Audio Drama on Spotify. Changing DAWs, & more on audio storytelling

There was some pretty big news in the podcasting world last week as Libsyn (via their own podcast The Feed) announced that they were partnering with music streaming giants Spotify. By the sounds of it, podcasts will be available on the service by the summer of 2015, which means that you could soon have your own audio drama listed on there, alongside their estimated 70 million users.

Elsewhere, we’re chatting about DAWs. Digital Audio Workstations. Those awkwardly named, but essential pieces of software we use to put our shows together. Which one do you use? Have you ever switched from one to another, and why?

And if you listened to episode 45, you’ll have heard part one of the Sonic Society‘s Jack Ward talking about what makes an audio story. Well you can hear part two in this very episode. Where does your own show fit into Jack’s Octahedron? You’ll find a transcription of this segment at the bottom of the page, and clips heard were from One by OneThe Woman in the BasementBiological Clock, and Escape from New York.

Other shows mentioned on the show were The Once & Future NerdAlba Salix Royal PhysicianHidden Harbor MysteriesThe Table Round, and the Hadron Gospel Hour.

Finally, we’re backing Neil from Twilight Audio Theatre to reach his Kickstarter goal of $650. He’d like to use it to pay his talent, and he’s an all round nice guy, can you lend a hand by making a small contribution? Oh and check out his podcast The Geeking too, there’s some great audio drama related content on there.

Get in touch…

My Unified Theory of the Audio Story

Part 2

By Jack Ward

How is an Audio Story represented? Is there a way to best articulate all the kinds of stories you can have in audio? I’m Jack Ward from the Sonic Society.

JW1Last time I postulated that there are three corners of the Audio Story triangle- Audio Drama based on scripted plays, Audio Narrative based on prose or novel form, and Experimental Audio that takes all kinds of forms, not the least of which are sketches and improvisational audio.

We identified that every audio drama production, company, writers, and producers have ‘neighbourhoods’ or plotted areas that we can- triangulate…as it were and just being able to visualize that brings us to a deeper understanding of the character of a group of stories or a company, and the style of the writer or writers involved.

But as much as I love this model. It’s not complete. Although it covers all the various sources of audio stories it’s kind of flat because it doesn’t look at how story is executed. So I’m standing right here, in the very centre of our massive Audio Triangle- exactly between Drama, Narrative, and Experimental to bring some depth to the story.

So our middle portion is growing… higher and higher until it reaches its own peak.

JW2Our Audio Triangle has become an Audio Pyramid. Because this third dimensional piece. This extra fourth point I like to label, “Intimate”.

Now I understand labels are problematic, and once we rise above everything, we’re in a precarious position of falling. I’m not trying to say that one kind of audio story connects with people, and another does not. What I’m saying is, the higher you are in Intimacy with the Listener, the less you need to build an audio world around them and the more you require the Listener to construct the landscape in their own heads.

Now I know that I depicted the end point of Narrative last time as being that lone voice with no sound effects or music, but that was really to try to help you picture better the difference between script and prose, Drama and Narrative. There really doesn’t need to be sound effects or music in Drama either. When I was a kid there was show on television called “Story Theatre” in which actors- like Alan Alda got together in no costumes, with no props, and no sound effects and acted out fairy-tales. This was one of the most intimate portraits of story because watching you had to imagine- without prompting- the actors riding horses, the trolls and the bridges they lived under. So much is created by the viewer or the listener that there’s almost a direct line from the writer through the voice of the actor to the audience. There’s nearly no intermediary in the way.

It is… for lack of a better word. Intimate. One of the key elements OF the audio story is that it is the MOST intimate of mediums. The cinema and television and even a stage play you witness from a distance and it takes incredible art to bridge that gulf between performance and audience to erase that distance and be immersed in that experience.

But audio is best experienced intimately, by which I mean that the images are drawn straight from your imagination. The sounds strike up the story inside your head, and the listener is, in a real way, a co-creator, filling in the elements of the set, sound effects, and atmosphere with colour, texture, and lighting. Even the characters, although hinted at, by their voices and the descriptions in the story emerge entirely from the listener’s mind.

This is why closure is so effective in art, because it allows the experiencer to complete the message.

In my play “One by One”, sound effects and dialogue describes the beginning of a great plague that’ll wipe out all of Halifax.

It’s the acting of Tanja Milojevic that sells the growing fear of the crowd. As her character keeps calling for her boyfriend and then as she runs away in fear, we’re provided just enough in the scene for the listener to understand and complete the picture.

The more intimate the portrayal of the story, the fewer clues the story provides.

Take for example, this clip from the now legendary (did we just dream this series) “Midnight Radio Theatre” by Billy Senese.

Did you feel the simple nature of that scene? It’s intimate. There’s not a lot provided or needed to paint a rich picture of the characters, their relationship and the world that surrounds them. It is in the execution of this scene that brings closure from the minds of listeners.

Here’s another quick example. “Biological Clock” from Ira Gamerman from the Truth Podcast.

While both of those clips are happening in a kind of modern day setting, they don’t have to be. However, it could be fair to say, that the more removed you are from the present setting, the more apt your producer and audio engineer will need to provide clues to better paint the soundscape for the listener.

JW3It would be too simple to suggest that our peak of the Audio Story pyramid- “Intimate” requires little or no sound effects to achieve. I don’t think the answer is that you just eliminate your sound effects to create intimacy in your audio story. But there is a sense of purity that comes with shaving off everything that’s not needed to tell the story, and keep the narrative as clean and clear as possible. Intimate.

This style was found in a lot of Old Time Radio shows because sound effects were live and unless run by a team of people, were executed by a single Special Effects Artist. This was the guy or gal who needed to get rid of the high heeled shoes in time to break open a door before rendering a thunder strike in the air.

Starkly produced and executed audio drama demands a lot of their listeners, but it also provides- in strange way- a very rich soundscape because it lets the listener create it themselves.

But what if your goal is to create a rich and textured soundscape for your listeners?

That sound you’re hearing below us, is our pyramid morphing one last time. We may have one point going up where we’re standing now, but down below, the base of the pyramid, is jutting outwards into its final point. This transforms our pyramid structure into an octahedron or for the nerdy among us, an eight-sided die.

On all eight facets we connect the three points in the middle of “Drama”, “Narrative” and “Experimental” with the final ‘North’ and ‘South’ poles of the audio story being “Intimate” and… “Dynamic”.

What is Dynamic in our now fully three-dimensional audio world?

Dynamically executed audio stories represent the cinematic, and are often described (unfairly I think) as the “modern day audio drama” sensibility. Dynamic audio stories can include multi-layered sound effects representing- what I call the “every blade of grass” group.

Dynamic audio stories cue in the listener, by giving much more texture to scenes. Listeners don’t need to work as hard to get into the story. You don’t have to imagine that sound of the speeding freight car, or the steam-powered lightning gun, the Dynamic story has it produced for you.

Similarly, when a story is executed Dynamically expect to have characters’ positions in the audio to be defined and deliberate. Dynamic audio is especially concerned with perspective and using music to set mood and tone.

When Dirk Maggs tells you that he wants audio drama to be cinematic just like the movies, you can be certain it’s not an accident that his productions are robustly Dynamic.

Some other Dynamic groups include: Epic Audio, Aural Stage Studios, Final Rune Productions, Darker Projects, Wayland Productions and of course again in Broken Sea Audio when either Stevie Farnaby or Bill Hollweg get behind the wheel… Like this scene from “Escape from New York”

Dynamic audio stories can instantly transport listeners to new worlds with 3-D holographic sound structures and a deep understanding of how to use a lot of sound in ways that avoids becoming a cloud of noise, but instead a rich environment. You might think of it this way. An Intimate execution of an Audio Story is like a book. A Dynamic execution of an Audio Story is a film experience in sound.

Again, it’s no accident that Dynamic producers often describe their radio drama as “audio movies”.

So now… you can consider where, in the diamond shaped octahedron of Audio your favourite stories lie. Do Dynamic and Intimate executions of audio stories say something of the writers and production companies who use them? Absolutely.

Would someone who grew up with the Spartan use of sound effects and perspective in Old Time Radio or with a deep appreciation for community theatre have a difficulty appreciating Dynamic more than Intimate audio? Similarly, would someone who considers themselves a visual learner and a lover of movies find the “Intimate” portrayal of an Audio Drama bland and uninteresting?

In the ten years of the Sonic Society, there’s been nearly a hundred and fifty contributors of audio shows and most of those in the last five. Can you imagine where they would all fit on those eight sides?

Where would you place Campfire Theater or Dick Dynamo? Certainly many audio production companies have multiple places on the map, but wouldn’t that also find them located a little closer towards the region of “Experimental”?

Icebox Radio for example, depending upon whether they are presenting a live or studio production, or a holiday, or series show would certainly have different places on our octahedron, and knowing Jeffrey Adams, that’s just how he likes it.

Same with companies such as, Misfits, Pendant, and Gypsy who are all cooperative groups with varying genres and concepts.

Still others like Harry Strange, Desert Gems, The Once and Future Nerd, Wormwood, Bell’s in the Batfry, Kung-Fu Action Theatre, and Doctor Floyd through genre or single series would have clear positions on our eight-sided world.

And that’s it. All the points on the Audio Story compass. All aspects of story representation and execution formed together.

The only question that remains is this… Where do you like to make your story, and who do you want to listen to it?

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