How to Create an Audio Drama
A guide for clueless dreamers in the middle of nowhere
Guest Post By Pam Cameron
Alright, here’s the deal: I’ve read a bunch of interviews with Lauren Shippen (The Bright Sessions) and I’ve listened to about 5 episodes of the brilliant Audio Drama Production Podcast. I’ve read the guide on thepodcasthost.com. All of those resources are high quality and I recommend them. But here’s where it gets complicated…
Some of their good, solid, actionable advice won’t work for people like me who live in Arkansas. Do you know where Arkansas is? It’s okay if you don’t. A few years ago, Tom Cruise starred in a movie called American Made. It was based on a very real scandal involving drugs being flown in and out of a tiny airport in Mena, Arkansas. It was not filmed in Arkansas, though. So, even if you’ve seen a movie about Arkansas, you haven’t seen Arkansas. We’re a hidden treasure that way.
So, let’s look at a list of common advice about starting an audio drama:
Write the script with audio in mind. (Cool, anyone can do this!)
Round up your actor friends and assign parts. (Wait- *record scratch*)
Actor friends? As I’ve mentioned, even when a movie is about Arkansas, they don’t film it here. Professional actors don’t live here. My favorite is listening to interviews with directors and they talk about how they knew some composers who worked on the first season for free and I’m like “I have never met a composer in my life. How do you just casually have composer friends?”
But don’t lose heart, my flyover state friends! We middle-America folks are experts at working with what we have. We may not have actor friends, but we do have the internet, and we can make that work!
I filled all the lead roles with voice actors from Upwork and Reddit. I have never met any of my actors and they have never met each other. We are spread across four countries so I doubt we could even manage a group skype call with all those time zones. I regularly send out emails to update them on what’s happening next and that’s the closest we get to a team-building retreat.
As a side note about hiring voice actors, I’m going to go ahead and admit what a dumbass I was in the beginning. It’s embarrassing, but I knew NOTHING about voice acting. I watched a short video about Mel Blanc once and I just assumed all voice actors were like that. In the beginning, my idea was to just hire one person to read the story I wrote (it wasn’t even a script. It was a book.) and they would do the different voices like you hear in audio books.
So, I went on 123voice (or is it voice123?) and posted my ad. God, I cringe thinking about it. I was looking for one actor to perform, like 10,000 words performing the roles of a female cat, a narrator, a young adult American male, and a Russian woman for the charming price of $250.
Like I said, I was a dumbass. When no one responded to my ad, I went on the voice acting subreddit and asked for some feedback. The users there gently educated me about the realities of voice acting and convinced me I needed to hire a different actor for every part.
I learned that there’s actually a lot involved in voice acting. I learned that however long it takes you to read something, it takes a voice actor at least 5x longer to perform it because no one gets it right the first time. They’re going to need time to try different voice inflections and do retakes based on background noise or mic pops. Plus, they usually buy all their own equipment, do their own editing, and take classes to improve their craft. It’s not just talking into a mic and collecting a paycheck. I had no idea about any of this.
I can’t give advice on how to hire actors for an award-winning show. I can only tell you what I did. When hiring for the narrator and the American male voice, some guys messaged me on Reddit and their voices were perfect, so I didn’t need to hold an audition for those two parts. For the Russian parts, I put an ad on Upwork and sifted through the responses. Having never hired anyone for anything before, this was totally new for me.
It was Christmas when I was pondering all this. Sitting next to my dad on the couch at my grandma’s house, I was talking to him about how I couldn’t pay my actors much and I didn’t know if it was realistic to expect high quality and adherence to short deadlines.
My dad spent his entire career in manufacturing. Without even moving his gaze from the fireplace, he held up three fingers and said “Quality, speed, price. Pick two.”
Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is absolutely true and it applies to hiring actors, finding sound effects, audio editing, everything. What that meant for me was doubling my budget from $250 to $500 and when someone gave me free work, I reminded myself to be patient with their timeline. In general, I need to learn to be more patient anyway. And yeah, I know $500 is still a freakishly low budget for an entire 6 episode season, but like I said, it’s just me. Squarespace isn’t knocking down my door to advertise. But honestly, wouldn’t you rather be hit in the head with a hardback dictionary than hear one more squarespace ad?
My husband Jeff Callahan taught me something he learned when he was building his company: When people give you feedback, look for patterns. If one person says “ Your intro is too long”, don’t worry about it, but if 6 people say it, then you might actually need to shorten your intro.
At no point will it serve you to get defensive. We creators can be very sensitive to criticism. God knows I am. But when someone criticizes your work, it’s best to take a deep breath and stay classy. Thank them for listening to the show and for taking time to pass along their feedback.
That’s all I got.
Here are my service recommendations:
I recommend Zap Splat as the best sound effects site. Those guys work so hard to make their customers happy and they’re affordable for unsponsored, hobby creators like me!
Audacity is a free sound editor and it’s what I use. Their online help wiki is the best I’ve seen.
Upwork is a great site to use for hiring because it protects both parties and helps everyone clearly communicate expectations.
Info about Pam Cameron:
She creates the audio drama Russian for Cats in her spare time. It’s on all the platforms.