Friday, April 2, 2021

CoNZealand Fringe Transcript: Genre Podcasts: Beyond the Basics


During CoNZealand, a group of fans put together a set of panels, which took place outside convention hours, which would be available for free via Youtube and offer a taster of the Worldcon experience to those unable to participate in CoNZealand's programming hours, or hadn't bought a membership but were interested in the kind of content provided. The result was a set of 15 panels over 6 days, archived and available for all at

As a fringe event in the tradition of Edinburgh Fringe and other international collateral events, CoNZealand Fringe was conducted entirely outside core programming hours and spaces, and panels were not official CoNZealand programming. CoNZealand Fringe is not endorsed by CoNZealand.

Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is pleased to host the transcripts of CoNZealand Fringe panels for fans who are unable to watch the videos or prefer a written format. This is the transcript for Genre Podcasts: Beyond the Basics, which ran on Friday 31 July 2020 at 8pm BST/3pm EDT/12pm PDT/7am NZST (next day) and is available here. Other panel transcripts are available via our transcript hub.

Genre Podcasts: Beyond the Basics

Panel Description: No one needs to ask what a podcast is anymore. But what differentiates an audio drama from audio fiction and are such distinctions even helpful to audiences? Why is audio presentation more prevalent among certain communities and genres? How do different podcasting formats facilitate critical analysis of books and media? Why aren’t transcripts commonplace, and will we see that change in light of the new ADA lawsuit against Gimlet Media?

Host and Moderator: Jen Zink 

Panelists: Tonia Ransom @NIGHTLIGHT podcast, Wil Williams (they/them), Marguerite Kenner (she/her), C.L. (Cherae) Clark (she/they)


Jen: All right!

Marguerite:  It says we’re live.

Jen:  Are we here?  Are we live?  Audience, say hello to the team!

Marguerite:  With the time delay like when you’re streaming, so now we have to wait for 30 seconds until people notice we’re here.


Jen:  Right?  Uh that’s [crosstalk]

Marguerite:  [crosstalk] opening monologue, exactly.

Jen:  Right, all right, let’s - hey Shaun [in chat], say yes or no - do you hear me?

Marguerite:  I see people.  You may be on the private chat tab as opposed to the comments chat.

Cherae:  Oh!

Jen:  Ah.

Marguerite:  There we go. [crosstalk]

Jen:  Okay, that’s a - that’s a total thing.  Okay.  Hello!

Marguerite:  Hello.  Awesome.

Jen:  Say again Marguerite?

Marguerite:  Sorry, I was just saying hi in the chat to people that I recognise.

Jen:  [laughs]  Hello everyone!

Cherae:  Oh hi Heather!

Tonia:  Hello.

Jen:  And welcome to the CoNZealand Fringe panel Genre Podcasts: Beyond the Basics.  I’m Jen, producer, co-host and audio editor of the three-time Hugo finalist fancast the Skiffy and Fanty Show, and also a professional audio editor.  

Tonia:  Who-hoo!

Jen:  I’m super excited to be here with these awesome people as your moderator, but first a lovely disclaimer so that Marguerite doesn’t get mad!

Marguerite:  Marguerite wrote the disclaimer.

Jen:  Exactly!


Jen:  CoNZealand Fringe has been created as a complementary programming series to the annual science fiction convention WorldCon.  All our livestreams take place outside core CoNZealand programming hours and are not official CoNZealand programming items.  CoNZealand Fringe is not endorsed by CoNZealand.  And -

Marguerite:  Well done.

Jen:  - before we get into things, what this panel is about, the reason we are all here today.  So this is Genre Podcasts: Beyond the Basics, but no-one needs to ask what a podcast is any more.

Tonia:  Yay!

Jen: But what differentiates an audio drama- Amazing right? But what differentiates an audio drama from audio fiction, and are such distinctions even helpful to audiences? Why is audio presentation more prevalent among certain communities and genres? How do different podcasting formats facilitate critical analysis of books and media? Why aren't transcripts commonplace, and will we see that change in light of the new ADA lawsuit against Gimlet Media? So that is our topic today, but let's meet our panellists.

Marguerite: This is like a game show.

Jen: I love being game showy, it's my favourite thing.


Jen: So we are going to start with Tonia. If you could tell us about your own work and podcasts and who you are and stuff like that.

Tonia:  All right.

Jen:  Go for it.

Tonia: I'm Tonia Ransom. I am the creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT. It's a horror podcast that features creepy tales written by black writers from all over the world. I’ve been podcasting for a couple [audio glitch] I've wanted to start a podcast even before podcasts were a thing cos I was listening to old time radio and thought, hey, it would be really cool if we revive this. And then podcasts came out and the gatekeepers kind of went away, and I think that's something really cool that we can talk about more later.

Marguerite:  Cool.

Jen:  Absolutely. Wil, go ahead. 

Wil:  Hi. So I'm Wil Williams. I am a podcast journalist and creator. So I write for outlets like Polygon, I've written for Vulture, I've written for Spotify. But I'm also a creator. I am the showrunner for the audio drama VALENCE. I work on Radio Drama Revival, which is an audio drama showcase and interview series. And I have a few other podcasts under my belt.

Jen:  That's a lot.

Wil:  It's a lot. [laughs]

Marguerite:  It is.

Jen: I have clearly a lot of catching up to do in the audio drama world. Which is why I'm just the moderator today.


Jen:  All right, Marguerite, go ahead.

Marguerite:  Okay. I'm Marguerite Kenner. Along with my partner Alasdair Stuart, we own Escape Artists, which publishes the Hugo finalist and oldest science fiction podcast out there, Escape Pod. I've been involved in podcasting for mm, six, going on seven years now. And I do a lot in the community in terms of like, education of business skills for creative teams. I've done a little bit of work with Tin Can Audio, some work with Rusty Quill, and a bunch of the other creative space. Oh, the reason for that is because I'm a lawyer, and more importantly, I'm a data protection lawyer, so I try to use those skills in the creative industries.

Jen:  Fantastic. And Cherae, tell us about yourself.

Cherae: Hi everybody. I'm Cherae. I am one of the co-editors for PodCastle, which is one of the branches of the Escape Artists podcast. We are the dragon branch. I am a little biased it is, I think the best brand, but um -


Jen:  Them’s fighting words!

Marguerite:  I’m not allowed to have favourites. I’m not allowed to have favourites.

Cherae:  So yeah, so we erm, along with Jen Albert and Setsu Uzumé we're the editors at PodCastle. I'm also an author myself. I actually got into podcasts and audio fiction in general by way of wanting to be a narrator. And finding that I can do volunteer things like reading audio for volunteer projects, and then I found out about podcast stories, and then I ended up here.

Jen:  Fantastic.

Marguerite:  Once you join you never leave. It’s just the way.

Jen:  Yeah.

Cherae: Yeah, I'm great with that. Yeah,

Jen: That's what I tell the Skiffy and Fanty team - once on the team, always family. We're like the mafia, except less crime.


Jen:  Hopefully.

Marguerite:  Good, good.

Wil:  For now.

Jen: For now.


Marguerite:  That’s what you’re gonna say on air, yes.

Jen:  All right, so we’re going to actually s- Well, we're gonna start with the question that Marguerite so kindly built into the panel description today. But I want to start with like, even though this is a beyond the basics panel, I think it will be helpful to everybody if we actually establish the basics first. So what does differentiate an audio drama from audio fiction? And are such distinctions even helpful to audiences? And I would like to start with Cherae on this one.

Cherae: I think that they are different, partly just because I think, I actually, I was on a CoNZealand panel yesterday, where we talked a little bit about the differences between podcasting, audio books, and audio dramas. And one of the things that came up with the most was just the amount of work it takes to coordinate the many voices that you would need, for example, for an audio drama. And it reminded me of one of the short stories that we did at PodCastle earlier this year, ‘Yo Rapunzel’. It was a very voicey kind of funny fantasy story, and we decided, oh, what the hell, it could be really funny if we had an individual character for every voice, including the narrator, because the narrator also was very much a character in that story. And I actually had to rewrite the story into a script, so that each c- Like, this isn't something the author did, I broke it down myself, had to do that, and then our audio producer then had to compile everyone's individual... as opposed to just having, for example, like one audio narrator send in an entire track that they did themselves.  There was a little bit of directing from me, like, “I'm thinking this should be like this a bit more, and if you could make this character sound like this,” they were kind of just like, it was a much more involved process than letting a single narrator just take their head and go with it. But I, as a listener, I would love to hear more about the actual writing of something that is specifically just for audio drama. I imagine it's like writing the difference between writing a script and a novel. But um, Wil, if you've got more, I'd love to.

Marguerite: Oh absolutely [Crosstalk]

Jen: Go ahead Wil.

Wil:  There we go. Yeah, can confirm. [laughs] So, VALENCE is a full cast, every single character has an actor. And it actually came from writing a novel. And I can say that, yes, they are different worlds. Very. [laughs] It is, it's intense, and it does require a ton of work. We, one of the things that we do on our show is we really like naturalistic dialogue. So we have the script for sure, but we heavily encourage improvisation, we encourage adlibs, and we encourage actors playing off of each other, which means that sometimes we're, we're organising table reads across, like, five time zones, which is hard. But I think that this question is also really interesting, from the perspective of someone who... My start in podcasts was not podcasting. My start was writing about podcasts. And I think that, and this is probably a pretty controversial take, because I know there's a lot of discussion about how we, how we use the taxonomy of podcasting, but I have never seen someone who isn't in the like audio drama sphere understand what an audio drama is without it having to be explained. I think that internally, the difference between audio fiction and audio drama is important. I think that for the audience, I don't like either of those terms at all. I actually, when I write reviews, I use fiction podcast.

Marguerite:  Mhm.  Can I talk?  Can I speak to that point?

Jen:  Yeah absolutely Marguerite.  No Marguerite, no!  Just kidding.


Marguerite:  Stop it, Jen, stop it.  I just want to call out, there was a really good description in the chat that I saw that audio drama is an orchestra, audio fiction is a solo, which is kind of some very useful framing. And the reason I responded to that the way you did Wil is because when you say audio fiction or fiction podcasts, that means something very different to people like Cherae and Tonia and I who approach audio from a publishing perspective. Because when we say fiction, that's exactly what we mean, we think of ourselves as being magazines where our medium of presentation incorporates audio, whether that's audio first, or audio is a kind of an afterthought as a lot of our peers do in the industry. I think the distinction is only important these days in terms of managing an audience's expectations. Like when someone first comes to an experience, if they like it, they're going to stick around and they don't care what you call it. But if they're looking for something, if you're making recommendations, if someone says, Hey, I want to listen to some more audio fiction, and all you're giving people are perhaps true crime dramatisations, that's going to cause that sort of disconnect. I think those taxonomies, because, exactly as you say Wil, I think they're there to help people navigate and to be used kind of like we use novels as references for other novels. That's where the value of that distinction lies.

Jen:  That's really interesting. Tonia, if you could, because you've kind of, you've done both on NIGHTLIGHT. So...

Tonia:  Yeah. Yeah. And I think it's a spectrum too, it's not just like audio drama versus audio fiction. So like the Escape Artists podcasts are a narrator, a single narrator, reading a story and there's no sound effects underneath it, you know, whatsoever. Whereas I have narrated story, so it's not a full cast audio drama like Wil was talking about, but there is some music, atmosphere, sound effects and things like that. So it is dramatised to some degree, but it's not what most people would consider an audio drama because it's not a full cast. [Audio glitch] have the full cast production where you have different people voicing different characters and you're starting with a script that is written for audio, hopefully, you're not trying to adapt like a screenplay for it because that's not gonna work for you very well. But I think that we need to acknowledge though, that there is a spectrum here like and it's not just oh, well, you have, you know, a narrative fiction podcast with some sound effects on it. You know, some people have more sound effects than others. I've listened to podcasts that just have some music underneath the narration, but no sound effects. So there are so many different ways that you can do it. And then if you're talking about audio drama, yes, you have a full cast production but how heavy are you on the sound effects. Like a lot of audio drama podcasts, like if we’re thinking about the Black Tapes, for instance, is you know, there's some sound effects there but it's, you know, just a couple of characters and it's really light on sound design type stuff, where if you listen to like old time radio, or some of these newer shows that are full cast productions, they they're more like a movie for your mind.

Jen:  Does anybody want to respond to that really quick before we move on? Alright, so one of the questions that Marguerite posed, as part of this is that audio presentation is more prevalent amongst certain communities and genres. But I'd actually like to go to you Marguerite, because it- What sense do you mean by certain communities for this?

Marguerite:  Well, I'm thinking kind of two things. There's a reason why the stereotypical podcasts, and we are now at the point where podcasts have permeated media to the point where we're using them as stereotypical shorthand. There are a couple of stereotypes that media rely on. There is what I call three guys and a mic, which is your standard commentary show of any topic you want to think about, but when we think about the audio drama space, the stereotypical podcast is a female paranormal investigator running into something crazy. And - but that does in fact highlight the fact that the supernatural and specifically in genre terms, the horror or the dark fantasy sides of things, tends to be very, very prevalent. I mean, Night Vale, No Sleep, Black Tapes yeah, we can all list millions of recommendations. I have a take on that. My take on that is because audio is a incredibly intimate experience, unlike watching a movie where you can close your eyes during the scary parts, you cannot close your ears during the scary parts. And you know, there's been great research done about how that forms parasocial relationships and why these audiences get to be so devoted and things like that. But that sort of genre presentation, the horror, the darker sides of things, really leverages the intimacy of an audio presentation, which is why I think it's so prevalent. And now I'm going to throw this to Wil, because I know you have some really great answers about the community aspects of this.

Jen:  Go ahead.

Wil:  Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. I do want to speak to horror for a second, though, because I think that's so fascinating. I'm a horror junkie, I like more or less minored in American Gothic literature in my undergrad. And I think that part of it is also the reliance on the audience's participation in creation. So you can write like, “Oh this monster is really scary” in a podcast, but because there's no visual, it's entirely up to your audience to create that visual in their mind, which I think can go - it's a much more personalised horror than a film where you can just be like, Oh, look, a monster, oh it’s scary. So I think that that's also another reason why it's so effective. When it comes to the community, there's a lot of discussion about how podcasts have a lower barrier of entry than something like TV or film. One thing I think is really important to stress is that people often say there's no barrier to entry, which I find very flawed. A mic costs money. A computer costs money. Um, writing is difficult. Like there's, there's tons of things here that require some degree of barrier, you know.  But, to that point, because podcasts are something that can be made completely independently and still find success for substantially less money and less access than something like TV or film, we have a lot more creators of colour, we have a lot more queer creators, we have a lot more disabled creators and people who follow along intersections on all of those points. People who would never be able to afford a living in LA can make something that sounds like it came out of LA for very little money, or little money comparatively.

Jen:  Comparatively, right, very. Very, very true. I'd actually like to go to Cherae next, because we've been talking about the horror side of things, but you're the editor of a fantasy podcast of sorts. So … Can you unmute? Is it not letting you? … Oh no, it won't let me do it for you. Oh [crosstalk]

Marguerite:  While Cherae’s-

Cherae:  Okay!

Jen:  Yay, got it!

Cherae:  Okay, um, can you repeat the question? Sorry, it just all just vanished. So the horror and the fantasy side of the community? Got it? Um, well, first, I would just like to say I'm like, I'm such a huge scaredy cat. So that's actually why I have not been able to listen to a horror podcast is because the audio is too immediate. Like, I can read a book or a story every now and then. I actually started reading The Only Good Indians but I can only read it in the daytime. So it's just I ca- So, I have a lot of love for you guys, but I if you can recommend me the scaredy cat version of some podcasts, just let me know.

Wil:  I can do that.


Cherae:  As far as community and fantasy, I feel like the podcast community is actually really warm. I don't know if it's because I feel like PodCastle sits at a different niche than some of the other fantasy publications. But I feel like we have a ... we try, I think, to publish stories that are not only literary fantasy, but kind of things that harken back to, at least to my old guard fundays. Like not nostalgia, per se but things that are enjoyable, but playful, like the “Yo Rapunzel story”, for example. But I also think that it's not, because it's not paywalled and because we have weekly stories, it allows them to come with us more regularly. I don't know if that actually holds up in truth, but it feels like that to me, like that's part of our community building process is that we are always there every week. And that we do have a variety of stories. Mostly, like we have some things for fun, some things for a bit harder emotional resonance punches, but … Yeah.

Jen:  Absolutely. And then Tonia, you're doing the horrifying side with sound effects. So it's like, on one hand extra horrifying, but I am a scaredy cat like Cherae and I edit NIGHTLIGHT [laughs]

Tonia:  She does.

Jen:  And I add those sound effects so...

Tonia: And you scared yourself in the process a couple of times.


Jen:  I literally scare myself.  Cos I edit at night -

Tonia:  She does!

Jen: -  most of the time and so I'm just like [mimes looking behind herself in fear] what's going on?

Tonia:  The number of times she’s sent me a message and been like, I just scared myself.


Tonia:  It's pretty amazing, like, I get a kick out of it so much. It makes me so happy every time I get one of those messages. I know if she's scaring herself, when people listen to that episode they're gonna be scared too, so this is great.

Wil: Exactly.

Tonia:  It’s great.

Jen:  It is tons of fun for me to do it. But, so I'm curious, you know, in terms of like that intimacy, do you think that is either heightened by adding sound effects to something like a horror story? Or does it pull the intimacy away? You know, how do you fall on that question?

Tonia:  I think it all depends on how well it's done. Nobody's perfect, right? You know, you can put a sound effect in a story that pulls people out of the story, or you can put a sound effect in a story that you know, scares people, and really immerses them in the experience, especially when you're talking about binaural audio, where you have like a different sound in this ear and a different sound in this ear so it sounds like somebody’s walking towards you on this side so it feels more, more real. But I think it's really important to consider that it's not just the sound effects, it's also your voice actor. There are certain people that have warmer, more intimate voices, narrating these stories, and that's going to feel more immersive than someone who may not be as skilled at it. And then you know of course there’s the writing as well. If you start with a story that's written for audio, it's gonna feel more intimate than a story that's not necessarily written for audio.

Jen:  That leads me to the question of, when either choosing either a an audio drama or a story, depending on what you're working on, is there something that you particularly look for in terms of its suitability for oral storytelling, either as a full cast, or even if it's not a script yet, even if you're just given a story. Is there something that might hook you in to a story that makes you go, this should be a full voice cast, as Cherae mentioned that they did on PodCastle? So what do you think makes a story perfect for a podcast? And Marguerite, I'll start with you.

Marguerite:  Audio listeners don't speed read. If you lose an audio audience, they're gone. You might get them to skip 30 seconds and then they might pick it back up again, if there's, if you've signposted that there's gonna be like a content warning sort of item. Fine. But if you disengage with an audio audience, they do not reengage. All the statistics and all the viewings shows. So especially in the short fiction world, pacing is really important.  No-one is going to listen to a story that has a really significant emotional or pacing dip in the middle, you're just going to lose that particular group of people who are listening. The other thing to be really careful about and going to your question about what takes a story to like, be eligible or really elevated for a full cast, is if the characters demand it. If the story is written in such a way that this character says, “You know exactly what my voice is, and you just have to go ask that person, and you're gonna go do it right now”, then as an editor you go, Okay, I know I'm gonna treat this one special. And you have to have those little tiny kinds of hooks. Strong openings are very controversial I think in short fiction - some people love them, some people rail against them because they think that it motivates an author to not allow a story to breathe and develop in its own timing. And I think that's perfectly valid, and that's why there are dozens and dozens of short fiction markets. Because some of those markets are in print, and those stories have an easier time engaging with its audience and its reader to have that breath. In audio if we do significant numbers of stories like that, we're going to lose audience because if you don't hook an audience member on the first page or the first couple of minutes of a story, again, they're going to get bored, they're going to wander off and they're not going to come back. So pacing is really key, just the way a character leaps off a page is really key. There's also a couple of things that just absolutely are really hard to do in audio. Anything that involves playing with layout or colour or font, like a lot of poetry relies on the physical location of the words on the page, you can't do that in audio. Likewise, homophones you know, puns that rely on spellings of words. If you have a very talented voice actor, you can pull that off. But the real art of audio fiction is not the story and it's not the narrator, it's the combination of the two and specifically the selection of that combination. And that can really take it can take a great story to otherworldly levels, or it can take a great story and make it awful if that disconnect is there.

Jen:  Absolutely. Cherae, I'd actually like to go to you next on this question.

Cherae:  Yeah. So one of the things that Jen and I look for in particular, part of it is … another sort of thing that doesn't translate well is, we get a lot of stories that might play with time and memory, and we either have to edit them heavily for transitions, because visually, it's really easy, like you put your hashtag signs and then you just move on to the next scene, and have another one. But it doesn't translate at all to audio without those because  if you miss that pregnant long pause, then your reader’s just like, Oh, well, now we're in this place, and I have no idea what we're doing, but now the character’s like 10 years old.  Was it magic? Because we have, we have magic so we can't just assume [laughs] that it was a time jump into a memory or something like that. So that's one thing that we look out for. But also, just like... I don't know if, how many people are familiar with like, the different modes of like, fantasy point of view, but there's like, the really common third person, middle ground, kind of neutral, which is fine for like a sort of flat narration, because then the narrator will probably go off on the characters a bit more. But then there are also third person narrations that are a bit closer to first person, and first person narratives, which are an entire character, or the third person narratives that still, they’re the he-she-it that take on the personality of whoever's point of view you're in. And for those, they more readily jump out, like, “Ah, I know what kind of person we need for this”. Or they might even urge us to cast someone based on the narrator instead, like what we did with “Yo Rapunzel”, like, we knew that we needed a specific kind of reader for the narrator, like as a character itself. I think those are the two things that we, that jump out the biggest for us. And then I think this is on our list of questions for later so we can hit it later, but also just who wrote the story? Are we looking for, I think one of our recent casting calls was, there was a story about a South Asian person and we didn't want to have a narrator who for one just couldn't pronounce the words, let alone have any connection to the story itself. Like we wanted to just unite those as much as possible. We can talk about that later.

Jen:  Ha ha, Cherae’s skipping ahead. How dare!


Jen: So Tonia, as, as someone with maybe less resources on NIGHTLIGHT than Escape Artists has for instance, how do you both pick a story, how do you edit it for, for going live, and how do sort of restrictions on who you can hire inform the stories that you're picking?

Tonia: Um, well, if I have a story that I like, when I get it, I will find an actor for it, or I will read it myself and do my very best to do that story justice. So I don't really restrict myself on, “Oh do I have an actor that would be good for this particular story?” The story always comes first. Like Marguerite was saying, pacing is super important. If at any point I'm reading that story and I kind of zone out, then I know, OK, this is probably not a good story for audio. Something in, if it's a first person narrative, I'm more likely to accept that kind of story because it does create a more of a feeling of intimacy with the listener when it's first person. But I really don't find that it's too big of an issue for me with limited resources, it's more of an issue of just time and figuring it out. I don't do a whole lot of editing on the stories to make them better for audio, I'm just picky about what I accept because I lack the resources to do heavy editing on any of the stories that I have.

Jen:  That makes perfect sense. And then Wil, as a podcast critic, and as someone who participates in audio drama, what would you like to say about this topic?

Wil:  Yeah, I am a big fan of things that are really ambitious with how it uses audio as a medium. A great example of this is a psychedelic noir podcast called What's the Frequency, which really could not exist in any other form. It is bizarre and strange and sometimes terrifying. It's horror adjacent without being horror. And what I love is that it uses audio to play with your sensory, to play with what, how your brain is processing the story. I love seeing things like this. But I also just love people being able to tell stories that they want to tell regardless of medium in audio. I love hearing how stories can be interpreted in this medium specifically. One thing I can say about this as a creator, from the perspective of a creator, is when I wrote the book that VALENCE is based off of... VALENCE is an urban fantasy, and all of the characters who had magical ability, their magic was identified by colour. And I was like, yeah, this was a great story to take to audio, totally. [laughs] But what we wound up doing is interpreting that as each character having a very defining audio source for that magic. So the main character Liam, his magic source is electricity, so we have, you know, these crackles and you know this lightning when he casts. And we pull that into the characterization as well. We have a character who uses kinetic energy as magic, and her magic is very restrained and very refined because that's who she is. I think that any story can be in audio, almost any, it just really depends on what you want to do to convey all of those ideas in audio. And sometimes that's going to mean a lot of sound design, and sometimes it's going to mean a lot of a lot of silence, you know, a lot of spaces, a lot of moments that are very quiet and very open. You know there has to be a lot of trust for the listener.

Jen:  Absolutely, and … I have two directions that I can go with this, but I want to get back to what Cherae said about the voice casting. So, and I think it was Wyatt Cenac, and I could not go back into the article because paywalls. Still mad about that. But I think he called it the aural and oral blackface of voice casting. So how important is it to cast voice actors that actually match the characters in an audio drama, and how do you do that with narration? Do you match it to the writer, do you match it to the main character? And given the conversation about Own Voices in terms of writing itself, does Own Voices also apply to voice casting? And Cherae, I'll go with you.

Cherae:  I think, yes, it does. But I also think that … I feel like I can talk for hours and I still don't even know what my own thoughts would be like, it's very much still in development. But on the one hand, it's an opportunity thing. Like, if there are voice actors of colour who could be filling these roles, why not? Why would we just go to the same stable of white voice actors that we have already just ‘cause we have them already. On the other hand, what I don't want to happen is for it to be very much like, like Own Voices in print has dangerously become sometimes: a performance. Like if I want a Black actress to do something, and I mean, I feel like I'm less likely to fall into this trap, but another editor choosing actors or something could think, “Oh, well, I need a Black girl who sounds Black”. I'm like, “Well, okay, what does Black sound like, what are you trying to get at here?” Or if I want a South Asian person to read this South Asian story, are readers going to be expecting a quote unquote Indian accent, because that's another kind of expectation of the exotic that goes on to Own Voices work, that is very misplaced. And so I think that's where the balance is, for me. It’s like, leaning towards opportunity and the chance for people to be a part of making stories but not becoming extra othering or exoticizing as well. Yeah.

Jen:  Absolutely. Tonia, since you cast entirely Black narrators and hire Black writers for your podcast,how do you feel about this topic?

Tonia:  Well, you know, I really wrestled when I first started NIGHTLIGHT with whether I wanted the actors to be Black performers only or if I would open that up to anybody. And ultimately I decided to go with Black voices, specifically because Black writers were writing these stories and I felt like people from that same cultural background were going to be able to do that story more justice vocally than someone who's not of that cultural background. Not that a white actor couldn't pull off, you know, any of these stories, like absolutely they could. But I think that in general, a black person is going to be more likely to be able to give it an adequate voice, which means I don't have to send the narration back and say, Sorry I can't use this, and that sort of thing. And then for me too it was about opportunity. Black people in particular have been shut out of so much. That was part of the reason that I started NIGHTLIGHT and it being solely Black writers was because there was a Fireside Fiction report saying there was something like two, two and a half percent of published fiction was by Black writers in genre fiction. And in America that, you know, Black people are 13% of the population, so you know, vastly underrepresented. So I wanted to lift up those voices. And I think that that same sort of roadblock exists for voice actors as well. So I wanted to challenge myself also to find more Black voice actors and help raise their profile up in the process as well.

Jen:  Marguerite?

Marguerite: I think what you can't do is you can't ignore the issue. Even if there's no particular right answer about whether the experience of the character or the experience of the writer should take prevalence when it comes to making voice selections. What you can't do is you can't just ignore the topic entirely, because there are intersections that are important. One of my favourite examples, and I hope she doesn't mind that I'm going to use her name, is a fantastic voice actress named Eliza Chan. Eliza Chan voiced a character for PodCastle quite recently written by Matt Dovey which I really loved. Eliza is from Glasgow and has a very distinguished Scottish accent but has flawless Chinese pronunciation. And there are times we have intentionally played on that disconnect with pairing voice actors and stories because we want, because it- for example, maybe the story is very silent or ambivalent about the ethnicity or the experience of the character, so we will deliberately challenge that by picking someone with a distinguished regional accent or who has a particular ethnic presentation, because we don't want all stories to default to white people and therefore white voices. And that is an editorial choice. But I think if you want to be ethically producing audio, you have to engage with the topic and you know, you have to come down and have a viewpoint about this is what we are going to strive for. EA, and I know Cherae knows this, spends a huge amount of time developing our database of available voice actors because we are always looking for more representation so that we, it's like giving yourself more paints to paint with, you need more options so that you can open yourself to having more representational options when it comes to how you choose to present the audio.

Jen:  Absolutely. Wil, I know you had something related to this as a potential question, so if you could add to this.

Wil:  Absolutely.  So I think just along the lines of what everybody said, I think it's vitally important. We've seen the fallouts of things like you know vocal blackface with Kristen Bell recently. There was also, up the same alley, the controversy over Alison Brie playing Diane Nguyen and it's - on BoJack Horseman - and it's so nice to see these conversations actually happening. And I think what everybody has said about opportunity is really key here. So one thing that has been really wonderful for writing VALENCE is … so the two writers myself and Katie Youmans, we’re both white and we're writing characters who largely aren't. and because we have a cast of actors who is lovely and wonderful, we have made it very clear to them like, “Hey if if your character wouldn't say this, we probably don't realize, please let us know.” We're very unprecious with our writing which is something I wish more writers would do. Because of that, in season two we worked with one of our actors Caleb Del Rio who is a Latinx trans man and plays a Latinx trans man, we got to work with him on a scene that I'm really excited about that integrates a lot of who he is, and the show is better for it. I think it's not just about opportunity, that is huge, but for us it's just making it a better show, making it something that resonates with people who aren't like us. And I think that's something so beautiful and wonderful. One of the ways we've also encouraged our cast to speak up if we say anything without realizing it, is we work with a cast liaison. We have somebody who is on our cast who we pay a stipend as well as like an occurrence benefit pretty much, if, if we do something that is making anybody in our cast uncomfortable, if they'd like us to do anything and they don't feel comfortable coming to us. Because we understand you know, we're their bosses and we're three white people, like we understand the power dynamic there. So instead of coming to us directly they can talk to our cast liaison who is a person of color, whose, their entire role is to make sure we have comfortable, safe communication between us and our actors. Now does that cost us more money? Yeah. Is it totally worth it? Absolutely.

Jen:  Fantastic and that relates to that question of, of you know, it costs money but it's still totally worth it. Given the ADA lawsuit against Gimlet Media, let's talk about the inclusivity of transcripts. Why aren't they standard for one thing, and will we hopefully see some changes moving forward in relation to that? And I'll start with you, Marguerite.

Marguerite: So a little bit of context on this. Gimlet Media is a very big and probably hedge fund supported, venture capital supported, giant conglomerate “Oh look, podcasts exist now so let's get in and milk them for money” sort of market.

Wil:  Venture capital and also got bought out by Spotify.

Marguerite: That's right exactly. They were the subject of a lawsuit by the ADA, the American Disability Association because their content was not accessible to the Deaf and hard of hearing community, they did not provide transcripts for their material. It was filed very recently, it's less than two weeks old, so we don't know a whole lot about it. But Wil covered it, the media covered it, we know that this is an issue that's now going to take prevalence. The answer to the question of why aren't transcripts more available is because nobody requires it, it's time consuming and it's expensive. That is not a barrier for people like Gimlet. They should know better and they have the resources to do so, which doubtless they and their pockets are the reasons they were targeted for the lawsuit. But the concept is as prevalent in every single level of the creative endeavor. I know that for example GlitterShip spends a great deal of time and resource making sure that transcripts are available for their episodes. EA is in this kind of middle space where of course our stories are available as text but we're working hard to to create our website to have the capacity for our commentary to also be available in text, so that in essence provides a transcript, it covers all the content that's provided. But it's that barrier, it's “Well nobody says I had to, it's just a nice to do”. And some communities will rely on that, and other communities will know that that's stupid and they should not do that and make it a priority, but that does have consequences for them in terms of, those are resources that they may not be able to leverage in other ways.

Jen: Yeah it's - I'm gonna, this is the first time I'm gonna say something because I'm coming to this aside from purely a commentary discussion podcast, and we just cannot afford it. You know, it's like I edit our audio and I want to be able to afford it, we're hopefully going to start using some of the less expensive programs to get there, but it's already a time intensive process just to produce and edit a discussion podcast. And even though it's been a goal for us for at least five to seven years we've only been able to do some, and that was basically because I had unpaid interns. And I felt really bad and I loved them so much because they were amazing, and they helped me out a lot. It's tough from that side of things. It seems like it should be standard, though, obviously for audio narration and full cast dramas. So how is - one, how do you make sure that that's something that you're actively doing for something like a full cast drama and for narrations. And is it important, Tonia, for someone like you that has sound effects, and even for a full cast drama and we'll talk to you Wil in a minute about that, to include things like that into your transcripts? So, Tonia if you could.

Tonia:  Yeah. Right now I do have transcripts for the stories and the commentary that I have before and after each story. But I don't have the sound effects in there and most of that is just a function of time. I'm usually working on the episode at the last minute, and I'm putting sound effects in at the last minute, and I just don't have time to add them. It's something that I definitely do want to do. When we do the full cast audio drama specials for Halloween obviously the sound effects are in there because it's part of the script and I just publish the script itself as a transcript for the story along with the commentary before and after. I think it is important to have the sound effects in there. But, again I'm not part of the Deaf or hard of hearing community so I don't know for sure how important that is to that community, and I would love to really have a conversation with someone from that community who is an avid podcast consumer and figure out like, what would you like to see in transcripts that you don't see now. Like what kind of formatting is there, that would help you consume this content easier, and right now I don't have anybody to have that conversation with, sadly.

Jen:  Absolutely. Wil, do you want to say something, add to this?

Wil:  I'd love to speak to that yeah. So there is an amazing podcast creator and advocate from the Deaf and hard of hearing community. Their name is Cassie Josephs, they work with Maximum Fun, but they also make tons of other podcasts, are on a ton of podcasts, and they have on Discover Pods an incredible resource on how to do your transcripts. It is amazing, and because it comes from the community, somebody in the community, we can trust it pretty well as what these should look like. I … transcripts are something I care about a lot. My co-writer Katie Youmans has an auditory processing disorder, and on a fancast we do, like a chat cast, I work with somebody who is Deaf and makes podcasts and the podcasts are amazing. This is something very near and dear to my heart. One thing about the American Disabilities Act that has always struck me as very disappointing, not for the Act but for how we care about the Act, is that it is not enforced unless somebody is sued. So oftentimes in America we see this in as much as somebody suing a business for not having an accessible ramp for instance, because this building has never had to care about people with disabilities, which I find devastating and repulsive. Now granted we've all talked about how podcasting is appealing because of the lower barrier of entry, and that means that people can create, and they wouldn't necessarily have any other opportunities. So, philosophically and ethically, transcripts are really important to me, and in my opinion transcripts should be part of your workflow, they should be assumed as part of your workflow. However, I do also understand the time and money constraints on that. But I think that they are something everybody should be considering, and I think that especially when it comes to a full scripted podcast, a full audio drama like mine, there is no reason to not make your transcripts public. I have seen many audio dramas who put it behind a paywall which I think is heinous. I hate it, I hate it! I think that that is frankly fucked up. And for VALENCE we like to make it as close to the experience of listening as possible. So we have identifiers for all of the sound design. We also even add in little easter eggs to the transcripts. Little characterization moments, we add some character thought in there, we add descriptions of what the areas look like, we like to make it as robust as possible. And again, I know that that's not a possibility for everybody, but I think that if you have the access, you have the ability, why not make it something cool as hell just like your podcast?

Jen:  Absolutely, and I'm actually gonna touch on -

Marguerite:  Which is very cool.

Jen:  Yeah, I'm gonna touch on that in a little bit. But really quickly ‘cause Marguerite just posed the question of, is providing a transcript considered an instance of digital publishing that might require a change in contract with the author? Cherae I'm gonna let you go first, but I know Tonia also has something to say about this as having dealt with it.

Cherae:  Well yeah, actually, because I'm actually- I realized I didn't know if NIGHTLIGHT has an online print aspect of it. But we at PodCastle we buy digital rights now for our originals, so that's less of an issue for our contracts in particular. Actually our bigger issue, new issue lately is just trying to get reprints as short story collections get published more often, because the publishing houses are taking the audio rights, and so that is our most recent contract-

Marguerite: And we could have a whole debate about preemptive audio rights and [crosstalk] that could be like an entire ‘nother panel.

Cherae:  Yeah pretty much. But yeah, so as far as ADA changes requiring contract changes I don’t know.

Jen:  Absolutely. Tonia, you just dealt with this is what you’ve said so.

Tonia:  Yeah. So I buy six months exclusive audio and electronic publication rights for the stories that I procure. But I recently had a very prominent author who's you know very entrenched in traditional publishing and we were worried that we weren't going to be able to publish a transcript for her story. And so we had to go to her publisher and explain, look we're not just posting things on the website for you know anybody to read it's more of a transcript type thing - it's not the story, it's a transcript of the episode, it has my commentary before and after and then the story is in between, and they were totally okay with that. And that's actually happened before with a smaller author and a smaller publication which tend to be a little bit more flexible I think, but knowing that it wasn't just a small publisher but a large publisher that's also totally okay with providing an electronic copy for the purpose of having a transcript even though technically it's electronic publication, I think a lot of publishers are seeing the value in that and not pushing back against it which I think is great.

Jen:  Absolutely so we have like a million things to discuss. Wil or Marguerite, do you want to touch on this as well?

Marguerite:  Absolutely. So well, because now we've gotten to the point where any rights that an author owns should only be licensed or sold if the person buying that right intends to exploit it immediately. If your publisher is not going to make an audiobook, you should not sell them audio rights, period, because you're giving something away for nothing. And we've seen how valuable this is now because we saw what Amazon tried to do with Audible. For those folks who don't know, what Amazon tried to do with Audible is they tried to claim that them providing transcripts of audiobooks was something that they were entitled- it wasn't transcripts of audiobooks, it was speech to text, they were reading the audiobooks and you could consume the media that way. And the reason I believe, and keep please keep in mind I'm a data protection lawyer, I work in technology, the reason I believe Amazon is doing this is because they're trying to train their AI systems and they want a huge corpus of work from which they can train their AI systems. And they decided that the reason, that the way they were going to do that is they were going to step all over their authors’ rights. So audio rights are important and they are very frequently packaged and assumed that they will go with things, and it puts unfortunately authors in the middle position where they might want to reprint a story to somebody like PodCastle but their audio rights are owned by the publisher who's not going to do anything with them, but the publisher doesn't want to let them go because if there's a Hollywood option, Hollywood's going to want the audio rights at the same time. You just put the author in the middle. Like Tonia said, you have, as markets, as publishers, we have to do so much education with especially traditional publishers, or even worse the estates of authors about what digital publishing is, what audio publishing is. There's no such thing as, “Well you can just take it down in two years right”? It's like, [bombastic voice] “No this is the internet! Things don't go away from the internet, they're there forever!” But you can't explain that to an agent because they want to just have a five-year reversion and for you to take it down afterwards. It can be a lot to navigate. But yeah that’s a whole ‘nother panel.

Jen:  [laughs] I know I'm like I'm looking at the clock going, We theoretically only have four minutes this is not enough time, but we can go forever, right?

Marguerite:  But Jen, we’re on the internet, we can go as long as we want, nobody's gonna come and bring a little sign that says we have to stop.

Jen:  I know it's so amazing, as long as all of you are okay with continuing. Because, and I want to point out that that question was actually from Gallery of Curiosity so thank you for that question. But this kind of brings up another aspect. There was a prior question, and I don't have who it is so I apologize, I'll look it up really quick. But given that things are showing up on YouTube and, as the question mentioned, a lot of these are narrations of stories that are found on Reddit and it seems to be pretty big on YouTube. So what are the legal pitfalls of that in general, like even not just putting it on YouTube but also putting it on a podcast. And Wil, if you could talk to that. Ha!

Wil:  No man, I was nodding like, “Yeah that sounds like a problem!” [laughs]

Jen:  It does sound like a problem! All right, fine, Marguerite, legal expert.

Marguerite:  All right, let me get my soapbox here. Okay so here we go. Copyrights owned by authors, they license it to publishers to do things with it. Stories that are in the public domain, the public domain is old stuff that exists from authors who have now left us, those you can do anything you want with, but you have to be careful because not everything passes into the public domain the way the formulas say, there are other things that you can do with it. The safest way to build a YouTube channel where you want to do narration of fiction is to stay in the public domain, because you're going to be solid, nobody's going to come after you. The Reddit threads are great and there is more and more fiction moving to YouTube. My partner Alasdair runs a weekly [audio glitch] where we do exactly that, and all of EA's content is now on YouTube as well, yay Libsyn, it just does it for us automatically. If you're a podcast it's really easy to set up getting on to things like Spotify and YouTube and other channels,. and I recommend it because if you are a - you only capture so much of every platform that you travel on, so as many platforms as you can be on, that's more audience you're going to be exposed to. So it is a good thing to take audio content into video markets, and it can be done pretty scalably and pretty easy, especially with some of the more sophisticated RSS distributors. But! When you want to start using people's content and you don't have their permission, then you open yourself up to being told to take it down. If you do that with really big names you can and will receive what are called cease and desist letters, and they can be very very scary. If it's a small thing - and I'll give an example. Alasdair serialized the very well-known creepypasta Search and Rescue which was made available through Reddit and other places. We, the first thing we did is we reached out to the author to contact them and ask them for permission. Because nine times out of ten, if you can find the author and you can ask them and they say yes, you're done. Great! You have permission. It would be nice if you could pay for it, or if you could come to some sort of licensing arrangement that's even better. If you can't do that, attribution absolutely should happen all the time, including pointing your audience consuming that story towards the author's various social media platforms. But if you don't get permission then you start skating on thin ice. And some people have very high risk tolerances for that. I'm a lawyer, I have a real low risk tolerance for things like that. So you have to find where you're comfortable, and if you're comfortable saying “Eh, I'll take it down I don't care”, try to do the right thing, but then you have to decide whether or not you're going to be comfortable with proceeding.

Jen:  Absolutely. And I know Tonia uses public domain stories occasionally on NIGHTLIGHT. Is that true of something like PodCastle, and I'm throwing you under the bus Cherae because your boss is right there, but [laughs]

[Cherae acts out smiling awkwardly and waving to camera]

Tonia:  I love that wave. [crosstalk]


Cherae:  No actually we do. So, I don't know how many of our devoted listeners have cracked the code, but we have roughly one or two originals, one public domain story, and one Vault story, Tales from the Vault so an old PodCastle story, and this past year we got a whole new wave of stories into the public domain. And actually, I wonder if this is just an era thing, I would love to do some research into it, but fantasy stories back then have a much more blurred line with horror, and, but also I can handle them a little bit better so [laughs] But yeah so we do publish about one public domain story a month give or take, and so far I mean, I don't know if Marguerite's gotten some scandalous emails but I think we're in the clear.

Marguerite:  We’ve only ever received one scandalous email and it was a Heinlein story that we had full permission to have up, we had the license and everything, but Heinlein’s estate then sold the rights to a new movie. And so what happens is when Hollywood gets its hands on a new project they do very extensive searches and send everybody cease and desists, because they want to try and clear the SEO channels. And so we freaked out for a couple of days when we got that letter, went frantically scrambling, and then so what we have now, the Heinlein story is no longer available, the audio is no longer available, but the post still exists on the page. It says, This was episode blah, our rights to use the story expired in blah.

Jen:  All right Tonia, I know you definitely have something to add to this as someone who fairly frequently uses these stories.

Tonia:  Oh I wish I had more public domain stories. I actually got the idea to use public domain stories from Escape Artists. I was talking to an editor of PseudoPod and he was like, “You should use public domain stories to help boost your catalog and it saves you a little bit of money.” The downside to that for me is that because I only publish work by black writers, and everything that's in the public domain is I don't know what year it is now Marguerite, what is it like 1923 or something in the United States -

Marguerite:  It’s nineteen twenty -[unintelligible]

Tonia: - Because black people weren't allowed to read or write legally until the late 1800s, and still punished for it into the early 1900s, there's not a whole lot of work by black writers specifically for horror. You know there's a lot of work out there written by black people, but a lot of it is race essays because that's generally what got published. So there's not a whole lot of public domain work that I can take advantage of unfortunately.

Marguerite:  Yet.

Tonia:  So that's actually like a big barrier for me. Yet. Yet. I mean it's getting there, you know maybe NIGHTLIGHT will still exist 20 years from now with a whole lot of stuff.

Marguerite:  Of course it will!

Tonia:  I'm sorry what, say that again Marguerite?

Marguerite:  Of course it will!

Tonia:  Yes.

Jen:  Of course it will.


Tonia:  But yeah so it's a challenge for me because I have to pay for everything that I publish with the exception of a few. I might have one or two public domain stories in a year, so you know big difference, it costs me a lot more money, I have to budget more for that. So it is kind of a roadblock for me in a sense.

Jen:  Absolutely. Wil, did you want to add anything to this or, because I have a question that is related, sort of, kind of we'll see.

Wil:  No man, I work with a thing I wrote, and it's nice and easy and straightforward. I say we're allowed.


Jen:  Fantastic. So I'm actually curious because Tonia, Marguerite, you guys have done cross posting of stories. So how does that play into the rights issue and whatnot?

Tonia:  Well for the story that I published with PseudoPod we actually paid the author twice, so she got a payment from NIGHTLIGHT and she got a payment from PseudoPod as well. I paid for the reprint right, PseudoPod paid for the original publication rights. And by the way that story is by Donyae Coles and it's up for a Splatterpunk Award in August so I'm super excited.

Marguerite:  And it's our first and only Antichrist story that PseudoPod ever wrote, episode 666.


Tonia:  Yep! It was fantastic, fantastic, it's a great story. But yeah, it was great, like I saw a huge boost in people that found the show from it, so doing cross promotion in that way where you're simultaneously releasing things is great. And the author gets an additional payday if everybody's kind of doing the right thing, so it's pretty cool.

Marguerite:  Because it's an amazing story!

Tonia:  Yeah!


Jen:  Absolutely, the benefits of being a bigger podcast, so thank you Marguerite and EA for doing that for Tonia.

Marguerite:  [Shakes head] That was all Alex and Shawn and I’m really proud of them for it.

Jen:  Yeah. Cherae, did you have something to add?

Cherae:  Yeah, I actually have a question about that. So the same story published at the same time. I was wondering just like the audience bump - so do people listen to the same story, does it just lead people to your other stories in general, or- if I think about how careful we are when we snag reprints, we try not to double dip too often on things that have already been podcasted at something like Beneath Ceaseless Skies or something like that. So I just wondered.

Tonia:  Yeah, for us a lot of people actually listen to NIGHTLIGHT, I don't have any insight into the PseudoPod stats on how many people listen to that, it was mostly conversations I had with people like, Hey I found you through PseudoPod, I listened to this on PseudoPod and then they also listened to it on NIGHTLIGHT, because I do the sound effects and atmospheres.

Cherae: [Nods] Ohhh.

Tonia:  So the episodes are technically different. It's the same story. On PseudoPod it was just narrated with no sound effects or atmospheric music underneath it, but on my podcast it was more dramatized so it was a different experience, and a lot of people did say that they listened to both. Same narrator, we started with the same audio, I just added some stuff to it. And then PseudoPod of course has more commentary than I typically have. My commentary is usually like, “I like this story because of X” and then that's it, whereas Alasdair talks a lot more about the theme of the story, which I think is amazing. So listeners still got a different experience by listening to the story, and I thought it was pretty cool that people were willing to listen to the story twice and experience it in different ways.

Cherae:  Yeah, very cool. So cool.

Jen:  Speaking of experiencing things in different ways. So obviously we talked about covering all different types of platforms, like including your podcasts on YouTube for instance. But this leads us to like the big thing, it's like audio dramas and narrative podcasts are very fertile ground for TV and movie adaptations, and possibly so much more right? Because you know, Welcome to Night Vale is like it's turned into a multimedia empire, and obviously we've got Serial and Lore and Homecoming have their own shows. So are podcasts just a stepping stone to the screen or are they singularly adept at a certain type of storytelling, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of presenting these stories on different platforms? Ton - So let's start with Wil actually, let's go with you, because you're doing a full audio drama.

Wil:  Yeah, I could, this could also be like a whole, I could give a whole lecture series on this one because oh boy!  So I am very wary of film studios who look to audio for IP. I'm very very very wary. Now I'm not wary of creators who are independent and are looking for a way to test an IP. I think that as long as the audio is given as much love as a visual adaptation would be given, I think that that can make for some great podcasts. What I'm more wary of is studios coming into specifically independent audio, where people usually don't have experience with IP law, whose works are then purchased by somebody who doesn't know what they're doing, purchased for too little.

Marguerite:  At rock bottom dollar.

Wil:  Mhm, absolute bottom dollar.  I think it's insidious and it's happening quite a lot. Now I think another issue, I actually just wrote on this issue for Hot Pod, the podcast newsletter by Nick Quah who writes for Vulture. I wrote about the worries of how big budget studios are adding to the saturation of specifically audio drama, which is already a very saturated medium, and pushing out marginalized voices. We see things for instance like the partnership between Blumhouse which is a huge horror film studio, and I Heart Media? Yes. They partnered with the explicit purpose of, “Hey let's test an IP, see if people like it, make it a movie.” Which, it's hard to say that it pushes out visibility for marginalized voices in audio drama, because I think it's easy to say like, “Oh people can just listen to two podcasts,” right. But this comes into play when we talk about charts. So Apple Podcasts has charts for podcasts, Spotify just announced that they are doing charts for podcasts now, and if there is a big name attached to an audio drama, that's going to get a lot more attention, that's what's going to be charting. And so we don't see a lot of independent audio drama by marginalized voices charting. Which I think it shows part of what makes this big budget presence insidious, and I think that a lot of it is not being made with the intention of making a good podcast, I think it's made with the intention of, “Will this make me money as something else.” I do think that there are instances though where this can be amazing. I want to talk to your example of Welcome to Night Vale. For Spotify for Podcasters, I don't know if there’s articles, I think it might have been shelved, but I interviewed Jeffrey Cranor of Welcome to Night Vale, who is an absolute delight, and we talked specifically about the recent Night Vale novel The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, which is a character if you've listened to Night Vale you know the character, she's played by Mara Wilson. The novel is not what I was expecting from a Night Vale novel. It does not take place in Night Vale, it takes place largely in a fictionalized version of the Mediterranean, largely in Italy and Greece. It focuses on this one character, it doesn't focus on other characters from Night Vale, Night Vale is only mentioned once almost, kind of in passing at the very end. But it feels of the world, and it feels of the podcast, and it does things in the written narration that are much harder to do in audio narration. When I talked to Jeffrey Cranor he mentioned like, Yeah it's hard to write really long sentences for audio, but I can do that in a book, and it sounded great, it's a beautiful book, it's a perfect companion piece. So in my opinion at least, if you're looking for your podcast to be adapted in some way, first off know your rights. Oh my god, keep your IP. Please talk to an agent, please talk to a lawyer, I know it sounds expensive -

Marguerite:  Find a lawyer who works for cocktails, please.

Wil:  Please, please. One thing to know is that you have the IP, you have the power, you have what they cannot make, only you can make the thing that you made. So treasure that and hold on to it, and make them pay you so much. So much, you deserve it. But then also, if you're looking for these ways to adapt your podcast, especially because like, let’s be real, podcasts aren't making us billionaires over here but you could make a lot of money making the TV show, so I feel you. Just make sure that what you're doing makes sense for that medium, you know. Think about how it's going to change. Don't be precious with your writing. Think about if there are other stories in the world that you could tell that make sense visually. I think that's- god I've talked for so long but I have a lot of feelings. [laughs] I think that's where I stand on all of this. [laughs]

Jen:   So I want to jump over to Tonia, because this is an issue too of, like, is an audio drama more suited for something like television, or can you successfully transition an anthology podcast like NIGHTLIGHT to the big screen? Is that something that anthology podcasts should even try to do? Where do you fall on that Tonia? And I kind of know but, you know.

Tonia:  [laughs] Well first I kind of want to talk about why podcasts are even being looked at by Hollywood. I think that right now in Hollywood there's a very low tolerance for risk. That's why we're seeing so many reboots of all of these successful properties from the past, and then the reboots kind of suck but you know they think it's gonna be super successful because hey, it's a reboot of this you know once super successful movie or TV show. But the great thing about podcasts is they have a built-in audience, so they've already basically given you a proof of concept saying, This is going to work you're going to have an audience that's going to follow this, and you're going to be bringing a whole bunch of viewers with you with whatever it is that you do. So Hollywood executives are looking at podcasts now, actively combing through podcasts, especially ones that chart or that are super popular, to try to procure some IP that they feel like is very low risk. I feel like TV film is a very different medium than audio drama, right. I think that what they're looking at is the story itself. They're not necessarily looking, “Okay well this is an audio drama versus a narrated story, how can we adapt this,” because really you're gonna have to adapt either one of those things. So it's not that they're going to discount, say, something that's like an Escape Artists story over something that Wil has done, because it's all about the story and what kind of audience that you have. For me, in terms of an anthology, I would love to have that be a TV show. I've talked to a couple of networks that have talked about making NIGHTLIGHT a series, but with everything kind of shut down with COVID right now [audio glitch] we don't have any money to do it and it's like, “Well that doesn't help me, I need you to write me a check.” [laughs] So I don't think that that, I don't think the fact that it's an anthology is stopping anybody from being interested in it. I think that if the audience is there Hollywood's gonna follow.

Jen:  Absolutely. And I want to go to Cherae now actually on this because, you know, you're working in the traditional pod- I mean obviously all of us are working in a traditional podcast space, but especially as the editor for an audio narration podcast, what makes podcasting so perfect for storytelling in your mind?

Cherae:  I mean, I think, I don't know how popular this thought is, I would be curious to hear from the rest of you guys, but I just like audiobooks. [laughs] And I like to travel, well used to like to travel, with my commuting and stuff, and so I would, if I had a 40 minute train ride or 40 minute run I could turn on a podcast. And it's not even limited to fiction honestly, but turn on a podcast, hit the streets, and off I was. And so for me that's part of it, as well as just, I like to increase my reading, more stories if I could increase my reading time, and I can't read very well when I'm walking, so that was part of the attraction for me. And as an editor, part of that attraction is just getting to separate a little bit, one side of my brain, like my own personal writer brain, to do something in a different medium, focus on the text a different way. I definitely think working in audio fiction has changed the way I write a bit more. But yeah, I don't know, I definitely think they're different, there's something, there's a joy to it that's different, that I like as much. I squee whenever I find a good audiobook with the perfect narrator, and I feel the same way with the short stories when I find them, whether it's a PodCastle story or somebody else's story. So.

Jen:  Absolutely. Marguerite do you want to add to this?

Marguerite: I was just gonna, I wanted to go back to what Wil had said about exploitation of Hollywood, and I will keep this very short. But what I'm really excited about now is that we're starting to turn the tails, we're starting to flip the scales on that. We have audio producers who are now getting to the point where they are big enough and they are known enough and they are confident enough that they are going to move into different media themselves. And I'm going to use the example of Rusty Quill. They've just signed with WME, they have an amazing array of podcasts, a great group of talent, I'm sorry I'm slightly biased on that, but it is. And I really want to see with season five of Magnus Archives running now, what Alexander J Newall and the crew have. Because it's not just going to be - I hope we get books, I hope we get more shows, but I want to see how they, with the creative control still in their hands, get to step into those different stages and exercise their vision, not from a position of weakness. And I'd like to see that start happening with so many more. I mean, people like Wolf 359 and Wooden Overcoats and Oblivity, and you know the UK podcasting scene in particular is very very high calibre, and I'm really waiting for them to just do that little notch more that's going to get them on the American entertainment industry radar, and then I think it's really really going to be off to the races. I'm so excited for it.

Jen:  Yeah having just started listening to Magnus Archives because I'm very late to all the audio drama, I'm very late to audio drama and narration games so-

Wil:  Oh, dude didn't you say that you're a scaredy cat?

Jen:  I'm a scaredy cat. I have very weird levels of scaredy cat though.

Marguerite: Wil we have to talk, Wil we have to talk.

Wil:  Okay!


Marguerite:  Oh, oh Jen.

Jen:  I just started it though, I'm not there like it's not too scary yet, I don't know.

Marguerite:  [crosstalk]

Jen:  Right, maybe I've been inculcated by NIGHTLIGHT because...

Wil:  Okay, yeah.

Jen:  It's like, how long have we been working together Tonia, like two years ish?

Tonia:  About two years yeah, you started not long after I started.

Marguerite: I look forward to the text message I'm gonna get from you in a couple of seasons in the middle of the night that's all in exclamation marks.

Jen:  Yeah but I don’t -

Cherae:  I think that you guys need to talk to your fan artists then because I have a very different idea of what Magnus Archives is.


Marguerite:  Just to warn you -

Cherae:  I thought it was like the Magnus guy and the other guy and they cuddle a lot at desks.


Wil:  According to the fandom, absolutely.

Marguerite:  Yeah, and one of those guys that cuddle is over there. [Points off screen]

Jen:  I know, our big teddy bear Alasdair.

Cherae:  Oh, oh, oh yeah, yeah yeah, okay.

Wil:  But sometimes, you know, terrifying body horror. That too.

Jen:  Yeah, it's a little bit of everything. I was just gonna say that having just started listening to it though, I would 100 percent be behind a Magnus Archives video game in the Professor Layton style.

Wil:  Yes. Oh my god, yes.

Jen:  If somebody could please make that for me, I would be one of the happiest video gamers of all time. Ah, such pleasure. Okay so we've already gone 23 minutes over time because I want to talk about this all day and forever. Obviously I'm kind of into podcasts. But let's kind of wind this down. So other than your own brilliant podcasts, what are your favorite one or two or three genre podcasts that are out there that you would specifically like to highlight. And if you could you know, do any of you have some that are outside of the western world, outside the anglosphere that you can think of that you would like to recommend. And we'll start with Cherae.

Cherae:  So I would like to suggest one, partly because I kind of like grew up with it but I've been talking to people recently and they didn't know it. They're writers who were looking for guidance and tips without having to go to classes, and Writing Excuses is hands down my absolute favorite podcast.

Wil:  It’s a classic!

Cherae:  Yeah! And I haven't listened to it the last season or two because, I don't know I just haven't, but anytime I feel like, “Oh you know I could brush up on this,” that's where I go to listen. But outside the Anglosphere, not outside the west, I started listening to a French podcast narrative podcast called Sera, which is a sort of tech dystopia type thing. And I'm using it to practise the language so you can't really trust my summary of it. I could be wrong, I could be missing some important key details. But this girl is looking for a job and she decides that “Okay, whatever I need to get out of my parents house so I'm gonna go work for this tech firm,” and then shit goes bad, of course it does. So.

[pause with Jen speaking silently]

Wil:  You’re muted.

Jen:  Sorry.  Marguerite. Marguerite.

Marguerite:  I've literally been flipping through my podcasts here going “Which ones am I gonna recommend.” So I'm gonna go with three different ones, and they’re, I'm gonna change it up a little bit. The first is The Underwood Collection, which is a non-canonical fan project derived from the Magnus Archives, which is really fun, I like that a lot. Another one is called Red Valley. I'm not going to tell you anything about it other than it's six episodes long and each episode is 20 minutes or under. So you don't have a whole lot of time commitment necessary to do it, and by the end of it you will be screaming at me on twitter that there's not a second season and I will join you in your screaming. And then the third that I want to recommend is called The Well. The Well is a commentary show, it's hosted by Branan Edgens and Anson Mount, the actor who plays Captain Christopher Pike on Star Trek Discovery. Anson got into podcasting and has hosted an episode of PseudoPod and Escape Pod I believe now, because he was bored on set, and so he would start interviewing people when they were sitting around. He has a very lengthy series with Ethan Peck, he has a long series with Doug Jones which is absolutely fascinating, him going into the history of how we got into playing creatures on movies. And it's just Anson exploring kind of the fount of creativity, and how different creators like painters or scientists or actors come into the creative fields that they come into. It's - I don't tend to like chat shows, I find them, they're a bit of a turn off for me because when I want to be immersed in a podcast, I'm looking for a relaxing experience, and a chat show can be too much for me. Anson and Branan chatting is very very relaxing to me. It's not just that they have incredible voices and good talent with the microphone, but that they are honest and open and curious about exploring the subject matter, and I find that very engaging.

Jen:  Fantastic. Wil.

Wil:  I've got three for you. So the first one I want to talk about is a full cast audio drama called Unwell. I've got the cover art. [holds phone up to camera] Is this going to work? Is this anything?

Jen:  I don’t know, more or less.

Marguerite:  We’ll have to put this in the show notes, all the recommendations.

Wil:  You know, it's vaguely brown. [laughs] So I'll just put that aside, I thought cover art was gonna help. Unwell is the story of a woman who goes back to her Ohio hometown and finds that things are much stranger than she thought. It is very much midwestern gothic. What I love about this podcast is, first off the story is so captivating, so interesting. There's so much discussion of history and place and memory. There is such profound rumination on memory and the stories that we tell each other. But if you're looking for a full cast audio drama that does something marvellous with sound design, for Unwell they have a full blueprint of the house that it largely takes place in, and each room has its own sound design assets. Each door is different, the footsteps are meticulously placed in. You, it is so transportive. You are there. You are there with the scene, it is incredible. So if you're into something that has memorable characters, a full cast, something that is, yes at times very spooky, but really really good, Unwell - hard to beat. The next one I want to talk about is Childish. Childish is a musical podcast about a college age student who is obsessed with Childish Gambino and wants to live the life of Donald Glover. So what he does is he enrolls at the university where Donald Glover attended when he was writing like 30 Rock, and he becomes an RA with the intention of starting his rap career. What's really wild is that, so his character has a lot of actual rap as you would have in a musical, but then there's also these like full-scale wild classic broadway musical numbers. And also because he becomes an RA there is a lot of discussion about power structures and if he is essentially a dorm cop. It's brilliant, it's funny, it's captivating and the music slaps. So Childish is another great one. I also want to recommend a single narrator audio fiction called Vega. Vega is by Ivuoma Okoro, it is so fun. It is about a bounty hunter in the future and her various adventures. Ivuoma is the writer and the narrator and she is so charismatic. Her voice is dripping with charisma. It is delightful, it's so fun. If you're looking for sci-fi and you're looking for something where the voice acting is just infectious in everything it does, Vega. Can't recommend it highly enough.

Jen:  That sounds awesome. And Tonia last but not least.

Tonia:  All right so I have two. First one is Old Gods of Appalachia, which is like sort of folk horror-y, which is super cool. It's creepy. It's more of like an anthology type podcast but there's a definite theme running through it. Cannot recommend that one enough. Another really good podcast is Darkest Night. And that one is kind of an anthology podcast in that each episode can work as a standalone, but there's also kind of like this big overarching story. But the premise of it is that there's a way to recover memories of the recently deceased, and so each episode is someone that has died and what their memories are of their last moments. So both of those are amazing, amazing podcasts that I highly recommend.

Jen:  Well fantastic. I want to thank you all so very much for being here today, and going over a half hour over time, because I wanted, like I said, to talk to you guys forever, because there are not enough panels, as somebody said in the comments, about this subject! So hopefully we will have more at some point in the future. But for now I want to thank everybody for joining us today, and I want to thank my panelists, you have all been amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And we will try to get links up for everything that we have mentioned today, although it has been a lot, in the description of the panel when we are through. So again, goodbye everybody, we love you, welcome to CoNZealand Fringe, and enjoy the rest of the panels that we have up ahead. Bye.

[everyone waves]

Tonia:  Bye.

Cherae:  Bye everyone.

Thanks to Wendy Reynolds for drafting this panel transcript! Responsibility for final text lies with Adri Joy - for any corrections or comments, please get in touch via Twitter.