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I wholeheartedly agree with this: We’re in the era of the “music explainer.”

But given my history and what I do for a living, you’d expect me to agree with this idea of the “music explainer.” After a quarter-century of doing The Ongoing History of New Music, the rest of the world has kind of caught up.

Music criticism is dead. Long live music analysis.

Gone are the days when listeners relied on critics for guidance on which albums to buy. In the streaming era, there is no need to read about whether an album is any good—you can sample it for yourself with just a few clicks.

Now, instead of seeking out critics’ assessment of an album, many music lovers want to hear about how songs work, why albums are constructed the way they are, and other bits of musical minutiae.

Enter the music explainer.

Today, there is a plethora of wonderful media focused on how music is made, and why we like what we like. These explainers celebrate the creative process, break down musical theory, and otherwise highlight things that often go unnoticed to casual listeners. While there is some excellent writing that fits the form, the music explainer really shines in podcasts and videos.

Here are five of the best music explainers out there right now—and a few bonus suggestions if you want to go even deeper.

Keep reading. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of The Ongoing History on their list. Must be some kind of oversight.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37898 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

4 thoughts on “I wholeheartedly agree with this: We’re in the era of the “music explainer.”

  • This is exactly what criticism is, or is supposed to be anyway. There’s a little book by Northrop Frye called “Anatomy of Criticism” that sets out the rules for this.

  • Lately I’ve started watching a guy’s videos on YouTube, Rick Beato, which is called “Why This Song Is Great” Rick is a very talented musician and great studio engineer. He can take songs apart and isolate the various instruments, but exactly how he does that, he won’t reveal. So far I’ve watched episodes about Alanis’ “You Oughta Know,” Nirvana’s “I’m On A Plane,” Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” Blink 182’s “All The Small Things,” and Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne,” in which he deconstructs and then plays, note for note, Larry Carlton’s amazing guitar solos. If you are interested in all that goes on in the production of songs, before everybody started using Pro Tools, this is extremely interesting and fascinating to watch.

  • I watched an episode with Rick this morning, where he explained at length how he is able to isolate tracks and instruments. It’s because, being a well-known producer and engineer, he has a lot of friends in the same field, so they kind of exchange and trade the original 24-track recordings of many famous records. He has done one Pro-Tools mix, which was for Linkin Park’s “Numb,” but again, he had all the original studio tracks to work with.


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