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Daft Funk, TikTok music, canceling Beethoven

Charlie Harding (Switched on Pop)

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Musician and Switched on Pop co-host Charlie Harding
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Charlie Harding says he "procrastinates" by watching YouTube videos about sound design. But it's not an aimless hobby, because Charlie is a musician and the co-host of Switched on Pop, Vulture's podcast about the making and meaning of popular music.

"Reporting on music, I'm like, 'I need to understand every little thing about how the songs are made,'" he says. "I frequently will actually recreate songs before I think about how to report on them, because I almost want to get inside the creative mind of the person making it."

Today on Follow Friday, Charlie talks about four of his favorite people he follows online:

  • Someone who makes the internet a better place: Scary Pockets, @scarypockets on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
  • Someone he's jealous of: Cat Zhang, @CatZhang1 on Twitter
  • Someone he has a crush on: Bess Kalb, @bessbell on Twitter
  • Someone who's an expert in a very specific niche he loves: Dan Worrall, @DanWorrall on YouTube
Thank you to our amazing patrons: Jon, Justin, Amy, Yoichi, Elizabeth, Sylnai, and Matthias. On our Patreon page, you can pledge any amount of money to get access to Follow Friday XL — our members-only podcast feed with exclusive bonus follows.

That feed has an extended-length version of this interview in which Charlie talks about someone he wants to be friends with: Musician and comedian Reggie Watts.


This show is a production of, hosted and produced by Eric Johnson

Music: Yona Marie

Show art: Dodi Hermawan

Social media producer: Sydney Grodin
Full transcript of this episode
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ERIC JOHNSON: Hey, have you checked out the website recently? If not, then go take a look at, because I've been making some improvements over there. I'm making it easier to find each episode of the show in your favorite podcast app. And I've also added a brief explanation of the Follow Friday Patreon page over on the homepage.

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That said, if you can donate over at, then you will unlock an extra long version of today's interview with Charlie Harding from Switched on Pop. That extended interview includes a bonus follow that you won't hear in the public feed. If you're listening to this episode in the Patreon feed and you've already heard the first four follows, then check the shownotes for the time of follow number five.

No matter how you show your support for Follow Friday, I really appreciate it. So, thank you. And now, here's the show.

[theme song]

ERIC: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, the podcast about who you should follow online.

Every week, I talk to creative people about who they follow, and why. This is a guided tour to the best people on the internet, led by your favorite writers, podcasters, comedians, and more. If this is your first episode of the show, take a moment now and please follow or subscribe in your podcast app.

Today on the show is songwriter Charlie Harding, the co-host of the Vulture podcast Switched On Pop. On every episode, Charlie and his co-host musicologist, Nate Sloan, pull back the curtain on the making and meaning of popular music. You can find Switched On Pop wherever you listen to podcasts, and on Twitter and Instagram @SwitchedOnPop. And you can find Charlie on Twitter @charlieharding.

Charlie, welcome to Follow Friday!

CHARLIE: Thank you! Hello!

ERIC: So glad to have you here. I want to start by talking about a mini-series of episodes that you and Nate are currently running on Switched On Pop about one of our greatest living icons of pop music, Britney Spears. And I do mean that earnestly.

I specifically wondered if you have any thoughts about how the internet has shaped Britney's career, this being a podcast about internet culture. Because she came up in the Napster era and then the recent end of her conservatorship was basically a holiday on Twitter, it felt like. Do you have any thoughts on how being a star in this age shaped her as a musician?

CHARLIE: I'm going to have to go out on a limb here because the conceit of our entire series was that she's the most overexposed figure in celebrity culture. And the thing that we have not been doing is paying attention to her music. So we just went back and listened to all of her biggest songs and intentionally ignored the larger sort of meta-narrative around her identity.

That said, there are two major ways that the internet has shaped our relationship with Britney Spears. One is I think it's important to note that she launched at the height of the CD era. And one of the challenges for people who were CD-era artists is that billboard ranking, sales, engagement, all the tools to get your music heard, fundamentally changed. Not just with Napster, but also with streaming.

Maintaining a dedicated audience, moving from CDs into streaming has been very challenging for people. And you can see it in her releases. The latest albums haven't performed as well.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fandom around #FreeBritney who have played a significant part, not just in the awareness and ending of her conservatorship, but, I think, raising awareness about conservatorship more broadly. That could never have happened without internet communities.

ERIC: And then looking at other musicians who are active today, who do you think is a pop musician who's either the best at using the internet or just especially linked to the internet? Because I feel like Britney kind of spans these two eras in culture and in music. But I guess thinking about internet-native musicians like Lil Nas X, or Lizzo, who do you think is the best at the internet?

CHARLIE: I think the best person on the internet, regardless of being a musician, is undeniably Lil Nas X. He knows how to hack people's brains for awareness and to manufacture controversies that are often quite humorous, but also have deeper meaning.

With his song, MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), he is seen dancing on the devil and the religious right had a heyday on Twitter. Then the queer community was like, "Well, actually, this is the most amazing song we've ever heard." And you create these two vying groups online talking about this singular object, around his song, and he's just sitting back happy.

So I think Lil Nas X is the best. And then there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of very talented people who build niche audiences in music that I couldn't name. Maybe a good example of that would be someone like, not niche, Adam Neely.

I say not niche because he has millions of followers across YouTube and other platforms. But he's a YouTuber who does the most in-depth stories about music theory, which you would think would be super niche. But the way that he reports them is so good that he has both Berklee School of Music graduates listening and watching his show, as well as people who know nothing about music.

So there are ways that people are able to find these super niche little categories. There's a YouTuber I know who makes guitar pedal demos on the harp. And it's a very popular channel. A lot of people pass through it. So I think there are so many that I can't name beyond that, because they're serving 5,000 people, very dedicatedly.

ERIC: That's a really good point, which is, what we used to consider to be the breakout success of topping the Billboard charts and all that. That's not necessarily the most important metric right now in terms of what success looks like online. You can have the most hardcore, passionate online fans, and that may be all you really need.

CHARLIE: I hate the term "creator" because I think it's too broad and often fails to capture ...

ERIC: I go back and forth on this.

CHARLIE: It doesn't capture people's particular talents. Like, if you're an extremely talented musician, you're not a "creator." You're a musician, but you probably are having to create videos and other things that engage people.

That said, creators have created meaningful competition to top celebrities, such that they are having to mimic and participate in those same platforms. The best example would be Jason Derulo, a pop star who is now a TikTok icon. He was like, "All right, I'm getting it on these dances because if I want to maintain relevancy and have a longer pop career..."

A pop career is probably a lot like the NFL draft; you're lucky if you get a couple of seasons and. So you see the biggest celebrities in the world are now mimicking what — sorry — content creators have been doing for years.

ERIC: Yeah. If you want to hear more of Charlie talking about music, you've got to go listen to Switched On Pop. For now, let's find out who Charlie Harding follows online.

You can follow along with us today. Every person he recommends will be linked in the show notes and in the transcript at

Charlie, before the show, I gave you a list of categories and I asked you to tell me four people you follow, who fit in these categories. Your first pick is in the category, "someone who makes the internet a better place". And you said Scary Pockets, which is on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @scarypockets.

This is a funk band. I had never heard of them, but I realized that I have actually met one of the people who's in it. But first, let's talk about the band. What's the deal with Scary Pockets and why do you love it so much?

CHARLIE: Scary Pockets, I think, are the most fun cover band on the internet. They are a mashup of so many different concepts that are so well executed. A, cover songs on YouTube: Wildly successful. Very well done, cover songs in a funk style: Even more successful.

And then add in some of the Internet's best musicians. Some of these people that we were talking about before, maybe they don't have millions of followers, but they might have hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands, thousands, and they are wildly talented. What Scary Pockets does is they take a well-known song, bring in special guests to join the amazing house band, which is made up of some of the best session musicians and players in Los Angeles.

Then you get this special guest who brings in their own audience. And every single video, you're gonna get an amazing cover of a song you love. Like, I love The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army version that features Elise Trouw, who is one of my favorite YouTube creators.

[clip from "Seven Nation Army," as covered by Scary Pockets]

So you put this all together and it's just the best party in a video that you can find. And if you ever actually need a playlist of totally party-safe music, you just throw on any Scary Pockets music in the background, and everyone's going to be happy.

ERIC: You mentioned that these are really talented session musicians. Could you briefly define, what is a session musician?

CHARLIE: A session musician is someone who is remarkably talented, who can play basically anything, and gets pulled into recording sessions — usually in the major music cities, so Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, New York, London — when another major artist needs, "Hey, I need some drums on this song and we don't have a drummer in our band."

They call in a session musician. Session musicians often play on thousands and thousands of records and they never get the credit that they deserve, but they are behind the things that you love.

ERIC: A lot of these session musicians and special guests who appear in these videos ... and then there are two permanent members of Scary Pockets, Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte. And depending on your bubble, you might know Jack as the CEO of Patreon or from his other band, Pomplamoose.

How did you get introduced to Scary Pockets? Was it through one of those musicians, or one of the session musicians? How did you become a fan?

CHARLIE: It was through Jack, because I had followed his original band, Pomplamoose, and they did a lot of really fun covers. They also did a lot of original material. Maybe it's a little more laid back or tame? It's the mellower version of Scary Pockets, and the energy of Jack Conte, who I don't know exactly how he works today, but at one point he was only making a salary as a creator on Patreon, even though he was also the CEO. He's an amazing pianist and he's a ball of joy to watch.

So he created Scary Pockets and I inevitably was going to start following it. But it's more like it keeps finding me, because of all of these other guests that they have on the show or songs that I like. It's algorithmically very successful, I think, because it's just always in the constellation of other things that I like and then it gets recommended to me again and again.

ERIC: Yeah, the YouTube algorithm. It will keep on hunting you forever. How does Scary Pockets make the internet a better place? And what is something that the rest of us can learn from their example?

CHARLIE: Ooh. Primarily, that it's just fun. The people who are participating in it are full of ecstatic joy. That's sort of the starting place, and then it adds on the fact that they are savvy and know everything that they're doing, I think, very effectively. Such that when they do these sessions, they bank a ton of songs. They do a ton of songs in a single recording, so that they have a bunch of video to put out over time because it's very highly produced, which is expensive.

So they figured out how to make something very good in a reasonable way. I think that just very talented people having a good time translates really well for me. It's not too serious, it's very silly, but it's really good.

ERIC: Generally the best way, if you're a, to use the word again, "content creator" online, and you're trying to keep costs down, you can do something by yourself or you can do what I'm doing, where I interview a different person, or what you and Nate do where you're two co-hosts. And sometimes it's just the two of you on the episode.

That's the classic way of keeping costs down. But I love the Scary Pockets' model of, "No, we are going to bring in these extremely talented folks you haven't heard of, and we are going to commit to that as the model for these videos."

CHARLIE: There's not a lot of people that play effectively to the algorithm, where I think that the algorithm somehow enhances the material that they make. And yet, I think they've threaded this needle, where actually this is just what I want. And it serves the YouTube algorithm very successfully.

I don't mean to be a total cynic, but I find that my TikTok algorithm has a very particular aesthetic, which doesn't give a lot of space for long-form thought-out discourse, which is why I love podcasts. And the format is not meant for that. And so instead, we get a lot more irony and silliness and fun, all things that I also want in my life.

But the algorithm often, I think, leads towards formats that ... the medium is the message, if you will. And I think in the case of Scary Pockets, they have married those things effectively.

ERIC: Definitely. Well, before we move on to your next follow, I just want to jam for 30 seconds. Other than Seven Nation Army, which you mentioned earlier, what's another Scary Pockets song that you love? And what makes it so great?

CHARLIE: Oh my gosh. Well, now we just have to go look at them because they're countless. I watch them all the time! I just watched a cover of Julia Michaels' Issues the other day, which I loved.

I'm just scrolling through the ones that I have recently viewed.... A, there's way too many. Now, I actually just want to go and watch all of them.

ERIC: We're gonna pause the podcast for two hours while we all go catch up on Scary Pockets.

CHARLIE: Okay, here's my favorite one. My favorite video is their version of Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. Done on a rooftop, and the lead player is playing talk box, which is where you put this funny tube in your mouth and you play a keyboard, and it makes this wild sound.

It's like Daft Punk, who, when they made their 2013 album Random Access Memories, pulled back all of the electronics, and were like, "Actually, we're a disco band." The version that Scary Pockets does is like, "Well, actually, Daft Punk is a funk band." It's the best.

[clip from "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" as covered by Scary Pockets]

ERIC: Well, that was Scary Pockets, which is on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @scarypockets.

Charlie, let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for someone that you're jealous of, and you said Cat Zhang, who is on Twitter @CatZhang1. Cat is an award-winning assistant editor at Pitchfork, and she specifically covers the intersection of music and internet culture, which means I should probably get her on this show ASAP. But why does she make you jealous?

CHARLIE: Just because she finds stories that I wish I'd covered. There are people who work in your field who you're always watching like, "Wow, you got the story that I wish I'd found." I think that she not only reliably does that but also has a way of thinking about the role of the internet and music in a way that I'm never capable of doing.

What I mean specifically is that she frequently covers the TikTok beat, which I think is an extremely hard thing to cover. A, because we all have specific algorithms. So, how do you know how to cover TikTok? The actual navigating is hard enough.

But TikTok puts me in a total malaise, an absolute stupor. It's the thing of just melt-the-brain escapism. And she's able to apply the critical theory level of thinking around what's happening on TikTok and then write highly entertaining, very well-done journalism about TikTok culture.

ERIC: Because there are certain songs that I think of as TikTok songs that are more like meme songs, where they're playing underneath videos. But it's also this incredibly important launching platform for new artists. This is the place where they are all fighting it out now to get noticed: Can their songs be used in a TikTok video?

CHARLIE: Totally. I think that most "how did a song happen via TikTok" stories are not interesting. Because it's like, there was a song, someone made a silly video, that silly video went viral, that became a trend, that song is now huge.

That story has been told many times, and people have made music careers out of it. Now, it is like trying to play the lottery. It's a very hard thing to get that to happen. The story around it's not that interesting, whereas Cat is going to be like, "Let me tell you why this song on the Billboard in the 1980s, this Japanese city pop song that has not had a major life in forever, actually has much larger cultural resonance, where it comes from, why it's happening. It's not completely random. And I'm going to write a 10,000-word feature-length article about it and totally blow your mind."

Now, full disclosure, we had Cat come on our show and re-report that story to us about Japanese city pop.

ERIC: Okay. Here's another thing you're going to have to define. What is Japanese city pop?

CHARLIE: Japanese city pop is a genre of music that was very big in the 1980s that is a very laid-back, groovy kind of thing. It is its own music. You might feel some genre connections to disco, fusion, jazz, new wave, maybe even yacht rock. It was like peak 80s, Japanese economy's booming; it feels like 80s music.

ERIC: Right. So, it's come back, thanks to the internet, thanks to TikTok and other folks who have found a way to incorporate the sound of city pop into new music that they're making, right?

CHARLIE: There's a whole little mystery that you have to uncover. And I'm not going to tell you this one right now because you're either going to have to go read Cat's article about the history of Japanese city pop, or you can listen to her on our show.

ERIC: Yeah, spoilers. Without spoiling anything too grand, what's something from one of Cat's appearances on your show either about TikTok or about city pop, what's something that she has taught you that has surprised you, blown your mind?

CHARLIE: She first came on the show a couple of years back to report on when TikTok was having its first wave. And she was able to define some very particular aesthetics that exist on TikTok, particularly, that there is a desire to show things in a very DIY way.

We see artists like Lil Nas X going on TikTok with the blurriest background, nothing high fidelity. The music that was preferred on the platform started to mirror that.

Specifically, people would create bass that sounded really bad; earth-shaking, distorted, kind of like what bad bass sounds like coming out of your iPhone or out of your laptop. They would actually want that sound to be the sound in the underlying track, because it sounded more "real," if you will.

So I think that the visual component of TikTok has had a very significant impact on the kinds of sounds that people want to hear. Less polished; it sounds like you could have just done it in your bedroom or recorded it with your phone.

ERIC: Is that of a piece with that YouTube video that everyone watches, "lofi beats to study and relax to" or whatever? Is that lo-fi, is that the same thing? Or musicologically, is that a different thing?

CHARLIE: I think that's a different phenomenon because that's more of a YouTube phenomenon. We've reported on that one as well. That's more people truly needing something to do in the background.

Obviously, a lot of music on TikTok is in the background, but one of the other trends that she talked about is that a great TikTok song often needs to have a significant moment of change, or some funny sound effect that would then accompany a strong visual moment. It's kind of like music that works well with slapstick comedy.

ERIC: Yeah. Going back to Lil Nas X again, like Old Town Road, the song that made him crazy famous, it has that drop, where suddenly the song shifts from, "This plausibly could be a country song" into, "No, this is a proper hip hop beat."

CHARLIE: Exactly. And that's just when a content creator is going to make some wild visual change in their video.

ERIC: Exactly. That's when everyone turns into cowboys for the Yeehaw Challenge.

Well, before we move on to your next follow, is there anything else that we should say about Cat? Anything else about her writing or anything else that makes her such a great follow?

CHARLIE: Yeah. I think for a lot of people, following music can be a kind of inside baseball. A lot of Pitchfork was developed off of sub-scenes of music of people who are really dedicated to reading blogs.

I think everybody should read Cat's writing, because she has a way of connecting music to larger issues within culture, and it's so smart, so well-researched, and so well-written that it's music writing that everybody should read.

ERIC: Very well said. Well, that was Cat Zhang, who is on Twitter @CatZhang1. We are going to take a quick break now, but we'll be back in a minute with Charlie Harding from Switched on Pop.

[ad break]

ERIC: Welcome back to Follow Friday. Charlie, let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for someone you have a crush on, and you said Bess Kalb, who is on Twitter @bessbell.

Bess is an Emmy-nominated comedy writer and the best-selling author of Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, and you are also being incredibly cute and charming because Bess is also your wife. But you have to convince the rest of us here! What makes her a great person to follow online?

CHARLIE: Well, she is the funniest person on Twitter. I feel like I have the unique privilege of getting to watch someone who is immensely funny go through their creative process. If there's ever a decent joke on my show, it's probably because I ran it by her.

She used to write late-night television. And you can take any topic and be like, "Joke." And she'll just be like, "Here's a list of 15 jokes." When Nate and I put out a book version of our podcast, also called Switched on Pop, "What would be some great alternative, comedic titles to the show?" Then Bess was just pitching idea after idea. I have to pull them up. Let me see if I can find them, please.

ERIC: Oh yeah, please do. Instead of Switched on Pop, these were her ideas for what you should call the book?

CHARLIE: Exactly. All right. I'm going to have to do a deep scroll back on my Twitter feed. Here we go. Is this it? C'mon ... Yes! I got it.

ERIC: Okay. Hit me.

CHARLIE: "For whom the Beyonce Knowles." This is terrible. "Harry Popper and the Prisoner of Jazz-Ska Bands." "Harry Popper and This Goblet's on Fire." "Harry Popper and the Order of the French band, Phoenix." "Harry Popper and the Half-Blood Artist Formerly Known as Prince." "A Tale of Two Swifties." "The Bandmates' Tale." "The Handmaid's Taylor." "Freak Harmonix." I basically said, "Can you give me your absolute, most ridiculous puns?"

ERIC: Oh my God. It's amazing. I'm an appreciator of all puns, ridiculous and not.

CHARLIE: "The Beauty and the Beastie Boy." "Heart of the Darkness, the band The Darkness." "Fahrenheit 451 Direction." I think the book would have sold better if we used one of these puns.

ERIC: That one probably would've sold pretty well, I think. Yeah.

CHARLIE: She's great at coming up with endless variations on various silly little jokes like that. But her Twitter feed is probably the most fun place to follow because it's a great combination of vary astute political commentary, but always framed with great comedic irony.

ERIC: I was cracking up at some of her jokes about your kids. She recently tweeted: "Everyone shut up. Due to a miscommunication, my kid thinks I write Peppa Pig and he's been really nice to me all day. So I need you all to go with it and reinforce it should we ever meet out on the street." How did you and Bess meet originally?

CHARLIE: This is probably on-brand. Not many people know this. We met at the end of college, but one of the places that we really first bonded was singing Taylor Swift karaoke, the song Love Story. So I think it was just made to be. That's what did it, that sealed the deal.

ERIC: Thanks, Taylor.

CHARLIE: Taylor's done a lot for my career. The podcast was just a fun project that we started. And then as soon as we started covering stuff by Taylor, all of a sudden, the show just blew up.

ERIC: You mentioned that you get to be an audience to her process as a comedian. Does she run jokes by you the way that you ran jokes by her for Switched on Pop, just to get a laugh or not? What does that process look like from the other side of the Twitter feed?

CHARLIE: No, she's far too talented for needing my perspective. Usually, I only see things once they're published, whereas I am terrified of writing a headline or trying to crack a joke. And so, yeah, she is my editor.

ERIC: I really admire ... she has a lot of bravery on Twitter. She gets in the shit with some of the worst people there, calling out folks like Louis CK and JK Rowling, who do and say really reprehensible things. And then when their fans show up in her mentions, she doesn't back down. It takes a level of grit that honestly, I don't have.

CHARLIE: Yeah. Well, it really started back when the last president became president. We don't have to say his name. And because she was an exceptionally talented late-night writer whose job was to write jokes — "Here's a paragraph, make 30 jokes out of it in the next 20 minutes" — she was really good at responding to his particularly hate-filled tweets.

I believe it was the first month of the beginning of that presidency, she subscribed to Twitter alerts on her phone of everything he would tweet, and then she would tweet back with a joke. They were always the opposite of the hatred. There was always some level of kindness but also a truth bomb joke in there.

And in the process, she garnered a lot of followers, including some of the more reprehensible people on the planet, some of the most ... really terrible groups, white supremacists, these kinds of folks. She has a lot of grit because there's just been a lot of gnarly people who tweet at her on a daily basis, and she knows how to dispel hatred very effectively through humor. A lot of respect for that.

ERIC: Totally. Yeah. I think the thing is, for so many folks, if you don't have probably the specific set of skills that she has ... For so many folks, if they get brigaded by this sort of person online ...

CHARLIE: Oh, do not try this at home. You have to be a professional.

ERIC: Exactly. "Professional driver and a closed course" and all that. Because getting swarmed with this sort of attention, it can be enough to make a lot of people, including trained people, including folks who are communicators and celebrities, it could make them quit Twitter. So, honestly, respect for sticking in there.

CHARLIE: We [Switched on Pop] have become the firebrand, at one point, of the far-right when they decided that we were trying to cancel Beethoven. It was an absolutely absurd thing where we made a four-part series about the power and the history of the fifth symphony in partnership with the New York Philharmonic.

A bunch of far-far-right firebrands decided that a mild level of critical discourse plus a ton of celebration about the meaning of that music resulted in us trying to cancel Beethoven. I actually didn't know the far-right liked Beethoven, but it included Ben Shapiro and Senator Tom Cotton, and the ambassador to Kosovo.

Many of these people were actually manufacturing quotes of us saying that Beethoven is the source of white supremacy. We got to see how the entire brigade of far-right nastiness gets developed out of, first, fringe blogs and then slowly into traditional media. It was truly manufactured material that did not at all represent the actual work that we did.

ERIC: 100 percent.

CHARLIE: That's why people think that Twitter is a dumpster fire because people are very good at completely misconstruing work and misquoting and creating controversy where there actually isn't any.

ERIC: Well, don't worry, I'm sure Elon Musk will fix everything…

CHARLIE: Thank you, billionaire overlords. We depend on you. You must save us. No. No. No.

ERIC: Well, that was Bess Kalb, who is on Twitter @bessbell. We have time for one more follow today. Charlie, I asked you for someone who's an expert in a very specific niche that you love. And you said Dan Worrall, who is on YouTube @danworrall.

Dan's YouTube description is straight to the point: "Sound design and sound engineering tutorials." Break that down for the laypeople. What are the sort of videos that Dan makes?

CHARLIE: Dan makes tutorials about how to be a better sound engineer, mix engineer, and music producer, which yes, honestly, I feel like I'm probably speaking to a small group of folks that are listening right now. And yet, I think we all have something to learn from Dan.

He makes the most knowledgeable videos about some very esoteric material, that is hard to understand, and he does it in not only an extremely soothing voice but with clarity and authority. His explanations could not be more articulate, and he helps people understand pretty challenging concepts with very digestible videos.

Now, if you're really into sound, like I am, and procrastinate by going on YouTube to learn about sound design and engineering and things like that, then this is the person you need to follow. He's one of the few people who's truly an authority. That's the thing. There are so many people who pose as authorities on topics on the internet.

ERIC: And he's actually an expert.

CHARLIE: Actually an expert. And it's so rare that you get expert material, especially when so much of the internet is becoming paywalled. You get maybe a two-minute taste of the thing and, "If you want to actually hear from the experts, it's going to cost a lot of money."

I understand people should be paid for their labor. Absolutely. And yet, for those of us who might not want to, or be able to, subscribe to certain things, he's one of those few people who we're like, "Wow, I'm getting expert knowledge."

Even if you're not into sound design, it's someone worth watching because you might figure out how to communicate effectively. He does it all without showing his face, which is also very rare on the internet if you're making videos, and yet has a very dedicated following who are like, "More Dan, more videos. Please teach us."

ERIC: There's a class of YouTubers who every thumbnail is them making the same shocked face because faces get people to click on them. There is a whole algorithm game there, but Dan is just trading on his expertise. And that's it. That's the strength of his content.

CHARLIE: I love that. Yeah, I get it. If you are making your living off of YouTube, you gotta put your face on that thumbnail because it will cause people to click.

We're talking about, again, the algorithm having certain propensities and you have to just follow it. And yet, for some people who I think make very credible material, a lot of their thumbnails do look very tabloid-y. And that is just what works. I do like people that are just strong in their ways and say, "No, this is just about the information." He's one of those folks.

ERIC: As a musician, how much of your time is spent experimenting with sound design or applying what you've learned from following Dan?

When you're procrastinating by watching his videos, are you picking up stuff that then you are bringing the next time into your editing software? Or is it more of an academic, this is just an interesting fact about how sound works that doesn't really translate in that way?

CHARLIE: I think I'm coming at it from two directions at the same time, but probably both are motivated by insecurity, which is that I have to report on songs made by immensely talented people.

I think that any journalist who doesn't have some insecurity about the legitimacy of their thought and research probably needs to take a second look at themselves because you can never, under a deadline, accumulate all the information. You can only accumulate the best information within that time and be certain within like 99%, I got it.

But there's a reason why there's corrections because sometimes you just miss one little thing. So, for me, reporting on music, I'm like, "I need to understand every little thing about how these songs are made." So I'm very strange in that I frequently will actually recreate songs before I think about how to report on them, because I almost want to get inside the creative mind of the person making it.

That's one angle I attack it from, and the other is, I also make music and I love music and I love sound. And there is a larger, deeper desire to understand everything there is to understand about sound. He has layers of knowledge about advanced engineering concepts, which actually apply to everyday music-making, that are too esoteric to learn about in any other way.

I do end up then applying these tools and, as you said, this is my number one form of procrastination from doing the core job of making a podcast about popular music. It's learning the ancillary details about popular music that I one day may apply, but are not immediately relevant to the exact assignment that I have at any given week. This is how I procrastinate.

ERIC: What about for the average music listener, someone who does not do either, or any, of the things that you do, do you think that if they were to watch Dan's videos, they would get stuff out of them that would make them, for lack of a better word, better music consumers?

CHARLIE: I don't know. Probably some of them and then others are definitely way too out there. I think that you have to probably be making audio in some way to really dig it. So maybe this is not the best recommendation.

ERIC: No no no, this is a niche. This category is for niche follows. I love it.

CHARLIE: I think that this is your follow if this is your world. And I wanted to highlight Dan because I think that there is such a dearth of people like him. If your thing is knitting or whatever your thing is, go find the Dan Worrall equivalent within your niche. They usually don't have great-looking websites, their video production is never quite as good, but their communication skills are the best and they actually really know their stuff.

I often find that if someone's website looks like it was made on GeoCities, it's either they have no idea what they're doing, or they're the world's leading expert in that thing.

ERIC: It just made me think of something a friend told me way back in high school. He said, "I don't want to learn how to play violin from a 14-year-old virtuoso. I want to learn it from a 70-year-old woman who is perpetually angry at the world and just goes about things in the most unpleasant way possible."

If it's possible to interpret what you've learned for a more casual audience, what is something that you have learned from following Dan's videos that has really stuck with you either as an analyst, as a musician, as a listener, anything?

CHARLIE: Something that I could share with everyone is that whenever there is a cultural sense of mystery and magic around creativity, I think that that is usually bogus and that behind it, there is practice, there is knowledge, especially creative tools. I think that there's a certain form of capitalist fetishism around the tools of production in the world of music.

Like, "if you want a certain base sound, you have to have the Moog synthesizer over the other synthesizers." Now, I have a Moog synthesizer, but ... he's someone that will show you that actually, the tools of creation are only so important.

Your understanding of how to use them, regardless of whether you have the $1 variety or the $1,000 variety of that creative tool, if you know how to use it very effectively, you can make exceptional work. That's what I really like from him. To be a creative person, you don't need the highest-end equipment, but you might need a lot of knowledge and practice around how to use what you have, and you can make anything spectacular. And that's what he does in the world of music.

ERIC: Great answer. That was Dan Worrall, who is on YouTube @danworrall. Charlie, thank you so much for sharing these follows with us today. Before we go, let's make sure our listeners know how to find you online. Where do you want them to follow you?

CHARLIE: I'm @charlieharding on Twitter and our website is Really, just check out the podcast, wherever you get podcasts. If you're listening to this now, I think you'll find it. That's what I like doing. I like making podcasts and talking about music and I love chatting with you. So I hope folks enjoy Switched On Pop.

ERIC: Definitely. Go search for Switched On Pop, whatever app you're on now.

Follow me on Twitter at @HeyHeyESJ and don't forget to follow or subscribe to Follow Friday in your podcast app. If you like this episode, then check out the past Follow Friday interviews with Eric Molinsky from Imaginary Worlds, Hrishikesh Hirway from Song Exploder, and the Auralnauts from YouTube.

Follow Friday is a production of Our theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie, our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan, and our social media producer is Sydney Grodin. Special thanks to our Big Fri Patreon backers, Jon and Justin. Visit and chip in any amount to unlock the extra-long version of this interview, featuring a bonus follow recommendation from Charlie.

That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson reminding you to talk about people behind their backs, and when you do, say something nice.

See you next Friday!

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