Ever wanted to make your own fiction podcast or audio drama? Well, you've come to the right place. In this Guide on How to Make a Fiction Podcast, we'll walk you through the entire process, step-by-step. Here's what you'll learn:
If you've got a great idea for a story then, arguably, the best thing you can do with it nowadays is to turn it into a fiction podcast.
Why? Well, you could write a novel and try to get it published. Maybe some time in the far future it'll see the light of day.
You can write a novel and self-publish it. And then compete with hundreds of thousands of other published and self-published authors for people's limited reading time. Or you could try and find a few million pounds to shoot and produce a film.
Podcasting offers you a platform to do something a little different. If you tell a good story in an effective and consistent manner, you'll soon build an audience who are desperate to hear your next episode.
One of the most popular posts on our site is our Best Fiction Podcasts roundup. There's a big appetite out there for quality audio fiction shows. In this guide, we're going to help you make one of your own.
This ‘How to Make a Fiction Podcast' guide is split into 8 chapters, taking you through the entire process, step-by-step.
Let Alitu Take Care of Your Podcast Editing
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Anyway, without further preamble, let's get started!
Story Format | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #1
We're going to start with choosing your story format. So, what are some popular options we can choose from?
The Podcast Novel
Also known as ‘Podiobooks'. This is the art of writing a novel or series of short stories, and then recording and splitting them up into podcast episodes. Perhaps the most famous example of an author podcasting their book is Scott Sigler, who built a massive audience in this manner.
Writing prose (and essentially writing a novel) can be a difficult thing to do, and few people have actually managed to complete one. If you've already written a book or two then you're well past the halfway mark to creating a podcast novel. If not, then it might be a good idea to start out with some short stories to help you get more accustomed to the whole writing process.
The good news is that the production barrier is very low here. If you can plug in a microphone and hit record then you're well on your way. Don't underestimate how challenging it is to narrate a book, though. Many authors do read their own works, but it's certainly wise to consider hiring an experienced narrator to help bring your story to life.
The Dramatised Audiobook
Here we're still in the realms of writing and recording a novel, but this time we're looking to bring in the use of voice actors to play different characters. We'll also use music and sound effects to help paint a vivid picture of the story. For a great example of a podcast in this mold, check out The Guild of the Cowry Catchers.
Again, this still requires a lot of writing. If you've already written your story it won't necessarily adapt well into a dramatised piece either. If you're going to write a series with this in mind then great character dialogue is key to getting the best out of your cast.
This is going to be a little more challenging than working with a single voice track. You'll need to cut in the dialogue segments of your characters and layer with music and sound effects. Less is more at this stage though, so try to use ‘beds' (a general wind or rain soundscape in the background of a scene) rather than demonstrate every single sound. There's no point duplicating what the narrator is already telling your listener.
The Audio Drama
Whilst writing any good story takes a little spark of imagination and a fair bit of work, your audio drama scripts aren't going to be half as text heavy as the previous two formats. That doesn't mean it's easy though. Writing for audio drama is a skill, and like anything else, it's one you'll hone through practice, as well as listening and learning from others. Start by writing one or two short stories just to find your groove.
You can still use a narrator, but with the option of making them part of the story, too. Also, beware of expositional dialogue. “I see that gun in your left hand that you are pointing straight at me Joe” could simply become “Put the gun away, Joe”, for example.
Badly written audio drama usually happens when the author uses 100 words when 5 will do. Listen to how people talk in real life and try to base your dialogue around that.
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The amount of text might be far lighter, but the production is becoming heavier. However, you don't need to account for every single sound that happens if you don't want to. Many audio dramatists create excellent work in the medium by taking a minimalist approach.
For me personally, though, I enjoy deep, rich soundscapes that sound like living, breathing worlds. These are great to listen to, but take a painstaking amount of time to build. Find a balance between how far you want to go with this, and how often you actually want to get episodes finished and released!
Deeper Dive: How Do You Edit and Produce an Audio Drama Podcast?
The Fictional Documentary
You might refer to this style of show as a ‘docudrama' or ‘mockumentary'. This is where you create a story around an event which is investigated ‘as real'. It usually involves coming up with a small team of fictional journalists or reporters who run the show. The pretence is that they're creating the podcast themselves. Think Limetown or The Black Tapes.
There are a few things to consider here. You need to investigate something that'll hook your audience early, and you need to initiate that intrigue as early as possible to keep them listening. You also need enough layers to unravel in each episode (through interviews, found footage, etc) without it becoming predictable, boring, or repetitive. This format can look deceptively simple to write, but don't be fooled.
Though still production heavy, we're scaling back a bit from full-blown audio drama. Lots of your scenes can be captured in a simple interview format, sat around a Zoom recorder on the table. You might bring in interviewees recorded on phone or Skype calls too.
As you build it all together, layer with some incidental music that fits the tone of the production and the story. There's undoubtedly a lot of influence taken from Serial/NPR in this style of fiction podcast, and if you want to take a deeper dive into the inner workings of audio documentary making I recommend a book called Out on the Wire.
These are the four main options for creating a fiction podcast, but you're free to blur the lines and come up with a hybrid approach. The most important thing at this stage is that you choose the format that excites you the most, and best suits your story. If you manage this, you've much more chance of actually writing and producing the show well enough, and on a consistent enough basis, that you'll begin to build an audience around it.
Story Structure | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #2
How do you structure a story to grab the listener, right away, and then continue to compel them through the show, minute by minute? In this section we'll look at exactly that, and help you to engage your listener to the very end.
In the last chapter we took a look at the different kinds of fiction podcast you can make to tell your story. Now we need to take a look at the story itself. If you have an exciting idea in your mind for a story then that's a great start. It's important that we tell it in a way that will hook the listener early, and keep them engaged and listening through to the final episode.
What is a Story?
It might sound like a stupid question, but this is key in the planning stage. How do we define a story? At it's most basic level, a story is a set of circumstances in the beginning, which have changed by the end.
A change must take place in order for there to be a story. That change might be the destruction of an entire galaxy, or it might be someone spilling a pint of beer. It might be a physical change, or a change in mindset. As long as there is a change, you have a story.
But don't go running off to write that story just yet. Having a story doesn't necessarily mean it's a good story, and good stories can still be told badly. We need to do your idea justice and present it in the most engaging and entertaining way possible, so let's take a look at the structure.
Ever since I started making audio drama, a quote has always stuck in my mind. It's from The Principles of Writing Radio Drama, by Tim Crook.
“The moment of arrival. This is how you drop your listeners into the story. Don’t give them a warm bed with comfortable pillows and a hot water bottle. The background and sub-text of previous histories is better explored through revelation in dramatic action. So parachute your listener into a top dramatic moment. Not the climax. That would be premature. Find the MOMENT to join the story. Avoid the slow snail’s explicatory route. Kick ’em into a high energy trip and woosh them through the rapids.”
To expand on this a little, when someone listens to your podcast for the first time, they're not going to give you very long to impress them. In fact, if you haven't hooked them within the first five minutes (and some might say that's a generous estimation) then you'll lose them.
You might have the best story in the world, but if it's a slow, dull start, you'll lose most of your potential audience before they ever get to the exciting bits.
The good news is that you don't always have to tell your story in a linear matter, so you can even begin with your climax, then pull the story back in time to the beginning once you've set up the intrigue. Once your listener desperately wants to know what happens, you've hooked them.
The Three Act Structure
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fiction writing this is presented slightly differently, but the same principles apply.
1. Setup or inciting incident
There will be a status quo in your story world where things are ‘normal', and something will happen to disturb that. Think of Frodo's life in The Shire before the whole ring incident kicks off.
Circumstances in your story lead to a critical point where tension and opposing interests lead to a confrontation, whether the main character likes it or not. During this period many stories inflict a crushing defeat on their heroes, signalling an “all is lost” moment, which they must rebuild and bounce back from.
The confrontation plays out and is resolved one way or another. All of the questions you've thrown up should be tied up and answered during the resolution as your listener will want that sense of closure.
False Climaxes & Unanswered Questions
It's common to see a false climax in storytelling where defeat is almost snatched from the jaws of victory (or vice versa). Remember all those films you've watched and been frustrated that the victim has only bumped the baddie on the head, and not killed them? We all know what happens next there.
You can also have the story where you've been completely misled, all appears to be well until a late detail reveals the defeated serial killer wasn't actually the murderer after all – it was the detective who's now driving the main character home.
Many writers use the “info dump” in the late stages of a story to fill in any unanswered questions. We've seen this before many times too. The bad guy has the good guy tied up and ready to throw off a building – “but before I do, let me tell you why I did it!”
This sounds a bit cheesy and more than a bit cliched, but it can still be pulled off effectively.
Plot Arcs – Season Vs Episode
The structures we've covered and tried and tested, whether you're making a 10min short story, or a 24 episode season. But if you're doing a season, how does this structure fit in to your individual episodes?
That's where your individual episode plot comes in. Series episodes will usually have a self-contained purpose as part of the wider season plot arc. You'll often find two plots within an episode, Plot A (character 1 and 2 need to achieve task as part of bigger picture), and Plot B (a secondary plot where character 3 and 4 get themselves into a situation). For a popular TV example, The Simpsons always do this very well.
You might choose to resolve each episode plot at the end (sitcom style) or use them to throw up even more questions and plot details which boil over into the next episode.
Characters & POV
Will you focus on a main character (otherwise known as the protagonist)? Or a group of people? Will you tell the story from a point of view (POV), in which case the listener will only know as much as the protagonist. Or will you spend time with ‘the good guys' and ‘the bad guys'?
You can go down the ‘ensemble' route, where all characters are considered fairly equal, and given as much script time as the plot requires. This avoids you constantly having to ‘check in' with a protagonist when they're not actually too involved in the story at present.
One thing to bear in mind though – when you're working in audio (particularly in dramatised pieces), you don't want to overload the listener with too many characters. When you outline your story and you have 3 characters in a certain part, can you merge them into 2, or even 1 person? You won't manage this all the time (and never jeopardise your story just to cut characters) but having your listener know exactly who is who will go a long way to having them stick around until the very end.
How to Make a Fiction Podcast | What Next?
I've squeezed a lot in here, but the idea is to get you working towards moving your story from the ideas stage towards being planned and purposeful. Laying a solid foundation is going to save you a lot of time, re-writing, and even re-recording, in the future. In the next chapter we'll move on to writing for audio!
Writing for Audio | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #3
In the last two chapters we looked at fiction podcast formats and story structures. If you've settled on both of these then you're ready to begin writing your script. There's a few things to consider when writing scripts for audio as opposed to a visual medium, and that's what we're going to talk about in this section.
Many in audio drama writing circles refer to narration as a “crutch”. Personally, I think there's a place for narration. I do prefer a subtle, diegetic (part of the story world) approach, rather than the disembodied all-seeing ‘voice-of-God' narration however, but it's all down to personal preference.
If you want to include an in-story narrator you just need to find a method that fits with your story. In We're Alive for example, characters document events in their personal journals. This allows for certain scenes to be lightly narrated at times, a character will fill in vital details that would be difficult to convey in audio, as the drama continues to play out.
You can have your protagonist drop in to narrate chunks of the story in retrospect. Choosing a sole narrator for your story renders that character invincible however. You can't kill them off if it's them telling the story – unless of course it's a tale of the supernatural, and they're speaking from beyond the grave.
Writing Dialogue | How to Make a Fiction Podcast
Just because you don't have visuals doesn't mean you should use dialogue in an overly-expositional manner. Treating your listeners (and characters) like idiots with lengthy paragraphs of description is a sure fire way for people to roll their eyes and switch off.
Pay attention to the way people talk in real life, and use that as a basis for writing your dialogue. Yes you'll sometimes need to make a character say something they probably wouldn't say in real life, but try to do it in as subtle a manner as possible.
If you ever get the chance to look at a script from a film you'll be surprised at just how short each line of dialogue is too. Don't be tempted to cram loads of info into a huge block of text for your character to spout, then await their fellow character's reply of an equally big chunk of dialogue.
Short sentences, often unfinished, and cut off by other characters can create fast flowing, natural sounding dialogue. This can really help bring your characters to life, and you're going to need those characters to be engaging and realistic in order to do your story justice.
In audio the dialogue and soundscape is processed in the mind of the listener to create visuals for them. As characters talk, your audience begins to picture them in their head. Have you ever heard a radio DJ or podcaster talk, then saw a picture of them and think “you don't look how you sound”?
Keep that thought in mind, because imagine you'd been visualising exactly how you believe a character looks over several episodes of your favourite audio drama, only for another character to casually mention one day that they've always had a pink mullet.
Okay so the pink mullet isn't a common hairdoo in audio drama (as far as I know), but if any details on character appearance are important enough to be mentioned in the story, then make sure you establish them early on. If you leave it too late it can really jolt the listener as they have to re-process details they'd already settled on in their mind.
Initially you'll be so focused on writing good dialogue that you might find yourself writing every scene where two characters are just standing in a room talking to each other. Whilst there's certainly no harm in this, don't fall into the trap of it being this way all the time.
Unless it's specifically part of the story (maybe you're telling the tale of two cellmates in a prison) then try to write variety into your scene locations, and have your characters actually do things as they talk.
Depending on your story, there's always going to be things for the characters to do, whether that's driving somewhere, watching a football match, or going out in a boat to do some fishing, I'm sure you'll find something relevant and useful to keep them occupied.
In these scenes you can seed your plot-relevant dialogue with the odd comment about the task they're doing – “Can you pass me that spanner?” etc. This breathes life into your story world and prevents your characters from becoming sterile talking heads.
You'll want to add some detail into the script about the settings the characters find themselves in. If you have a scene where two characters are about to board a helicopter and it'll be very loud in the background, then you'll need your actors to know to talk louder, so their performances match the final mix.
The important thing is to offer as much details as you can to your voice actors, if it's relevant to their performance – especially if you're not going to be there when they record. If you've got someone else to do the production this will be vital. You might want to add a short description of the environment around the characters under each scene heading.
Just be clear (in as succinct a way as possible) about what's going on to avoid confusion for the rest of your talent pool. And try to keep things simple without dumbing down your story. Especially in the early stages.
Embrace The Medium
Some might say that audio is a limiting medium to work in because there's no visuals. I believe the opposite is true. You can create scenes and stories that would cost millions to achieve well on the big screen. I'll leave you with a quote from legendary audio dramatist Dirk Maggs from his interview on the Audio Drama Production Podcast, he sums this up better than I ever could…
“You can do so much more in audio, you can go anywhere. Use your imagination; go from the top of Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific. Travel to new worlds. Go inside someone’s head… go inside and live in their head…you can go microscopic…you can go cosmic.
Good radio drama, good audio drama, is ‘go and make a world’, go and paint a picture in sound, which makes the imagination create huge fascinating pictures…even huge fascinating pictures of tiny things. If it’s a man locked in a cell for twenty years, and you are just with him in that cell, you can still explore everything about the human condition, and you can do it with colour, and texture, and light.
And you’re just working in sound.”
On the next chapter we're going to start thinking about the actors who'll help us bring our stories to life. Where do you find them? How do you pay them if you have no money? We'll cover all this and more, so read on…
Finding & Rewarding Talent | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #4
Once your story has been written in script form, it's still only words on paper (or screen). And we have a few things to do before we can start recording and production. We're going to need voices for your characters. That means we need to find actors. So where's the best place to find actors who are willing and able to play characters in your fiction podcast?
Ask Your Friends
By far the easiest way of finding actors is to get a small group of friends together. You probably know one or two people who you think could do a good job, maybe someone who's good at doing accents/impersonations, or even someone who has acting experience under their belt. Ask around and see if you can get 3 to 4 people together to record a short (10-15 page) story script. You might be surprised by how much your friends get into the performance.
Local Theatre Groups
It's worth reaching out to (or even joining) a local theatre group to find acting talent for your show. If someone's already part of a group like this they're probably quite keen to get involved in other productions.
Again, go with the short story approach where you get 3 to 4 people together to record a self-contained piece. Finding someone who can act is only half the battle, you also need them to be committed and reliable. Don't rush into casting your five season epic audio drama before you're absolutely certain everyone is aware of what they're signing up for. You don't want to be killing off or re-casting main characters every few episodes.
Cast Remote & Satellite Voice Actors
These are common terms for voice actors who have their own recording setups. A producer with a remote cast of actors will email out a completed script with any additional info (direction, deadlines, file requirements etc) and each actor will record and send back their own character's lines back to them.
Remote Cast: Pros
You can spread a casting call over the entire world and have access to a wealth of global talent. This means you can arrange a diverse and talented cast of different accents, ages, and genders, even if you live in an isolated area.
Remote Cast: Cons
No matter how good your remote actors are, you'll lose a little of the magic of your actors performing together if they are all recording in isolation. Though, to be fair, there are many great call recording apps on the market these days that will let you and your cast record together. It's not quite like being in the same room, but it's close!
Another potential downside is that you'll have to deal with varying degrees of microphone and recording environment quality, which can be challenging to blend together in post-production.
Do It Yourself | How to Make a Fiction Podcast
There are a few folks out there who voice entire shows themselves. A stalwart of the audio drama world is Cayenne Chris Conroy who started his series Teknikal Diffikulties way back in 2005. Rich Matheson runs and voices Keeg's Quest: A Skyrim Adventure all by himself, and Dayn Leonardson's The Fall was largely voiced by him throughout the show's first season.
On the one hand, going down this route removes all the complications and logistics of working with others. On the other hand, you're going to have to do a lot of voice work to create a distinguishable variety of characters.
Casting Groups & Voice Acting Websites
There are many different sites and communities where you can find actors of all different backgrounds and experiences. There are a few things to be aware of before you post a casting call;
Read the rules of the group, site, or forum to make sure you comply with them. Most places require that you detail exactly what you want from potential actors, how they should audition, and clarity on whether you're offering payment or not.
Aside from avoiding potentially having your post deleted, this can save you loads of time during the casting process. The more details you provide up front, the fewer follow-up questions you have to answer by e-mail afterwards.
Some things to include are;
- Accents – do you want actors to audition in their natural voice or another, specific accent?
- Pronunciations – are there any names (character, place, or otherwise) in your audition script that actors may struggle to pronounce? If so, either clarify the pronunciation in advance, or change the names to something simpler.
- Deadline – be sure to create and state a deadline, instead of just asking for auditions “as soon as you get a chance”. Most actors will prefer to see a deadline set as they can plan accordingly.
Judging Audio Quality
If you're casting for local actors whom you plan to record on location with your own equipment then asking for auditions by phone or voicemail is totally fine.
If you're casting remote/satellite actors however, then you'll be judging their audio quality just as much as their performance. There's no point casting Leonardo DiCaprio if he's going to be recording on an old tape recorder, whilst sitting inside a cave.
Be clear on the file format you're looking for actors to send you. So that might be a WAV file, or an MP3 of at least 24bit at 128kpbs. Ask your actors not to process or clean their audio before sending it over. You'll want to do all that yourself, for the sake of control and consistency.
Once you receive a file, listen through good over-ear headphones and analyse…
- Reverb – is there a bit of an echo in the voice? Would it sound unnatural to place the voice in an outdoor scene?
- Vocal quality – Does their microphone sound like it's making their voice sound tinny?
- Background noise – perhaps the recording has a loud hissing or buzzing underneath it, or maybe there's a bit of external environment noise present. Either way, both are bad news.
- Microphone etiquette – is the actor repeatedly popping the mic, thumping the table or boom arm, or causing any other distortions through poor technique?
If you're creating an audition script and casting actors of any gender, write a one page scene with two gender-ambiguous characters. Create some dialogue that will test actors on exactly what you're looking for. If you're writing a comedy you'll want to test them on timing a delivery. If you're writing something more serious you might create some emotionally charged dialogue like an argument. Tailor it to the style of show you enjoy writing the most. When you find good actors, you'll want to cast them again and again in your projects.
Rewards & Money
If you have no budget how can you pay actors for their talents? Before you answer that, it's a good idea to be clear on your plans for the show or series you're making.
If you're making a series for free, giving it away for free, and never plan to try to monetise it, then let your cast know from the start that this is a completely amateur production, and there'll be no money involved at any point.
That doesn't mean you can't, or shouldn't try to look after your actors though. If you're getting together on location to record then bring some food and refreshments for your cast, or offer to take them out for dinner or a few drinks afterwards.
If your show ends up making a little incidental income (through Patreon, sponsorship, etc) now or in the future then it's a good idea to be clear up front about the ownership of the production. You might offer your cast royalties through giving them shares in the series. This can prevent your project from imploding further down the line.
If money is involved, it's a good idea to operate an open book policy where everyone involved can see exactly what has come in and what has gone out. Treat your cast as partners in the project, offer them a creative input, and everyone will buy into what you're trying to achieve.
How to Make a Fiction Podcast | What Route Suits You?
Are you thinking of going down the local, on-location actor route? Or do you plan on building a global cast using the remote/satellite approach? Remember, you can also find a middle ground between the two. Your 3 to 4 main characters might be recorded together in person, whilst you populate the wider cast and more minor characters with actors who record and send their lines in to you.
Use whatever methods suit you and your show best, and the easiest way to find that out is to start small by creating one or two self-contained short stories. Now, onwards to actually recording the thing…
Recording Your Show | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #5
So you've come up with a story idea, turned it into a script, and found some actors to bring your characters to life. Great work so far, but some new challenges await us now.
There are many pitfalls in the recording phase of creating a fiction podcast, but fear not – we've made all these mistakes before, so you won't have to.
In our last chapter I mentioned you might opt for a ‘remote' cast of actors who record their lines independently and send them to you. If that's you, be sure to check out our Best Call Recording Apps roundup. This chapter is primarily advice for producers with a local or on-location cast.
Nevertheless, it's all-important knowledge to have if you're going to be a creator of sound stories, so read on…
Where Can I Record?
Environment over equipment is why I'm not opening with “what kind of mics should I use?” This is also an important question, but it isn't the most important. The area you record in will literally become part of your production, whether it's background ambience or vocal reverb.
Know your budget, know your requirements, and choose wisely.
This is the high cost, but maximum control option. On average, professional studio hire can cost around $50 an hour. Immediately this rules the studio out for many amateur or low budget productions, but if you can afford it then it can be well worth your while.
Recording in a ‘dead' environment with no background noise gives you the cleanest vocal recordings possible. This enables you to place your characters in any scenarios the story requires once you hit the post-production phase.
With a professional studio you may also have access to their recording engineer, as well as their mics and equipment.
On top of that, it's amazing how much you can get done when you're paying by the hour!
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The medium cost, moderate control option. To be honest, these days you'll see some home studios that would put professional studios to shame – but these typically cost just as much to set up.
For the average person, a home studio set-up will be a balancing act. You need to do your best with the small budget you have, combined with the fact that your home might have limited space.
Not forgetting, of course, that other people (like your family) have to actually live there too.
At the most basic level, you can find a room in your house with the least hard surfaces to record it. A room that's carpeted with a lot of soft fabrics will help minimise the reverb in your recordings – avoid the bathroom and the kitchen at all costs!
If you're fortunate enough to have full use of a spare room or walk-in cupboard you can put up sound blankets or other acoustic treatments. Just be wary of potential external noise that you have no control over. Does the room have an external wall or window where you can hear noise from your neighbour's dog or the busy road outside?
Deeper Dive: How to Create a Silent Home Studio
On Location and/or in the Field
This is the free, but minimal control option. Recording ‘in the field' doesn't literally mean a field, it could be anywhere from an abandoned warehouse to an office car park. It could be a field, though!
The important thing is that the background fits your story, because your recordings are going to be pre-layered with the ambience of your environments.
On the one hand, that rules out recording your space battle sci-fi thriller down at your local playpark. On the other hand, if you have a horror story about a group of friends camping in the woods, and you record it in the woods, then chances are it's going to sound great.
On top of that, it'll save you loads of time layering in sound effects in post-production.
Planning, site visits, and test recordings are key here. A location may look like the perfect setting, but we're working purely in audio. When you're deciding if a location is going to be suitable to record in, close your eyes. If you hear a construction site or busy road in the distance, then it's going to be unsuitable for your medieval fantasy epic.
Don't get too hung up on gear at the start, especially if you're a beginner.
It's much better to learn how to use equipment properly and get the best results from what you have than splashing out on top-of-the-range kit before you've even produced a single short story.
If you're on a tight budget, record in the field with a couple of lav mics plugged into your phone.
And if you're working in a home studio, a couple of Samson Q2Us and a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB preamp is a great little set-up. Or if you want to record more than two actors at one time, have a look at the Zoom H6.
You want to record quality source material, so be aware of your file format settings before you get started. Make sure your sample rate settings are at 44100Hz, and your bit depth settings are set to at least 24. Record your audio in WAV form.
Other Tips Before You Hit Record
- Scripts – printing out a pile of fat scripts isn't just expensive and bad for the environment. You don't want to pick up the shifting and rustling of papers in your recordings, so consider using Kindles or Tablets to read from instead. If you absolutely must use paper scripts, try mounting them on music stands, and coach your actors so they all turn their pages simultaneously.
- Actors' Clothing – if you're recording purely to capture the vocals – i.e. in the studio – ask your actors to wear soft clothing that won't make any noises when they move. Alternatively, if you're doing a field recording then noisy clothing can add depth to your soundscape. If you're doing the latter, remember to pack the shellsuits and raincoats.
- Slate The Take – There's nothing worse than pouring through hours and hours of raw audio, trying to figure out what's what. Each time you hit record, state clearly exactly what it is you're about to record. The show title, along with the scene or page number is adequate. This will save you a lot of time when it comes to mixing your episode.
- Session Planning – don't turn up to your recording session and think “okay, what will we record first?” Think of the logistics, the actors you have available, the locations you're visiting, and for how long. If one actor only has a few lines, record them first so they can go home instead of hanging around for five hours. Keeping everyone happy by being organised will go a long way towards your cast sticking around for an entire season, or longer.
- Sound Levels – a subject worthy of its own article, but set your recording levels so you're getting a healthy signal without the audio being too loud and clipping. If you've got a scene that involves characters switching between whispering and shouting, try to set a secondary recorder up at a very low gain, rather than messing with your settings mid-scene.
- Is this thing on? Check, check, and check again that you've actually hit ‘Record'. Inevitably you'll have that dread moment where your actors have just given you the performance of their lives only to notice your recorder's ‘monitor' light flashing. Become a paranoid obsessive about this, it's worth it.
Go Make Some Noise
You're now ready to head out and record your actors, and one big step closer to creating your first episode. Like anything, you'll learn through experience and gradually hone your craft through trying experimenting and making some mistakes. Now, let's talk production!
Producing Your Show | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #6
Once your character's voices have been brought to life by your cast, it's time to start building your episode.
This process has a few different names, most commonly ‘mixing', ‘editing', and ‘post-production'. Regardless of what you call it, the task remains the same – you'll be using the wonders of digital audio editing to build a world around the voices of your characters.
What Do I Need?
There are a few things needed to produce a fiction podcast or audio drama. Some you might have experience with and some you might not. You can source everything you need for free, or you might choose to buy certain things.
This stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and simply means the editing software you'll use to mix your shows together. A commonly used DAW in the world of podcasting is Audacity which is absolutely free. We have a video course on Audacity right here.
An increasingly popular DAW is Reaper, which is powerful and heavily customisable. You can get Reaper for a one-off payment of $60. My personal favourite is Adobe Audition – however, there's a monthly cost of around $25 to use this DAW which puts many people off.
Sound Effects & Ambience
You might choose a minimalistic approach for these, which is absolutely fine. But regardless of how much or how few additional sounds you plan on using, you still need to source or create them.
Recording your own sounds can be fun and rewarding, but also time consuming. With something like a Zoom H1 you can record everything you'll ever need, and with the most unlikely of everyday items.
I cannot recommend The Sound Effects Bible enough if that's something that interests you.
To source free sounds for your podcast, have a look at Freesound.org. This is an excellent resource with many great audio tracks, although there's also a lot of very poor stuff on there so it does take some time to look out what you need and do a bit of quality control.
There are a variety of licensing options too, so always check the individual permissions that are tied to each effect.
Another great free resource out there is ZapSplat. They have a library of over 67,000 sounds.
You can use ZapSplat for free, with some caveats. For example, you'll need to credit them in your shownotes for every sound you use. You'll also be limited to MP3 downloads, and can download a maximum of 3 per 10 minutes.
ZapSplat offer a Gold membership which removes the need to give credit, and allows for unlimited WAV downloads. As a member of The Podcast Host Academy you automatically get access to a Gold membership account with ZapSplat.
Deeper Dive: How to Find Podcast Sound Effects
Without visuals, you need to come up with creative ways to paint pictures in the mind of your listener. Music is a powerful tool here. One of the most popular resources on the web is Incompetech, where you can score your show with music of the highest quality for absolutely free (proving you credit and link to the site).
I've expanded on this and offered a few more options in the article How to Find Podcast Music, so take a look at that if you're keen to explore your options.
How to Make a Fiction Podcast | Production Practices
Even if you think your show isn't exactly a complex piece, things can quickly become confusing if you don't organise yourself from the start. Good use of folders and sub-folders for each of your elements is handy here (Music, SFX, Voices) as well as a consistent system for naming files.
Be sure to keep a note of everything you're using that you need to credit too. Backing everything up is also extremely important. I heard a saying recently that “if a file doesn't exist in 3 places, then it doesn't exist at all”. If you lost your laptop, or if your computer crashed and wiped everything, would you have a plan B in a cloud or external storage drive?
Cleaning & Blending Voices
This might not be so much of an issue if you recorded all your cast in the same environment and with the same gear. If you have a remote cast, however, you'll be faced with the task of making all the different lines sound like they are together in the same place.
Inside your DAW's ‘Effects' menu you'll find noise reduction processes that can help minimise some of the background hiss that might be present in some files. The danger with any restoration process like this is that it can reduce the quality of the vocals however.
Recording and layering in some room tone can be a great way of masking the differences in audio quality, as the background noise is then constant and less noticeable than if it was jumping up and down all the time.
You can also apply EQ and various effects to the character's voices to further blend them in. That might include putting a little reverb on everyone if it's an indoor scene, or using things like phone and radio filters for anyone with less than desirable audio quality.
Deeper Dive: How Do You Edit & Produce an Audio Drama Podcast?
I don't want to get too technical here, talking about loudness standards and suchlike. At this stage, just try to keep volume levels fairly consistent.
You don't want your listener to be constantly adjusting their volume when they're listening to your show,so make sure your loud bits aren't deafening, and your quiet bits aren't inaudible.
Volume consistency is the most important thing here; you also want the volume to be similar to most other podcasts. If your listener had your show in a playlist and it came on after another podcast finished, would it blow your eardrums off, or would it be barely audible?
Stick your finished episode on your phone and listen back to it walking down a busy street, or on a bus or train (by the way – check out the EditPoint app for this very purpose!). If it's a clear and comfortable listen at around 80% of your device's volume, then you've nailed it.
Once you've put your show together, you'll want to mix it down as an MP3.
Unless you're doing an Old Time Radio style show, or purely single voice content, you'll probably want your show to be in stereo. When you create an MP3 you'll be asked to choose a bit rate.
With spoken word podcasting, we'd say it's absolutely fine to release your show at 96 or even 64kpbs. If you're looking for a highly produced show that does all your production work justice however, go for 128kbps. Remember to keep a source material copy in WAV form too!
Before you Upload
I've already mentioned this in the volume section, but take one last listen to your show away from the computer screen. Go out for a walk with your headphones in. Use the EditPoint app. If there's anything in there that you're still not happy with, it'll jump out at you, and you can fix it.
Better to hear that now, and not after you've released your show to the world.
Never do your final listen whilst sitting staring at your DAW, this can lead to you editing with your eyes as opposed to your ears.
Launching & Growing Your Show | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #7
In the penultimate chapter of this series we're going to move away from actually making your fiction podcast, towards getting it out into the world for people to hear.
How do you distribute it? How should you promote it? And what other things can you do to help grow your audience?
A podcast needs a media host. Media hosts are services which allow you to upload your episodes, so that people can subscribe to your series and download them.
Once you sign up to a media host you'll enter all your shows details, and be given an RSS feed. Your RSS feed is a unique web address that you can use to submit your podcast to various directories like iTunes and Spotify.
For a more in-depth look at media hosting and podcast distribution, check out Where Does a Podcast Live?
So which media host should you choose? For a fiction podcast, you'll preferably want a service that doesn't alter your files in any way. I'd recommend checking out Captivate, Simplecast, or Podbean. Podbean have a free tier too, so if you've absolutely no budget then you can still kick on and get started.
Cover art is your shop window in many ways. A great cover image can add to the professional look and feel of a show, whilst poor artwork can have the opposite effect and make a podcast look amateurish.
You might think it's harsh to have your audio-only series judged on visuals, but that's the nature of the beast. It's in your interests to source something that will intrigue potential listeners into checking your show out.
There are a few things to consider here.
- 1400 x 1400 is the most common pixel size. Using these dimensions will ensure your show complies with the requirements of all podcast directories.
- In terms of file size, make sure it is under 500kb.
- Your image might look great at full size, but does it still work when it is shrunk down alongside hundreds of others in the iTunes store?
- Don't cram too much in there. The only text on the cover art should be your show title.
Here's our full guide to creating your podcast logo for a deeper dive on this, as well as the best options (free or paid) for actually making it.
How to Make a Fiction Podcast Website
Having a website isn't essential for your podcast, but it is advisable. It's good to have somewhere that you own and control to which you can send your listeners. You don't own iTunes, Soundcloud, or anywhere else, and if you're telling people to find your show there and they suddenly shut down, or close their podcasting platforms, what will you do?
Your media host will give you a basic website by default. The look and layout of these has really improved in recent years. Captivate, for example, offers a great looking site for the shows that host there.
You can get a free site on WordPress.com where you can easily set up a platform for your show, even if you don't have a clue about web design or coding. Going down this route will limit your customisation options however. It's better to have a self hosted site which can be tailored to suit the look and feel of your podcast.
Setting up your very own podcasting website doesn't need to be difficult either. In fact, we have a video course that'll walk you through the entire process from start to finish.
Here's some key things to make sure you include on your website
- Links to your show in iTunes, Spotify, and any other directories you're listed in
- A full episode list and RSS feed link. Make it easy for people to listen and subscribe
- The ‘about' page is traditionally the most viewed page on a website. Take advantage of that by including all your vital info and links
- A contact page
- Social media links and share buttons
The Fiction Podcast Weekly
Fiction Podcast Weekly is an email newsletter, bringing you the latest from the world of audio fiction, audio drama, and sound storytelling.
There are many different ways to promote your show to the world. The most obvious one is to start telling your friends and family about it on social media.
There's a fine line on platforms like Facebook between sharing and spamming. If you're active in various communities then posting a link to your new show shouldn't be a problem.
If you just rampage from group to group pinning virtual fliers to people's heads however, you might find yourself banned and your posts deleted. Don't be “that guy”.
A good approach on a platform like Twitter is to actually promote the works of others in the medium. Shows that you respect and enjoy. If you're sharing links to other podcasts, there's a good chance the creator of that show will check out your profile, and maybe even your website which you can link to in your bio.
One of the best ways to quickly grow a core audience (if you have the budget) is to advertise on podcast listening app Overcast. If you have little or no budget, you could try some guerrilla marketing.
There's no promotion like word of mouth either, and that comes back to making it easy for people to share your content. If people like your show they'll want to tell others, so don't give them a mountain to climb here. This is where having your own self-hosted website and memorable domain name comes in handy.
Deeper Dive: How to Link To & Share a Podcast
Finally, what about approaching some podcasts relevant to your genre and asking if they'd have you on as a guest? If you're creating a medieval fantasy, can you get on a Game of Thrones fan podcast? Or if you're doing a sci-fi space story, is there a Star Wars show that might have you on?
If you're going down this route just be sure to do your research and actually listen to the shows you approach. The hosts will probably be a lot more receptive to your email if you're actually a fan of their show, and not just someone who wants to get in front of their audience.
Monetising Your Show | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #8
In the final chapter of this series we're going to take a look at some options for building income streams around your fiction podcast.
Whether you'd simply like to cover your hosting costs, or earn a full time wage from your show, it can be done.
There are a few things to be aware of before we get started though; it can take a long time to grow an audience, and even longer to start bringing any money in.
Yes, it's easier now than it has ever been, but it's important not to get frustrated and disheartened if you feel like you're getting nowhere.
It can take up to 2 years of putting out consistent and quality content before anyone will consider throwing some money your way, so don't go quitting your job just yet.
A good way to set some expectations is to consider
- How often am I putting out episodes?
- How consistent is my release schedule?
- How engaged are my audience?
- What are my download numbers?
With regards to the last one, you certainly don't need thousands of downloads per episode to make some money with your show, though it does help. I'd say audience engagement is far more important, but we'll cover this in more detail in the sponsorship section.
Deeper Dive: What's a Good Number of Downloads for a Podcast?
I'm not a lawyer, and it's your own responsibility to check this stuff and how it applies to the part of the world you live in. But I want to give you a heads up on a couple of things.
We talked about using creative commons music and sound effects earlier in the series. There's a good chance your own series will contain many different elements from many different creators, so you should check the licenses of everything you've used if you're planning to sell any of your content.
Be sure that you have each artist's permission to use their stuff in a commercial manner.
Also, if you're using voice actors and end up making a reasonable income with your show, you might land yourself in trouble with acting unions for essentially running a business and not paying your staff. We talked about this in Chapter 4, but treat your cast as project partners.
Operate an open book policy where all profit and loss is documented, and agree with them a profit share that everyone is happy with.
Have these conversations sooner rather than later and draw up some agreements with signatures. It sounds a bit OTT but projects have been completely shut down over money squabbles in the past.
Anyway, enough of the serious stuff for now. Let's take a look at your fiction podcast monetisation options…
Sponsorship & Adverts
The traditional way to bring in money with your show is to find a sponsor. This might be a permanent agreement, or you may choose to sell slots on a certain number of episodes. It's a good idea to find sponsors that are relevant to your audience so that the agreement benefits both parties.
With regards to how much you can typically earn from a sponsor, there's a bit of a hangover from the radio industry known as the CPM (cost per mille) model where advertisers will pay around $20 per 1000 listens.
Unless you have massive download numbers (very few podcasts get 1000+ downloads per ep) this won't work for you, and that's okay. Finding your own sponsor and agreeing your own terms will usually bear more fruit than going through an advertising agency anyway.
With regards to audience sizes, remember that although a radio station might have 50,000 “listeners” compared to your podcast's 200 or so, these are completely different things. Every one of your listeners is making a point of consuming your content (usually from start to finish) whereas most radio listeners tune in and out passively.
Your audience will also have a much more targeted demographic (e.g. horror fans) than radio stations too, and this all works to your advantage when speaking with potential sponsors.
You'll need to decide with your sponsors or advertisers whether you're going to play ready-made commercials as clips at the start of your show, or if you as the show's creator will open the episode by talking about them, before introducing and heading into the fictional content.
For me, the latter option is preferable and will resonate more with your audience.
You can choose to get creative with adverts by incorporating them into your story world. For great examples of how to do this, check out The Black Tapes and Tanis. This is something you need to figure out in a way that doesn't harm your story, and keeps the advertisers happy.
Deeper Dive: How to Do Podcast Sponsorship
Patreon & Crowdfunding | How to Make a Fiction Podcast
The website Patreon has revolutionised the way fans can support creators. Patreon lets people pledge a regular fee – as little as $1 – to support the work of an artist or creator, either on a monthly, or an episodic ‘per piece of content' basis.
Setting up a Patreon account is quick, easy, and free. The service makes their money by taking a small commission (around 10% of each dollar pledged) from your income.
Patreon gives you tools to incentivise your audience to pledge, and some podcasters get heavily involved in creating extras and premium content for their supporters. Others choose to simply set up an account, let everyone know it's there, and leave it at arm's length.
At the very minimum, you need to at least tell your listeners that you're on Patreon. You can do this by having a clear link on your website, and dropping in a quick message explaining it to them at the end of one of your episodes.
Deeper Dive: Patreon Tips for Podcasters
The more traditional method of crowdfunding a one-off (rather than ongoing) sum remains popular in podcasting too, but as a general rule, you need a pre-existing audience to have success with this.
Some shows crowdfund on an episode-by-episode basis, whereas other shows might crowdfund an entire series in one go. Popular websites for crowdfunding include Kickstarter and Indiegogo. With this type of fundraising it's a good idea to incentivise the process to encourage donors to give more – especially if you're trying to raise a large amount.
Premium Content, Merch, & Products
Premium content might be what you use as incentives for your Patreon/crowdfunding efforts, or it might be something you simply offer for sale on your website. In any case, what kind of premium content can you create to supplement your fiction podcast?
The simplest kind is to offer ad-free or ‘omnibus' versions of your show.
You can also offer things like prints of concept art, and merchandise such as mugs, t-shirts, key-rings etc. For the printing and distribution of these, you can use a service like TeePublic. For a deeper dive on this, check out our full guide on how to do podcast merch.
You can also expand your story world by writing a novelette or collection of short stories and publish them in ebook form. This is a good way of fleshing out your universe and your hardcore fans will be keen for content of this nature. If you fancy more production work, you can even tell these additional stories in an audio format just like your main podcast episodes.
For selling digital premium content, E-Junkie is a handy service. If you want to keep everything inside your WordPress site though, take a look at WooCommerce. The media host Podbean also offer a number of options for distributing premium content to your audience should you choose to host with them.
Recommendations & Affiliate Income
Selling other people's stuff is a popular method of bringing in ‘passive income' in new media. The process involves you mentioning or recommending a product or service to your audience, and if they click through and buy something, you earn a small commission.
The most popular affiliate service in the world comes from Amazon, where it's quick, easy, and free to join their programme and start marketing their products.
You can approach any company or service about setting up an affiliate partnership with them, and most businesses will be prepared to listen to you when you tell them you want to market their products to your audience.
Fiction podcasting can make affiliate marketing work a little differently than it does in the wider podcasting world. Whilst a tech-show host can wax enthusiastically about a mic she loves, the fiction podcaster might need to get a little more creative.
A good place to start is to choose a book, game, or movie in the same genre as your story, and recommend it at the start or end of your episode. Encourage the listeners to head over to the shownotes on your website and take a look.
Be open with them and explain that it's an affiliate link, and that buying anything through it will go towards keeping the show running. On top of that, you're recommending something you think they'll enjoy, so it should be a win-win situation.
How to Make a Fiction Podcast | That's All Folks!
So we've come to the end of the road in this How to Make a Fiction Podcast series. I hope you've taken a lot from it and have enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
If you're still looking for more inspiration towards making your own show, then check out our Best Fiction Podcasts roundup.
And be sure to subscribe to the essential Fiction Podcast Weekly too…
The Fiction Podcast Weekly
Fiction Podcast Weekly is an unmissable weekly email newsletter, bringing you the latest from the world of audio fiction, audio drama, and sound storytelling.
Are you involved in the medium in any way? Whether that's as a writer, producer, voice actor, curator, or even just a hardcore listener who loves the ‘behind the scenes' stuff. Whoever you are, whatever you do, this is a great way of staying up-to-date with the latest happenings and opportunities in the fiction podcasting realm!