What does an audio drama producer do?

In indie audio drama, more often than not the showrunner is also the producer. When making a show for the first time, it can be daunting to not have a clear idea of all the tasks ahead of you. That’s where this article comes in! For the sake of clarity, I’m defining producer in the sense of “one who makes the show happen.” Not audio production, but the act of taking the show from concept to thing that exists in the world.

I’ll be breaking down what I do as producer for Someone Dies In This Elevator in this article.

The cover art for Someone Dies In This Elevator

SDITE is an anthology show. Each episode has a different writer and cast, and I’m working with a handful of directors, composers, and audio editors across the episode. There ended up being 65 people, plus myself and my co-executive-producer. I like to think of this as hard-mode producing. There’s a LOT more people to wrangle, deadlines to manage, and things to keep track of than a show where you have mostly the same writers, actors, and audio editors for each episode. Without someone wearing the producer hat, this show would be a gaggle of creatives with great ideas but unclear deadlines.

I’m the showrunner, but I co-produce SDITE with Colin J. Kelly. We talked about the idea for SDITE over dinner one day. I said I’d make it, he said “really?” and then I pitched the show to his network a few hours later. And thus, an audio drama was born.

I made a brand identity sheet for the new show, and created an additional information document to explain what it was about. My next task was contacting writers who might be interested. Colin and I both know a lot of writers, so it wasn’t hard to come up with 11 people to write episodes for season one. We set a deadline for the first drafts, and then got with Jesse Schuschu, who we wrangled into editing the scripts with us at the same time. We had a meeting a week for about a month and a half, turning first drafts into second drafts and then final drafts. Meanwhile, I was outlining a production schedule for our first season and Colin was outlining our budget and profit-sharing model. We also started working on marketing — I got the Twitter up and running while Colin worked on the website.

So let’s start a Producer Task List:
1) Create a brand identity for show (this included making cover art for me!)
2) Create a document about the show for potential writers
3) Hire writers, editors
4) Coordinate episode writing and editing
5) Create a production schedule
6) Make a budget
7) Create website and social media

Once we had an idea of what each script would be, I asked everyone involved with the show and the network if they were interested in directing, line editing, sound designing, or composing. Colin and I also brought in a few folks from outside the network to assist in these roles, and we assigned each episode a director, dialogue editor, sound designer, and composer. The two of us also determined episode order (this is an anthology-specific task, I suspect), number of trailers, and what those trailers would be. We also made Discord group chats for the crew of each episode, which became supremely helpful for following episode production as it moved from one stage to another. For season two, we’ll be doing this as channels in our production server instead of group chats, as 11 different groups got very overwhelming very quickly for the two of us. So many notifications.

Some of the production team chats. The icons are elevator art I made!

Add to the task list:
8) Hire the rest of the crew
9) Outline the show as a whole (trailer count, episode order, etc)
10) Create production chats — or more generally, organize production crews

When we had scripts finished (or near enough finished that we knew who all the characters were), I made the casting call. This was part poking writers for character information, part pulling audition lines, and part simply writing a semi-professional casting call. Having both auditioned for and cast roles before, I had a decent idea of what I was doing, though I’d never done something on this scale before. We left some minor roles off the call and cast a few roles without open auditions, but in spite of this, we still had 23 characters on the call. I bothered writers for a final look-over, checked with Colin to give it a go-ahead, and released it into the wild.

How I kept track of things before the episodes were cast.

Add to list:
11) Final approval on scripts
12) Create the casting call draft
13) Get writers’/directors’ okay on casting call
14) Finish and publicize casting call

We got over 500 auditions, and next came time to coordinate casting. I made a spreadsheet for each episode with sheets for each character and rows for each person who auditioned. All the audio was already in one place, collected and labeled via the google form everyone filled out. Over the course of a week, I listened to every audition and left notes in the spreadsheets. I sent every writer the link to the spreadsheet for their episode, and every writer (and most directors) listened to the auditions for their piece and left feedback. I kept poking everyone until we had decisions made for all the characters, then I wrote up emails to inform everyone of their casting result (which Colin looked over for me) and sent them. This took about a week to do.

Add to list:
15) Listen to auditions
16) Make final decisions to cast show
17) Offer roles, then on-board actors

Once I on-boarded the actors (which involved collecting emails, bios, and payment info), I sent each director a cast list with their cast’s contact info so they could coordinate recording. As director of a few episodes, I also organized a few recordings of my own. When recordings were done and takes were picked by the director, I would let the dialogue editor know they were good to start. Colin set up a flow chart for how episodes would be reviewed at each stage of the process (checking the dialogue edit before sound design started, checking the first pass of the sound design before finalizing the episode, etc). I kept an eye on the process as 11 episodes and 2 trailers moved along, helping folks along where needed. When the dialogue edit was done, I poked sound designers and composers. When the sound design was done, I poked the writer to give it a listen. When progress wasn’t happening, I stuck my head in and asked how things were going. If this sounds a lot like herding cats… you’ve got that right. I put months in our schedule between recording and release for precisely this reason.

Episode status as it stood in December

Add to list:
18) Follow production timeline
19) Establish production process to cast and crew
20) Bother bother bother
21) No really, you’re just kind of bothering a lot of people right now

Eventually we had 11 finished episodes and 2 finished trailers, but the work wasn’t done. I wrote up show notes for each episode, which included collecting for each episode: content warnings, short description, and cast/crew information. During production, we had a few crew members change positions, so I had to double check the crew list from before and make sure it was updated with correct information. When I had the show notes together, I made a separate document for the intro and outro scripts for each episode. The intro contained content warnings, and the outro contained credits. In one fell swoop, I recorded them all, then inserted them into each of the episodes. Another thing that happened during the months of production was commissioning a show theme! I inserted this music under the intros and outros as well.

Add to list:
22) Create episode show notes
23) Write episode intro and outros
24) Record episode intro and outros
25) Decide theme music
26) Finalize episode audio

Once we had our full season made, I created the RSS feed and uploaded/scheduled all the episodes. Then, it was time to market the show and pay our cast and crew, which for us meant running a crowdfunding campaign. On the marketing side, I created a press kit so we would have something to send to reviewers and critics (and also put on our website). When launch neared, I emailed a press release to several reviewers and publications to get the show on people’s radar. I also painted art for each episode, and with the help of Ali Fuller made so many graphics to promote the show. These graphics came in handy for our crowdfunding campaign.

Page one of our press kit. I’ve redacted crew information since we’re announcing these folks during our campaign.

Add to list:
27) Make RSS feed
28) Create press kit
29) Write press release
30) Email press kit and press release
31) Create episode art and promotional graphics

Preparing the crowdfunding campaign was a lot of work. We came up with the perks we wanted to give supporters and what tiers they would be at. We wanted one of our perks to be elevator magnets, so Colin designed those. I wrote a script for our crowdfunding video, which Colin and I filmed. I edited the video and took charge of getting it uploaded to our Youtube page. Ali, meanwhile, worked on creating a video of our season one trailer, which would be uploaded separately (as well as be included in our crowdfunding video). Ali also worked on creating even more graphics for the campaign, which included episode, cast, and crew announcements. We’d be releasing these throughout the campaign. I wrote up the text that potential supporters would see on the front page, which included a breakdown of our budget. And then, the campaign went live!

Add to list:
32) Brainstorm and create supporter perks
33) Create crowdfunding video
34) Create trailer video(s)
35) Make crowdfunding page
36) Promote crowdfunding page

And now here we are, actively crowdfunding and promoting not only the show, but our campaign! I’ll be tending to the social media, my email inbox, and all campaign perks while season one airs, then I’ll be doing this all over again for season two!

Yeah, it’s a lot work. Being a producer is hard. But… it’s also fun.

You can get a sneak peek at all the work we put into the show by listening to our trailer! Episodes of the show will air every two weeks starting on April 26.

And I’d be a bad producer if I didn’t end this with a plea: Help us create sustainable audio fiction and support the show now!

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