In Praise of the Music in Freakonomics Radio

FreakRadioLogoI think that our engineer/mixmaster David Herman does a fantastic job of making Freakonomics Radio podcasts sound great (no matter what you may think of all the talking that interrupts the music and other audio effects).

But there is of course a lot of heterogeneity in personal preferences. Here’s an e-mail we just received from a listener:

Heard your show for the first time yesterday on Tipping.  Loved all the speaking clips and analysis. HATED the musical interludes so much that we (my husband, kids and I) cannot fathom ever listening again unless they are removed. They gave us a bad headache and were so distracting from the content that we had to turn the show off before the end.  Please consider removing them. Thanks.

Afraid we just lost a family of listeners, as we won’t be removing all music from our episodes. Happy to say this is an uncommon complaint; much more common is an e-mail asking where to get hold of the music that appears. FWIW, every time we put out a podcast, the accompanying blog post includes a transcript of the episode which lists the music.


Love the music!! That person is nuts. She probably just has a predetermined dislike for anything with drums.

Steve A

IMO the music is always fun, upbeat and suits the podcast. Kudos to David for putting together a great mix each week!


The temerity of some people is astounding. "Hi, you know this thing that you've doing for ages, long before I knew you were doing it? Well, would you consider changing it for me?"

People are ceaselessly amazing. Which I guess is some sort of byline for all your work.


Not only that, it's "remove it or I'll stop listening".

I have listened to quite a few podcasts, from several different industries, and the Freakonomics podcast is the one that has had the most enjoyable intro and break music, right from the first episode.


The music and sound production on the podcast are some of the best available on any podcast. Definitely please do not change that just because of one response.


I think you're indulging in a bit of selection blindness. That is, some fraction of the people who like your musical selections (or even one or two out of perhaps hundreds) will write to ask how to find them, but very few who don't like them will write asking how NOT to find them. So you get an illusion of approval.

For myself, I'm glad you provide transcripts so I don't have to decide. Plus I can read the transcript in less than a quarter of the time it would take to listen to the audio, with greater comprehension.


Keep the music coming, but please keep it different. When it's the same exact tune over and over, it can get old. I think a little variety goes a long way.

Steve Cebalt

The podcasts are great! Music, all of it. The listener's family "cannot fathom ever listening again unless they are removed."

I'm going to miss that family. ... but that's how the Freakonomics community thins the herd.

Odd that the whole family feels that way -- really. Holy Cow, the things that rise to the level of "outrage" for some people. Their days must be absolutely unbearable. They'll mark this comment thumbs down like they did all the others, which will amuse me. :)


Keep it, its like taking a break during a long class


I also was annoyed at the interludes. Not that the music was bad, more like, "why so many interludes? Just give me the content!" I honestly thought you were padding the podcast so you could give 20 minutes of information but still call it a 30 minute podcast.


I agree with the write of the E-mail but for a different reason; the music stretches 20 minutes of good work and analysis into 30 minutes while adding no value. The opportunity cost of the music is too high compared to its quality. It's the same reason I don't listen to NPR in general: if I want to listen to music, I listen to music. If I want to listen to podcasts, I listen to Freakonomics and skip over the music.

Steve Cebalt

P.S. I feel strongly that you should give that family of disgruntled listeners a full refund before they leave. It's the right thing to do. Refund every penny they paid.

Harry Levy

New definition of Chutzpah: complaining about a wonderful FREE SERVICE like Freakonomics for example over music that 99%(my own unverified or to be honest actually ever done study) of the people who get it like anyway.

ps-goodbye and good riddance complaining folks! ;0)


You can tell that whoever selects the music has a certain taste in music, but I've never been able to put my finger on what it is. It's not my taste, but I won't stop listening.


Love the Music! keep it up


I think the music in Freakonomics podcasts is mostly terrible too, but I'm not going to demand that it's changed. I understand that Freakonomics kinda fits into that NPR-listening demographic. NPR is actually designed to be listened to by cats. Once you know this, NPR suddenly makes sense. The music on Freakonomics podcasts also seems like it's meant for cats, so I wouldn't want to mess with what is obviously a carefully reasoned aural design element.

By the way, after typing out "Freakonomics podcasts" several times, I now realize there's a need for an abbreviated term. Naturally, I can't come up with one at the moment. Freakcasts? I'll leave it to others.

candy clouston

Reading the list of music is more annoying than listening to it.