Justin Richmond, the executive producer of McCartney: A Life in Lyrics, on how hours of intimate conversations between the former Beatle and biographer Paul Muldoon turned into a 12-hour podcast.
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I’ve got a rather assorted issue of Hot Pod for you all today. First off, Paul McCartney is getting a podcast. I spoke to the executive producer of the new show to learn more about the inner workings of the two-season series. There’s a new leader at Amazon Music and a new sales partnership from Soundrise with TED Audio Collective. Also, the popular rewatch podcast The Always Sunny Podcast is going on a break.
It’s been six years since McCartney entered a confidential settlement with Sony over the rights to The Beatles’ song catalog — the culmination of a decades-long battle that ended his friendship with fellow musician Michael Jackson and led to a long, drawn-out lawsuit with Sony / ATV, which took full control of the catalog after Jackson’s death. The entire saga, dating back to Jackson’s purchase in 1985, makes Taylor Swift’s feud with former manager Scooter Braun look like child’s play. Over the past couple of decades, The Beatles have reissued and remastered a number of their iconic albums as golden anniversaries continue to crop up, including Revolver, The Beatles (the White Album), and Let it Be. Now, the 81-year-old musician and frequent lead vocalist is venturing into the world of podcasts.
Co-produced by iHeart Podcasts and Pushkin, McCartney: A Life in Lyrics is not a traditional podcast. The 12-episode series, scheduled to launch on September 20th, is sourced from hours of interviews that the English musician did with Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who was researching a book the pair was co-writing about McCartney’s past works, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present. I spoke to the podcast’s executive producer, Justin Richmond, who laid out the process for adapting hours of recordings that the pair conducted, many of which happened during the pandemic.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What sparked the idea for this show?
Well, the idea for the podcast came through McCartney’s production team, from the person in charge of special projects. The sort of system that [McCartney and Muldoon] came up with to write [The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present] is that Muldoon turns up to McCartney’s house, turns on his phone, and records a conversation between the two of them. Eventually, the pandemic happened, lockdown, etc., and some stuff was delivered over Zoom.
My read on it is that after the stress of getting the book together was relieved, they were sort of realizing that they have hours of Paul McCartney being candid in a really special way. It’s not like this was expertly recorded in the studio. It’s not as if he was sitting down to be Paul McCartney of The Beatles to give an official interview about the band. These [recordings] really have the tenor of someone sitting down with a friend and having a leisurely chat about times past. And McCartney’s “times past” happens to be, for him, The Beatles and Wings and a litany of incredible solo work.
So [McCartney’s production team] brought the tapes to us, and we listened to them and proposed a way to put them together. We spent the better part of the school year, you could say, — fall, winter, and spring — putting this series together.
What’s the editing process like for a situation like this? You’re basically working with hours of raw interview footage and editing it into a podcast form. What were the challenges of turning a conversation between friends into something that’s listenable to an outside audience?
The sort of nice thing about this, remember, is that these were conversations that McCartney and Muldoon knew were going to end up in a book. So they were focused, but just like anything else, after a while, they get into the routine and flow of it, and it almost becomes like the mics aren’t recording. They reach a level of familiarity and comfort.
To get to your first part of the question, about the editing, one of the hardest parts about editing, almost carving tape, is that you’re very aware when you’re listening to tapes from, say, a president or a head of state. This is Paul McCartney — and to understand, culturally, the second half of the 20th century, and I would argue the first 23–24 years of the 21st century, you have to understand The Beatles. The hard part of editing him was that you almost wanted to treat it like an archive. As a storyteller, because it’s a historical person, you want to save everything. But obviously, we have a mission to tell the most interesting story possible.
So having gone through hours and hours of tapes, we realized we couldn’t follow every tangent, and we couldn’t, like the book did, really drill down what the lyrics meant for a particular song.
There’s not a lot of information about The Beatles that you consider to be not well-traveled. But one of the exciting things about this series is that there’s at least one thing in every episode that I didn’t know or I found surprising and brought me closer to a fundamental understanding of what The Beatles are.
What’s one thing that surprised you the most while going through the tapes?
This is kind of a goofy one, but at one point in the series, you discover that Paul is a dog person and John Lennon is a cat person. And I don’t think there’s anything else that best describes the difference between these two people and the way they relate to each other in life and in art.
Cats kind of keep you at an arm’s length, right? Like they’re not completely trusting of you. Dogs are a lot more vulnerable emotionally. I think when you sort of look at how these two people lived their lives, it appears to be reified in their music.
What are some tough editing decisions you had to make?
So the book covers 154 songs. We had access to all of the tapes. So I guess, in some world, we could have done 154 episodes. But again, it felt like the best way to engage the audience and the best way to tell the story was to connect the songs to life events, like points on McCartney’s timeline, in either his personal life or artistic career.
We did end up leaving out “Ebony and Ivory,” which was tough. Not that it’s my favorite song of McCartney’s by any stretch of the imagination, but you know, it’s a collaboration with Stevie Wonder. It’s an opportunity to hear Paul McCartney talk about Stevie Wonder. You know, how could we not do that? We kind of beat our heads against a wall figuring out how we can make that episode.
But at the end of the day, the idea of Paul McCartney talking about Stevie Wonder was far more interesting than… it actually would have been.
Was it just a really boring conversation?
I’m always attempting to deliver on a practice and deliver it in a particular way. And I feel like the promise of Paul McCartney talking about his collaboration with Stevie Wonder for 20–30 minutes was greater than what we necessarily could do with the footage. We just couldn’t make an episode about it — it wouldn’t deliver as well as the rest of the series did. So we had to kind of let that one go.
I’m sure you know that McCartney came to a settlement with Sony over The Beatles’ catalog in 2017. Is this show an effort to put his mark back on his old work?
Having listened to the series dozens of times now, and having listened to the raw tapes, I never got the sense that he’s looking to make The Beatles about him or that this is his thing. I think the reason we’re talking about McCartney’s songs is because he feels the most — we’re not talking about Rubber Soul or “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” These are Paul’s songs that we’re talking about, by and large, because he feels the most comfortable speaking about them. I don’t think he wants to get into speaking for John, and I don’t think he wants to claim The Beatles fully for himself.
On its face, I think this is a way for him to set the record straight on some things. There’s just certain things about the lyrics that have been misinterpreted over the years. And not just even maliciously, you know. Kind of innocently, even.
What songs are the most misinterpreted?
I feel like I want to say “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” but hold on. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is an interesting one. I don’t know if it’s the most misinterpreted, but I think it’s an overlooked song because it’s viewed as lacking the amount of depth that people look for in other songs by The Beatles. I don’t want to give too much away, but the origin of Paul’s inspiration for the song came from an old BBC radio play that was about a decade old when the song was written. It’s a very bizarre production of that play that I think would have spoken to most people who were stoned in the ’60s. And I think the song actually has more depth to it than people give it credit for — the episode that focuses on it is one of my favorites.
Amazon Music’s streaming service is getting new leadership. Ryan Redington will helm Amazon Music as general manager, taking over for Steve Boom, Amazon’s vice president of audio, Twitch, and games. Podcasts and radio will still be under current leadership; Jen Sargent (chief executive of Wondery) and Amp vice president John Ciancutti.
Redington has been at Amazon for almost 15 years and helped to launch what was then called Prime Music back in 2014. Redington led the music industry segment of Amazon Music for the past several years. Boom says he’ll still be involved, overseeing “our network of digital entertainment teams,” which includes the Amazon Music and Wondery divisions.
PRX will continue to be the official distributor for TED Audio Collective, which includes shows like TED Talks Daily, How To Be a Better Human with Chris Duffy, and Re-Thinking with Adam Grant. But today, the public media organization announced that the podcast ad firm Soundrise will serve as the official sales partner for TED’s entire group of podcasts. PRX, Soundrise, and the TED Partnerships team will work with brands on sponsorship deals throughout TED’s entire ecosystem — including conferences, talks, social media, and digital video.
Market Enginuity Podcast Group spun out Soundrise last fall into a standalone company that does sales, marketing, and operational infrastructure for podcast creators. Back in January, the firm nabbed industry veterans Jay Green and Lovlyn Corbett to serve in key leadership roles. Unlike podcast ad behemoths, Soundrise’s focus has been on independent creators and “values-aligned” brands. In other words, pairing premium, public-radio-esque shows like The Moth Radio and This American Life with the type of advertisers that want to reach their educated and affluent listeners. Soundrise is already the sales partner for a number of PRX shows — so including the PRX-distributed TED Audio Collective makes practical sense.
A popular rewatch podcast for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia hosted by cast members Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, and writer Megan Ganz is going on a break. The show announced the news on Twitter on Monday but cited no reason for the pause. The podcast announced a live tour in June, and tickets for events in Philadelphia and New York City are on sale. Hot Pod reached out to the show to inquire about the future of the live tour and the reasoning for the show being put on pause.
The ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike has put many rewatch and pop culture podcasts in a tricky position given the strike order’s ban on SAG actors promoting past or current work in the media. While it’s unclear how strictly this will be enforced by the union, Hot Pod has spoken to a number of podcasts that are either changing out SAG guests or putting episodes on hold in order to avoid violating the strike order. Meanwhile, other rewatch podcasts appear to have made no change in their programming — a new Bones rewatch podcast hosted by cast members Emily Deschanel and Carla Gallo, Boneheads, is scheduled to launch tomorrow. Hot Pod has reached out to the union for clarification on celebrity rewatch podcasts.
Adding to the confusion over the show being put on hold was a tweet last week from McElhenney in which the actor disclosed that he was recently diagnosed with a number of neurodevelopmental disorders and learning disabilities. The actor said he planned to elaborate in a future episode of The Always Sunny Podcast to come out next week. “It’s not something that I would normally talk about publicly but I figured that there are others who struggle with similar things and I wanted to remind you that you’re not alone,” he wrote. The show, which is by Megawatt Productions, normally publishes new episodes on Mondays — but it didn’t release a new episode yesterday.