Funding Indie AD

How much does it cost to make an audio drama?

There’s not a lot of information about indie audio drama budgets. This article breaks down the cost of a typical Sidequesting episode .

Earlier this year, I ran an IGG campaign for S2 and asked for $800 (ending with $833 raised). $500 was marked for voice actors, $60 for a year of hosting, $80 for fees and physical perks, and $160 for myself.

Spoiler alert: I did not use the $160 for myself.

Throughout this year I’ve gotten about $50 per episode from Patrons. Let’s round the IGG funds to $65 per episode so that we can ignore hosting costs. So, $115 is what I get to make an episode with, give or take.

Then let’s break down what an episode of Sidequesting takes to make. Right now, I pay voice actors $1/line (this is not a high rate!) and guest writers $50/episode (again, very small payment here!). What I pay VAs varies per episode, with the highest being $130 and lowest being $43. The average is about $80, let’s run with that. So if the episode isn’t written by me, then the total cost is $80+$50= $130.

And we’re already over budget.

So right now, the show can sustainably pay voice actors and the occasional guest writer. Which makes sense, given the IGG goal. I’ve used the funds earmarked for myself to bring in 3 guest writers, and it all mostly works out My goal with Sidequesting was never to pay myself, just all the people involved. And I’m meeting that! That’s rad! I’ve even managed to get hosting covered for the RSS feed and website. Even better! But let’s look under the rug for just a moment to see the real cost of making an episode.

The formatting of Sidequesting is very intentionally made to be compatible with my “pay everyone but myself” goal. I voice the main character, and I switch between narration and dialogue. So when an episode starts to have too much dialogue (defined as “going over budget for this episode”), I can use more narration instead. The audience gets the information, the story progresses, and it all mostly works out. (Narration also serves the purpose of time cuts and covering moments I don’t want to sound design — like a bunch of walking. It’s also where we get to peek inside Rion’s head. I love narration).

I don’t pay myself $1/line for Rion’s dialogue, nor do I pay myself for the narration. Rion has an average of 40 lines each episode, and usually around 6 paragraphs of narration. I don’t even have a rate for narration, but if I hired someone I’d try to hit $5/paragraph. So that’s about $70 of VA work I’m doing for free — but keep in mind this rate is LOW.

Beyond voice acting, the next big thing I do is the sound design. Each episode is about 15 minutes, and it’s got music under the narration and full SFX during the other scenes. It takes around 5 hours to edit the dialogue and at least 10 hours to sound design — so audio production for Sidequesting takes at least 15 hours. The “at least” is big here. I don’t usually track my hours, but let’s say I pay myself minimum wage for this work (PLEASE DON’T DO THAT WITH YOUR SOUND DESIGNERS, THIS IS TO MAKE A POINT). Minimum wage should be at least $15/hour, so with that metric, we’ve got $225 per episode. Let’s remember I’m lowballing the number of hours for audio production too. So that’s $225+$70=$295 per episode of work I’m doing. At least.

But we’re not done.

What about uploading the episode? Writing the show notes? Making the transcript? What about the work of casting the episode, or making the graphics for social media? Heck, what about all the work of marketing the show? I do all those things too, and I don’t even know what I would pay someone else to do it. Each of the points I’ve mentioned here takes at least half an hour, so let’s throw on 3 hours of work for $45 and see where we’re at.

On average, an episode of Sidequesting costs $150 for voice acting, $225 for sound design, $50 for writing, $45 for production. That’s $470 per episode, using rates I consistently said were way too low every step of the way. For a 10 episode season, that’s $4700. I’m making this season with $500 from Patreon and $650 from IGG. I’m doing at least $3550 of work on Sidequesting S2 that I’m not paying myself the bare minimum rate for. (And I knew this! I’m making this show because I want to and I love it!)

But here’s what I want you to take away from this: if it costs about $5k to make a 10-episode season paying very low rates, it takes a lot more to pay people what they deserve.

Getting $5k to make Sidequesting would be a dream come true. Maybe I’ll set that as my goal for season three. But even if I went back and doubled all my rates, these rates would still be low! It would still not be what people deserve!

The moral here is that audio fiction shows take an huge amount of time and effort to make and that everyone involved probably isn’t asking or working for the money they deserve. Indie creators will stretch the $10 you give them a LONG way. So give them money.

Edit/Update: Erin Kyan of Passer Vulpes Productions has linked me to his company’s budgeting posts! If you want to find out more about the costs of making audio drama, check it out here.

Tal is a SoCal based podcaster who cannot be stopped from making things and will occasionally write about audio fiction.