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I've made reference to this before, but I'm surprised to find that I haven't asked directly, anybody here into radio drama? or, I suppose, more accurately these days, audio drama?

I'm ramping up to start recording my first ever full-scale production (3 x 1 hour episodes). So, I'm gonna need some advice. I'm self-producing it too, so I get to experience the joy of writing it, scheduling actors, directing, sound designing, trying to get it sold, and probably acting in it too.

I'm sure I'll be safe in assuming that it's really very similar to putting together an indie film production, minus the bother with locations, cameras, and camera people.

So, does anybody have any experience with putting this kind of thing together? Any quicksand pitfalls that I might find myself slipping into?

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Sounds rigorous. What's it about? (If you can disclose) –  Chris Jun 8 '11 at 3:10
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I don't at all mind divulging the genre. It's a quasi-post-apocalyptic whodunit.... on the moon! –  g.a.harry Jun 8 '11 at 3:32
    
Sweet…plenty of room in the for some fx'ery –  Chris Jun 8 '11 at 16:31
    
That's kinda why I wrote it ;-) –  g.a.harry Jun 9 '11 at 12:48
    
@G.A. harry, a little bit off topic for this thread, but I was wondering what your portable recording rig is? –  Chris Jun 10 '11 at 19:23
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12 Answers 12

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Hi there,

I do radio drama for a living here in the UK. I have a series going out on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday's at 11pm UK time called Shedtown.

My advice is that to do it all can be creatively problematic. You only have your own ideas. Also when recording I really wouldn't recommend being the writer, actor, sound recordist and director. I would suggest you be either the actor, or sound recordist or the director but not all three and probably not even two of them. Similarly although you will be the best person to do the dialog edit again I would suggest that when it comes to the design and mix, ether be the sound designer or the director. Bringing fresh ideas and a differnt perspectie will ultimately benefit the production.

Hope that helps,

Mike

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@Mike, Absolutely that helps. I'm only just starting to get an idea of how much work the whole thing is going to be. If you don't mind, could I pick your brain a bit (you too, @Utopia)? I've got some more specific technical questions that I'd be eternally grateful to have answered. g.a.harry@gmx.com –  g.a.harry Jun 8 '11 at 0:07
    
p.s. I was planning on pulling a Hitchcock, bit part, one line at most, maybe just a grunt. I am a terrible actor. –  g.a.harry Jun 8 '11 at 0:16
    
@g.a.harry Go ahead, I'm all ears. –  Utopia Jun 8 '11 at 1:33
    
@Utopia, You're so bashful, there was nothing wrong with your post. Anyway, my big thing at the moment is to make sure that it doesn't end up sounding canned. Talking heads in a booth = bad. I've listened to a lot of stuff from the 80's to the 90's (before PT) and I have to say that I like it a lot better than most of the stuff that's on the go right now. I'm just trying to figure out how to reconcile the natural verb of my room and the spaces that I'm creating. How do you guys record your actors? Do you do the booth? or some kind of stereo configuration in a controlled room? (@Mike Thornton) –  g.a.harry Jun 8 '11 at 3:18
    
@g.a.harry Sorry it took me so long to stumble over this question back to me! Forgive me! I record my actors one by one like Pixar does their voices - we had a director who was a genius of all geniuses and knew how much projection each actor needed to have in order to cut well with the other characters they were speaking to. I recorded in an extremely well acoustically treated room and got nice dead recordings I could manipulate afterwards. Main mic used was a Neumann U-87 and sometimes other mics depending on the voice. –  Utopia Jul 27 '11 at 23:55
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While I have only done small amount of audio drama, I love the form. Radio Drama is one of the reasons I have my love of sound.

So while I may not be able to help as much as other guys, I would love to see/hear about your progress. What worked, what didn't, lessons learnt, etc.

Most of all, good luck!

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Thanks! High five! –  g.a.harry Jun 8 '11 at 0:22
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@g.a.harry Not sure how this would go through if I commented directly on my previous answer above.... Still a bit new to this forum format.

I finished the audio drama pilot! You can listen to it here on SoundCloud. http://soundcloud.com/northernlightsmedia/my-fair-lady-northern-lights

That project offered SO many "firsts" for me as a producer/engineer. It was a blast to run, and I hope that I'll be working with them more in the future.

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I started out years ago doing radio dramas on a campus community radio station making our own effects, editing on 1/4 inch and having a really great time. I found that having a good team with you always helps, especially when you are recording and trying to direct the actors at the same time etc. I would surround yourself with people who understand radio drama's and the project and who have a keen interest in sound creation. I love the old Goon Show's. Tony Hancock etc.

Best of Luck.

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Oooh yes, yes indeed! I have been chipping away at some projects myself. What got me hooked was the Jack Flanders series from ZBS. No words I could hack together could do ZBS justice. I'll just say that it inspired me tremendously and lit a major fire for me.

There's a podcast I just started checking out called Radio Drama Revival, some neat stuff on there.

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Not really a 'radio drama', but I take care of 90% of the audio work (voice tracking, composition/sound design, mixing, mastering etc) for a podcast called Paper Radio (paperradio.net), which features literary fiction (probably closest to 'drama') and some creative non-fiction (more coming).

I'd hazard a guess that we will be running largely different processes — I do almost everything myself (save for the 2-3 actors per episode) and I'm learning a lot as I go on, but I don't have the resources nor the time to involve a wider team. That said, I don't write the material, which I think helps with what @Mike Thornton said about it being a bad idea to do it all yourself.

Anyway, I'm interested in hearing where your work takes you. Good luck with it!

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I've done some part time work as a radio DJ, but have never been involved in a radio drama production. While I have fond memories of sitting at the radio late at night listening to Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse and the like instead of doing homework, I thought they had all but disappeared. It would be really nice to see them make a comeback as, unlike most movies, they actually require you to use your imagination.

I would wager to say that it is probably quite different from working with film, as sound design, special effects and dialogue now take centre stage, rather than being treated as a necessary evil. I would be inclined to record the dialogue as dry and isolated as possible, as this will give you more freedom to create interesting and believable soundscapes.

I also think that clear and descriptive scene directions for the talent will be important, as they also need to imagine the environment to convincingly sell it to the listeners.

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That's one thing I'm making a point of, I'm in the process of building the atmospheres for all of the "sets" and piping it into the talent's headphones as they perform. It's expecially important because it's a sci-fi story, so the BGs are really thick and heavy. –  g.a.harry Jun 8 '11 at 15:14
    
So, when's the trailer coming out? ;-) –  Bluesman69 Jun 8 '11 at 20:35
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You should look at the work of Kaye Mortley. She's an independent radio docu maker. I saw her at the school of sound in London.

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You should also check out the "Teknical Difficulties" comedy show, and "The Account" a sci-fi audio drama, produced by Cayenne Chris Conroy over at tekdiff.com

His website is a little basic, but if you scroll a bit you will come to "The Account" which has a very high production value for being a single person writing, producing, and composing the music.

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I will definitely check it out. Thanks! –  g.a.harry Jun 8 '11 at 16:55
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This thread is awesome! I'm a little late to the party (as most of this discussion went down 6 months ago), but I appreciate the topic.

I'd be interested to hear followup! How'd the project go? Now that you've done it (@g.a.harry), what advice would you give?

I'm currently working on a simple radio drama pilot myself (nothing major, an adaptation of an existing script - 4-5 actors, original music, etc, etc). We've just finished recording and editing the dialog; now moving on to the foley and sound design. We used a combination stereo/spot mic setup in a small, dead room, (close mics on two actors facing one another with a bidirectional in between. I think it turned out GREAT! We captured the dynamics of the dual performance in space AND still have complete control of the room tone.

I'll be building the BG "spaces" this week....Interested to hear some follow up! What worked for you?

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I actually didn't end up getting much done, sadly. I had trouble finding actors, then life presented me with an opportunity that required me to move, and I haven't really had time to get back to it. Soon though. I'd to hear what you've got when you're done though. –  g.a.harry Jan 17 '12 at 21:01
    
That's unfortunate that you weren't able to continue!...Oh, that we could do it all, right? Good luck restarting! If I can remember, I'll try to post a preview or two when we're through... –  Audiophile.2010 Jan 18 '12 at 14:54
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Anyone know of someone with a good London/British voice I could use for a late 19th century audio drama recording?

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I would love to hear about your progress as well! The masters sound design program I am part of is planning to mount a performance of live "radio" drama next year (no costumes, sets, or lighting, just sound). Although the live aspect makes our project quite different from yours I'd love to hear about your experiences working with the actors, preparing sound effects and mixing it all. Cheers! ~Matt

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Cool! That sounds like a lot of fun! ...I don't think I can offer too much advice myself (I too would love to hear from experienced mixers)... Good music. Good acting. The world's best fx can't rescue a poor performance! –  Audiophile.2010 Mar 19 '12 at 11:45
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