So there I was… taking part in the National Podcast Post Month (NaPodPoMo) by doing something crazy: I decided to produce a daily, on-the-fly audio drama podcast experiment!
Normally, producing an audio drama is hard work. Which makes doing it as a daily podcast downright nuts! So why did I do this? Why did I produce PAUSE for Dramatic Effect for NaPodPoMo? To get rid of the fear and hesitation of creating an audio drama.
You see, I’ve been thinking about doing an audio drama for 2 years. I’ve been listening to shows, reverse engineering techniques, attending conferences, anything to use learning about how to make one without doing the one thing that I need to do: actually make one! By forcing myself to do it as a NaPodPoMo experiment, I could learn the how by doing it… in a crucible… with a deadline.
Fortunately, I wasn’t completely unprepared. I did have previous podcast experience, a simple plot, a story outline, and a few characters. Additionally, I limited each episode to 10-minutes max, targeting around the 5-minute mark to keep production mostly manageable. and a goal of hitting 21 episodes or more. However, this project challenged all of those things!
Here are 5 lessons learned I gained by putting myself through the NaPodPoMo 2019 Laboratory:
#1 – Do Some Planning – Don’t Try to Wing It!
First, my biggest struggle during NaPodPoMo was planning. I had outlines and ideas but once I had audio — LOTS of audio — the editing process with sound effects was brutal. For every minute of audio was 7x to 10x of editing (regular solo, co-host, or interview shows are only 3x to 4x). Add to that a family, a full-time job, a webinar to host, a podcasters meetup to support (vapoda.org), a conference to volunteer for (dcpodfest.com), and two holidays (Veterans Day and Thanksgiving). The normal schedule was insane! However, the podcast schedule had to work around all of those obstacles. Very early on I discovered that batch recording was the only way to stay above water. I managed to record three episodes at a time but even that was too much.
The solution? Trailers and Bonus content! I found that producing 10 episodes of Between the Pauses: The Making of PAUSE for Dramatic Effect, I could record and detail my audio drama production experience as it happened. This actually helped give me a few days rest in-between big edit cycles. Those gaps were essential to maintaining any kind of momentum.
#2 – Have a Solid Direction – Shiny Object Syndrom is Real!
The other challenge I face was the overwhelming amount of creative learning I experienced during each editing session. I was discovering new audio tricks that I didn’t know I could do each time I sat down at the computer. They would just keep coming! I was learning new and interesting things like, “Oh! I can make my garage door sound like a cargo plane door opening?” or, “Oh, I can make a voice sound creepy with just a simple echo?” The more tricks I learned the more complicated my sound effect goals became. This created a backlog of what if-isms that caused my edit time to balloon. If not for the Bonus episodes I would have certainly just said, “Nope! It’s too much. Maybe tomorrow.” Having simple episodes to edit mixed in with complex ones was how I managed to finished 24 episodes before the November 30th challenge deadline.
At the time of this post, I have 6 left to produce — and I will produce them — but now have a chance to enjoy some turkey and catch my breath. Hitting 24 episodes was 3 more than my goal of 21. Not bad!
If I had it to do all over again, I would not change my direction in the middle of the NaPodPoMo challenge. This forced me to rewrite ALL my script outlines after November 11th. Without knowing what was coming up, I sent scripts out last minute causing voice actors to send me there parts too late to use the way I wanted to. And getting changes from voice actors during Thanksgiving is next to impossible. Do yourself a favor and stick to your plan. Like we use to say in the US Navy: Plan the Dive, Dive the Plan.
#3 – Understand Your Requirements – Your Talent Have Lives Too!
Knowing what I needed in advance and sticking to my guns is one thing, but relying on others to give you their recordings BEFORE you need them is something completely different. I will certainly ask for all my voice over help differently next year by not recruiting voice actors last minute.
For this audio drama, I asked, persuaded, and even bullied my friends and family to do characters as I came up with them! Yes! Scriptwriting on the fly to include discovering I needed a character to carry a part of the story but did not have a voice actor to do the role. The result was taking anyone who would agree to do a character and running with it. In hindsight, by having scripts early, I would have been able to line up those voices early and actually decided who would do what voice over even holding (gasp) auditions.
I loved all the volunteers who donated their voices to my characters and everyone did a fantastic job. But not all of the roles played to the strengths of the voices I had available. I could have done a lot better connecting voices to roles if I wasn’t writing a script just minutes before sticking a microphone in someone’s face. Unfortunately, you don’t know what you need until it’s too late to change your mind. Thankfully, what I had worked but I could a much better job by knowing how many characters I had, what part they played in the story, and when I needed their recordings.
#4 – Music is Hard – Details Take Way More Time Than You Think!
Finally, I would have decided on my music and sound effects way early. Case in point, I wanted to use cello and piano to create a certain mood. But then I happened upon a nice piece of Arabian Oud music that just fit. The only problem was that I didn’t find that music until three weeks into NaPodPoMo! Yup, I was deciding on music during production! Fortunately, the Oud solo music I found on Audiojungle.net fit with the scene transition in a way that just worked. I would call that luck, but if I had known I needed it before I started it would have saved me hours of searching.
Sound effects took on a different kind of time suck. I needed sounds that could simulate a helicopter crash. Unfortunately, all the stock sounds make the crash sound cartoonish. This led me to record ceiling fans, my car from the inside, and all sorts of other everyday things to find the sounds that worked. That took time. Lots of time! And many of my sounds were garbage which meant I had to start all over again. If I had known I wanted a helicopter crash in one of the episodes, then I could have planned out the sound effects in advance. Just like with scriptwriting, voice recording, and editing, music and sound effects takes time and adds to the total time multiple.
#5 – Doing It Worked – There is No Teacher Like Experience!
There is a great saying by Cicero that goes, “To be, rather than to seem.” I learned more about audio drama production in 30 days fo NaPodPoMo than I could have ever learned in 3-years of sitting in a classroom. Of course, next year is going to include more planning. WAY more planning! But if you are so inclined to step out of your comfort zone and join us for the next NaPodPoMo in 2020, my advice to you is this: do it! Do ALL of it! Why? Because it works!
Doing this audio drama forced me to learn a lot of things in a very short period of time. It also helped me understand the context behind what other audio drama producers and directors had been telling me. Additionally, there are just some things in podcast production that you have to experience to understand.
Is it hard? Yes!
Does it get easier? Sort of.
It is a rough go for about all of it and it is very possible that you will not finish. Not many do and that’s okay. The point of this challenge is not necessarily pushing out 30 episodes of garbage but instead creating 30 value experiments of what does and does not work. NaPodPoMo is a laboratory that provides you with a solid return on your investment. If you participate with the goal of creating a podcast worth listening to, then by going through this process every day for 30 days will give you 10x of what you would have gotten by sitting on the fence. You also cannot just dip your toe in with an episode or two every week. You have to really be either podcasting every day or working on your podcast every day, or planning your next podcast episode… every day!
I know that doing a LIVE show is an awesome teacher. However, if you are trying to learn something, the next best thing is full immersion with a daily deadline breathing down your neck. By committing to these 30 days and immersing yourself into this medium, you will become vastly better at podcasting at the end of it then you were at the beginning. Maybe even better than those podcasters who only do it once a week. Plus you’ll have 30 podcasting experiments to learn from in your NaPodPoMo Lab that you can build on, throw away or relaunch with a new battle-tested purpose. I already know that my next audio drama, Three Minute Joe will be far superior to PAUSE because of this experience. Especially since I now know what to do (and what not to do).
Being as this was my first NaPodPoMo challenge, my next NaPodPoMo in 2020 will need to have all of these lessons baked in. That will be what the next 11 months are for. Come November 1st, 2020, I want to hit the ground running, ride the 30-day bull, and arrive on December 1st, 2020, with 30 new and exciting audio drama episodes behind me. I know it can be done if I take what I learned and apply it to the future!
I look forward to hearing what you create for NaPodPoMo 2020!
About My NaPodPoMo 2019 Podcast
For NaPodPoMo 2019, I create a daily audio drama calledPause for Dramatic Effect (PAUSE). PAUSE is a narrative audio drama about modern-day man’s challenge to survive dark forces and ancient magic. Follow the adventures of Dougless Dire, a US Marine Corps veteran who is still trying to come back from his combat tour in Iraq, as he finds a ring that forces him to confront his own battle with reality.