Making a Drama out of Audio
Audio Dramas are often a mixture of conversation and action scenes. Fiction podcasts can be as simple as one single voice reading a story. But they can also be incredibly complex. Audio drama is a uniquely intimate form so making everything sound like its occurring in a credible, appropriate acoustic environment is imperative. Like music, audio fiction podcasts have a flow, a tempo if you will, one you must preserve and convey.
You can have the most talented team on board, but if none of them have had any audio experience, no one will know exactly what to look out for, which is where we come in. You need to think about factors such as the distance you are to the mic, your breathing and how it changes when you move. What noises you actually make when you stand up and sit down?
Recording an audio drama can take one of two forms. One, you can gather your cast in a purpose-built studio and record the whole thing “live” or two, record in isolation and edit the audio together. Actors are often most comfortable if they can interact when they are delivering a piece. When working with actors it’s also important to ensure that the voices of the main characters aren’t too similar. Use the opening to provide the listener with some location-determining prompts to orientate them into the story and then keep the rest of the soundscape free for adding more character-based effects.
Expositional dialogue is bad in any medium, but in audio it stands out like a sore thumb. Just because there’s no visuals doesn’t mean characters have to explain everything they see in great detail. It’s important not to confuse the listener, so if something doesn’t sound like it should its better to take it out. Try using other recordings and effects to build the sound of something so that it’s immediately recognisable.
Through clever use of our sound library, we can give the listener little clues about an environment, which supports the characters’ dialogue. The sound of a busy road, the crashing waves of the sea, and a little reverb on a voice saying “it’s noisy around here” would immediately paint a full picture in the listeners mind.
An action scene can sometimes be a difficult thing to pull off in audio but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done well. One of the most fun bits of the whole process of creating audio drama is adding sound effects and music. Bringing performances to life make the listener believe that the characters are on a beach, at a party, or in an old creepy building at night. A point to remember is that having effects created in an obviously different acoustic from the voices can be distracting for the audience and so break the mood of the end product.
One of the main objectives should be to make the dialogue as audible as possible at all times. When mixing we use complex software and cut and splice audio files thinking about pauses for dramatic effect. When a character cuts across another it makes the dialogue sound more natural. We place the small sound effects first; the ones that need tinkering with and moving around a bit for timing purposes. These are things like chair creaks, button presses, and general “Foley”. It can be time-consuming but hugely rewarding once the final mix is done. Sometimes it’s better to choose the most engaging actors with great voices when spending hours listening to them during the mix!