Here at SPI Media, we love podcasts, and apparently, we’re not alone. Currently, there are 1,750,000 podcasts out there, and in 2020 more than 100 million Americans listened to at least one podcast each month. But with so many options, how do you know which podcasts to listen to?
To help you out, here are ten of our favorite podcasts to listen to as you start the New Year, covering the realms of history, creativity, leadership, craft, and much more. Whether you’re an avid podcast connoisseur, host your own podcast, or are thinking about starting one, these podcasts might be the inspiration you need as we start 2021!
Malcolm Gladwell blends deft storytelling with an insatiable desire to get at the heart of the matter, regardless of the scale of the matter in question. In Revisionist History, he uses this inclination to hold history under a very entertaining microscope. In one episode (Season 2, Episode 9), Gladwell gives us the history of the McDonald’s fry, juxtaposing his lament for the now-extinct OG fry with America’s diet-fad obsessions. In another (Season 1, Episode 7), he expounds on the history of Leonard Cohen's much-covered song “Hallelujah,” using its origins to contrast different styles of creative genius. With five seasons and counting, hours of enlightenment are at your fingertips.
Bill Gates & Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions
The best documentary storytelling leaves the audience with more questions than answers—and this show does precisely that. With playful banter and concise, detailed input from experts, Gates and Jones unpack topics like climate change, why we believe what we do, and what a post-COVID-19 world might look like. What’s especially impressive (given the weighty subject matter) is how the show manages to deliver a punch while still providing listeners with lingering takeaways. These questions are the ones most of us are asking right now, the ones we must examine deeply if we want to ensure humanity progresses positively. This show is a superb jumping-off point.
Dare to Lead with Brené Brown
Launched last September, this podcast is based on Brené Brown's best-selling book, Dare to Lead. In the podcast, she tackles big, tough topics and handles them all with grace and ease. She asks her guests questions in such a blunt but personable way (what every podcast host should aspire to!), which results in her guests offering up vulnerable answers. Many of the guests are people who have directly influenced or shaped Brené as a person, including Barack Obama, Guy Raz, and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham, so she's not just bringing on big-name guests only for downloads' sake.
In this podcast, host Jay Clouse (SPI Media’s new Community Experience Director!) does an incredible job of meeting the listener at a place where many want to be—at the intersection of creative passion and business. He talks to big-name guests about how they got where they are and the work that went into it, and somehow makes it feel attainable. We love how honest the conversations are and how at ease Jay puts both guest and listener. Episodes with Seth Godin and Matt D'Avella are some of our favorites.
This podcast is a gem! Hosted by PJ Vogt, Alex Goldman, and Emmanuel Dzotsi, the show features stories about how people shape the internet, and how the internet shapes people. Described as “a podcast about the internet,” it covers a broad range of topics, including stories about Bitcoin, the perfect crime, and the science of happiness. One of our favorite episodes from 2020 is called “The Case of the Missing Hit,” about a man trying to track down a song from his youth that's stuck in his head, but who can't find a trace of it anywhere online. A wild goose chase ensues, and it's an interesting and fun ride!
The Anthropocene Reviewed
If you’re interested in finding a fresh approach for your podcast’s format, this is a must-listen. It’s part history podcast, part autobiographical essay. Novelist John Green takes a familiar format, five-star reviews, and applies it to “elements of the human-centered planet.” This means that almost everything is on the table, from hot dog eating contests to the game Monopoly to staph infections. Be prepared to cry, no matter how tough you think you are. The early episode “Googling Strangers and Kentucky Bluegrass” is a heart-wrenching must-listen. This podcast makes us think deeply about format, and question how to take something simple—a history podcast—and create a completely fresh take.
The Good Place: The Podcast
This is the companion podcast to the NBC show The Good Place, and it’s full of surprisingly relevant lessons for business owners. A caveat: this is a TV show where spoilers totally ruin the fun, so absolutely watch the show first. In each episode, host Marc Evan Jackson interviews a member of the cast and a member of the crew about an episode of the show. It gives a great behind-the-scenes look at show production, which in turn gives a great look into the management of creative teams of people. The creator and showrunner, Michael Schur, creates a low-drama workplace where people who are good at their work get to do what they are good at. The best idea wins, no matter who proposes it. Through the course of four seasons' worth of interviews, you get to hear how his management style impacts the workplace and his team's product.
Esther Perel is a renowned psychotherapist known for her work counseling couples through infidelity, but in this podcast she counsels business partners through one-time sessions. These partnerships are varied: once-close friends who cofounded a communications company but are becoming estranged, a mother and son who work together in the mother's real estate business, and a former boss and employee moving into an equal partnership. Listening to Esther always triggers deep self-reflection. A note: this podcast deals with adult themes, and some episodes may not be appropriate for the youngest entrepreneurs in our audience.
In this podcast, host Krista Tippet asks the deep questions of life. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? The podcast explores the “intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, community, poetry, and the arts.” Tippet is one of the best interviewers out there, and podcasters can take lessons from her on how to get compelling answers out of guests. And speaking of her guests, they are a smorgasbord of interesting and intelligent people, including poets, monks, scientists, activists, politicians, writers, and more. A few of our favorite episodes include her recent interview with Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and one with the poet Gregory Orr on how language shapes our grief.
Produced by NPR, this podcast goes back in time to connect the past with the present. For example, a recent episode, “The Dark Side of the Moon,“ covers the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing and then goes back in time to tell the story of how several of NASA’s original engineers and scientists were former Nazis recruited by NASA after WW2. Another episode, “Bananas,” is all about how the banana—an exotic tropical fruit—became commonplace and a staple of the American diet thanks to a Brooklyn-born entrepreneur.
Watch the blog for future podcasting roundups to stay up-to-date on our recommendations! And if these podcasts inspire you to start your own podcast, be sure to check out the free checklist and video guide below.
Our free checklist and video guide to help you start your podcast
The Essential Free Checklist for Planning and Starting Your Podcast
The Podcast Cheat Sheet is a detailed checklist that helps you manage the setup of your podcast.
Access SPI's free business toolkit library
In addition to the Affiliate Marketing Cheat Sheet, you'll also get access to the free resource library, packed with other cheat sheets, videos, and challenges to help you grow your business. Be sure to check out the resource called How to Start a Podcast, Step by Step.