Listen to this: Between the Liner Notes, a podcast that takes you inside the music
Have you ever really wondered about the best method for tuning a musical instrument? Or speculated about how MTV got record companies to give them music for free? Or asked, whatever happened to Sharkey, why isn’t Happy Birthday sung in movies, or who invented the tape recorder?
If you’ve ever wondered about those things – or about music, history and how the two collide – then Between the Liner Notes is the podcast for you.
Why you should listen: Matthew Billy, who worked as an audio engineer at New York radio station WFUV for years before moving to Sirius XM Radio and Sony, started a show called Between the Liner Notes in 2012.
“That was a different incarnation of the show,” he said. “I started it as an interview show about people in the music industry.” The show lasted about 18 episodes, but never found a foothold with fans. “I don’t think it ever got more than 500 listeners.”
He moved on from the show, but soon found that he missed podcasting and decided to revive the show in August with a different focus. Instead of simply interviewing music industry players, he takes a topic and dives in, mixing interviews with music and information.
Whether he’s exploring Panart Records, the largest and first independent label in Cuba and the home of legendary artists such as Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot; or discussing the early days of MTV; or getting to the bottom of who actually owns the song Happy Birthday, Billy’s show is fun to listen to and typically enthralling.
The change in format worked. “The response to the show has been great,” he said. Part of that success is due to Billy’s commitment to the show and crafting elegant, well-researched stories. That, of course, takes time.
“I don’t time it out, but it’s a significant amount of time. I’ll read a book or two and if there are no books on a topic I’ll spend forever looking at archives on the internet,” he said. “I spend as much time as I need to to feel like I have a command of the information.”
That means that Billy can now wax on about the intricacies of the Equal Temperament tuning system, can tell you the Nazi-filled history of the Magnetophon, the first reel-to-reel tape recorder that realistically recorded sound, and the Great Radio Boycott of 1941.
The story ideas come from diverse sources – an article, a conversation, remembered factoids and sometimes even “a single line in a book”, Billy said. He has a list of 150 ideas in his iPhone, but admitted only one in 20 is any good.
“I follow the Quincy Jones theory,” he said. Jones gets goosebumps when a song resonated with him and Billy does more or less the same thing with stories. “I find a topic, I start researching it, and if I feel a magnetism, that’s when I know.”
Because of the amount of research and interviews each episode needs, he only releases one a month. “I don’t think I could do more than that with a job,” said Billy, who said managing a podcast and a full-time job is an art. “You use your time on the weekends, you use your time after work, you use your vacation days very strategically.”
Billy said it’s worth the effort. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of very interesting people that have had a very important impact on history and music. The opportunity to speak to these people who are heroes of mine or legendary or just very interesting people, I think that’s worth a vacation.”
As a relative newcomer to the world of podcasting – with only six episodes under his belt so far – Billy is genuinely touched during some interviews, as when the founders of MTV spoke to him about the network’s creation.
“They are all very wealthy people and very, very busy people with successful businesses that they are running, and when I reached out to them it was just this amazing, ‘Yes of course! When do you want to do it?’ That’s amazing to me.”
While Billy has what he describes as “zero background” in journalism, the questions he poses are things that every fan wants to know. “It’s just a love of the information.”
It’s been a steep learning curve as he’s figured out how to write scripts, host a show and put together a podcast. But his background in audio engineering makes production a breeze. Billy is emblematic of the old chestnut that when you do what you love, you’re never working.
“I love it. I love talking to these people. I love the information,” he said. It’s a passion that shows in each episode and one that will make other music fans feel right at home.