming—to the point where, about six years later, she quit waitressing to tour and record full-time. Check out the full episode to hear her talk about balancing six-week tours, recruiting her friends and family to babysit, and battling loneliness during those periods of separation, all while striving to be an ever-present fixture in her daughter’s life.

Between the Gear Club Podcast's two hosts—producers Stewart Lerman and John Agnello—and legendary guest Jack Douglas, there are probably days' worth of good stories. All together, they've recorded a huge range of artists, including Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, Phosphorescent, Miles Davis, and the New York Dolls.

Jack Douglas (Photo by Jim Steinfeldt)

In just an hour, this episode follows Douglas' first mixing date—a spur-of-the-moment event following an argument with the Isley Brothers—through recording John Lennon and Yoko Ono during the pair's Double Fantasy album. While most producers would have been hesitant or nervous to work with someone of Lennon's stature, Douglas had already been friends with him—including during Lennon's infamous LA years.

Douglas recounts some of Lennon's particular studio moves, like using his hand instead of a pop filter when he knew an "s" or "p" was coming up, or singing five takes of a song and trusting Douglas to stitch them together. But what's particularly interesting is how insecure Lennon was at the time, unsure of whether or not to even record what would become his final album.

On the cassette demo Lennon sent Douglas ahead of the recording dates, he recorded notes after the songs he didn't like: "Oh, another shit song. I'm giving this one to Richard Starkey." Douglas says he almost had Lennon release the demo as-is, which included the posthumously finished Beatles song "Real Love," but Lennon wanted to do the record right, in the studio, with one condition: No one could know they were making it—not even the band.

For the first two weeks, Douglas would sing while the band put down the music, then take the tapes to Lennon, who insisted on working in his bed. To hear more stories about the recording, be sure to check out the full episode.

Bobby Owsinski

AudioNowcast is a long-standing podcast hosted by sound designer/mixer Mike Rodriguez and a rotating panel of audio pros that includes Bobby Owsinski, Nick Peck, and Rob Arbittier. For the last five months, AudioNowcast has been silent, but the crew's back with their 191st episode, tackling a range of topics with guest Jordan Reynolds—a voiceover actor.

One discussion that could prove useful to other freelance engineers or audio professionals centered around how to charge a client, whether that client is a struggling band or Disney. While Rodriguez says he favors charging a per-project price because it can motivate you to get the job done quickly, some of the panelists warned that a per-project rate is a recipe for doing five-times more work than you signed up for.

"I basically try to charge enough for a project that I'm not gonna want to kill myself by the time it's over," Arbittier said, adding that he once did a mix for 30 hours because a client was so unprepared. To hear more horror stories and the best way to not let it happen to you, check out the full episode.

Check back next month for our next Best Podcasts for Music Makers, and if you listen to, love, or create your own music-related podcast, please let us know in the comments.

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