The Sonic Society

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Three Reasons to Say “Audio Drama” and not “Audio Fiction”

Well over a decade ago, we remember the conversation well: “What should we call radio drama now that it’s having a resurgence on the Internet?”

On the Sonic Society, you can hear us
ruminate in our show intros considering a number of terms- audio drama, audio theatre, audio plays, audio pulp, audio cinema, audio movies etc… It became clear that a single term was needed to best to describe the medium. Most people decided that “radio drama” didn’t cut it, because the medium wasn’t limited to radio anymore. So, almost by default, the consensus circled their wagons around: “Audio Drama”. And it has been that way ever since.

At least, it was. Recently, with the public discovering podcasts (Isn’t it amazing?!), audio stories have become hot commodities. About five years ago, on the Sonic Society, we recommended the name “Podficts” for podcast fiction. A lot of people rejected that moniker, but the term “podcast fiction” stuck as news agencies, anxious to come up with a global term for story in sound, tossed out as many things that didn’t say “old-fashioned radio drama” as possible. Naturally, folks jumped on the bandwagon. New producers rebranded their theatre-of-the-mind as “audio fiction”. But, there may be good reason not to jump ships midstream.

Now if you’re not running an audio drama podcast this wouldn’t apply. Maybe you’re reading short fiction stories, or non-fiction stories, or articles. In those cases, “audio fiction” is probably your best label. But, if you’re producing in the medium of multi-cast audio theatre here’s a couple of reasons to keep the name “Audio Drama”:

  1. Podcast or Audio Fiction is very generic. Imagine labelling movies as “Visual Stories”. Stories of the visual medium could be watching a puppet show in a public library, a YouTube clip of someone freaking out over the latest celebrity drama, a dramatic reading on the Oprah Winfrey show, almost anything that’s visually entertaining. Audio Drama is a very specific term for a very specific medium. Most people would be upset if they drove to a theatre expecting to watch “King Lear” and found instead they paid tickets for a political rally.
  2. In general, resist any “hot” new term like the plague. There’s only one “Serial” podcast. Only one “Welcome to Nightvale”. Only one “No Sleep Podcast”. Attempts to mimic their successes have usually fallen flat. Audiences want an original vision and not pale copies. Popular Culture in an attempt to always be relevant, continually tries to rebrand. They rarely succeed.
  3. The Audio Drama Community is growing but it’s small. Fracturing it with different labels risks losing our audience. It is a risk tagging “audio fiction” alone. Most of the audience, reviewers, and awards committees will be looking for “Audio Drama” and “Radio Drama”. Help them find you. Help them find us all.

Every time someone asks what is our favourite “audio fiction” podcast, we need clarification. Because our first thought is, “Do they mean Audio Drama? No, they must mean an audiobook podcast, right?”

In the Sonic Society, we love all audio tales. There’s no hierarchy of quality when it comes to terms. But, choosing the wrong term certainly creates confusion. “Audio Drama” is here to stay. Why not revel in it?

After all, “New Coke” successfully replaced “Coke Classic” right? Oh, wait a minute…


About The Author

Born to Teachers and Amateur Audio Enthusiasts in the small rural community of Belwood, Jack's first love was stories- writing, reading, telling, and singing. He developed his acting skills through High School, University, and through film and community theatre. Jack writes the lion's share of Electric Vicuna's Audio Drama scripts and has his own writing site at www.jackjward.com He's thrilled to co-host the Sonic Society with his wonderful, talented, friend David Ault!

Comments

4 Responses to “Three Reasons to Say “Audio Drama” and not “Audio Fiction””

  1. Pete Lutz says:

    You’ll get no argument from me on this. Good article, Jackson!

  2. Jack says:

    Thanks Buddy! It was wearing on my mind 🙂

  3. ClymAngus says:

    Hello Jack,

    Firstly I’d like to say nice article, It is interesting how this appears to revolve around the medium by which the media is delivered. Radio, theatre, or pod being just a few. I have never liked podcasting as a term. Looking in various dictionaries it looks like this was derived from the mashing of the words ipod and broadcast together. (don’t quote me on this, there were other explanations which I’ll touch on later). Once again the medium is used to name the carrier of the message. But Ipods were eaten by the technological amoeba that is the mobile phone, and thinking about it podcasts aren’t really broadcast in the classical sense of the word are they?

    Alternatively, another possible origination for “podcast” might be Play On Demand. But again this is ambiguous, play what? Just audio? video? Games? 3d interactive elements? And we hit the same problem as above with the entire “cast” bit.

    As you pointed out, maybe this is an identification and classification issue. There is no point getting the Latin dictionary out and being ever so clever if no one can find anyones content because they don’t know the “new” term to define what we do! On the other hand classification is a double edged sword. At what point does it go from the spoken word to drama? With actors? What if the one speaker acts out the other characters? What if you have a cold delivery but with occasional sound effects? It is very difficult as none of this appears to be clean cut enough to use a standard definition.

    What about mixed content? Someone that does comedy and drama say? Or just has a rogue idea and a microphone and just throws it out there?

    You are correct, an easily accessible term IS required if not for the community then as signposting for a potential audience. Sometimes you have to as a maker swallow your ego and logic (to a lesser extent) and call it Audio Drama even if as defining goes, each podcast dart is more hitting the same wall the AudioDrama dartboard is attached to, than hitting the bullsye.

    Still I don’t think there is anything nessessarily wrong with people coming up with new and ever so pretenchous terms for the things they do. To be honest after a long editing session most people need to feel good about themselves by making up a new and interesting terms for how cool they are. That’s just well, human.

    As a side note as we’re talking labels…
    I’ve always liked the term Athenian to define non-pro actors. Professional actors are Thespians of course. When acting started (in Athens) all the actors had other jobs, and personally I find the term “Amateur Theatre” to be skull crushingly derogatory and also just a little vein. A strange thing to be pissed off by I know.

    Anyway give my best To Mr Ault.

    Kind regards

    Clym Angus

  4. Jack says:

    I love the term Athenian for non-pro Actors too! I think I’ll use it in the future thanks to your urgings. All the best to you Clym and thanks so much for your thoughtful and interesting read!

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