HOW TO LISTEN TO AUDIO FICTION
(If you want to, no pressure, I promise)
Two years ago, Monkeyman Productions made a switch from producing theatre to Audio Fiction podcasts. Unfortunately, we did it in about the most bumbling, ass-backwards way possible. I knew very little about podcasting, almost nothing about fiction podcasting except that it fit into our budget (next to nothing) better than trying to rent spaces and sell tickets. But I didn’t know the field, didn’t know the audience, and I spent half the first season of Moonbase Theta, Out wondering why we were only getting seventy or so listens an episode!
Luckily, I learned my lesson, immersed myself in the community, and things have improved. But I’ve realized as a part of it that I’m far from the only one who’s starting from scratch. A lot of people I tell about the show don’t even listen to podcasts, or have only listened once or twice, and don’t really know how to get started. Or why they should bother! So I thought maybe I could leave a trail of breadcrumbs to make it a bit easier finding your way in.
What is Audio Fiction?
I may have already lost you a little in talking about ‘Audio Fiction’, or ‘audio drama’ (which I use less often because some of the shows I love best are … not very dramatic). Podcasts, you’ve probably heard of – that’s how your friend at work listens to My Favorite Murder or where Joe Rogan is still somehow popular. You may, possibly, have heard of Welcome to Night Vale, but you may or may not know what it is.
Audio Fiction podcasts are the wild grandkid of radio plays and cousin of audiobooks, the type of online storytelling YouTube tried to encourage for a while before they gave all their time to product placement – it’s an audio-only format that lends itself to listening on commutes, or in the bath, or while you’re grocery shopping – stories whispered into your ears while you get through the everyday. It’s like you could catch up on your favourite TV while you walked the dog, without wrapping the leash around a telephone pole. Comedy and drama and mixes of both, sci-fi and romance and monsters and slice-of-life stories – all while you Get Stuff Done.
Why do I care?
I mean, if you watch TV or movies, or read books, there are likely Audio Fiction podcasts you’d enjoy in the same ways. But why listen in addition to all that other media you already enjoy?
- Because it’s wild. All the stuff that networks won’t take a chance on, that publishers think is too much of a niche – there’s a podcast for it. You want a story about what fantasy adventurers do between their actual adventures? Or a smarter Sex and the City-style comedy about trying to break into Hollywood, without any concern about advertisers? How about a Wild West story with monster-fucking? It’s all out there, and that’s JUST the beginning.
- Because it’s diverse. Again, the stuff that TV won’t touch, honest stories about being queer, or neurodivergent, or non-white? (Okay, to be fair podcasts are still working on being less white – but there are very strong voices out there making their mark.) There’s still some privilege involved in being able to create a podcast, but there’s a hell of a lot more diversity out there than in other popular media, and it’s getting better all the time.
- Because it’s easily obtainable. The greater bulk of what’s out there is free, available on apps that are often free or direct from a show’s website – more often than not, without much advertising other than a brief request in the credits that you consider helping them through Patreon. Audio Fiction is out there for you to try without much investment or risk.
- Because it’s intimate. That story whispered into your ears while the rest of the world has no idea … it creates a connection, a relationship that can linger with you afterwards. It’s a deeply personal art form.
- Finally, because the creators are deeply invested in their audience. That’s you. Every creator I know is out there on Twitter, and in Discord chat rooms, and all over the net talking to their listeners, chatting and listening to feedback and making an actual living breathing community with them. If you want, you can do a lot more than just listen – you can get involved. (Admittedly, you should take this with an awareness that they’re actual people as well, with separate lives – but still, caring deeply about their listeners.)
You’ve got me interested. What do I need to check this out?
Some of this may be a bit basic for some of you, but allow me to be basic. You need a way to listen. Any online device probably has a way to listen to podcasts:
- If you’re listening on your computer, there are sites like Spotify or Stitcher which you can use in your browser once you create an account. (Both have apps as well, but we’ll get to apps.) Or there’s Podchaser, which gives you more of an online directory as well as a place to listen. Or most podcasts have their own websites where you can listen – and binge – to your heart’s content.
- If you’re listening on your phone, you may already have an app that accesses podcasts – iTunes has their own Podcasts app now, Google does as well, but Google Play also has podcasts built in. I mentioned sites above that work together with an app – there are also standalones, such as Podcast Addict (Android) or Overcast (Apple), which may give you more options as you dive deeper.
- If you have a home device like an Amazon Echo, that can definitely play podcasts for you too – here’s a guide, and there’s lots more if you Google a bit.
Any of those may require a bit of tinkering or some instruction in finding exactly what you want – I won’t go into step by step in each, but there’s lots of info and FAQs out there if you search. And if you’re not sure, ask a friend who is already listening to podcasts! There’s always at least one.
Okay, Audio Fiction – I’m in. What’s good?
Let’s say you’re with me all the way through now. You’re intrigued by the idea, you’ve found an app or a site that’ll give you access to the world of Audio Fiction that’s out there. Admittedly, that world can be pretty overwhelming, and our stuff can be overshadowed a bit by true crime and movie reviews. So how do you find what works for you? It turns out there are a bunch of ways to dip your toes into the water:
- Most apps, or big podcasting sites, will have a search feature where you can go in and look directly. They’ll also have ‘charts’ where they show you what’s most popular in a variety of fields. However, these aren’t the easiest places to find our sort of content – the charts aren’t necessarily going to give you a very broad selection, and the searches are only really set up to help you find a specific podcast you already know the name of.
- There are a few directories starting to come together specifically for this kind of content. FictionPodcasts.com is one; Audio-Drama.com is another, both allowing you to search by categories just like you could on Netflix. Of course, you still have to enter those into your podcast app unless you’re planning to always listen on your computer – but you can do that one time and subscribe and then you’ll always know where to find them! (I know, this is something that needs to become easier – and it is, slowly, and will keep simplifying.)
- There are also some reviewers you can follow who talk a lot about Audio Fiction – Wil Williams is one you don’t want to miss; Elena Fernández-Collins is another. You can also look for email newsletters like The Podcast Dragon, Alasdair Stuart’s The Full Lid, and The Fiction Podcast Weekly that carry reviews and curated lists of the best listens.
- You can also follow any or all of those on Twitter – and seriously, if you want to really hear about what’s happening in Audio Fiction, get over to Twitter! If you find a show you love, follow it and the folks who make it – we all pass around suggestions and promote one another (and, okay, ourselves) constantly! If you want a place to start, follow us at @MonkeymanProd or @MoonbaseThetaOu, check out the folks we’re talking to, and take a trip down the rabbit hole!
- You’ll also find as you get into the community on Twitter that people post whole lists of shows they love fairly regularly – whether it’s #AudioFictionSunday (or #AudioDramaSunday) or any old day of the week. We have one on our website that we link to regularly, but a lot of people post extensive lists in their Twitter feed! You gotta love that word of mouth, especially when it’s from a creator you trust.
And of course, when you find a show you love, make sure you subscribe (again, Google is your friend if you don’t know how!) so you’ll keep up on every new episode as it’s released!
That’s pretty much it! Check out some shows, keep the ones you like, subscribe, interact with the community if you feel like it, support the shows you love with ratings, reviews (on iTunes and certain other apps you can rate a number of stars, etc. and/or leave a deeper written review) – maybe back a few on Patreon if you can! Get way too involved, or simply find one or two good listens to augment your other sorts of media consumption. Share and enjoy!
I just know it’s something that’s made my life a lot richer in the past year or two, as a creator and consumer (I probably listen to twenty hours or more every week myself), and I’d hate for you to miss out on something this amazing.
by D.J. Sylvis