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Insider (May 7, 2021): Breaking Music

This coming Thursday, May 13, iHeartMedia, Double Elvis Productions, and Def Jam Recordings will release Here Comes The Break, which is billed as a joint, serialized, “music breaking” podcast. There are some interesting details within this project, which I’ll break down below, with one in particular catching my eye.

Here Comes the Break is described as a fictional audio series, in which a high schooler makes a podcast of the same name. This high schooler, voiced by screen actor Asante Blackk, dreams that podcasting will be what persuades his parents to take him seriously — as well as support him more sustainably than a previous dabble with internet fame — and he and his friend conceive of a show to do just that, for which they finagle interviews with up-and-coming hip hop artists.

The narrative is slick but not super realistic — you know, fiction — with the characters inexplicably obtaining spontaneous backstage access at a concert they weren’t on the guestlist for, and the first episode commits what I think are two cardinal sins: 1) making the production of studio-grade audio seem easy, when the characters turn around somewhat complicated edits in a matter of hours, and 2) perpetuating the air of exclusivity that the podcasting industry already carries, by throwing around audio jargon.

While these details might be a little eyebrow-raising from the perspective of someone who makes audio out here in the real world, there’s an interesting marketing component to the show that’s worth pointing out. The people interviewed by the fictional characters are real-life hip-hop artists, who then debut exclusive songs. It’s this element that informs the description of Here Comes the Break as a “music-breaking podcast”; it also means that the word “break” in the show’s title can refer not only to the musical element of a “breakdown” but to the novel revelation of these particular songs.

The model makes sense from an audience-development standpoint. These are exclusive tracks, and Here Comes the Break will be the one place to hear them (at least until they’re made available later, in the form of a “full soundtrack on Def Jam,” according to the press release). And while the featured musicians are all described as “emerging,” including one non-Def-Jam artist hand selected by Double Elvis, they have established followings that could transfer over.

One artist is Bobby Sessions, who in addition to releasing his own music is credited with co-writing such songs as Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” and whose episode, I’m told, is slated for sometime in July. Another is Oompa, the indie artist brought on alongside the Def Jam roster, who, on top of generating national attention, is someone I’ve seen pop up all over the Boston music scene.

Appearing on the show seems to gel with many artists’ commitment to exposure. Sessions in particular says that, historically, he’s tried to hit potential listeners through every available avenue, “whether it was uploading YouTube videos or putting stuff out on Bandcamp, printing CDs, SoundCloud, and just uploading stuff straight to Instagram.” He sees participating in a podcast as a valuable career move: “There’s a lot of people in different spaces, and you don’t want to miss out on a community of people.”

Nevaeh Jolie, who’s featured in the first episode, surmises that it’s also possible for potential fans to be more receptive to a new artist while in podcast-listening mode than they would be in other situations, since it’s not uncommon to connect personally with the personalities of hosts and guests.

“People can listen to your emotions and opinions on various topics, and if they feel the same way, they will gravitate towards the vibration, and that is the most exciting part in the podcast world,” Jolie says. “Shows like HCTB have me super geeked up to introduce new playas to my music!” Indeed, this appears to be one of the purposes of the show: Brady Sadler, co-founder of Double Elvis, describes the interviews with artists as “a platform to showcase their vulnerability and connect on a personal level.”

This is where I should note that Here Comes the Break is attempting a couple other things here, aside from the music releases and the somewhat abstract opportunity to “connect.” It’s said that the podcast also “aims to entertain, while raising awareness about mental health to its listeners.”

The show’s debut does come smack in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Month, but while the first episodes have Blackk’s character addressing his anxiety and corresponding medications early on, within the actual artist interviews, like Jolie’s, the topic of mental health is pretty light: Jolie responds to one question about writing being a form of therapy, and, in the second episode, artist Masio Gunz discusses how one of his songs explores the idea of inner demons. So, all in all, the resonance of the mental-health messaging is yet to be seen.

I happen to think the music-exclusivity bit will be the interesting thing to watch anyway. At the time of writing, even the names of the songs are still under wraps, and I’m curious to learn more, as well as to watch for any bumps in listenership for the featured artists. There’s also the squishier stuff to observe, like how a given artist feels, after producing a song, about this being how the world first heard it. In addition to Sessions, Jolie, Oompa, and Gunz, the lineup includes the artists Ohno, Stephen Moses, LA the GOAT, Saint Bodhi, Bino Rideaux, and Nasty C. The first episode drops a week from today, on all streaming platforms.