As podcasts continue to expand in popularity, the medium is expanding it’s creative boundaries with entertaining and immersive audio fiction offerings, versus the standard “expert interview” format.
If you’re new to the world of audio drama or audio fiction, it can be a little overwhelming knowing which of the hundreds of series on offer will be worth your time.
Well, I’ve put in the hours, so lemme tell you a little history on audio drama, and then pick out a handful of current shows you simply have to listen to!
Audio Drama – A Brief History
Audio drama is a dramatized, purely acoustical storytelling performance.
Dialogue, music, and sound effects, combine to help the listeners imagine the story in their heads, the end result being “auditory in the physical dimension and equally as powerful as a visual force in the psychological dimension.”
Very simply, audio dramas are stories, stories are culture, and culture is humanity.
So, back in the day, to ensure culture propagated into the future, humans passed their stories on, through voice and song. This has been the case ever since we could first string grunts into a sentence.
What’s different in storytelling through audio, is the ability to “set the stage” and create an immersive experience that’s engineered to capture people’s imagination, the most notable instance being the original “War of the Worlds” radio drama broadcast in 1938, which was perceived as an actual Martian invasion, sparking real world panic.
Audio dramas were BIG business during the golden days of radio, roughly 1920-50, so “audio content marketing” is not a new thing.
The term “soap opera” originated from radio dramas originally being sponsored by soap manufacturers.
Pepsodent, Cream of Wheat, Procter & Gamble, all of these brands spent THOUSANDS of marketing dollars, over decades, sponsoring award-winning audio dramas. But it wasn’t to last.
TV started to replace radio sets in the 50’s, and most audio dramas died out.
However, they didn’t disappear. CBS Radio Mystery ran all the way till 1976. In 1981, STAR WARS was adapted as a radio drama by NPR and a few college students, the result being beyond awesome!
These days, thanks to the proliferation of podcasts, there is a massive wave of talent and a sea change of creativity coming to audio, with new dramas being cranked out by some of the most innovative minds & actors in creative storytelling and audio production.
Current Audio Dramas You Should Listen To
“FOREST 404” – This is by far one of the best audio dramas we’ve listened to.
Forest 404 is set in the 24th century, and the protagonist, Pan, is a young woman with a boring job sorting and deleting old sound files. When she comes across the sound of a rainforest, it sets her off on a path that changes the entire world.
The acting by Pearl Mackie (Dr. Who) is superb, and the way the audio drama sparsely uses SFX and relies on first person narration for the more visual scenes is class! There is also an ecological and educational component to the show which is even more class!
Written by Tim X Atak, produced and directed by Becky Ripley, with music by Bonobo and sound design by Graham Wild.
“Tumanbay” – Immersive, romantic, and enchanting, “Tumanbay’ tells the epic saga of the most magnificent city on Earth. A Sultan fears an invasion, his servants aren’t to be trusted, spies and thieves abound, and through it all, the city of Tumanbay provides the setting for this tale of war, love, loss, and life in the desert.
Amazing sound design, very compelling narratives, and the writing, particularly by John Scott Dryden, is fantastic!
Written by John Scott Dryden & Mike Walker, produced by the BBC, with sound design by Steve Bond and music by Sascha Putnam.
“Tracks” – A multi-award winning conspiracy thriller, “Tracks” follows a few different storylines throughout it’s six seasons, all with a centralizing theme of WTF.
The narrative structure of “Tracks” is so engrossing, and Romola Garai, the actress that plays the protagonist, is extremely talented at weaving in and out of narration and acting, and the writing and scientific underpinning of the script is superb.
Most memorably, there is a scene in the first season, where two characters are in a dark, fetid basement, fumbling around for a really important piece of evidence, all the while commenting on the horrible smell, and I remember listening to it and plugging my own nose!
Written by Matthew Broughton, Produced by the BBC, Directed by Helen Perry, Music by Stu Barker.
Marvel “Wolverine” “Wolverine – The Long Night,” is an engrossing story about cults, international crime, mutants, and unsolved murders, set in the dark wilderness of Alaska. As he’s chased by his government creators, Wolverine struggles to remain indifferent to local bad-doings, but finally, brings righteousness and revenge to the perpetrators, and calm to the town.
Written by Benjamin Percy, Directed by Brendan Baker, with Sound Design by Chloe Prasinos
“Marvels” – This was a really fun series! Adapted from a 90’s comic book series by Alex Ross & Kurt Busiek, “Marvels” recounts an intergalactically huge battle in NYC, between the Fantastic Four and a giant named Galactus.
Starring Method Man(?), as a journalist covering the disaster, (he’s excellent!) and several other super talented actors, this show was a masterclass in storytelling, and the sound design for the epic battle in the skies over Manhattan is something you have to hear to believe!
Written by Lauren Shippen, Directed by Paul Bae, with Sound Design by Mischa Stanton
Passenger List – A missing plane, a search for the truth, and a bad-ass audio drama starring Kelly Marie Tran! (Star Wars Last Jedi) This was a very thorough story, with convincing performances, always good motion to the narrative, and one that keeps you coming back and engaging you.
Not surprising, “Passenger List” is being adapted for TV, as well as continuing on to make a second season of the immersive scripted audio drama. This is a damned fine audio drama!
Co-written & Directed by John Scott Dryden, Lauren Shippen, sound design by Mark Henry Phillips, produced by Julia Thompson.
With an illustrious past filled with quality content, and a bright future where audio drama deals & productions are in the works from major studios like HBO, DC Comics, Amazon, Netflix, and even brands , the trajectory of audio fiction is promising and full of potential.
I believe, the content we choose to make in this day and age, whether it’s for business or pleasure, has to be distinct, sound authentic, and be worthy of the attention & time of listeners.
Interested in creating an audio drama for your brand? Get In Touch!