Audio Drama Needs a 21st Century Business Model

Audio Drama Needs a 21st Century Business ModelBack in 2007 I said, “I think an “all you can eat” subscription based radio drama/audio theater store is apt to be more successful than anything else.”

It’s now 2014 and I think the same thing, though sadly that killer site has not yet come to be. What? We have iPhones, grumpy cat, angry birds, and $19 billion messaging apps, but audio drama still hasn’t made it from the transition from obscurity to mainstream?

Sigh. It frustrates me, too.

What’s also frustrating, it that it is really, really hard to find great new material.  When you find a sizzling new radio play, it floors me (winner of this contest recently is the Dublin-based dark comedies Any Other Dublin).  It reminds me of why I’m in this, what makes audio drama so good.

Part of this is because there just honestly isn’t that much great stuff being produced.  For every The Truth (and truly, there is only one), there are dozens of hackneyed, tired, stock-FX’ed fan fic shows recorded in someone’s basement while their roommate snores in the next room.  The internet has made it so that this material gets out there and mixed in with the great stuff.  So when someone goes into the iTunes store and starts surfing for audio drama… well, God help them.

I say this as someone who loves podcasting.  Podcasting is what has made FinalRune what it is and without it I certainly wouldn’t have made it into the Wall Street Journal or even my local daily paper.  But if audio drama has a future, it needs to get past podcasting.  Podcasting may be able to support a few extraordinary titles that break away from the norm – the We’re Alive‘s and the Nightvale‘s – but most shows aren’t going to get that success.  Many shows are excellent one offs or mini-series, well worth a listen, but not with the staying power to attain a cult following.  The people who make those kinds of shows are producers first and foremost, and their lack of a marketing machine to back them up stands in the way of getting those titles to the average listener.  The fact that the fan-fic creators tend to be more versed in the internet than the talented producers is particularly unjust.

So, what to do? is so vast that it beggars description – it’s almost impossible to distinguish audio drama titles from the crowd, and even if you do purchase through Audible the royalties paid out to the producer are so miniscule that they’ll never be able to fund new productions with it.  And don’t even get me started on CD sales.  My thoughts on pay per download are known.  Crowdfunding is promising and several producers (myself included) have used it to good effect.  But crowdfunding alone can’t run an industry.

This brings me back to the App.  Audio drama needs a store.

Since the Lodestone Catalog closed in 2007, there has been no purpose-made catalog for purchasing audio drama productions.  There is no front-door, no easy portal to the insane wondrous mind-bending joy of the medium.  If someone asks a friend, “Hey, I liked this, how do I get more of it?” the best they can do is send their friend down the rabbit hole of the iTunes store search feed.

Some people enjoy panning the great wide ‘net in a desperate hope for gold, but most people have 100,000 other things to get to and wading through crummy RSS feeds is not on their to-do list.  People do not give bad audio second chances.  Which is why we need curated content – the good stuff – delivered by an incredible simple to use and elegant mobile App.  Think Pandora for audio drama.

I have started down this foray myself, with fits and starts (and you can see the results thus far on my sister site, Radio Drama Revival).

Actually, this is not Pandora we’re talking about.  We’re talking about Netflix.

We’re talking about producing shows with mainstream appeal – grabbing B-list TV properties, writers of some renown, and other media properties that have a native audience.  We’re talking about funding these with reasonable budgets – say $150,000 – $250,000 for a 4-5 hr mini-series – which is enough to hire proper talent but not so expensive that you can’t recoup your costs once you get steady revenue going.  By picking works that have potential audiences in the millions, you only need a small percentage (I find 3-5% convert on my ‘freemium’ model on this website) to pay to subsidize the rest.  Since it’s all built to scale on the internet, you just need to establish a modest subscriber base and you have a tidily profitable business.  Equally important is ensuring that royalties for the model are paid out equitably to the producers, so that the people creating the work will want to promote this site first as the best way to access their material, rather than trying to funnel everyone to their own personal production website.

Are people going to listen?  I think they will.  Listening to a dramatized story certainly isn’t any weirder than Twitter, and despite all of the other distractions out there, you still aren’t allowed to watch TV while driving a car.  So long as there are commutes, audio drama has a future.  Give them something more engaging that the talk, music, and spiffy sound effected urban chic shows and give them story.  Reel people in with something familiar, and they will want more.

That is why the discovery platform is so important – the experience needs to consist both the listening of the familiar thing – the awesome killer addictive special edition of a TV series you wish they had made more episodes of – as well as a way to get you digging deeper into lesser known material, which offers hundreds of happy hours of listening ahead of you.  The App should learn your tastes, be flexible for your listening habits, and make it easy to get hooked (First one’s free, folks…).

Audiobooks are currently a multi-billion dollar industry.  Audible is struggling to scale quickly enough to create audio versions of all the books they want out there.  So why is audio drama relegated to one dark corner of internet obscurity?  To me, it’s lack of vision.  For audiobook publishers, the cost to hire a bunch of actors and sound designers, when they’re use to (barely) paying a single narrator, seems obscene.  To TV and film people?  I don’t know, maybe they haven’t thought of it.  We could create killer audio drama in the pocket change they lost on the set of Transformers 3.

Within audio dramatists, you find great artists, but not great businesspeople.  None of us has access to the capital to create a really incredible production – top notch writers, top notch actors, top notch studio.  Skills?  Yes.  Drive? You bet.  Oh, of course there’s Dirk Maggs, with Neverwhere, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Sir Christopher Freakin’ Lee and promoted by Neil Gaiman himself.  And what happens?  The BBC runs it for a week and then buries it forever in obscurity.  As of this writing, there is nowhere legal to purchase the drama (not quite true, apparently it’s available on Audible – thanks EC Bond).

And you wonder why the medium is obscure.  Silicon investors with big oodles of cash: Are you listening? Throw us your pennies and we’ll make you a kingdom.

  • Iudex

    Neverware was available commercially. Unfortunately the company that published the BBCs audio drama for CD and paid downloads, AudioGo, went into administration late last year. As far as I’m aware a new publishing partner has not been found yet.

  • Matthew J Boudreau

    When I began this gig to produce 1918, it was an idea based on a road trip. We stopped at the Iowa 80 Truckstop, America’s largest truck stop to pick through all the audio they had available. While they had a decent representation of “Old Time Radio,” there were no modern audio dramas, save for a few Graphic Audio pieces that were over priced and poorly executed to sound more like television for the deaf than the immersive, quality shows of which audio is capable.

    One idea I think we need to look past is that audio is an internet medium. I used to drive tractor trailer. I have a brother-in-law that still drives tractor. I have friends in the military. I know people in trains, planes, cars, forklifts, desk jobs, and on the run. These places aren’t always conducive to a stable internet connection. Some of these people aren’t as internet savvy as others, since they spend more time at the wheel of a tractor-trailer than driving a desk. But they buy books on CD, listen to classical music and will pass on thing they like to fellow travelers on the road.

    We drove to Tennessee recently. On the way, we stopped at a truck stop. Knowing of the presence of a few titles on Blackstone, including We’re Alive and The Cleansed, I looked through the audio collection. While they had a decent representation of “Old Time Radio,” there were
    no modern audio dramas, save for a few Graphic Audio pieces that were
    over priced and poorly executed to sound more like television for the
    deaf than the immersive, quality shows of which audio is capable.

    Until we build an audience, there is no money. Until we rise above the din and get in the ears with some material that turns people’s heads, there is no audience.

  • finalrune

    Hi Ludex – thanks for commenting. And yes, I realize AudioGO had Neverwhere for a while and it’s a shame they closed up shop. But… I kind of think that is telling about the whole state of this thing. I don’t know much about the ‘behind the scenes’ issues RE: AudioGO but it seems insane that somehow all of the content of the BBC can’t somehow keep a viable business running. As a listener, the iPlayer drives me to the edge of madness and the delay between a show first airing, then a small % of them going on to AudioGO, results in almost all of the momentum going poof. Again, RE: Neverwhere, Gaiman et al had a genuine internet SENSATION for the drama, and then after a week of playing it disappears – man! Why didn’t they capture those listeners then, and say, “Oh hey did you know that Dirk also produced dozens of other dramas with titles you’ve heard of, like Spiderman, Judge Dredd and Superman?”
    But no, the iPlayer lives in its little bubble of obscurity and a great project doesn’t get quite the love it deserved. I mean this seriously. Neverwhere is the kind of show that if it launched a new platform, could keep people sticky on that platform. Instead it was launched on the iPlayer, and now the #1 result for a web search for Neverwhere is the Wikipedia article.

    – Fred

    (trying to keep himself from ranting but it’s hard not to when on this particular subject)

  • finalrune

    Thanks for commenting, Matthew. You know, I don’t want to bash on Graphic Audio too much, but what also drives me crazy is in this year’s Audies, there was not one single actual ‘audio drama’ in the finalist for the… ‘audio drama’ … category. I think the audiobook publishing industry just doesn’t take audio drama seriously. I hear plenty of stuff that pretends it’s ‘audio drama’ but is really just a multi-voiced performance. And sure, that may be good, but that is a different category of audio. Multi-voiced audio = safe. What we do = risk-taking. People don’t like risk.

    Of course, you NEED risk in order to open up new markets and break up the norms regarding demographics. Who would have funded Kc to make We’re Alive? They would’ve say, “oh haha zombies and marines, isn’t that cute” and ignored him, and then he goes out and does it and now he’s broken 10 million downloads (or something in that range). Yet, why hasn’t anyone seen those results and said, “Holy cow, maybe there’s something here?” and given Kc a $200k budget to go and make things happen?
    Just the other day I saw that LOST still has a strong inquisitive following

    How many people do you think would download exclusive-to-audio backstory exploring episodes with some of the original cast? Do you think people would pay? I do. Million of people? I sure think so. How much would it cost to make? A lot less than making a pilot of a new show.

    Just saying…

    – Fred

  • Jeff Adams

    Well done, Fred. Hit most of the high points. One first step I might suggest is forming a non profit with a mission to educate and promote, kind of like the motion picture academy. This could go a long way toward raising awareness of the art form, and my experience with non profits is that they are actually easier to sell to the public. When you sell product to customers, they judge whether or not to buy it against all the other entertainment options they have, which are legion. But when asking the public for support for a non profit you’re actually selling an idea, a concept. You’re asking the public, ‘Do you believe in what we’re doing?’ and it’s surprising how many do. It’s easier to find one person with $10,000 and a desire to be part of something, then a thousand people with $10 and a need for a half-hours distraction.

  • Jerry Robbins – Colonial Radio

    Our production of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is an “actual audio drama” and is nominated for an Audie this year in that category. I believe OLIVER TWIST by focus on the family, also nominated, is also a true audio drama and not a hybrid.

  • finalrune

    Hi Jerry – Thanks, I stand corrected. I didn’t catch that you were a finalist this year – congrats! And I am really happy that Colonial Radio is out there and is able to keep on going and getting some success (plus earning awards and such). As someone whose had some professional success, what do you think of all this? Am I totally nuts or do some of these ideas have legs?

    – Fred

  • waylandprod

    I agree that there is definitely a market for the Netflix of audio-drama. I actually used to work at an audio book store called “Talking Book World”, which was basically the
    Audible of the past. They couldn’t keep up with modern trends and ended up going
    under. They had that subscription model, but it was very high priced because of
    the physical mediums they worked in, so an online only model with no overhead
    for tangible/breakable products is really a great idea, but here’s the big hurdles: legal and unions.

    In general, the small productions don’t need to worry about legal matters, especially if they are not-for-profit, but the minute they step into that arena, everything is fair game. The distribution rights of music and sound fx is quite a hurdle. Sound fx licenses for stock packs and things are sometimes much easier to use and obtain when buying libraries. The people who create the libraries know how they are going to be used, and usually give a site or user license that encompasses their product, BUT that’s only if it was purchased by that company. In other words, the license is bound to someone or some company. The more inflexible and much more difficult area is music. Most lower end productions can’t afford modern composers, and music libraries are extremely limiting if you read the fine print. They typically don’t encompass large sales models. In all, to legally deal with some of the licensing of these two aspects will be anywhere from 2k to 10k, depending on the production. There of course are always cost outliers, like having a friend who’s a composer who does things on the cheap, and you can foley everything.

    Unions start coming into play once you hit a certain level of performer, and by that I mean rate, especially if your model is to sell first. Now that SAG-AFTRA have merged, it can make things easier, and sometimes more complicated. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll just use AFTRA as the term from here out. Of course, for many independent productions, one can simply put out a casting call and gather up various actors that aren’t union. But, eventually that pool gets thinner, especially when you work in markets in bigger cities like LA or New York. Actors, who want to do this professionally, are going to want to be in the unions. If they’re in unions, and you want to use the pay model, you’re going to have to pay rate. By the simplest AFTRA rate for this is about $170 an hour per performer. So, let’s just say for a model production, you have just 4 actors, for 3 days for 8 hours each day. That would put the production at a MINIMUM of $16k for just talent. The good thing about using podcasts as the medium is that it allows you to use the “new media” subsection of the union rates which actually allows you to set your own contracts. There also might be other ways to pay scale and not pay that much per hour, but these are just the current standards.

    And of course, there’s always the equipment costs, editing costs, facility rentals, etc… Once you go into a “pay-only” sort of model, what happens is that people will become MUCH more critical of what you’re doing. The option of using whatever microphones are available, and recording in a space that’s “OK”, starts to dissolve. The audio-fidelity must be high. If you were to rent a studio space, I’ve seen it go as low as about $60 an hour, minimum 4 hours. Based on the model above, that would be about $1.5k. Of all things, studio rental time isn’t bad. Obviously the better the recording environment, the higher the cost. If you use that stage for foley, however, that cost just went through the roof. Foley takes a lot of time, so let’s just tack on another day at least and round it out to $2k.

    Any editor who’s a sound designer by trade, will cost a TON. Since most people who make these things like to be behind the wheel of editing, I’m going to skip this category. It’s more cost effective to buy a computer with the software and proper monitors than to hire a professional for it. The equipment cost for a high-enough level workstation is about $2.5k. Yes, you can go cheaper if you want to edit on Audacity with a cheapo laptop, but I’m talking about using a more professional grade setup with balanced audio output monitors.

    Tallying up the costs, 2k for music and licenses, 16k for actors, 2k for studio time, and let’s just say 2k for equipment costs, rentals, etc…About 22k total. And then there’s contracts to write up, copyrights, not to mention I haven’t included any writing fees, director fees, etc… The most important part of all this is to have a good story, and this doesn’t include that.

    Now, of course there’s all kinds of ways to cut costs, but for a program to be clear of legal obligations, the costs are pretty high. If one were to create their own Audio-drama aggregate program, all these things HAVE to be considered. If not, one lawsuit WILL bankrupt it. There are liability waivers, and ways to have the content producers to be responsible for the content going up on the index, but it all boils down to dollars and cents.

    Say a 3 hour production costs 25k for produce under these terms. If they had no upfront $ to get the ball rolling, they will need to get a business loan. At 7.5% apr, 30 year- you need an income of at least $175 a month. The interest during all that time would be $37k on top of the original loan, making it a total of $62k payment over that period. But, at $175 a month, let’s do the math of what that means in terms of #’s. Not looking at the subscription model, but just at a rate per download. I’ll set the price at $1.99 per hour, so $6 to download. If there’s a 30/70 cut of the product, which is actually a GREAT cut based on current distribution standards, then the profit per download would be $4.20. 175/4.20= about 42 purchases per month just to break even.

    With a no-loan rate, it doesn’t matter how many downloads per month, just in general. You’d need about 6,000 downloads to break even on a $25k production.

    That may seem like not a lot of downloads, but like Fred experienced in his pay-per download model, that is very difficult to achieve.

    If individual productions require that kind of return to break even, then add in app development, server costs, taxes, royalties, etc… The costs mount up very quickly.

    Ok, so I’m done with the negative. How can it be made to work? Well, a few thoughts.

    The productions will most likely have to be non-union. There’s almost no way around it with overheads like that. It will limit who you can have work on the production, but that’s just how it’s going to have to happen. You won’t be able to legally employ any A to C list actors, but that’s just how it goes. There are plenty of people who work non-union.

    Music licenses MUST be kept low. That scenario where you find a friend who’s an aspiring musician? You’re gonna have to use them. They need experience, you need music.

    Contracts and legal stuff. Find a friend who’s a lawyer, or maybe even aspires to be. Find contracts and forms online that release the performances, music, and writing to be used in the show.

    Recording spaces and equipment? Do the best you can. Find quiet spaces, maybe rent a few mics and work overtime to get what you need. Like I said before, when people pay, they expect more. The skype sessions with people in bedrooms will end up costing you downloads and good reviews in the end.

    Starting up the app will require starting funds from productions, and also blanket protection licenses. Each company or person submitting a production MUST have an EIN for tax purposes. Once royalties go above $600, a 1099 is required, and good luck trying to track down people’s SSNs in January for the board of equalization. The person could easily become a DBA and get an EIN for nothing. It still requires them a bit more paperwork come tax time, but that’s just how it works to be legal.

    Next, each production company has to have a license and contract for each production on the aggregate, stating the starting date, ending date, and also outlines the profit percentage points and also the license agreement that states that all rights in regard to the production are responsibility of the production company and not the aggregate. That will limit the liability of the aggregate. The aggregate, would most likely be required to be an LLC to further cover itself. The costs of the LLC and the operating costs would then need to be covered by the upfront fees to the production company.

    Since this is a starter app, the upfront fees will be as follows. I’m guessing about 5k to 10k for a typical app development. Then, there’s server cost and space. Let’s say that you can get one for about 1k a year that covers bandwidth cost. If each production company pays an upfront cost, that will help sustain everything in the beginning. Depending on the profit %, that money could be re-reimbursed by sales %’s, or some other way.

    The only other way around this is if the aggregate secures the funds ahead of time for development. BUT, then what happens is the % cut for the aggregate would then be higher, further discouraging more producers to come online, especially given their operating costs for creating one production. The other thing to consider is that these audio-drama producers may not get on board, or be able to. I know that I would not legally be allowed to with WA due to my current contracts. The aggregate also become the middle-man for a bunch of production companies and is responsible for quarterly audits, royalty checks, etc… not to mention if there’s any “drama” related to dealing with producers. They are people, and they do have egos. Not to mention, the customer, who will inevitably need tech support, because end users typically aren’t very tech-savy but will feel that they “paid for it”. The aggregate almost puts themselves into a manager position for the possibility of thin margins for at least the first five years.

    So, those are some the financial and legal things that come to mind when doing something like this, and that’s not even taking into account that the story/performances/fidelity of these programs are even good. It’s a long and tricky road to go, but I think if anyone can do it, Fred can. I have a different business model that I’ve been laying ground work for, but I will continue to support where I can 🙂

  • waylandprod

    200k… can you imagine! Oh the things I could do…

  • finalrune

    Thanks Kc – man, where to start. I agree with you on most points. The really hard thing is that a lot of the work out there is NOT produced to what would be industry standards if there were industry standards – actors paid anything, let alone scale, clear rights, clean sound, and oh yeah! Good stories. You do make me realize what a monumental headache it would be to try and sort out the good from the bad. Yikes.

    I think most of us agree that to get more ‘mainstream’ listeners work has to come with a kind of draw – either a TV, film, comic, or other property they are familiar with, or of a genre they are familiar with. Kc Markman commented on the Facebook group thread with this article about how studios are risk-averse and ‘genre’ – familiarity – helps reduce risk.

    On the other hand, maybe we need to find another model for where the money comes in the first place. What if the App does not really make money, but is a conduit for promoting things that DO make money, and the audience that lands on the App can be monetized more effectively (equitably?) than in current models. Can we come up with a way for someone to pay for the content up front (in order to serve some sort of end – either artistic or commercial) which saves us from the ‘problem’ of having to make up the $1000s spent later on? If so, then we don’t ‘care’ about monetization any more, only reaching as large an audience as possible.

    Hmm… Still mostly questions, not a lot of answers.

    – Fred

  • A Voice in the Wilderness…

    A few thoughts:
    1) We need to be producing audio dramas with industry standards. They are:
    a) Superior acting from trained theatrical professionals IN THE SAME SPACE
    b) Intelligently written scripts
    c) A deliberate shift from fan fiction, which is why most podcast audio exists (although with Warner Bros., Paramount, and Disney cracking down on anything that even smacks of fan fiction/hurting the brand, the number of fan fic podcasts out there may be going the way of the dodo)
    d) Time taken in post. No “masterbating with Pro Tools” as the late Yuri called it
    e) Breaking free from what is “safe” and going farther with the medium to reel it those who live for the faster pace of video games and movies – the more it resembles an audio book, the less it’s true drama
    2) Those industry standards may appeal to those in the audio book industry looking for new listeners. The audio book industry is worth 2 billion. 25k is pocket change.
    3) Work with AFTRA to develop special rates for audio dramas. They ARE willing to listen. Yuri was able to work with Val Kilmer, Sandra Oh, and Simon Helberg from the Big Bang Theory. An audio book publisher paid for it, but the fees from what I understand were not unreasonable. Going all non-union is fine, but what if the perfect actor you want is union? And let’s be honest: every actor is working to go union. They want to be paid. Doing free theatre only works for so long. You have to look at from the actors’ POV. And I’ve met enough of them who are SICK of doing work for nothing. They want their art to pay for rent and food.
    4) Find new converts through sci-fi conventions. ZBS’ mailing list is composed primarily of people Tom Lopez’ age: he never sought out new listeners because he never went to conventions and the like to introduce younger listeners to his 200 + hours of work. And what do people at cons love to do? SHOP. They want physical reminders of their experience at San Diego, New York, and SDCC. You can’t sell a download at a con. You CAN sell a CD. AND BUILD AN AUDIENCE.
    5) “We need to find another model for where the money comes in the first place.” YES. Crowdfunding for businesses. Those sites exist.
    6) The non-profit was there for years. The National Audio Theatre Festival. No one wanted to go because the Missouri Arts Council practically forced them out of the major metropolitan areas of MO or they wouldn’t get proper funding. Well, guess what? MAC can no longer fund any non-profit that conducts workshops. So the NATF is now HEAR Now, a listening festival modeled after the Prix Italia. It’s time for someone to pick up the reins. And explain to those interested in coming that professional audio producers aren’t there to diss their work or tell them how bad they are; they’re there to help them move forward. Something a lot of podcast producers, for example, don’t want to hear (another reason why attendance was sparse at the NATF).
    7) Move away from podcasting. It’s time has come and gone.
    8) The BBC are notorious for killing product that they don’t own. They’re a multi-billion dollar bureaucracy. They can get away with it.
    9) Work together to create positive solutions without coming up with more questions.
    10) Be businessmen. Not artists, but businessmen. By staying artists, there will always be more questions and no positive solutions.

  • Matthew J Boudreau

    It is important to note that actors that are union tend to be in different market areas like NYC, LA and Chicago. When you start working cities like Minneapolis, Buffalo, and Philidelphia, the model flips to where being union is actually a detriment and most professional voice talent is non-union in those areas.

    The other thing to consider, is that when you go with the New Media models, you cannot put anything on the radio or tradition CD as those are not considered New Media formats. Once you take that route, SAG-AFTRA has grounds to step in and renegotiate. Also, producers are responsible for medical and retirement percentages over and above the price negotiated with the actors, and while I think it’s fair to pay into actors’ medical and retirement, they don’t actually see those benefits unless they meet a certain threshold, which I don’t find remotely acceptable.

    It’s easy enough sometimes to get union actors to do non-union shows they like if you ask them. However, then you can’t use their name to draw interest, but at least you get talent.

    Some thoughts on Fred’s Notes:
    1) Broadcast standards differ from region to region. Since audio drama is its own beast, there really is no industry standard. Currently most of the reliable standards are a hybrid of the recording industry and the independent film industry.

    a) superior acting is only part of the equation. Quality and consistent directing from trained directors is also essential. In the same space isn’t even crucial, but it requires using industry tools like ISDN or Source Elements, or at the very least using Skype to be able to direct actors in the same scene at the same time and having actors with quality equipment and an editor who knows how to balance microphones of different types.

    b) “Intelligently written scripts” aren’t as important as “well-written scripts.” This requires moving away from the writer/director/producer models, as it leads to “one man/woman army” thinking. “Everything I write is good enough. Right?” No. It is better to have a team of people who help eliminate the shit. It is essential. Some of my favorite pieces aren’t particularly intelligently written… and intelligent writing can make an audience feel like they are getting beaten to death with and art stick or political propaganda.

    c) Yes. Also, Warner Brothers, Paramount and Disney are partially responsible for the fan fiction model, having regurgitated remakes of the same films over and over again. Disney, especially has lifted 75% of its material from mythology and The Brothers Grim, only to wring substance and context out of the stories to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Okay.. now you got me on a rant loop… moving on.

    d) Frankly, most productions don’t take enough time in post. A good production takes a year or more. I hear audio editing going on left and right, the point being that I should not be able to hear a proper edit. Also shorter post means you need more people working post who are specialized in their particular field. I specialize in editing and sound design. That means you would technically want someone else for Foley performance, music, field recording, mixing, and mastering, among other things. Proper independent films have at least two or three audio folks working them. Less people equals more time to get it right.

    e) It also means we need to stop treating Orson Welles, Yuri and Firesign Theatre like the be all/end all of audio. They were/are great talented folks, who certainly deserve recognition, but I find that far too many people are stuck on how they did something than on what they were trying to do. One of the important distinctions in the winners of the War of The Worlds 75th anniversary contest was that they weren’t copying War of the Worlds, but like Welles, they were using what they had at their disposal to take things as far as they could with the medium. We’re too hung up on trying to repeat what someone else did than learning from it and trying to capture the essence of what they were trying to do. Influences are important, but not if everyone is writing exactly like Rod Serling and producing exactly like Walter Wanger.

    This also means breaking away from “can’t” models of thinking. Can’t record via Skype? Absolute crap. Can work worldwide? Rubbish. But it does require a certain level of knowledge, experimentation and research. Stop calling yourself an “engineer” if all you know how to do is press the record button. For the record, I am not an engineer.

    2) The audiobook industry standards will have relevance to us as well. We are trying to parallel and even intersect the same market.

    3) If you go union, keep in mind that you have to go all union unless you have some decent justification. Also, not all areas are all union. This should be a matter left up to the production company, rather than standardized. Not every actor is working to go union. My friends in NYC? All union. My friends in Minnesota? Notsomuch. All professional actors. All very talented. It depends on the market.

    4) Merchandise and physical CDs are important. I also see that Nightvale is touring nationwide. Our Fair City does a fair share of touring, too. Give away the audio, but sell a good live show and merchandise seems a reasonable alternate model.

    5) Not going to happen. Audience comes first. Funding comes after. Everything else is out of pocket. Even independent films come from tapping friends and family, charging up all your credit cards and hocking everything you own to get the production together. You can gain a little bit for your next show if you get some contacts and interest at film festivals. Even then, money is largely out of pocket.

    6) Fringe Festivals with staged performances are going to garner more audience than audio only festivals. Fighting obscurity requires direct line of sight. Third Coast International seems to be doing a reasonably good job keeping audio in the public eye.

    7) Welcome to Nightvale, The Moth, Stitcher, iTunes, Mark Maron (WTF), Dan Carlin and several others are doing quite well with podcasting.
    Sound Cloud is building an RSS element into their paid infrastructure. It’s time will have gone when something comes along to replace it as a medium that is even cheaper and more accessible. Until a successor can be named, podcasting is still very much a thing. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    8) You’re going to have to provide some background and references here. I’d say out of the two countries, US television has done more to stifle radio drama than anywhere else.

    9) This is certainly true. But difficult. There is little solidarity among us, and many feel that any sort of curation standards are a form of elitism rather than a means to elevate the platform, as you and I have encountered time and again.

    10) You can’t be something you are not. If you want to make audio drama a business, then you’ll have to have people who are businessmen and people who are artists. That’s what producers are for. However I agree that, until someone is willing to make the move and act as a businessperson rather than talking about what should be, nothing is ever going to change.

  • waylandprod

    Ok, I’m back. Just a quick bit about unions, they are flexible if you talk to them about everything in advance. You have to like sit and talk with a rep, but you can negotiate stuff with AFTRA.

    Jumping into the number thing:

    1) There are audio-editing standards in terms of fidelity and volume for films and I follow that. It’s -12 to -18 RMS for volume, and fidelity is at least cd quality which is 2 channel 44.1khz at 16 bit. That being said, there isn’t a standard for capture, like mic types, or for quality of other sources, but as long as it sounds good on calibrated monitors, all should be well.

    a) I actually agree with Voice of the wilderness. If characters can’t record in the same space, at least the same mics is crucial to match frequency responses of the mics. Each mic has a distinct pickup pattern and response. If characters have different mics, they won’t match no matter how much EQing is done. There are some that are close, but it follows the same principles for recording ADR. They use the same mics as on set to try and match as best as possible. If someone uses a different mic, I can tell. I feel that fidelity mic matching is one of the keys to making everything sound believable. And if all the mics match, you spend less time trying to fix issues and more time spent on editing. Same with room tones. If they’re in the same studio, you don’t have to worry about removing room tone, or doing any sort of noise removal with can completely change the way someone sounds.

    The other reason why I feel that people need to be in the same space is because of energy and improvisation. Sure, you can do all this remotely, but actors live and breath in the scenes and feed off each others’ emotions. Sure that can be done remotely, but it’s far stronger in person.

    b) I find there’s nothing wrong with the writer/director/producer model, so long as the material’s good. I’ve dealt with a lot of collaborative projects, and there’s often a lot of inconsistencies in all aspects. A team of people does not equal a good script, just as much as single person does not mean a good script.

    C) Yes. Agreed. Fan-fiction limits what you can do. Built in fanbase, but glass ceiling.

    D) “A good production takes more than a year in post”… that’s sort of a loose statement. How long a project in can determine that, but also content. Yes, many hands can make light work, but also can make more work if they suck. It just comes from experience and timesaving techniques. The more people specialized can make it streamline, or not.

    E) Can’t comment on this one. I don’t actually listen to a lot of other audio-dramas. Not sure what you comments mean at the end, but I’ll just say ok.

    2) Yup, I agree. But try and get them to hand over 25k without their distribution model.

    3) You can work with the unions and do partial. It’s complicated, but not completely out of the question.

    4) Touring isn’t an option for a lot of audio-dramas with larger casts. It’s just not financially feasible to have that many people move. Merchandise and CD’s yes. Nightvale is almost a one-person band, which makes it easy for them.

    5) Yup. You have to establish you can do this before people give you $. Seen many a kickstarter fall apart because of that.

    6) Not a big fan of festival exposure. I did that a lot for short films and feature docs. It’s not much of an opportunity because of the flooded market.

    7) HA! Podcasting has not come and gone. We’re up to about 23 million downloads and climbing. The CPM $ we get from advertising is starting to really pick up. There has been no better exposure than podcasts for us. It launched our business, and continues to keep it running. The difference? We’re part of a podcast network that has people responsible for bringing in advertisers.

    8) Don’t know anything about that.

    9) Well that depends on what you mean by “work together”. I refer tons of people to other audio dramas from our feeds. They’re always looking for more. I try to do my best when referring people on twitter to what username I can think of off-hand. Our forum has pages of people talking about other audio dramas, it’s one of our most visited thread.

    But, if you’re referring to collaborating on other projects, I don’t really do that. Would I be willing to work with Fred and maybe the Audio Drama directory to set up an app that indexes current audio-dramas? Absolutely. I fully support the community and am more than willing to share information. Would I be willing to try and do remote crossovers with other audio-dramas or work on someone else’s show? Not really. it doesn’t match what I want to do. My philosophies on audio-fidelity and recording standards aren’t shared by a lot of others (I’m a certified engineer/super picky about that stuff), and I feel that a lot of what’s out there isn’t very well written. It’s not meant to be elitist or mean, I just feel my time is better spent elsewhere.

    10) It’s possible to be both, but it’s hard. But, you learn by doing. When I started out, I had no idea about contract lingo, licensing agreements, distribution contracts, DBA’s, LLC’s, etc.. etc.. Now, I have a pretty vast understanding of how those work for the one big thing I learned: “No one will do the work for you”.


    If I may get back to number 9, and Fred’s response below, HOW can this work?

    Here’s the simplest thing. We develop an app that has a working index of audiodramas, sort of like the podcast app, but only for what we want.

    The app functions off of HTML5, so in a way, it’ll still work on a website the same way. There’s a review system, which is based off of user-logins that are registered through the app. That would also allow a centralized mailing system for notifications as well.

    The app can organize or stream the content from the show’s rss feeds. There will have to be some sort of coding in place and people will have to be at least somewhat tech-savy when it comes to organizing their RSS feed (because some that I’ve seen are a MESS).

    Standards have to be made:

    1. In order to be in the directory, you must have a fully-functioning rss-feed and self-hosted mp3 files.

    2. All things in the index must be episode-based. No 1 episode, then 1 talking episode. These are just raw forms. You want a discussion feed talking about your other stuff, you can have a sister feed.

    3. If at any time, those two are violated or come up missing, you are hidden from the feed until the problem is fixed.

    The app can be paid for by in-app advertising, but of course some upfront costs have to be covered. There will most likely have to be some backers for something like this to be developed, and I think if we passed the hat in the community, it can be done.

    After the app has been developed, that will then open the doors to other communities to discover each other, interactive chats, and forums, and even sections devoted to “paid programming”, which is devoted to those programs who want to try the paid market.

    Fred can’t run this alone, and if we have a backbone in place with moderators and admins, he will have the support he would need. There could be a group or “board” that can help tailor and better fit the app to what the community wants, rather than anyone thinking this is something single-serving. That would eliminate people thinking that this is serving any single entity.

    I know it’s possible because we had someone develop something this this for our show: – We still have version 1.0 up, and it’s still there. It’s tied into all the special things in our forum and even has chat options. Our developer won’t give us the source code, since that wasn’t part of our deal, but there is a chance we could possibly hire him to start developing it. In order to do this, though, there’s still a lot of server-side development that would need to take place, for certain user-administration stuff, but it is possible.

  • Matthew J Boudreau

    Ok. My apologies. I thought I was responding to Fred, so some of my comments were regarding conversations and situations we had been in.

    1) I use studio loudness standards of -3dBu which is standard in music.

    a) To be clear: I prefer to record in the same studio, but there needs to be concessions that a quality recording CAN be produced in different spaces, but that it requires more than just throwing the audio in the editor and rolling as is.

    b) Agreed. It’s the “so long as the material is good” that’s the kicker. There are a number of producers who could use a good editor and a good team. If you have the experience to be “all of the above” it can work. But I find a good team… the right team can pull a bit more out of a production.

    d) oops. I meant to type a good production CAN take UP TO a year or more. Curse my foul fingers! And agreed, but any production with any number of people will be problematic if the people suck. – grin –

    e) Don’t mind me. I was just ranting.

    10) Ha! They will volunteer for every position but that one!

    Back to 9) Fred and I were working on a paid model which kind of floundered since we were both bogged down with the Cleansed and I was trying to work my own shows and code for him. Our time got way too limited to focus on the project.

    I’ve worked on a couple of literary journals. One thing that works there is having a panel of folks that rate content. There needs to be a certain threshold for content both in terms of technical quality and artistic quality. In the audio drama community, there’s always been some contention in various stages of plans to organize regarding whether anyone is qualified to make aesthetic judgements on acting and writing.

  • waylandprod

    1) I use studio loudness standards of -3dBu which is standard in music.—– We shall never agree! My response would be, well that’s music, not dialogue based mediums, but the reality is as long as you’re consistent with your levels that’s all that matters… WE SHOULD REQUIRE TONE!… J/k.

    — In response to the committee thing: We could just say, let everything in, and then let people’s rating for content judge it from there. Hopefully that wouldn’t allow anyone to tamper with rating systems. iTunes ratings seem to work because you have to have an iTunes account, and most of the time that requires a credit card, so rating fraud is very difficult, but I have caught a few people before who were stupid about their usernames. But, on our system, it might be less fair, but there is the option of making a “promoted title” which is paid to be there. Also, having a filter system that sorts alphabetically by default, but can change to sort by date, and sort by rating as well. I imagine there being better categories on our custom system than the archaic model that iTunes set in place over a decade ago. There could be a way to track “most popular” as well, but that would require a bit more data logging.

    So, instead of a committee we just create a system that corrects itself as it goes and lets the cream rise to the top naturally. And if someone wants to have a “paid” option perhaps we can just have a checklist of discrepancies that we look for. Like:

    P-Pops, Un-natural clicks, audio-shredding and distortion, unintentional reverb. We could do it systematically, with more of a mathematical approach and count them, rather than simple aesthetic interpretation.

  • finalrune

    Man, this thing has taken on a life of its own 🙂 Honestly, we can get into the weeds about specific tech specs, but I’ll tell you, after auditioning works for Radio Drama Revival for eight years, I can tell you in about 10 seconds whether I will want to listen to any more of a given piece. Occasionally I am stuck in the car with something that disappoints me at first, and then gets better, but most of the time – nuh ‘uh.

    Just as we all agree that good scripts, good actors, and good sound design and important elements, I will say that nearly all introductory amateur works are missing all three. Honestly, even just the way the producer pitches the work to you, you can often guess whether it’s any good without even listening (god now people are going to think I’m an elitist asshole).

    There is some content out there which is up to ‘professional standards’ but is also fairly blah – story muddles around, acting is so-so, but the mic quality is OK. And for something like this I would let it slide. You would need a combo of some basic barrier to entry so that the platform is not just clogged with crap, and then a user-rating system that help reward the good stuff and bring it up more often in playlists, and discourage the less engaging material.

    The test library I was working with for this project has about 250 hours of programming, 50gb or so of files, and is a pretty small sampling of what I consider playable. The material is out there, it’s just figuring out all this other stuff that’s the hard part.

    – Fred

  • A Voice in the Wilderness

    I’m not Fred, but I appreciate the shout out!
    STRONGLY DISAGREE with you on points 5 and 10. With the money, you can create products based on existing material that already has a built in audience. And artists have had to become businessmen in order to get things done.
    Reference point to both: Big Finish. Theirs is a model worth looking at.

  • Matthew J Boudreau

    Haha.. I would have to say that our material is fighting the din of traffic and not just the chatter of a few people who can’t seem to not talk through the whole film. But the standard doesn’t matter to me as much as having a standard. Though I find myself shying away from broadcast standards, which I find noisesome and lacking in headroom.

  • Matthew J Boudreau

    Haha. Apologies for the mix up.

  • Matthew J Boudreau

    Well. It sounds like KC and I are both interested. What do you need from us?

  • There is a site called Redux that curates film from Vemeo, youtube and other online sources. It’s pretty good and my consumption of short films has dramatically increased (excuse the pun) since I found it. It’s a slick interface and there was an ap I could use on my TV, perfect. It could do with being updated more often, but you know its free so I can cope. I do wonder if something similar could be done with audio at least as the subscription free part of an audio drama archive. Perhaps too, some of the writers unions could help fund and promote such an initiative… but hang on the question of funding has me thinking…

    Over here in the UK as I’m sure you know we have a service called BBC Iplayer, its good for giving the weeks radio if you miss anything. But what you might not know is that there is also an industry side archive with everything on it from 2004 onwards called BBC redux, that is a wealth of radio (and TV). The license fee that funds all this, a yearly bill that you have to pay in the UK if you watch any live BBC shows.

    But it looks like the license fee will go, soon it will be decriminalised if you don’t pay and … well, I assume they will loose a lot of revenue. So that will mean the BBC will be looking to secure revenue from elsewhere. I’d be certain that if a water tight business model was proposed they would certainly want in and they already have worldwide reach with the World service. Which means they have a bulk of Radio drama there to kick start something. The trouble has been with many subscription services, the lack of quality content.

    If people pay a subscription for spotify or last Fm then I’m very sure they will for radio drama especially if there is a massive archive of quality content. Get enough subscribers and you can start funding new drama.

    Yeah, simple really!

  • Audiosurfer

    Not sure how well the Netflix model would work, given both the hassle that would come on the legal end to try and curate good content (which is why Netflix doesn’t keep everything permanently if I’m correct, since they only have deals for a set time) and the fact that you’d need to get enough people subscribing to make it worthwhile. I know you made a post a long time ago about why you put things up for free, and I don’t think that most people would give too much serious consideration to a medium like audio drama if it weren’t free, given the fact that it faces intense competition from other things such as actual Netflix, which is familiar and has tremendous exposure.

    However, I do agree that some centralized place to find content would be very useful as a way to attract more people to audio dramas, which could only be beneficial to everyone involved. I personally think that an ad revenue source would be the most logical option, sorta like what YouTube has, where people whose works are getting viewed will make back some of that money in ad revenue. It makes it more attractive to those who have never really experienced the medium before, since they can try it for free, while still being beneficial to the people who make the content, since they’ll get a percentage of revenue while benefiting from the increased traffic a centralized source would bring. Most of these groups (I assume, please correct me if I’m wrong) rely on outside sources of revenue or donations or things like that to finance productions anyway, so the audience that a single location to access audio dramas at would bring coupled with the revenue that newfound audience could bring in through advertising would be a welcome supplement to their current sources of money.

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  • Joe

    Though I think audio dramas have more in common with television and movies than music (despite being purely auditory) I wonder if something like what’s done in music could be beneficial. If an artist is extremely successful, he or she sometimes will find other artists that he or she enjoys and promote them.

    Imagine if Welcome to Night Vale’s website had a link that said “All caught up? Itching for more? Here’s something to keep you entertained in the meantime,” that took you to a page with the favorite dramas, modern or older, of the creators. I think that would stir a lot of interest, given how popular Night Vale is even among people who listen to literally no other podcasts.

    Another thing, though this would have to be done really carefully, would be very brief ads, not obnoxious ones, at the very start of a podcast, or at the end before the “x is written and recorded by y” message that most pod-dramas have at the end. Just a sentence saying “Like our show? Check out this!” possibly with a website name. Very, very brief or I imagine people would start to get annoyed.

    Of course, I have no idea if the creators of audio dramas would feel any incentive to do those things, but I think they would stir up a lot more interest among people who listen to one or two but don’t want to wade through the pool of mediocre and even bad series to find another good one.

  • Pamela Getchell

    I found this post in the hopes of 2015 brought about a Spotify or Rhapsody of audio drama…apparently not. I have a huge commute and I don’t own a functioning tv. I was thinking a Pandora model, then jumped to a Netflix model…but both of those are stream. A Spotify or Rhapsody model would be ideal imo. Spotify and Rhapsody have a download and go – you only have to check-in every 30 days so your app knows your subscription is still good.

    I’ve become addicted to audio drama, there’s some amazing material out there…and some not so amazing material. I’ve gotten on some websites of pay audio drama…but I don’t want to OWN the piece, I want to listen to it and toss it out and go on to consuming the next, that even nixes Audible for me.

    Maybe someday…

  • I run BearManor Media and LOVE radio. I’ve written books on some of the top voice actors: Paul Frees, Mel Blanc, Daws Butler. So if someone is serious about doing this, I hope you’ll get in touch so I can help somehow.

  • seachangeau

    oooh zero comments. i wonder how things are 3 years later – i see soundcloud is making efforts. and i think you mistake the native beauty of the podcast lies in NOT having big budgets- get them young and literally GROW your audience think dungeons and dragons which was paper and pencil back in my day. Reach out and teach – you will get the audience that way vey easily.