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Music for Audio Dramas

For the past two years I have been focusing on writing music for audio dramas - fiction podcasts that often feature a cast, sound design, and music. Making pure music and music for any medium in a supporting role has it's challenges and perks, but I think that the greatest creative challenge in music at the moment is expanding its possibilities in audio fiction.

Film and TV scoring are for the moment at least financially more lucrative, but every aspect of visual media's production is relatively cemented in place through processes that have developed over the last hundred years. Creatively, there are a couple of primary reference points composers are starting from on a project. I don't blame anyone for this, we've all grown up with film, tv, and video games and have been exposed to the major musical artists in each of these mediums. And so there are styles and approaches that have been developed by those that have led the way in this art form. This isn't to say new people aren't emerging, but even among them there tends to be a kinship to past film music. This is not a criticism, it's just a fact.

And it completely makes sense - movies are very expensive to make and between theaters closing and the cost of living in Los Angeles or New York, the industry is increasingly conservative with funding and all of the creative decisions that trickle down from that. It's difficult to imagine a future in film or tv that increases creative freedom and composer fees.

In terms of audio's future, video games are a great reference point for what might be to come: in the 1980's small teams of artists banded together in a relatively niche field to experiment with a new concept of media. The idea of even having an established sound or reference point was nearly impossible because the only musical "instruments" at these composer's disposal were the most simple digital waveforms such as Sine, Triangle, Sawtooth, and Noise; and the composer or implementer's programming skills.

These teams had the advantage of less funding - they could invent something new for a very small but eager audience. The limitations created a completely new musical language that is still creatively innovating today and with budgets that eclipse major blockbuster movies.

Audio Drama is in a similar situation to early video game creators. While there was a large radio drama industry up until the 1960's, the modern Audio Drama has the advantage of digital tools to create a sound experience that can't really be compared to any other medium at the moment. Music and sound are the colors of rooms and the clouds in the sky just as much as they can bring out the inner experience of a character's predicament.

You might ask why any of this could be a financial opportunity. Please click on this link right here. This shows the growth of the r/audiodrama subreddit. In April of 2014 there were 100 subscribers. In February 2016 there were 100. In March 2021 there were 100,000. In February 2022 there were 200,000. And in June 2022 there were 250,000. There can be no doubt that the interest in this medium is skyrocketing. .

My approach with all of this is to create the highest quality music for my clients, but to also consider what the possibilities are for scoring a strictly audio medium. A couple years ago, I was convinced that the best way forward for me was to avoid software synths, sample libraries, and quantization (essentially everything that makes modern composing faster) and focus entirely on playing instruments myself or hiring classically-trained musicians to lend their performance abilities to my scores. I still stand by a philosophy of craftsmanship and effort over ease and technology, but that stance doesn't creatively address where music can go that it hasn't before. New creative solutions lie in the limitations of the medium.

So I think that most of this boils down to digging into a project's script and brainstorming with the writer / producer about how music can effectively achieve their vision. I've got a few things that I want to research more:

-New musical palettes. So much of the aesthetic of a show comes from the choice of instruments. Just in terms of the "color palette" or setting of a show, we can invent new orchestrations (I use that to mean any combination of instruments) to uniquely express the story's world

-Sound and music that merge. This is something reviews of film scores talk about a lot but I've actually never really heard someone do this convincingly. With any DAW's stock synthesizer we can turn a noise hi-hat into wind or an explosion into a bassline.

-Freeing ourselves from the reference points of established genres. Horror no longer has to be Penderecki or John Carpenter. Space doesn't need to be the Blue Danube or a synth pad. Romance doesn't have to be woodwinds (although will continue to do so!). We can free ourselves from these preconceptions and lead the way to something new.

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