So you want to start a fiction podcast?
Before I get into this article, I want to post a disclaimer up front — this is just my experience, not the only way to do things! Take what I write with a grain of salt.
Write for sound.
If you’re coming to audio drama from another medium, some things don’t translate. This is especially true if you don’t have narration. For example, if you write “SFX: they pick up a mirror,” that’s not going to come across. How will the audience know it’s a mirror that has been picked up? (To answer my own question, it’ll probably have to be in the dialogue. It’s a restraint you wouldn’t have in a novel or in theater — sure, you can add a metallic “shing” but how will people know it’s not a knife?)
Finish your scripts before you cast anyone.
Unless you are intentionally working with no backlog (there are reasons to do this, just look at @needsanamepod), you should consider finalizing scripts before you cast voice actors. I have been on many many shows where, once cast, I sat around for months before recording started. Or, we recorded the first episode and then sat around for months. Everyone will have a better time if you bring on your cast when you have all of your scripts. The most common reason I’ve seen for production delays are scripts not getting written fast enough. It’s really hard to write a new episode every two weeks!
If you’ve got a release schedule, have a backlog.
Speaking of delays — they will happen, things will go wrong, and people will need more time. (I’m ignoring my own advice here with @SidequestingPod and this only works because I’m the producer/writer/sound editor and I’m willing to postpone releases). Having a backlog will allow you to absorb delays without changing your release schedule.
Listen to actors.
If actors tell you something in your script makes them uncomfortable, they are trying to help. Listen to them, but also don’t make your actors be your sensitivity readers. It’s really stressful to bring up something about a script when you’re not brought on to edit it. It’s even worse when you bring up an issue with a script and are ignored (and chances are, listeners will bring up the same issues down the road!).
When you’ve cast people, tell them about the show.
The number of shows where I’ve been cast, joined the discord, and then been told nothing is pretty high. I’m fine chilling there until I get information, but it’s kind of a red flag. Tell your cast if you’re recording synchronously or synchronously. Tell them if there’s a read through, what format you want recordings in, and where to send them. Consider telling them more about their character(s). Also, tell your cast about the show! Is there social media? Is there a website? How are you crediting them? Ask your cast for the name/pronouns they want to be credited with.
Credit your cast in more than just the episode audio.
Put them in the show notes. Put them on the website. Include pronouns and some sort of link to contact them (website, twitter, etc).
You should have a website.
This will increase your SEO and allow potential audience members to easily pull up information about your show. http://carrd.co is free and easy to use.
You should have transcripts.
At minimum, put your script on your website for access. Not having transcripts restricts the entire deaf and hard of hearing community from engaging with your work.
You should have a RSS feed.
I’m looking at you, YouTube and Soundcloud podcasts. I believe you can enable a RSS feed on Soundcloud, and if you’re just on YouTube? Anchor is a free hosting platform.
If you have the money, pay the people helping you make your show.
And if you’re making money with your show, PAY THE PEOPLE HELPING YOU MAKE YOUR SHOW. If you can’t pay, say that up front! There are ways to make an audio drama when you don’t have the money to pay your cast and crew, but there are also many people who aren’t interested in working on an unpaid project. When you’re upfront about your project being unpaid, you’re saving both you and them time.
If you can’t pay people, know they’re doing you a favor.
You’re not entitled to people’s time if you’re not paying them. I’ve seen shows demanding hours of voice or audio work every week and acting like the exposure people got would be obviously worth it. What does not being entitled to people’s time mean? Give actors several weeks to record their lines. Have flexible deadlines. Don’t require in-person calls every week. When someone says something’s come up, you change your schedule, you don’t make them change theirs. You should also be nice to the people working on your podcasts with you. I mean, you should be nice even if you’re paying them, but it’s way easier to leave an unpaid project if it sucks to be there. If I’m doing something for free and for fun and it stops being fun, why the heck should I keep doing it?
Not everyone who joins your project is there to be your friend.
Don’t require people to hang out if they don’t want to. If someone just wants to send you lines and be done, let them. (Sometimes I am just very busy and cannot spend extra time on a project.) Be professional! Once you bring people beyond your close friends into your passion project, you need to act professional and treat them professionally. Think about the purpose of a venting or NSFW channel in your podcast discord before you add it. Do you want what it will bring? (Maybe the answer is yes, I’m just saying to think about it!) But if your show has minors, DO NOT let them access a NSFW channel. Yes, I’ve seen this happen and yes, it is bad.
Put effort into the things you make.
This holds true especially if you’re asking people to help you make them! What do I mean by this? Don’t put “idk lol” in your casting call club description. Don’t have a bunch of typos in your audition lines. I’ve seen this so much and it‘s a huge turnoff for working on a show.
Have a legible script.
Brad Colbroock summarized various podcast script formatting in a twitter thread, and I recommend giving it a read. The gist is to give your actors context and don’t use prose format. Some VAs will ctrl-f their character’s name as a way of marking where they need to record while in the booth, and if you don’t have the character’s name near their lines, it will cause problems. Additionally, proof read your scripts! I’ve been in the position of recording from scripts riddled with typos and it makes my job as a voice actor far difficult than it should be.
Record both sides of audio locally.
If you’re recording with a program like zoom or discord, don’t rely on the quality of the recording from the program itself. Recording via discord bot (or just recording you zoom call) will give you worse audio quality. Each person recording on that call should also be recording locally to their own device, via audacity or similar program.
Get actors’ permission before pitching their voice.
This one might not be super intuitive, but it is incredibly jarring as a voice actor to listen to the final podcast and hear their voice has been surprisingly altered. It is also incredibly uncomfortable for trans and non-binary voice actors to hear their voice unexpectedly pitched up or down. I personally can’t listen to shows where my voice has been pitched up, and I know from experience how uncomfortable it is to be caught by surprise on this.
Audio Drama doesn’t work like theater.
You don’t have to do live recording every time. You don’t need to make your voice actors read three monologues to audition. Audio fiction can be like theater in many ways, but it doesn’t HAVE to—and some of those differences can make things easier for you.
And that’s all I’ve got for you! Good luck with your show!