To Podcast or Not to Podcast? Reflections from the Hosts of “Classically Black”

By Katie Brown and Dalanie Harris

Classical musicians in the 21st century are expected to continually adapt to the latest cultural and technological developments while wearing a lot of hats: artist, content creator, writer, marketer, publicist, and the list goes on. And while the rise of the creator economy has made connecting with new audiences easier and more accessible, many people still struggle to find the best platform for promoting their work and building their career.

One area of the digital space that is oversaturated with content is podcasting, though the temptation to start a new podcast is understandable. The reach that used to be exclusive to on-air radio hosts can now be attained by anyone with a cellphone. But this low barrier to entry makes it easy for people to jump into a new endeavor without thinking about their goals or the overall need in the marketplace. Choosing the right format for sharing your work and your ideas requires consideration beyond “How can this advance my career?” With the availability of so many digital platforms such as blogging, email newsletters, long-form vlogs, or short-form TikTok videos, the question becomes: To podcast or not to podcast?

As co-hosts of Classically Black Podcast, we are well acquainted with what makes the medium unique, and how to tap into its potential. Our show, which turns five years old this month, has helped us build a robust community around a common philosophy and identity.

Over 250 Classically Black episodes later, new podcasts are still popping up every day, even in the notoriously slow-to-adapt world of classical music. Musicians are using podcasting to connect to niche audiences and give listeners a look into the industry from their unique point of view. Loki Karuna’s TRILLOQUY and the Black Orchestral Network’s Black Music Seen discuss the intersection of classical music with Black identity and culture, while other podcasts like Opera Offstage or What is Opera, Anyway? focus on specific genres. Podcasts can even give listeners access to the thoughts and opinions of well-established artists. Launched earlier this year, Tacet No More is hosted by Philadelphia Orchestra musicians Yumi Kendall and Joseph Conyers. While orchestral musicians might not otherwise interact with audiences directly, the show exposes listeners to the hosts in a more personal setting.

Dalanie Harris and Katie Brown of Classically Black Podcast in cartoon form -- Illustration by Richard Desinord

Dalanie Harris and Katie Brown of Classically Black Podcast in cartoon form — Illustration by Richard Desinord

When deciding whether or not to launch a new podcast, one of the first questions you should consider is: who will your work bring value to, and how? When we started Classically Black in November 2018, it was out of necessity. We had both been attending the Eastman School of Music for two years, but had never crossed paths. This was partly due to our different degree programs — one undergraduate, the other graduate — but we also lacked a space to connect with other Black musicians. When we finally did meet, our desire to carve out a space for Black perspectives in classical music led us to create a weekly show on the cutting edge of classical music and Black culture, taking advantage of the rapid growth of the podcasting format.

But what makes a podcast substantive and sustainable? For us, it comes down to two things: accessibility and a sense of community. With Classically Black Podcast, we wanted to remove classical music from its perceived pedestal of “high art” and create a space where we spoke about it in a colloquial manner. We were determined to assert that not only is classical music accessible, but it is for everyone, and you don’t need advanced training or a degree in music to enjoy it.

We also wanted to create a space for Black classical musicians to feel less alone on their individual paths in the field. The impact and intimacy of podcasting are often underestimated, and it’s easy to overlook the ways that podcasting can create a sense of community for those who need it most. The relationships we’ve built with our listeners, whether we’ve met in person or are just coming through your speakers, would be difficult to replicate through other mediums, like writing. On the podcast, not only are you aware of our accomplishments, struggles, and hardships, but you are also able to feel them with us in the unique way that only audio can provide.

Large media outlets aren’t always conducive to telling stories that are outside of the traditional narratives in classical music, but podcasting can offer an opportunity to hear people candidly in their own words.

We are also freelance writers and regular contributors to I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, which has helped us to see the benefits of different storytelling mediums. Writing is great for sharing cultural critiques about the industry, or artistic commentary like liner notes or album/concert reviews. It can also be ideal for those seeking an opportunity to share how they engage with music from a listener’s perspective. However, classical music criticism has historically been gatekept by legacy news outlets, and as funding for classical music coverage has dwindled over the years, this group has become even more exclusive.

Large media outlets aren’t always conducive to telling stories that are outside of the traditional narratives in classical music, but podcasting can offer an opportunity to hear people candidly in their own words. In March 2019, Classically Black sat down with oboist Jasmine Daquin. At the time, we were not the biggest fans of new music (that has since changed), and thought we would have our friend on to “convince us” of all the things new music has to offer. We did our best to be open-minded, but it wouldn’t be Classically Black if we didn’t give Jasmine a bit of a hard time. After a while of cracking jokes and interrupting her, she finally said, “are you done or…” The true essence and hilarity of this moment, though being described here, is difficult to convey authentically through writing.

Being able to share thoughts and feelings in real time is another benefit. One defining trait of Classically Black is our relaxed, back-and-forth banter as we discuss a field that has the perception of being incredibly serious and high brow. A throughline that has developed over the life of the show is “Dalanie vs Katie”; there’s not really a rivalry, but more of a push and pull to see who will be more “right” that week. A recent example is in Episode 227 where we were playing a trending rhyming game using composers’ last names. Katie tried to rhyme William Grant Still with “marsupial,” which caused much debate (the jury is still out on this rhyme). Capturing this moment in writing — the yelling, over-explaining, and annoyance — would be nearly impossible.

Dalanie Harris and Katie Brown of Classically Black Podcast -- Photo by Lasalle Smith

Dalanie Harris and Katie Brown of Classically Black Podcast — Photo by Lasalle Smith

Podcasting also affords us the opportunity to speak about more serious issues that our community of listeners might be going through. We started Classically Black as students, and five years later, our listeners have followed us through several changes in our musical and personal lives. On our “Growing Pains” episode, we spoke about transitions at different junctions in our careers. Facing the fears of having nothing lined up after graduation, finishing a degree and getting your first “real job,” or managing changing relationships with our parents were all heart-to-heart, intimate conversations that hopefully helped our listeners feel less alone. There is something comforting about knowing that the people you tune in to each week are experiencing some of the same things you are.

While we love podcasting, there are certainly some drawbacks. Podcasting has become an incredibly popular method of content creation, and the recent boom brought on by the pandemic has made it even more difficult to cut through the noise. There are also podcasts that platform problematic and harmful opinions, and this new negative reputation associated with the medium can present a barrier to gaining a new audience.

Curating a successful podcast is also a lot of work. In addition to planning episodes, finding time to record, and interacting with listeners, you have to be consistent — something that may be difficult while juggling responsibilities in the already demanding field of classical music. Starting a podcast can be a huge commitment, and it’s important to have clarity on how it will fit into your life. Being strategic and intentional about what you want to offer, gain, and what you have the capacity for can help you identify the best route for embarking on your podcasting journey.

Here are a few essential things to consider:

    • How often do you want to release episodes? This may seem like a basic question, but many people are inconsistent because they don’t think about episode frequency in the context of their everyday lives. On your busiest week, would you still be willing to record an episode?

    • Who will benefit from your podcast? Your show has to benefit listeners in some way before it can benefit you. Identify your audience, what they need, and what they want to hear. Conduct research on similar podcasts to ensure that your perspective is bringing something new to the table.

    • Think about tone and structure. Making the content of your show engaging is one thing, but how you present it is also important. What is the best way to make your show appealing, and how do you keep a listener invested? What is your point of view? It’s helpful to have a few elements that are integral to your voice. Having a solid throughline for your show will allow you to delve into new topics without deviating too far from your show’s core identity.

With these considerations in mind, we still believe that if you have something you want to say, you should say it; the world wants to hear from you. There are always different perspectives that people haven’t considered and would be meaningful to add to the conversation. This is one of the reasons why Classically Black works so well. In a field where white men dominate the conversation, we take up space by speaking about classical music the way we experience it. If you feel passionate about doing the same, you should.

This article is part of ACF’s digital media expansion to empower artists, made possible by funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Learn more at and follow @knightfdn on social media.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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Katie Brown (she/her) is a violist, podcaster, and educator from Evanston, IL. She is co-host of Classically Black Podcast, co-founder of the International Society for Black Musicians, and currently plays with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.


Dalanie Harris (she/her) is a Los Angeles-based musician, podcaster, and writer. Her current research interests include intersections of music, history, and culture in Black America.