Creator Download: Keith Jopling

Turning your music industry obsession into a passion project

Keith Jopling is someone who has deep knowledge and understanding of the music industry, with over 20 years of experience including former roles as a strategy consultant at Sony Music and global head of strategic intelligence at Spotify. His passion for the music industry led him to develop his interview podcast, which deep dives into the lives and careers of iconic musical artists and explores all sides of them - including the glamorous and the ugly. 

After having his idea turned down by Sony, Spotify and the BBC, Joping decided to go his own way and launched The Art of Longevity podcast in 2021 under his own music discovery website, The Song Sommelier. Since then, he’s launched six successful seasons - with season seven currently previewing - and has interviewed a number of notable musical artists including Interpol, Suede, and Tears For Fears. 

We spoke to Jopling about how podcasting caters to his creative side, how sponsors covers the cost of making the show, and the role of creative artwork in building an audience.

How would you describe your podcast?

It's in-depth, frank and honest conversations with music artists who’ve been in the industry for a while, who have survived the long game of the music industry, which isn't easy. I wanted to find out how they did it, knowing that there's no given formula. I just wondered whether we could offer any tips and tricks or a crystal ball for musicians starting out now, just by looking at those who've crossed the Rubicon into a music career. A lot of bands starting out these days would love that, but most fall by the wayside, unfortunately. 

Why did you start your podcast?

For the same reason lots of people start a podcast: it's the sort of conversation I wanted to hear with artists and I just wasn't hearing it anywhere. If you hear artists interviewed on the radio, it's almost certainly a plug-the-new thing. If they've been around for a while, since the 80s, 90s or the early noughties, they get asked about their heyday: “Hey, what was it like at the top of your career when you were a star?” I wanted to cover both those topics, but in the specific context of being a long player in the game, and still being around and thriving, getting the whole context and the ups and downs. It’s just the kind of show I wanted to hear, basically.

The Art of Longevity popped into my head [as a title]; that’s what I wanted it to be about. It doesn’t mention music, I know. Probably the first lesson of podcasting is just call it what it should be on the tin. The other candidates were Good Times, Bad Times and then there’s a song about Rollercoasters and Ferris Wheels because I wanted it to have a kind of rollercoaster theme. I haven’t had Aimee Mann on yet, so I couldn’t really ask her permission.

What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?

I wish I'd been given a bunch of technical advice, like what the best set-up for sound is, because I'm pretty useless at all that. But I’m fortunate because I had some help. I do have sound editors and I do record it, for the most part, in the studio at The Qube, West London. When I set up at home, on Zoom, I made sure somebody told me what to do. I wish I'd had just a bit more of a technical grounding in the beginning. 

Other than that, I think it was quite good not to have too much advice, because I had listened to a few podcasts. I wanted to correct all the bugbears that I was annoyed about with podcasts, like intros being too long, hosts being way too egotistical and talking about themselves and not listening to the answers, and all that classic stuff. I knew that if I could just get it going, I would be okay at not being all those things. I think that's turned out okay.

How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?

There’s me and the guest, that’s two. Because I'm working with well-known artists, I'm almost certainly setting up the conversation with their manager or their publicist. On my side, I do the recording at Qube and use their studios. I've got two editors, who both interchange to take turns – they're called Audio Culture, they're fabulous and ex-BBC, they really know what they're doing. 

The artwork is important, so we have this really characterful artwork by Mick Clarke so everyone gets a bespoke cover. It’s done in Mick's characterful style. We did have some original music recorded by a friend, Andrew James Johnson, just gifted to me, which is really, really nice. I hope I haven't left anybody out.

Do you monetise your podcast?

I'll tip my hat to my sponsors. It's a very soft sponsorship. Bowers & Wilkins support the podcast; they give me a bit of money. And they’ll be doing lots more marketing, because I think having given me a soft start for two seasons, we're agreeing that they want to lean in a bit more, which is good.

I wouldn't say it's monetised though; the sponsorship is set up to essentially cover the costs, right? Some of those members of the team get paid proper fees. We don't pay the artist. The artist might end up with a little bit of kit, if it's needed – a pair of headphones or something. But it's sponsored to cover the costs and help us with a bit of marketing; it's deliberately done that way, because I'm not ready to advertise. I'm not convinced yet that advertising would be a good experience for the show. I might change my mind as it gets bigger and advertising gets better, and longer term, I'd love to monetise it properly. But we just need to get there.

How do you promote your podcast?

The most effective way is for the artists to share on their socials, because some of those artists are quite big! Having Tears for Fears share it on their Twitter gets to quite a broad audience and we get some serious spikes. I can tell who's got really keen fans. When we posted the Gary Numan episode, we got 1,000 downloads within 24 hours. His fans just pounce on anything. The Suede episode, which has done the best numbers so far, has about 3,000 downloads and about the same in streams. Again, their fan base is just rabid. 

So that's number one. We've done a couple of paid promotions and they have been very effective. And then the other way of marketing is to get articles out there in the right media channels. I'd love to have massive socials, but I can jump on others. And I'd love to have above-the-line PR. But I have to say, when I've had a couple of mentions in the mainstream press, it's really nice for the brand, but it doesn't move your numbers, which is interesting.

What have you learned about yourself since starting the podcast?

It satisfies my creativity. And I'm really, really proud of creating it. I've stuck with it and I've made it happen. There's endless reasons why you might give up or not start at all, you know? In my case it was the challenges of time and technical issues, just having to be brave enough to overcome the technical knowledge. But having done all that, I've got the ball rolling and it will keep on rolling. 

This is a side project but it’s symbiotic with my day job, and it's given me a bit of a lease of life in both areas. I do deal with the industry, and managers and artists. I also think I’m a good interviewer. People have told me that, so it's nice to get that feedback. I've dived into the deep end a little bit and I feel there's so much more to learn. And that's very motivating from that perspective.

Who listens to your podcast?

I'd say it's very enthusiastic music fans. There's maybe three or four different audience segments, from what I can tell by looking at dashboards and things like that: the classical audience is very much a 35-plus male music fan. I've then got a little spike among the 25- to 34-year-olds, and some more even demographics – I think that reflects particular fans of the band. The bands or artists will typically share the podcast on their socials, and you can see where their audience is skewing a little bit more even. But my classic audience is probably audiophile males. 

There's one other group, actually, which is the industry and the industry diaspora. So anyone connected with music! As a lot of it's going around the PRs quite nicely, the other creators and artists are listening to it. I'd love to get that out more, because it's genuinely out there to inspire new creators who are just setting out on the journey. 

What was the last podcast you listened to?

I listen to the BBC’s Front Row podcast almost every day.