Why Do Big Publications Hate Independent Podcasts?

Artemisia_Gentileschi_-_Self-Portrait_as_a_Lute_Player
Seriously? We have to have this discussion again?

Once again, a journalist at a major publication has taken time to write about audio drama as a podcast medium, to basically say, “I don’t enjoy this at all, but these small-minded fools seem to.” Writing for forbes.com, the article  “The Audio Verse Awards Celebrates The Best In Audio Drama,” Joshua Dudley, a Forbes contributor, tells us that the quality of independent audio drama podcasts is lacking, with a tone that is condescending at best.  This echoes sentiment from other major publications, such as the New York Times, where large-budget work is praised, and small-budget work is ignored or described as boring. Publications with corporate funding have a vested interest in promoting work that shares or follows a similar funding model. If the majority of consumers were to actively start creating, sharing, and consuming their own entertainment, streaming services, cable networks and media companies might lose a tiny bit of market share. Dudley’s message is not specifically capitalist; more notably, he misses his own point, by noting trends within independent audio drama podcasts. He disparages these trends, rather than examining them in order to discover something new. 

He claims his article is about an annual awards show to celebrate the best in independent audio drama. Instead, Dudley focuses on the mentality behind audio drama podcast creation, using terms such as “people with narrow interests,” and “a glut of sameness.” 

He name-drops two podcasts that are not eligible for the Audio Verse Awards, saying that it’s sad that they’re left out. One is funded by Marvel. The other has an international star of music, movies and cable television as its lead performer. To say it’s sad that these shows are left out is similar to asking why Krug champagne isn’t included in a small-batch brewing festival. Of course these are good. They have a lot of money making them good. Their creation doesn’t have the same process or support. Their stories may not reflect the same anxieties and experience as people who have to balance creative projects around day jobs. The challenges independent audio drama creators cope with are not something those shows cope with. Don’t put a dog in a cat show, and vice versa. Wasn’t Dudley’s article supposed to be about the Audio Verse Awards?

Dudley’s biggest complaint is the “glut of sameness” that came from listening to the nominees’ episode samples. His complaint is almost fair. “Many of the shows had a fantastical element that featured prominently in the script,” (much like the two big-budget podcasts he mentions earlier) “but only one of them felt so grounded in the reality of the world it created that it made me pay close attention and want to listen more.”  Good. It flipped your switch. You liked it. I hope you voted. 

Let’s take a look at this. If many of the shows to which you listened have a common element, isn’t it worth it to ask why this common element keeps coming up?  First of all, in creating any kind of entertainment, when an artist chooses a medium, the artist has to ask what this medium does best, what can it do that other media can’t. No one expects an oil painting to make noise. Though film, television, live theatre and audio drama are similar means of telling stories, we don’t have the same expectations of their delivery. If audio drama allows the creator to utilize elements that can’t be done in a visual medium, why rely on realism? Secondly, to say that a show seemed not grounded in the reality of its own world, from listening to a small sample of the production, is not a big enough sample. Finally, if there’s a trend of people making audio drama podcasts with a fantastical element, and yet the work feels unfinished, why disparage? Why not say, “this work could have been good, I wanted it to be better, there needs to be more support for work like this?”  Again, if there’s a common anxiety being discussed, and a common craft style being used, why not examine them to find some meaning?

Ultimately, Dudley got paid. He pitched a story to Forbes (a publication about making money), talking about an Internet-based awards show, with criteria that has nothing to do with profit. He wrote the article in a tone that congratulates readers for not listening to independently funded entertainment. It was published. Though he ends with a paragraph lauding passion and creativity, Dudley’s overall tone echoes the sentiment of other articles in major publications: isn’t your little hobby cute, too bad you’re not very good at it. Meanwhile people will continue to create media that can be shared easily, and do so without funding sources that can be tracked on the stock market. Ideas will grow without  corporate gatekeepers. Journalists can either pay attention, join us, or get out of the way. 

 

Yes, I know, I haven’t been writing here for a very long time, and I need to fix that. Or do I? Let me know. Yes, I’m on Twitter too, as @thislindsay. 

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one.

A large headed man with a halo, The Apostle Paul by Aidan Hart
The Apostle Paul by Aidan Hart

There’s a joke that’s been coming back in my mind for a while, now. I can’t remember the details, and it makes me crazy. I don’t know if it’s a joke, or one of those academic urban legends, or both. Here’s what I can remember.

Students in a theology course at a prestigious university spread a rumor amongst themselves. The rumor was that the class was very difficult, requiring a lot of reading and study, but the final exam was easy, provided you had some inside information. It was rumored that the exam was only one question, a long essay, and the question was, “describe and explain the life and times of the Apostle Paul.” This was a lot of information, true. But if you were ready for it, you could narrow down a ton of your studying, and sail through the course.

finalsSo far, the rumor had turned out to be true. For many years, the students came in, sat down, and were presented with the final exam question: describe the life and times of the Apostle Paul. Students told their friends, “dude, you gotta take this class, it’s not totally easy but you really only have to know this one concept for the final, you can sleep through all the lectures on whatever else.”

Finally, one year, the professor who taught the course got wind of the rumor. When the students came in for the exam, they were provided one essay question.

“Explain the existence of God. Cite examples. Use both sides of the paper if necessary.”

The students stared in disbelief. They hadn’t prepared for anything resembling this. Some of the students walked out immediately. A few tried to scribble out a haphazard answer, before shuffling up to the front of the room and sheepishly putting their papers on the professor’s desk. One student, however, did something different. The student started at the question for a long time, then started writing. The scratching of the student’s pencil was slow at first, but gradually it gained speed, in the way that comes from confidence. The student carefully filled both sides of the paper in small, neat handwriting, using proper paragraph and essay structure.

When the exam time was almost finished, the student brought the paper up to the front desk. By now the room was almost empty. No one was left but the professor and the lone student. The kid’s pencil was chewed down to a nub. The professor had stopped doing other work and had just watched the kid scribbling away, with a bit of amazement. No one else had even hung in there and tried to complete the exam.

“Listen,” said the prof, “You’re the only one who hung in there and took this exam seriously. I mean, there are a few half-hearted tries that were handed in, but nothing even came close to a reasonable exam answer. I’m giving you an A+ for the entire course.”

The student said, “You sure you don’t even want to read it?”

“I don’t have to,” said the professor. “Students like you are the reason I teach. Have a great summer.”

“Are you positive?”

“I’ve got my grade book right here. Look. A Plus. That’s ink. It’s done. Now go on, get out of here, so I can go home. Go play frisbee on the quad or something, you’ve earned it.”

(I heard this story in the 80s.)

The kid said, “Okay,” and skedaddled out of the room as quickly as possible.

The professor looked down at the paper, thinking about how he’d happily put an end to the rumor about his easy exam, and thought maybe this would mean he’d get good students next semester. Good students, like this kid. Right?

“Explain the existence of God. Cite examples. Use both sides of the paper if necessary.”

The kid ‘s opening paragraph read as follows.

“Who are we, as mere mortals, to explain the existence of God? Such hubris goes against everything we have learned this semester. Therefore, I will take this time to describe and explain the life and times of the Apostle Paul.”

It bugs me that I might not be telling this joke correctly. Maybe the message I’m taking away from this story is something I’ve mis-remembered and made up, not the real intention of the story. I’ve tried looking for it in theological humor message boards, academic humor message boards, so on and so forth. The punchline has been popping up in my head a lot lately. My friend Nick  and I were discussing this joke recently. I said I couldn’t figure out why it kept sticking to me. He suggested, “Write what you prepared, not what they demand. ”

Mme of Gloria Anzaldua that says, 'you should be writing."There’s more to it than that, but Nick summed it up pretty well. Lately I’ve been not writing as much. I worked on writing and rewriting Season 2 of Jarnsaxa Rising for about a year,  and now we’re in the editing and production stage. I’m feeling a little bit guilty right now for taking time away from doing dialogue assembly. The itch to write gets answered by the demon of doubt, saying, “who would want what you write?” And I worry a lot about writing what people want, as any playwright will tell you. After three or five or seven full-length plays, there’s only so much looking within you can do, without looking outside. With a social media infested world, by the time you get together enough information for a reasonable play idea, it’s become last year’s meme.

But, honestly, if you want to write about The Orville or incentives to recruit volunteer firefighters or Westworld or kitten season, it doesn’t really matter if someone else wrote about it first. As Kerouac said, “it ain’t what you write, it’s the way atcha write it.” Actually, I don’t know if he said that, but a friend of mine had a coffee cup with that quote on it attributed to him, and we both worked at Borders at the time, so it’s not too far-fetched.

So, why can’t I toss out a bunch of pop-culture observations, like R. Eric Thomas, and still write good plays, like R. Eric Thomas? Actually, these days I’m writing audio drama, but the reason for switching is a thorny one, and I’ll save that for another time.

So, anyway. My point is, does anyone remember this joke? Does anyone know anything about it? Am I getting the message correctly, or is the story something else? Am I mis-remembering The Three Little Pigs and thinking, “wow, the pig that built the house out of sticks was a genius?”

My other point is, I disagree with Joanna Robinson, I don’t think Terminator Dolores and Evil Young William are all that bad, because characters have to start out horrible for their eventual redemption to mean anything. But I like listening to Joanna Robinson.

Really, my point is, we should all be writing with fearlessness, and reading with fearlessness. Tennessee Williams used to write “Avanti!” at the top of the page when he started writing for the day.  Onward and upward.

 

 

 

 

 

Sound move on my part.

 

28958825_10211117495155120_2222789681418943968_nAfter so many years of putting it off, I decided now would be a good time to do something about my studio (middle bedroom) and its ability to screw up my mixes. I went with a package deal that involved 4 columns and 8 12x 12 squares of fiberglass and cloth to negate any standing waves or other audio anomalies that can make listening and editing a chore. My monitors also had to be adjusted again but I have yet to “tune” the room. But for now, everything sounds fine. Later on, I am planning to get sound blankets for the windows to diminish any outside noise. I wish I had a few grand for a Whisper Room.

Slowly I’m getting my set up as comfortable and efficient as possible. Looking into a more comfortable chair. The one pictured here is an IKEA special and not really designed for long-term sitting.

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From 10:30 onward I basically removed furniture and prepared the walls for the metal impaling plates that needed to be screwed into the drywall. There was also a lot of vacuuming as well to keep and dust from getting into anything. A lot of time was spent going back and forth with a pencil and laser level but I managed to get everything done, put back and running by 4:30 pm. I think I know why people put this important step, it’s time-consuming but I would agree with most folks who do podcasts, voice over, or any kind of recording. Invest in some sound treatment and abatement before pouring money into gear. A good sounding room will get you better results the first time around than a plug-in.

29028239_10211117495475128_4137984327462454517_nI was lucky to keep my blackboard where it was as well as the guitar hook for my headphones. The lava lamps are a nice touch. Patch-bay and cable snakes on the way for ease of plugging in equipment. I like to use my guitar effects pedals for recording and mixing so having the patch bay will make that much easier.

Stil editing dialog and hopefully I can finally get down to creating sound beds, fx, and music cues. Got a three day weekend coming up at the end of the month so I should get a lot of work done in that department. But for now, it’s getting the words in order.

And now some very rare photos from the recording os season 2 of Jarnsaxa Rising

Below we see “Da Gooch” looking very pensive, maybe we should have given her the fancier mic than the stock SM58?

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Crow T. Robot was far too wasted to contribute any commentary or witty lines to the proceedings

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It’s pretty clear that I have run out of anything more interesting to say so I’ll leave it here. Of course, if you do not have a clue about some of the jargon I have used, feel free to drop me a line.

And so it begins….again!

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How about that artwork? Pretty snazzy huh? Kessi Rilinki is the artist, check her out and The Audio Drama Production Podcast group on Facebook.

And now onto our story.

After driving from Philadelphia to Minneapolis (with a stop in Fremont, Indiana) we have arrived safe and sound on Tuesday, February 19th. After a rest and some much-needed animal corraling it was time to sift through the audio detritus that will eventually make up season 2 of Jarnsaxa Rising.

It was a shame we couldn’t hang out with the cast during the time that we were there but with the readthroughs and the re-writes, there wasn’t time. We had a narrow window to record in due to conflicting schedules with the cast but we did manage to get everything done in a final 12-hour session.

Tech notes here so if this stuff bores you just skip it. I included links in the event of anyone interested in the product and my experience with it in a real-world situation. I’m not getting compensated for anything.

For recording, I opted for the Zoom F8 field recorder along with the FRC-8 controller to give me more flexibility in mixing and control. I ended up using a CAD TRION 6000, CAD GXL 2200, 2 Aston Origins, Sterling Audio ST151 and the trusty Shure SM58. Except for SM58, all the other mics are condensers. To get more level out of the SM58, I ran that through a Cloudlifter CL-1 via the F8’s phantom power.

For the actors, I decided to have a headphone distribution system set up so they can hear themselves. I went cheap and got the Behringer Powerplay which actually did a pretty good job. I brought with me what I had in headphones (2 pairs of Sony MDR 7506’s, Sennheiser HD280, and a pair of KOSS over the ear type. I also made a quick stop at Twin Town Guitars and grabbed some 1/8″ to 1/4″ adaptors just in case.

A little plug for Sony here, if you are looking for bulletproof, great sounding headphones, get the MDR 7506. I have a pair that is over 20 years old the other is 10 and they are user serviceable so you can replace parts.

The recording space was the second floor (attic?) at the home of the director Carin Bratlie Wethern. We kept any room reverb down by utilizing blankets and pillows. I also tried to keep to the “3 to 1” rule to cut down on bleed. I was somewhat successful in this after listening to playbacks and isolating tracks.

If time permits I will occasionally post again. The work is going to be slow and tedious. Then I have to create SFX beds and music cues for 8 episodes so it may take a few months or more to get a decent product.

Want to help us make a story?

Lathgertha_by_Morris_Meredith_WilliamsIn six days, Vince and I are going to take A Big Risk. We’re going to get on a plane (Vince hates flying) and go to Minneapolis, Minnesota. There we’re going to hand a script to a room full of people, most of whom I haven’t met (first-draft readings take a pint of my blood), and we’re going to read it, rehearse it, record it, and make a serial podcast out of it.

This is Jarnsaxa Rising.  Ancient Norse Gods use humans as pawns to battle each other. When an ancient giantess takes human form to engage in eco-terrorism, a corporate team tries to stop her, and learns who the real enemy is.

Vince testing our portable recording setup.
Vince testing our portable recording setup.

The script is stylistically different for me, in narrative and in craft. I’ve never written science fiction or fantasy before. Adjusting to audio drama is also new for me. Vince has done a lot of sound engineering and still experiments with it for fun. He’ll be performing all of the sound engineering and writing all of the music. We made a sketch comedy podcast episode to prove to ourselves we could do it. Now we’re getting involved with other people and going on a journey.

Carin Bratlie believed in me enough to produce Traveling Light years ago, and now we’re going to go take a leap of faith together again. She’s assembled a solid, smart cast, and she’ll be directing.

Now’s your chance to be part of our trip.

We are 14% funded on the Indiegogo campaign that will fund this project. The podcast will be produced and be available online for your listening pleasure this autumn, whether we reach our funding goal or not. As I write this, twenty-one people have said, “Hell, yes, I want to support this story.” You can join us.  

They say life is a bowl of cherries in Minneapolis.
They say life is a bowl of cherries in Minneapolis.

Right now I feel like my viscera is all clenched up in the center of my chest from excitement and anxiety. I’m rewriting the big final battle of the story, and I want to make everyone proud.

Things are looking up!

Georgia O'Keeffe, photographed by Alfred Steiglitz. Good things are happening.

I’m pleased to announce that Wide Open Spaces will be read as part of the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival this summer!

Wide Open Spaces is the play that I wrote about Georgia O’Keeffe, and her personal changes that made her the painter we know today. It has forty-some odd characters played by eight performers, and takes place in one room and all across America over three years, so this is going to be a good experience. I’m really excited about this, and grateful that the festival coordinators see what I’ve seen in this story.

Philadelphia’s never had a theatre festival specializing in work created by women, before this year. Ms Fest at Plays & Players was a huge success, so the energy of supply and demand is high for a women’s theatre festival.  Currently, the PWTF is raising funds to make the festival happen, and you can support this project.  They have four days left to meet their fundraising goal, and donations are tax-deductible. 

I know so many people who complain at being left out of opportunities. There’s so much “they don’t want me because I’m too (x, y, z) for them” that I hear, and I want to be in a culture of saying “yes, and.”   This is one of those times where we can step up and build the sandbox in which we want to play.

Speaking of building your own sandbox, progress on Jarnsaxa Rising continues. In addition to the script, I’m working on “meet the artist” posts for the podcast’s blog. Every time I open up my e-mail, see the performers’ headshots and read their bios, I get all warm and giggly inside. This project is going to be Really Good.

And, of course, if science-fiction-fantasy podcasts are your thing, you can join us on the journey.

IMG_3686 And last night it rained, finally, so the garden is getting wild again. The red lilies are blooming and doubling and trebling, and the morning glory vine has started to fight with the lavender, but they’re no match for the mint, so I have to get in there and break up some of this battle.

 

 

Mint vs. Lavender vs. Morning Glories. QUIEN ES MAS MACHO?
Mint vs. Lavender vs. Morning Glories. QUIEN ES MAS MACHO?

 

 

 

Things that keep me awake at night

Lathgertha_by_Morris_Meredith_Williams Once upon a time there was a playwright who was really, really bored.

She sent a Facebook message to a friend, a director, who was never bored, halfway across the country. The message was, “I need something new to write about, throw me a prompt.”

The director said, “Just above the 60th parallel in the Baltic Ocean, a team of researchers arrives at an abandoned wind farm, to investigate some unexplained energy surges. They discover that the wind farm has become sentient. And hungry.”

The writer said, I like this, and she researched and thought and imagined. Five years later, we have this:

Smøla Wind Farm, Norway. Photo by Bjørn Luell.
Photo by Bjørn Luell

Jarnsaxa Rising

It seemed like a great play idea, with multiple characters and the wind turbines themselves being played by actors who rotated giant rain sticks, as if the gods and humans and everyone were all embodied in the wind turbines. But the story was too unwieldy. It made more sense to break it into episodes and do it as a podcast. So, basically, it’s a science fiction fantasy revenge tragedy that takes place in a dystopian future and the ancient past.

and that’s what I’ve been up to lately.

round box brooch swedish So, I’m writing the script. I’m eight episodes in, with hopefully only two more to go. although two of the episodes may get merged into one. Vince is doing all the sound engineering. Carin is directing, she’s found a cast, and we’re going to Minneapolis to record it in July. We’ll edit the files in August, and launch the podcast in the fall.

I’ve been taking a Coursera course, called Sagas and Space, about Norse culture and how they thought about themselves. It’s been inspiring and helpful, particularly Terry Gunnell’s guest lecture on “Spaces, Places, Liminality and The Supernatural in The Old Nordic World.”

I’ve been learning a lot about Indiegogo. This is our campaign, in case you like this and want to help. We’re just over 5% funded, with 41 days to go. I get about two messages a day from people who want me to pay them to retweet the campaign or add it to a directory. which feels like adding my needle to a haystack.

woman holding-headphones-listening-to-music
“OMG! This is, like, SO much better than Serial!”

Tonight, I have writer’s block. I know what needs to happen next, everything is outlined. As I write, I feel like I’m stumbling. There’s a lot of new things that I’m learning: writing purely for audio instead of live audio-visual performance, using episodes, using non-linear narrative. some information is missing, and I don’t know what it is, but without it, I can’t confidently move forward. I’ll get it, I just have to find it. I also know that writing doesn’t come from inspiration, inspiration comes from writing.

Fortunately, I have a really good cast, good people who have said, “sure, I’ll climb aboard your wagon.” I just want to make sure I don’t disappoint anyone.

I wanted to go to bed early tonight, so I can get up early tomorrow. It was hot today and it’s supposed to be hot tomorrow, so I’d like to have some of the cool hours of the day at my disposal. I want to get up early, pull weeds and water the flowerbeds before the rest of the world gets moving. The local amateur pyrotechnic aficionados are setting things off, which upsets the dogs. They’re being pretty good about it, but I can hear them shuffling around anxiously.

I think I’m just going to lie down and listen to an audiobook, and hope that settles me down.

Anyway, this is what’s keeping me awake lately.