Everything I know about audio drama I learned from E’ville

Today I published the final episode of my eight-part audio drama, E’ville, over on the Unreliable Narrators site. What began as a group project became my own mission to write, produce and edit a radio-style serial. Strictly amateur, and an answer to many what-if scenarios rattling around in my head. Could I piece together such an ambitious project using crowd-sourced voice acting from my friends and cohorts? Could I deliver a series of episodes on a self-imposed schedule, eight episodes in eight weeks? Would it be any good?

Happily, all answers are yes. Well, that last one I leave to you, dear listener. But I’m satisfied with the results, as grand experiments go.

I did learn a ton. Some observations, in case I feel the need to undertake something like this again:

Nothing like starting out big. Maybe I should have tried a nice, single-episode short for starters. But where would be the fun in that? I wanted a challenge that combined my many creative interests, and by god, that’s what I got. Every writer knows that nagging idea that takes hold of your brain and refuses to piss off while you finish that other shiny project on your desk. This wasn’t going anywhere until I delivered, so I did. Perhaps a few too many characters, perhaps a few too-busy scenes for audio only. The important thing is, it’s out of my mind and I can reclaim headspace for a few other deserving projects.

Crowd-sourcing voice performances via the internet has its own rewards. The talent involved represents old friends, new colleagues, people I don’t know (yet). And it was fun to stitch together those elements of my life in one place. The drawback, of course, is that you sacrifice a good deal of control over audio quality when most of the actors are miles away–not nestled in your own, soundproof studio and using the same microphones. Given the size and disparate schedules of the cast, table reads were right out as well. But hey, I lucked into a great group of people who were quite talented and quite game.

Ah, copyright law. U.S. copyright law, in particular. Such an ungainly beast. I learned more about copyright law than anyone ever wanted to, in the name of keeping this legit. Did you know that no works published after 1923 can be safely considered in the public domain? How about that even if copyright has expired on a song, the actual recording of the song is still protected? And that’s just the beginning of the headache. (Even worse, there’s a ton of misinformation out there, mainly because copyright law confuses everyone. I started out using a 20s jazz collection the Internet Archive itself marked as “public domain,” but the recordings themselves technically are not free to use. Oops.)

TL;DR on that last paragraph, for those whose eyes have glazed over: screw U.S. copyright law and its war on the public domain. Ahem. Moving on.

Crowd-sourced sound effects rock. I knew early on I didn’t want to spend hours recording my own foley work, whacking a side of beef with a baseball bat during every fight scene. That’s where freesound.org comes in, a lovely and CC-licensed collection of sounds recorded by people from all over the world. Of course, I still spent lots of time blending them into soundscapes. But it was enormous fun piecing together a street in 1920s Emeryville using sounds from a Japanese market, a Polish bar crowd, beaches in Venezuela. Technology is grand sometimes.

I used to play in bands and learned audio recording the old, multitrack magnetic-tape way. E’ville also served as an excuse to finally wade waist-deep into modern DAW technology. The covers and original compositions for the series are all 100% sampled and sequenced. Perhaps not entirely period-appropriate–they drift from 40s lounge to 50s rockabilly at times–but I never claimed to know shit about Jazz Age composition. And hey, I collaborated with a singer in Istanbul on one track. Again, technology rocks.

Would I do it again? Perhaps, someday. But there’s a book that’s been fighting for gray matter real estate with this sucker, and its time has come.

1 thought on Everything I know about audio drama I learned from E’ville

  1. Pingback Mission accomplished – Unreliable Narrators

Leave a Reply