Writing Audio Drama

Recently, I had been looking through the archives at Audio Drama Talk and discovered that our own little article on creating Audio Drama was now long gone from the view. Instead of reposting it on the Sonic Society, I’ve moved it here for folks to take a gander. Note that below this article are a ton of other great references if you need them! Thanks to John for getting me to do this sooner instead of later! 🙂 – Jack
How Do I Make My Own Audio Cinema?

So now you are asking your self, “Sure they say make your own story and send it. How the hell do I do that?”
When we started making audio cinema we had no idea either. We just jumped in and started.
We made tons of mistakes, and we still do. Honestly, I feel that there is no better teacher than experience, but I can break it down for you, and you can take it from there.
On the very basic level you need:

A script
Actors
Recording equipment
A multi-track sound editing program
Sound effects
Time, Lots of time.

Lets look at those components.

A Script
There are lots of different resources both on-line and in the library on how to write scripts. In looking at scriptwriting length, a rule of thumb is that 1 page of written dialogue is approximately 1 minute of read dialogue. In the business, a half hour script actually only is truly about 22 minutes long and an hour-long script is 45 minutes in length.
Some good ideas to keep in mind when writing your script are;
1. Don’t Explain Actions- Your audience is not stupid (at least that is the assumption you should make). There is no need to say that you pulled a gun when the well-placed sound of a hammer clicking into place says every thing that needs to be said.
2. Understand Your Genre- Sci fi, Crime Drama, Adventure, Fantasy, Soap Opera all have their own rules, know those rules and write to them. Your audience instinctively knows the rules, even if they don’t know they know, you know?
3. Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More- Your first draft is exactly that. You can always cut away fat, and rewrite. DO NOT EDIT YOUR FINAL DRAFTS YOURSELF. More often than not you are not objective to your own work. No disrespect intended, but unless you are two different people, you are too close to the work to look at it objectively. You need another set of eyes, and opinion. What seems to make perfect sense to you may be gibberish to another. Always have someone read your work. I know Jack uses his Mom, she is brutal, but she always brings something to the script that we had previously missed.

Here are some useful links for writing scripts:
Principles of Writing Radio Drama
Radio Drama Writers Kit
Bringing a Radio Drama Script to Life

Actors
This should not be to hard, Though if you are picky and have a specific voice in mind it can take some time.
We suggest you check out the local little theatre company, acting school, or universities.
Practice is important, the lines should be read as if spoken naturally. Be picky! If it does not sound right don’t use it. In the long run, if you settle for some one who does not sound right to you, then you will wish you had searched longer.

Recording Equipment
There are any number of different types of recording equipment to use. A four or eight-track recorder can be pretty cheap to rent or buy. However when we started we used a single track and converted it to digital media. I do not recommend you do it that way. The easiest method is to record directly to digital media using your computer. There are plenty of different recording programs out there, some of them are even free. I am sure with a little research you can find what you need. Some of the high-end sound cards come with recording programs bundled with the software.

As a bare minimum you will need a single microphone. There are several things to consider here.
The first is the quality of the mic. If you purchase a $10 mic you will get a $10 sound.
You don’t have to spend a fortune, but I do suggest you spend some money on a good microphone.
The other thing to consider is the connector. Usually you will be limited by the type on your sound card. Most have 1/4 inch jacks (that is the same size as on your discman or your portable MP3 player) this has a very limited amount of transfer.
Some sound cards come with 1/8th inch jacks (same shape as the 1/4 inch but larger) or ideally multiple pin jacks. Generally the thicker the jack the better quality recording (Easy isn’t it?).

Another option, which is the one Jack and I used, is to seek out people who may have proper equipment. Sometimes there are recording studios who love audio drama as much as we do and offer their facilities. Alternately, the local community radio station might have a pre-rigged interview room that is excellent for these purposes. That is the way we got started (thanks CKDU). Remember, you will have to convert it to digital media for editing purposes.
Mic stands, and pop screens are very useful, but not necessary. It is possible to jury rig both. A mic stand can be as low tech as a broom handle and duct tape. It’s not pretty to look at but it gets the job done. Pop screens are a little more tricky, pop screens go between the actor and the mic. This is done to buffer the actors voice from hissing the “S” and popping the “P” should they breathe directly on the mic. A screen can be improvised by making a circle out of a coat hanger and stretching panty hose over it and tying it (relatively) tight.
Mount this approximately 3 to 6 inches from the mic and it should give you some protection.
If you don’t want to go the uber cheap way, another method for a pop screen can be found here.

Digital Multi-Track Editing Program
This is really a decision based on preference and finances. There are some great programs out there like Cakewalk and Sound Forge.
These are amazing programs that do a multitude of things that you will never need for editing your radio play. While they are great programs, and I recommend them whole heartedly, they do have the unfortunate price tag associated with them. If your budget is a little more modest, there are good Freeware editing programs. I recommend you try Audacity it was originally created for Linux, has a very powerful editor, and will do everything you need to do. Best of all, it is completely free. If you don’t like Audacity, a quick search on google will find a ton of editors. I cant really speak for their quality I am afraid. I use Audacity.
It will probably take some time to learn how to use the program if you are coming in cold but don’t fret, they are usually pretty intuitive. Just remember two things: RTFM (read the manual), and when in doubt, check out the help files, just about everything you will need to do is in there.
If you recorded your raw audio to analogue media like cassette tape, you will have to convert it to digital by plugging it into your line-in jack on your computer and playing it all over again to record. For me this is awfully sloppy. You are better recording directly to your computer, or some other digital media.
Remember, you don’t have to record your actors in order. With good direction (that is your responsibility), they can deliver their lines with the inflection and emotion you need, and you can assemble it into proper order later. While this is not ideal, it can be done. We did it, so can you.

A couple of things to remember if you are recording to a single track.
If you are going to be applying effects to a voice (a high band filter to make it sound like they are on the phone, or some reverb for a voice over) make sure no one cuts them off or speaks in the background. Otherwise it just gets confusing. If you are using a multi-track recorder, this does not apply to you, In a multi-track environment you can just apply the filter to the track.
This site explains different effects and filters better than I could. Personally, I suggest taking a day or two and fooling around with each of the filters to find out what they do.
Editing is where the assembly of the story occurs.
Here you mix your sound effects, dialogue and music. Please make sure that if you are going to try to sell your play, that you have the rights to the music and sound effects.
If you don’t, you are going to end up with a nasty letter from a lawyer with all kinds of words like “Legal Actions” and “Cease and Desist” (We haven’t had that happen to us, but we understand it’s unpleasant).
The best way we got around this is to use very talented people to make an original score. I know it isn’t always possible but I am sure if you think you know someone who is an amateur composer. If not place an ad in the paper or somewhere on the Internet. Some music composers love to build their portfolios. You never know. We have a couple of good friends that help us out and make amazing music. (Sharon Bee has been a gold mine to us. She’s a consummate professional and she’s worth every penny! ).

Sound Effects
Sometimes, this is the most challenging aspect of building your cinemascape. Some free sound effects can be raided from the net, but more often than not, they are not exactly what you are looking for. Keep an eye out- used music stores, E-bay, and other places for second-hand CDs. Sometimes you can find CDs that have up to 150 sound effects and they are GOLD BABY, PURE GOLD!
However, if you are at all like me, you will find about 50% of the time that they still do not have the sound you want, you will have to go out and collect your own sounds and assemble them. Some sounds can be relatively simple and sampled at home- dragging a chair across a floor, dropping food into the dog bowl etc.
Sometimes you will have to get creative, An elastic “boing” with the pitch digitally raised can make an effective laser blast. The sizzle of a drop of water in a hot pan can sound like someone being tortured with red hot pokers. With sound effects anything goes. As long as the actors respond appropriately, the audience will do the rest.
The Radio Sound Effects Guide is a great resource for both theory, and for ways to make your own sound effects.

There is one sound effect that people sometimes forget about- ambience.
This can be the easiest and most challenging to collect. It is likely you will have to go somewhere to collect these sounds, and you will most likely have to transfer from one media to another (ie. cassette to wav format), but it will be worth it. Ambience really sets the mood, and can establish a scene change without a line of dialogue. Try to keep your ambience from 45 seconds long to 3 min, if your scene is longer than that you can loop it (but we recommend most scenes shouldn’t last more than a couple minutes before a change anyway) the audience won’t notice ideally. They should not consciously notice the ambience anyway.

There are tons of free Wav sights, but you may have to root through them a bit for sound effects:
Clay’s Sound Emporium
Earth Station 1
Find Sounds
Sound America
The Free Site

Time
This stuff won’t happen overnight. As you gain experience in every aspect of making your Audio Cinema you will get faster (we promise!). You have to love it because there will be times when you will want to walk away and never look at it again. (As a side note, personal experience has taught me never to edit when there is a high chance of a power outage or editor outrage.)
In the end it will be worth it.

Those are the basics. Now, go do it.
It really isn’t half as hard as I make it sound here.
If you have any questions feel free to contact us sonicsociety AT gmail DOT com. We at The Sonic Society love to encourage the return of Audio Cinema. Make it happen today!
More Resources on Audio Drama:
Crazy Dog Audio’s Writing for Audio Drama
Robyn Paterson from KFAT on Writing for Audio Drama: An Overview
Writernet’s Approaches to Writing Radio Drama (collection of articles)
The Well-Tempered Audio Dramatist- A Guide to the Production of Audio Plays in Twenty-first Century America by Yuri Rasovsky http://natf.org/wad/

The BBC
http://www.bbc.co.uk/newtalent/drama/advice.shtml
Writing Advice. bbc.co.uk/dna/getwriting
BBC radio Drama Info. http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/radio.shtml
Sample Scripts http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/ins…_archive.shtml

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