Inspired Festival: a Senior Research Fellow’s journey to creating an internationally recognised podcast

As a Senior Research Fellow at BCU for the music industries, popular music and digital culture sectors, Simon Barber’s passion for songwriting has led to the creation of the internationally recognised podcast Sodajerker On Songwriting. As one half of the ‘Sodajerker’ team, composed of Simon and his long-time friend Brian O’Connor, we spoke to Simon about what motivates him to interview some of the world’s most successful songwriters, the most rewarding aspects, and his hopes for the podcast.

Jaskeet Briah
Media and communication graduate

 Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor from Sodajerker

What motivates Simon to keep on making new episodes for the podcast?

As a scholar and as someone with a great interest in this field, Simon is motivated to find out as much as he can about how songwriting is conducted. Considering the people he speaks to are the top practitioners in the field, he delights in getting a chance to pick their brains and to ultimately make something that people listen to.

Having charted in more than 60 countries, Sodajerker On Songwriting has gained international recognition. The fact that the podcast has a listenership and that it’s popular has motivated Simon to continue making more episodes as they consistently see an interaction with their listeners through reviews and emails.

“We can’t believe the things that have happened, and that’s another reason to carry on because if that happened last year then maybe something amazing is around the corner”.

What does Simon hope listeners can gain or learn from the podcast?

With songwriting being at the core of the podcast, Simon wants listeners to understand how interesting, important, and exciting the songwriting process actually is.

“Popular music is entirely founded on this principle that people sit down and conjure up material out of nothing. Without songwriting, you wouldn’t have anything really. It’s a critically important art form and it needs to be properly understood, and I think the podcast goes some way towards achieving that and helping people understand why it’s so important and so interesting”.

Beyond that, Simon emphasises that songwriting reveals a lot about people’s industriousness and creativity, and that it can be applied to other things in life. He points out how beneficial it is for human beings and their wellbeing to have a hobby or a profession where they can make something beautiful and put it into the world. The guests on his podcast manage to do this for a living and so it’s inspiring for him to hear what they have to say, both as a music fan and as someone who wants to write songs as well.

What has been the most rewarding part of making the podcast?

Creating such a high-profile podcast has undoubtedly come with many great perks for its producers/hosts, the main highlight being that they get to speak to some of their heroes.

“They’re like mythical figures, it’s almost like they don’t exist. It’s crazy when you get a degree of proximity to those people and you get to really understand that they’re just people and essentially they’re all doing the same kind of thing. They’re all just trying to write good songs and they’re all in pursuit of that goal, and it’s just as difficult for them as it is for me or for anyone”.

There have been countless rewarding experiences for Simon that have been as a result of the Sodajerker On Songwriting podcast. For example, making the BBC World Service documentary The Secrets of Songwriting and interviewing Nile Rodgers live on stage at the Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

“I never dreamed I would sit at Sting’s kitchen table while he played Roxanne to me on his guitar. I never dreamed I would sit face to face looking into Paul McCartney’s eyes. It’s just insane. We made this thing, we kept making it and we were consistent with it because it’s so easy to give up”.

Aside from chance to meet such awe-inspiring artists, the podcast has provided the Sodajerker team with many rewarding experiences, including being awarded coverage in press outlets such as in NME, Esquire, Slate, The Guardian, and Q Magazine. Their archive of interviews has also been added to the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue so the general public can access audio files from their interviews.

“From the word ‘go’ we started getting really good people on the podcast and as a result it kind of snowballed from there. Now we can’t stop because people seem to like it and we’re still enjoying it after 10 years”.

How has Simon’s career in academia helped with the podcast?

As a Senior Research Fellow, Simon’s career revolves around researching and writing, and the Sodajerker On Songwriting podcast is another extension of how he conducts research. Using the podcast as a vehicle to speak to top professionals about the topic he is interested in (songwriting), the podcast has become a research tool for Simon to gain detailed insights into how the top professionals in his field do their work. By understanding the topic better, he can pile this back into his research and share his findings with other people.

Also, being a podcaster who gets to speak to high-profile songwriters is useful for Simon in academia because he gets to explain who these major figures are that he interviews. Consequently, that increases his reputation as someone who is seen with authority in the field and someone who is well-connected.

What’s next?

Having just hit their 200-episode milestone, Sodajerker On Songwriting’s 10th anniversary is coming up in November this year. With a few tentative plans for how to celebrate such an achievement, the team plans to continue growing and to see what other legendary songwriters they can speak to, such as Dolly Parton, Carole King and Barry Gibb.

To mark their 200th episode, Simon and Brian interview Jon Batiste for his 5th studio album. The episode is available to listen on Apple Podcasts or via the Sodajerker website.

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