How to Make a Great Drama Podcast
"Hey, I've had this idea for an audio doodaa. Can I pick your brains?"
All of us in the production team have at some point or other been asked this question, or a variation. We're very happy to talk and give advice wherever we can.
If you reckon the podcast drama (or sitcom) game is for you, here's a guide to get you started.
So it's just you? A couple of you? Great start. What do you bring to the table? Are you a writer? A director? An actor? Are you several of those in one? Work out what pieces of the puzzle you're missing and go looking for them. The more people you have dedicated to specific aspects of your production, the higher quality you'll achieve and the less stress you'll take on. The extra members of your team will bring new ideas and new ambitions to help the project grow and strengthen. Listen to them! At the very least you want:
- A writer
- An actor
- A director
- An editor
On Wooden Overcoats, we have a bit of crossover. Tom Crowley plays Eric Chapman but is also an experienced playwright. He therefore contributes to the writing team. Andy Goddard and John Wakefield both direct and edit. During the recording, they take turns to either be on the floor with the actors or in the booth listening to how it's coming out.
Just for recording Season 1, we had:
- 26 actors
- 10 musicians and a composer
- 5 writers
- 1 studio engineer
- 1 recording engineer for the musicians (who were recorded separately in York)
- 2 directors
- 1 script supervisor
- 2 runners
- 1 photographer
Everybody's contribution was recognised and we are continually grateful to them for joining us on no more than travel and food expenses - expenses which we worked hard to fundraise. People agreed upfront to lend us a hand because they believed in the project and we did everything we could to recognise their work. Now that we have a wider reach, it's our job to pay a fair wage to anyone involved in future work which is why we're running a Kickstarter. When employing creatives, don't fall for the trap of offering work for "exposure". If they help you out on a shoestring budget, remember that they're doing you a favour, not the other way round.
Where are you recording? Your bedroom? A high-tech sound studio? A closet? What are you recording on? How many microphones? How many kinds of microphones? How many spaces? Indoors or out?
If, when building your team, you brought on someone who knows their way around sound recording, here's where it pays dividends. Sound is tricky. But a good producer who knows their equipment will turn an empty room into a creaking schoolroom, a 1900s ballet, the early Cretaceous, Camelot... all on a fraction of the cost it would take to do film. This is the beauty of sound.
Radio drama studios are expensive to hire. Our approach was to repurpose a music studio - you can read all about how we did that here. For the Madeleine narration, we used an audiobook studio. Great for single voice narrative work, much harder to adapt to full cast interaction.
You might forego studios altogether. On-location work can work wonders for creating a rich soundscape. There's less control, so preplanning is your friend. Just like in film, a day of location scouting before you record will pay dividends. Are you country based? Where can you find a quiet spot that's not too often disturbed by ramblers? Are you set in the past? Watch out for flight paths. Nothing says This is Not 1544 like an aeroplane holding pattern.
If you've found a place, on-location radio recording is one of the most liberating and natural ways to create a drama. It's like a TV shoot, except the actors don't have to hit their marks but do as they feel is right, followed around by a silent-footed producer and a Zoom mic.
Welcome to recording day. You've been planning, writing, making spreadsheets for months... and here it is: the fun bit.
This will go differently for everyone. Whether in theatre, film, TV, video game, corporate work... everybody has a different style and different ways they like to work.
Here's what you can do to make that easier: respect it.
You've gathered a team of professionals to work with you so let them do their job to the best of their ability. Work together to create the best thing possible. Are you directing? Mould and shape, don't berate and dictate. Are you acting? Listen to what's being told, play the moment... all the usual stuff. Are you a writer? It's probably all done by now so have a cocktail! But maybe you're there to check for lines that don't quite work, or maybe you have a loose, improvisational style... be flexible, have fun.
There are some generals that can help everyone. Be professional. Be structured. Have a plan and let people know what time they are expected until (be reasonable about this - "you might be needed 10 AM to 10 PM" isn't reasonable, "you will be needed 10 AM to 6 PM with a lunch break at 1 PM and we're going for drinks after, do you want to come?" is).
And don't stress. This is what you worked towards. Enjoy it.
BUILD YOUR AUDIENCE
Remember those months before recording? The Grrrrriiiiiind of getting it all into place. Welcome to Grind 2! If you're working on an ongoing podcast, this will coincide with recording, and schedules will be your greatest ally. If it's series based, now's the time to switch from producing mode to promotion mode. Ideally, when building your team, look for people with different skillsets for this eventuality. Let your writers get on with the writing, your promoters get on with the promoting... so that everyone is used to the best of their ability and, most importantly, everyone gets a break! Know someone who's great with Photoshop? Grab 'em. Someone who has good social media presence or is unafraid to chat to the press? Yoink.
In building an audience, it's time to step outside of the box and go for a wander. The podcast drama movement is young. There are no established rules. What do you think might work? Give it a go. Don't worry too much about whether it will work or not, just keep trying stuff and see what sticks. How many demographics do you appeal to? How can you contact them? Is the fact that your product has the word podcast in it a positive or will it alienate a group who might otherwise like what you're offering?
Make sure your online presence is clear and attractive, then go on the exposure offensive. If people don't know you exist, they won't listen to you. How are you going to tell them? Live shows? Flyering? Guesting at gigs? What connections do you have with local interest groups? Your eventual goal is for others to do the promoting for you by word of mouth, but that's going to take a lot of your time. If you've got a great product, take however much time you spent making it and now spend the same time promoting it.
TAKE THE DRAMA OUT
Podcast drama is a brilliant medium to start working in. It's one of the most immediate forms of bringing work to audience. If you're tempted to start, find out what and who's out there. Don't be fooled into thinking you're making "old time radio", people all over the world have been working steadily in audio drama since it started. If doesn't have a big following where you are, find out where it does and learn what they're doing and how they're doing it - be part of that conversation.
And have fun(n).
We're in the back end of the four thousands. Only £345 until we hit the £5,000 mark and we've got a liiiittle surprise for you when we do. Keep pushing everyone!
Meanwhile, head writer David has found a new secret weapon: the balcony. He's stumbled across one on his long walks in the depths of North London and taken it home to draft episode 3 of season 2... which will be Georgie heavy. Let's make sure it gets made.
We asked you on Monday for your best Embalming Fluid Names and you came up with some crackers. Keep them coming! Pop them in the comments on the Kickstarter page, this is just for backers. The best one will be used in Season 2.
Winner announced on Monday.