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Exploring a Podcast Collective Model with Eric Silver of Multitude Productions

Adventures in Audio Fiction Episode #3

In this episode, you’ll hear podcast host Tamara Kissane in conversation with Eric Silver, the Head of Creative at Multitude. Multitude is an independent podcast collective and production company based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. From basketball to mythology to literature and pop culture, Multitude entertains while building communities around their values. The Multitude team also helps clients of all sizes make and market great shows; they perform and give workshops at podcast events; and publish dozens of free resources for creators.

Eric and Tamara discuss the collective model and how it works, the business of podcasting, writing audio fiction, and more. (Next Stop is the new audio fiction sitcom from Multitude!)

Eric Silver is a writer, audio producer, and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. He's the Dungeon Master and co-host of Join the Party, a collaborative audio drama based on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons; the co-host of HORSE, a basketball podcast about everything except for wins and losses; and a founding member of Multitude. He likes cardigans, chunky peanut butter, and being five minutes early.

This interview series for HowlRound is part of Tamara’s quest to learn more about audio drama by speaking with the people who are working in the medium.

Music: Spring Idyll by Pennee Miles.

Artist Soapbox is on Facebook and Twitter.

Tamara Kissane: Adventures and audio fiction is supported by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatre makers worldwide. The HowlRound podcast is available on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and howlround.com. Hey friends, welcome to adventures and audio fiction. My name is Tamara Kissane. I'm a theatremaker and the host of the podcast, Artist Soapbox based in Durham, North Carolina. Although theatre is my first and enduring love, over the last three years my creative work has turned increasingly towards writing and producing scripted audio fiction. First by adapting versions of my stage plays into audio dramas and more recently by writing to audio directly as I develop two scripted audio fiction serials.

This interview series for HowlRound is part of my quest to learn more about audio drama by speaking with the people who are working in the medium, some of whom have a background in theatre and some who don't, but either way they are knocking it out of the park. I have so many questions and you may have some too. As theatre artists, what can we learn from audio fiction creators? What skills can we leverage to create powerful audio work? What do we need to learn? Is scripted audio fiction an evolution of a theatrical form or is it its own distinct and discrete form altogether?

In this episode you'll hear from Eric Silver, the head of creative at Multitude. Multitude is an independent podcast collective and production company based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. From basketball to mythology to literature and pop culture, Multitude entertains while building communities around their values. The Multitude team also helps clients of all sizes make and market great shows. They perform and give workshops at podcast events and they publish dozens of free resources for creators. Eric and I dig into this collective model and how it works. The business of podcasting, writing audio fiction and much more. Eric Silver is a writer, audio producer and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. He's the Dungeon Master and co-host of Join the Party, a collaborative audio drama based on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons. He's the co-host of HORSE, a basketball podcast about everything except for wins and losses and he's a founding member of Multitude. Eric likes cardigans, chunky peanut butter and being five minutes early. Enjoy the episode.

Hi Eric.

Eric Silver: Hello.

Tamara: Thank you so much for talking with me today. You're a founding member of Multitude Productions. What is your current role and why does that role exist within Multitude?

Eric: My role is head of creative at Multitude. There are six founding members and there are three of us on kind of the executive team here and then three people who bounce around and do a lot of other things, but we all contribute as hosts to the shows and we all work together as collective there. I am part of the executive team as the head of creative. Amanda McLoughlin is our CEO. Brandon Grugle is our head of production and I am the head of the creative. It's funny that you asked that and how good of a question it is because I always talk about how hard it is to explain to people what my job actually is because Amanda does the business stuff and Brandon does the recording stuff but as head of creative, that can mean literally anything.

My responsibility is making sure that everything we put out from Multitude, whether it's the shows that we put out as part of the collective or shows we put out just for fun from ourselves or shows that we do in partnership with other companies, that they are good podcasts and they are sustainable and they are things that people actually want to listen to. I spent a lot of time thinking about the structure of shows and what they should look like both from like a creative perspective and also from a visuals perspective, like what should their art look like and also all of the metadata that has to do all the words, the little written words that have to do with podcasts. We have like a whole procedure about what new shows should look like and how do we carve them out from this rough stone. How do you carve it into what a podcast, a statue. Is like the podcast is lurking inside. What do they say about statues. It's like the statues inside the block of stone and it's like the podcast is lurking within this idea. It's like, I want to talk about this. It's like, how do you get there? And so I ended up doing a lot of stuff under that umbrella, but mostly it's how is this podcast from the jump, how is it going to be good?

Tamara: Do you have an example of a question that you might ask if you or another team member or just a random person wanted to pitch you on a podcast? What is a question that you found helpful to ask and considering whether or not that's going to be viable or sustainable?

Eric: The first question I always ask people is how is your show different than every other show in your genre? Podcasting as we know this is like, I don't even know if it's peak podcasting or if it's bubble podcasting, but it's like everyone has a show about every conceivable subject, so it's not even about like having a good subject anymore. It's about what is different about your show that makes it stand out. Can be the people who are talking, obviously representation and having people who are not usually allowed to talk in a microphone about a specific subject, whether it's women, people of color, different sexualities, different genders all over that area is like, do we want to hear their perspective about this subject, usually the answer is yes. Is it structured differently? Are you doing something that is totally different than anything else out there? Like you can't just have two dudes talking in a room and call that a podcast anymore, it needs to be something else. You could be looking at a subject in a totally different view.

Our basketball podcast on Multitude is called HORSE and we talk about basketball but we never talk about like the wins and losses or the numbers. We only talk about like drama and history and ridiculousness, so we're looking at basketball from a totally different angle. The thing that I always say is like, we don't want to talk about whether or not LeBron James is the best basketball player of all time. We would like to talk about the time that one of LeBron's teammates was dating his mom and like that's... it's infinitely more interesting and it's also a lot more, except it's a lot more accepting, a lot more people can get into it and we're really trying to jump the gatekeepers of sports who were like one of the most notorious gatekeepers out there.

Tamara: I have to say that I appreciate that as someone who's not interested in sports, that is something that I would be interested in.

Eric: Exactly. Then it becomes... it gets you to become a basketball fan in a totally different way and the way that the MBA is set up, I could go off on this, but the way that the MBA is set up is that you don't necessarily need to be like a numbers person to enjoy the MBA now. Like the drama and the fact that everyone is on Twitter and on Instagram and doing shady stuff is enough. You don't need to know all of that stuff. You don't need to... you don't even have to watch any games like you should because basketball is interesting but like you can follow basketball without ever watching a game and that's fun.

Tamara: I think it's a cultural access point really that culture, even basketball culture should be accessible to everyone. I think that's an interesting invitation that all of the podcasts associated with Multitude offer is this invitation to be part of the culture associated with that podcast. Super interesting. You mentioned that you are a co-host for HORSE, you are also the DM for joining the party and I think that hosting is a kind of performance or inhabiting and heightened persona. Do you have theatre also in your current or past life?

Eric: First of all, I would love to think that the person that I am while I'm hosting is a heightened version of myself and this might just be me, but this is like I just, it's giving me an opportunity to just be the person that I want to be. Podcasting is just like, I think I already have something to say and then let's figure out a way to make it sound as good as possible. Like podcasters are like introverted people. Like what kind of other hobby would you have there that requires you to be in a soundproof room or a closet or under a blanket and you're going to talk. On the other hand, I'm the kind of person that I love being in front of people and I just kind of love talking and yes, I do have theatre in my background. I was in high school theatre a lot. It was something that I gravitated to like in the second half of my high school and I just liked being in front of people and doing stuff. I was a big writer and poet and that's also part of the stuff that I did in college. I was really big into the poetry slam scene. I founded the NYU poetry slam team. We won the collegiate poetry slam invitational, like the national one, like three years out of five.

Tamara: Wow. Congratulations.

Eric: Thank you. I wasn't there for one of them. I was there for two, but like I founded it, so I'm keeping that one.

Tamara: That poetry slam stuff is some pretty serious art making. I mean that's not for the faint of heart.

Eric: Yeah, it's really weird. I think it's the closest thing to the way that stand up is the relationship between like a one man show and a stand up and poetry slam. They're all very similar because it's all just like you're onstage and you wrote this thing and you need to communicate it to them this quickly and you have no way to hide. I think I also came up in the part where poetry slam started getting more theatrical, like choreography, different kind of structure looking at in different ways and just like the competition got really intense. Like the competition is real and the point is the poetry and the point is out of points obviously, but a poetry slam is very much like keep putting yourself out there and usually talking about something that's really emotional and you're willing to share it with other people and communicate in this performative light for like only three minutes. That's kind of the way that I feel about it is like this was this crash course and being in front of people and being vulnerable.

Tamara: And do you think there are parallels or do you see parallels between podcasting, even nonfiction podcasts and theatre, like did you take some of that vulnerability from performing and infuse it in the work that you're doing right now?

Eric: Oh, absolutely. I think that saying the stuff that you want to say in front of the microphone, even though you know that there's going to be post production is important. I mean, you still need to get tape. You still need to save this stuff, and the fact that you can edit it later and just make everything sound a little bit better, take out your ums and your uhs and the stuff that maybe you didn't exactly say what you wanted to say. Like that's fine because it's an edited media. Honestly, people forget that about podcasting is that podcasting feels so much more like TV than it does about theatre even though it has so much groundswell and like punk enthusiasm, especially in the fiction community. Like we're going to make this, we're going to put on a show, we're going to do it together but really you're stringing, especially if you're doing a nonfiction show or a reoccurring fiction show is like you still need to string this stuff together and it can be edited and it probably will be, so you need to remember that that's going to come out every single time.

I think that extracting feeder from podcasting though, it's like you kind of lose... there's a soul in both of them. I find that really important. I find that podcasting is like a combination, this community theatre company where everyone comes together and puts on this thing that they really care about and like a late night show where you just need to like keep putting this stuff out and make it as good as possible and then go on to the next one because it's episodic. It's like if people came back every single day and saw five straight days of theatre and it was five parts of one show, that's maybe what podcasting is like for me.

Tamara: I want to talk about Multitude and the collective model because I think that theatre makers might glean some inspiration from the way that you all do things. So starting big picture, how does the collective model work?

Eric: I like to think that we have two arms of our business. One is the collective itself. These are the four plus shows that we have from Multitude. We have Potterless, our Harry Potter podcast. Spirits our queer feminist mythology podcast. Join the Party our real play Dungeons & Dragons podcast and HORSE our basketball, but not exactly basketball podcasts and then we also have Waystation, which went on hiatus for a little while, but was a re-watch podcast of this like obscure Canadian monster show called Lost Girl, which is a wild show, everyone should watch that, but the way that that works, that we make the shows and every show owned their own Patreon, which for those of you who don't know, it's kind of like a direct model on a reoccurring basis for fans to pay the creators directly. Like you can sign up for a tier and every time you release an episode or every month you'll pay a certain amount of money and then that goes right to the creator.

Along with that, Amanda being our wonderful and amazing CEO sells ads for all of the shows. We don't use an outside company to sell the majority of our ads. Amanda has a relationship with all of them and it seems kind of difficult, but it's something that Amanda has done before and companies take a really large chunk out of your ad sales and like they don't... some of them don't actually end up doing all that much work for you and like Amanda has relationships with people who have to go through third party vendors like they need a middleman, but she has a lot of experience doing this with YouTube and podcasting that she was able to do that for us.

One arm is the collective shows themselves. We make the shows. We may give the Patreon money and we also sell ads on them. The other side is the studio. The studio is when we make our own shows or we're working with a large company to make shows as well. That might be us going to a network or us going to a platform or like a tech company and be like, hey, do you want to give us money to make a show? And they'll say yes, but most of the time they say no but eventually someone will give us some money and we'll make a show that might be like a Spotify exclusive or is like windowed only on Apple podcasts for a certain amount of time or is like in partnership with a movie studio. These are all the possible people who are getting into podcasting. I'm not saying that we've done any of these things, it's just those are the possible things.

The other thing is that we would make a show with a company, like a company wants a podcast and they hire us to make them a podcast for them. Oh, and a good example of that is Spectacular Failures, which is a show about like spectacular failures in business, which was a partnership between the University of Minnesota business school and they reached out to a company that made a show for them, Pineapple Street, which just got bought by a really large radio company. They made a show for Hillary so they would do that because Hillary Clinton wanted them to make the show for them. We do both.

By pulling all of this stuff together, we are able to have three full time employees and pay people for other work that they do for the collective. We also have the multi-crew, which is our membership, like exclusive subscription thing where we have had our gut, which is a debate show with all the Multitude hosts on it and people get extra stuff from their part of coming or like our elite street team and they pay us directly for that as well.

Tamara: And you also do live events though and promote across the podcasts as well so you might recommend one of your podcasts to all the audiences that you touch, right?

Eric: Exactly. The whole point of making the collective in the first place was that we were all friends and we kept recommending each other shows and we're like, we should all just like have the same name so that it's easier to thing like these are all the other shows you should listen to. Originally that was what Multitude was, was just like we are leaning on each other, we are helping each other out and we're betting on each other that by pooling all of our audiences together, we get to do more stuff. The live shows are just like this burgeoning thing that we get to do whether we go to conferences or conventions or we just ended up going to a city and we're like, hey, let's do a live show there. Like we're going to Mike Schubert, the host of Potterless and my co-host for HORSE. He's getting married at the end of February and we're just like in Texas and we're like, we should just do a live show in Austin, so we're doing a live show in Austin. Now we have like the structure of all of us working together. It's easier for us to get venues that wouldn't take just one of our shows.

Tamara: I have several questions about why this works. I guess I'll start with the fact that you mentioned that you are all friends and by all accounts you seem to still be friends. What kind of culture have you created or practices do you have in place to maintain such a high level of productivity and that collegiality and friendship?

Eric: I think this kind of comes back to what we're good at in Multitude. All of us came to like creative fruition in the beginning of the 2010s when we were in college and we're like, yeah, people can make livings on the internet, you can make art and people will pay you for them in some sort of way and like people have these jobs, whether it's blogging, whether it's YouTube, the burgeoning days of YouTube, and then eventually like Vine and Twitter and you could turn your Twitter account into a book and it'd get sold in Urban Outfitters. We had that promise of the early 2010s internet, but then in the late 2010s you saw what happened to media companies and where the money started moving in podcasting but also in this intersection of tech and art where like YouTube keeps changing their algorithm every five minutes and no one really understands where all of this money is coming from or going.

At the same time a lot of us didn't get jobs in the media companies that we thought that we could work for, like these blogs kept shutting down and like there were no writers jobs and no one would hire us at public radio. I mean we did eventually get jobs in other ways. I mean I used to work at SiriusXM. I met Brandon at that job and he used to work at Marvel. Amanda was a COO of a tech startup that would like sell ads for YouTube but we were all kept in this box where we weren't able to do ideas because we were already part of this massive machine and we had to kind of just teach ourselves skills that made us do the things that we wanted to do. Like I taught myself how to write copy. Brandon taught himself how to edit and Amanda taught herself how to make ads. We all had all these ideas together and we wanted to work with each other. It's kind of like we have the promise of the early internet in the early 2010s and then we had to scrap together and put together our creative survival skills to survive on the internet in the late 2010s and now we're able to bet on ourselves. Like we're able to do what we want and we want to work together to make sure that we are moving forward. The fact that all of us have a voice, I think kind of hashes everything out. Like we have ideas and we can move on the as these ideas.

HORSE is such a good example for me because that was like the first show that we started after Multitude of the collective came together and I'm like, I want to do a basketball show because I talk to Mike about basketball all the time but there has to be a way for us to break into this industry, so he spent a decent amount of time putting it all together and figuring out something that we actually wanted to do and something that would make us stand out but I had the ability to make a new show, figure out what it looked like, figure out how it would sound like and I was able to pursue that idea instead of having to report to my manager who might be like ten to fifteen years older than me and not know what a podcast is and not care and I figured out how to sell ads on it so I had Amanda's backing. It's like because we can all do things differently, we can support each other in our creative endeavors and we let people like run out and do the thing that they want to do and then make it as good as possible.

I think the fact that we have voices and we're able to pursue what we want to pursue is kind of like the glue that holds everything together. The money that we are making from the shows help us do other projects. We are going to release a fiction podcast that we wanted to make to show that Multitude could make a fiction podcast and we wanted to take a dive into it. It's a straight sitcom, which is different than pretty much everything else that's out in the fixing landscape in the moment. I don't want to like have a conversation about what constitutes a sitcom or a comedy, but it's like there's no sci-fi veneer on it. It's an American sitcom. I know there's some really great European or British style sitcoms out there, but we're trying to make this American sitcom that's straightforward and something that we want to like put our mark on podcasting and we're able to pursue that because we're moving all this stuff. We're doing it as much as we can to put money into doing this the right way and the way that we want to do it and really running that stuff down.

Tamara: It seems like you have a pretty flat hierarchy which makes things move quickly and you're also kind of coming from the same general set of values and approach to making this work. Do you have formal agreements in place where you are obligated to like spend? I'm just making this up, like spend two hours a week promoting somebody else's podcast within the collective and then deliver your content on this date or else like what do you do to hold each other accountable given that people are messy and they... like things happen and you are friends now, but for people who wanted to start this sort of thing, who might be coming together with folks who are not their best buds, how do you kind of keep everybody moving forward in the same direction?

Eric: Oh, yeah. We have a lawyer. How good is that? Our lawyer is amazing. She's really cool. There're actually a lot of like media lawyers and I know that that's not a thing that everyone can afford, but I think that just having an agreement is really important. Before we even talk to a lawyer, we had like show agreements that we had everyone sign and it's not even like you need to promote each other. It's just like, hey, on your episode, just like you're a part of Multitude say that whichever one was doing already so it wasn't even a problem but it's like when you say a show is going to come out, it needs to come out because it's not even like being accountable. It's like Amanda sold ads on it and like that's how we make money and that's how everyone is able to do the thing, so you're accountable to the structure of Multitude that we're putting into place. Like that's really important to us that like everyone is responsible and we're all working together to do the thing.

When you were saying about the flat hierarchy, it's more like we are the heads, Amanda, Brandon and I we'd spend... like our full time job is doing Multitude stuff but like Mike does podcasting full time now but his full time job is working on Potterless and HORSE and like that's, and also contributing to all of the stuff that we do together in Multitude, so he's even able to do his own stuff but doing Potterless is a full time job and he also contributes to keep sending emails for live stuff and throwing their time in.

Julia Schifini who is the co-host of Spirits now is going to be a part of Join the Party as well and is the assistant director on the sitcom that we're working on. She's also our community manager so we look to her for social stuff. It pays to have someone to bounce copy off of and take a temperature of our listening audience and she's really good at figuring out like how to apply data that we figure out and put it towards that and really lean into the stuff that people like about us, which is so hard like figuring out why your listeners like you is such a difficult thing. Eric Schneider who is our remote guy out in Cleveland, he's the editor of Spirits and he co-made Head Heart Gut, our debate show, which is part of the multicrew. He co-made that and he's like the producer of it and he edits it.

I think the fact that all of us are involved in so many different things that really helps keep everybody together and realizing we all have responsibility and we really all want to get there, but of course we all have shown agreements and Amanda, Brandon and I have spent time talking about all of our job descriptions together and then also we've had conversations with everybody about our responsibility to them and what we can do to help. Another big thing that I do as head of creative is live shows. I'm responsible for doing our Multitude lives and when we all do stuff, which is like more of a variety hour and is not really about our shows, but about like things that we like to do together that are a little bit off to the side. Like that's my responsibility. I need to make sure that everyone has a good time. Everyone has equal time on there and we're displaying the things that we're good at even if it doesn't necessarily put a spotlight on a show, like we might have a game show which is about mythology but it's not explicitly about spirits in that way and it really allows all of us to have all five or six of us to be on stage together.

And also we have opportunity to do like one man segments. I did an entire... I created a fake Yu-Gi-Oh podcast that I did like 10 minutes of, which was really fun and giving... and then I also was able to bring Brandon off for that and I was able to bring Amanda on for that and then giving Mike like a Harry Potter segment that he can do. Everyone's jobs are to help the collective, so holding all of that together is important but of course like the show agreements that everyone needs to sign is important. My other thing would say is like make sure that that paper is down because if you need to cut someone or if they want to leave, then it's already on paper and then no one feels weird about it. You always have someone hang around longer than is good for everybody and if it's on paper maybe someone will be able to pull that trigger earlier.

Tamara: Right, right. I want to circle back to something you mentioned about determining why your audience likes you. Why do you think your audiences like Multitude shows?

Eric: I think it comes back to something that you actually hit on when I was telling you about HORSE. It's about people like... they were enthusiastic about the things that we talk about. We welcome everyone in. We are radically standing out here with open arms. It'd be like come into the thing that I love. Join the Party started because we wanted to teach people how to play Dungeons & Dragons. Our first two episodes are like walk throughs and how to play the game and they're intercut into our episodes. I think people like us because we are radically open. Everything we do kind of revolves around that thesis so we make sure that all of our shows do that too.

Tamara: Something that I think is interesting related to podcasts and theatre and I'm going to throw this out and see what you think is that the audience cultivation kind of works in an opposite way. For theatre, what you want to do is get the people in the room for the event. Like you need to actually get the physical person to sit down and watch something and at that point you have a relationship with them moving forward which might lead to other things, hopefully repeat patronage but podcasting is interesting because I feel like it's an individual cultivation that the listener can dial in. I can form a relationship with you without actually having to be in your presence. I can listen when I want to listen where I want to listen and then sort of feel like I get to know you and at a certain point that might tip me over to saying like, you know what? I actually might want to be in the physical presence of this person. I want to go to a live event or I want to support them by giving money or I want to listen to these other podcasts. It feels like more of a gentle sloping audience cultivation and theatre has to overcome, I think just a bigger obstacle to forming this really close and intimate relationship with their patrons. You know what I mean?

Eric: Yes. I 100% agree with you. I think there's actually a lot of similar things about podcasting and theatre and then functionally the biggest difference is money. Like when you're selling a theatre ticket, you need to sell the theatre ticket. Like you need to pay people. The theatre tickets let's say it costs... let's say the theatre tickets costs $15, right? You're trying to get people in the room and pay $15 and go in there and they're like, oh man, I love that. I want to come back for their next season and then they will hopefully pay $15 again but podcasts are free. Theoretically the barrier is lower but getting them to eventually pay those $15 is more difficult because there's a lot of content you could consume whenever you want for free, but I think that's kind of where a lot of other stuff comes in. Like our Patreon you'll pay $5 every other week for a maybe a bonus episode or for something that's written or for our notes or for research or maybe we make up those $15 from ads, which I think is the biggest difference that... there's so many ways you can monetize everything else.

I hate it because it makes me sound like I'm a YouTuber or like an entrepreneurial like book and I'm trying to tell people to do all this stuff, but hopefully you can make up the money on the other end instead of getting your audience to do it or you build that relationship with the audience and eventually they will pay the $15. I will also say though, like getting people to subscribe to new podcasts might be just as difficult as getting people to pay for a theatre ticket. Functionally as humans we know what a live event is going to be. We're going to go into this place, maybe this theatre or black box or whatever and I'm going to sit down and I'm going to enjoy the thing onstage in exchange for my ticket money but with podcasting is like, so I need to figure out this app and I'm going to hit subscribe and then I'm going to download it and then I can listen to it. Like there are just so many more steps that people just don't understand yet. The acquisition of podcasts and getting people to walk into the door of a theatre is very similar.

Tamara: Yeah, that's an interesting way to think about it. I want to talk about the C word which for me is competition and I think we can talk about it in a couple of different ways. One is individual competition meaning sometimes as an indie artist I have multiple projects that are competing for my time and I have to kind of prioritize those being stretched between them and then there's competition at more of an, I guess institutional maybe level so that I have experienced within especially local theatre communities that there is this perception of a finite number of audience members and that we are all competing for our share.

Do you have any thoughts about how you approach competition at these levels? At the individual level and perhaps at more of an institutional level?

Eric: Sure. Honestly, I don't know who came up with that lie. It's like the devil... it's like one of those things the devil sits down and comes up with these lies that permeate everything. I don't necessarily think that that's true, that there is a scarcity of people. Like maybe if you're a community theatre and there's literally a limited number of people who will come to see your thing but I feel like people like to be entertained and want to go do artistic things, especially if they liked what happened last time if it is a repeat performance or even getting people in the door. I feel like that is just like a lie that someone in like a board room came up with to keep competition low. I spent podcasting and this might... this is my own thing, but like you can consume a podcast whenever you want. It's not just during the finite amount of time when you would be watching TV. I wouldn't be watching TV when I'm driving, but I would be listening to a podcast or I wouldn't be watching TV when I should be working, but I bet I could sneak away and listen to a podcast. That's always like somewhere... that's such like a small minded idea that there is a scarcity for people to consume art first and foremost.

I think the other thing about we learn from being a collective and leaning on each other is that you still need to get your word out. Right now it's more important to get the word out about your thing no matter who you end up working with. You can still guest on other people's podcasts that are in your field because their listeners need to listen to you and then they can listen to your podcast. Like it's just not that finite. Like people who like things. Haven't we learned this from the internet. There are like people who like things will go out of their way to keep listening to things about the things that they like. People who like comedy are going to keep going to comedy productions or improv shows or stand up nights. Like they'll find it the way that they find it, but they want to laugh and they like that stuff. I just don't even... I don't think that the competition thing is something you should keep in your mind. It feels like a fallacy that just like depresses you from making the art that you want to make.

Also we see the podcast community as something that all of us can work together. Like we'd rather work together to figure out how everyone can make the thing that they want to make and hopefully get paid. I mean we're literally an artistic collective. Like we're working together to make sure that we get to do what we do and hopefully get paid leaning on each other and being like friendly to your other shows and recommending each other and like being friends and going to conventions together. Like that's infinitely more important to us than beating out other people. I think it's also important to like punch up.

Tamara: Well I think in certain respects competition can make everyone better and sharper and strive to be more, but I like the way that you're talking about audience members or listeners as wanting more of what they like so it only benefits us to share all of the other things that they might like because then we position ourselves as experts but we also raise up that particular medium as something that we recommend that all people consume this and isn't this wonderful and approaching it with an abundance mentality means that rising tide lifts all boats.

Eric: Yeah. We say that all the time over here.

Tamara: I want to circle back to this audio fiction because you dropped that and I want to dig into it. How did you approach writing this? And I'm asking as a playwright myself and I started out taking scripts that I had written for the theatre and adapting them into audio dramas and after that I started just with the idea of an audio drama and like, okay, I'm going to start from the go writing serials because a stage play is very different than serialized audio fiction and part of that is, as you mentioned, the very beginning of our conversation, sort of the relentless nature of like this happens every week for weeks and weeks and weeks and so how did you approach this?

Eric: The fiction endeavors that I am a part of and I feel like I'm writing and spearheading come out of the fact that I'm feeling really boxed in and I need to do something. I was at my old job and I was listening to all of these DMV podcasts and I'm like, You know, we could probably make a better Dungeons & Dragons podcasts and we did and that's where Join the Party game from and I really wanted to spearhead it and I buffed it out and we made D&D podcast.

It was February of 2019 and I was feeling really itchy and I wanted to do more. Like Join the Party was humming along, but we wanted to do more and I think a HORSE had just started getting up off the ground and we were trying to figure out more things that we wanted to do with Multitude and things that I wanted to see and the way that I work with Brandon is that Brandon throws an idea out that sounds ridiculous at the time and I tell him it's stupid and then I think about it for like a whole day and then I end up working on it. At one point Brandon was like, There should just be a straight sitcom, like we should just do it and I was like, No, that's stupid. Why would we wait into fiction when we've only done nonfiction and Dungeon & Dragons? And then I thought about it and I'm like, I have to write this.

I sat down and I started writing these sitcom scripts that I was really excited about, these people that I wanted to see both on my television screen and in podcasting. I had watched a ton of Friends when I was in middle school and high school. There was a three hour block on TBS that I always remember watching and I totally watched all of How I Met Your Mother when I was in college and I watched Happy Endings and Boy Meets World and all this stuff and I'm like, You know what? There should be something like this that doesn't have like the terrible gay panic and homophobia and fatphobia that Friends did. So I just started writing.

I wrote about the relationship that I had with my friends and how important it was as roommates and how close we'd stayed together and how everything was changing in our late 20s and how so many people weren't addressing that. There are girls in... talked about the early 20s and every single sitcom is actually about like your 30s like how eventually you get married and you have kids like the middle to late seasons of like Friends and How I Met Your Mother. I like everything on CBS. I'm like, there's nothing about being 27 and having things change. I started writing about that and eventually I put those together and I wrote it and I showed it to Brandon and Amanda and were like, Oh, we should make this and we've been sitting on it for a while and finally we were able to figure out a way to make a fiction show the way that we wanted to make a fiction show in Multitude.

We're also writing a white paper at the same time to teach people how to make eviction show, like from soup to nuts, from writing to editing to casting and production and post. It's also something that we care about a lot in Multitude is we want to share our resources with everyone else because resources for podcasters don't exist unless you go to Transom and pay a ton of money or you're an intern at Public Radio or you work at Spotify or Gimlet already and you already know how to do these things. We just want to have that on the world and we think it's important for us, so that shows grown and hopefully by this time it's going to be out. It's called Next Stop and I'm really excited about it.

Hearing people say the jokes that I wrote like a year ago is very strange. I also have like a terrible memory for things that I write and I also like hate re-reading the stuff that I knew in editing so like 100% I hear jokes that I do not remember writing and I'm like, oh, whoever wrote that. That was a good thing, and so it's such a delight to hear it back. We're actually... we're recording this in the beginning of January next week. It's our production week. We're having like a table read on Friday and I'm losing it a little bit and Brandon is our director, Julia is our assistant director, Julia Schifini, she has an extensive background in doing audio fiction and it's exciting having people who are from... having her who's like a part of this audio fiction community and they'd come in and like, we're trying to make this thing that is inherently Multitude and hopefully the scripts that I wrote embodied it and I'm excited for everyone to hear it.

Tamara: Say more about that idea of something that is inherently Multitude that is also fiction.

Eric: I think... we're really trying to keep our arms open. Like, obviously I can't write something that represents everyone but like using Friends as a foil that like, all right, especially the way... everyone's been talking about Friends because of... that it's coming off of Netflix. I mean it's like now this business story in 2020 and Sam Sanders like listened to Friends for the first time and now it's all over public radio. Funny hearing people who either like watch it a lot and thought or like are diehards or hate it or like never watched it and having us revisit it in 2020. It's not even about being woke. It's like the friends weren't nice to each other. Like I wanted to be Chandler for so long in my life. Like look at this funny guy who says funny things but like he's a mean person and he says a lot of trauma in his life and he never dealt with it. His dad might've been trans and like he is very unkind about it and it's just this whole thing and like everyone is just really, we knew each other that a ton of gay panic and like the whole, all those terrible things they make about Monica being fat when she was a kid is just like terrible. I'm like, I would love to write something that was open for everyone to enjoy it and also it's like... it's in a genre you know, but it has its arms open for everyone to enjoy it. That's what it ultimately comes down to.

I remember like watching Fast & Furious 8, I'm like such a sucker for these giant action movies. I love it. Like Fast & Furious 8 and John Wick 3 and I was watching it in the way that you watch like older action movies and be like, oh yeah, this is the part where like the woman is the damsel in distress and she's... like old Bond movies. Like oh look at that hot lady who comes out of there but like in John Wick and in Fast & Furious it's just like you just don't have to cringe while you're watching it and like hopefully I know that's such a low bar for me to reach but it's like I want to write something that everyone feels good about laughing at and laugh and enjoying and you don't have to like cringe as you go through it and hopefully as you listen back to it, it's good. Like it is there for everyone. And I think there's a way to be funny and not like punched out. We spent a lot of time punching up. A lot of the things that I ended up making is how like people's jobs like don't care about them and how you want to strive and all you need is an opportunity and no one will get that and like how hard it is to like live in a capitalist society and still maintain relationships and do what you want to do and pursuing your dreams and like I'll punch up as much as possible but like I don't have to make fat jokes and gay panic to get there.

Tamara: I like this idea of using material that I remember fondly and then adapting it or being inspired by it and sort of preserving what it is I think I liked about it or what I remember enjoying about it, but then reinterpreting it in a way that is actually, I don't know, healthy and does all the things that I sort of remember it doing, but then when I go back and revisit it, it's messed up. You know what I mean? Like you go back and watch some of those things from childhood and the same is true for a lot of these classic texts in theatre and very famous movies that are in the cannon and all of that and so to be able to move those things forward through the interpretation is of interest to me.

Eric: Thank you.

Tamara: Yeah.

Eric: Yeah, it's a 2020s 21st century sitcom and I know that like I assume... I guess How I Met Your Mother is also a 21st century sitcom but it's like, yeah, we don't think phones are bad. Like we want people to text each other and even like, it's so much in theatre. I mean you can talk about like this is our youth, which is supposed to be about like being a teenager and being a young person, but now if you read that back and like, oh look at how nasty everybody was to each other and like look at how... like if this was really just a thing about guys and there's just like the woman is there for people to... I mean obviously there are time capsules and we're supposed to embody what the person as a young person or whatever they're writing about is supposed to think but if you're not considering that when you're writing something for 2020 like have you talked to a young person lately? Have you talked to anyone under thirty five who like doesn't think that safe spaces are a bad thing? I want to communicate this in a way where I don't want to be like I'm writing a woke fucking sitcom because I don't think I am. I'm writing a straightforward Friends like thing that doesn't make people feel bad and I think the least you can ask from your art is to not make you feel bad and have a good time.

Tamara: Yeah. I mean those things that you mentioned are time capsules, but we are not time capsules.

Eric: Exactly.

Tamara: We are living now and so we have the opportunity to create shows that speak the truth that we want to put into the world now and I think we do the best that we can, hopefully responsibly as creators to be thoughtful about who's going to be taking that material in. I'm wondering about this white paper that you mentioned and a potential misstep that you think people might make when approaching audio fiction scripts that you caught yourself doing or any kind of even small tips that you might want to share.

Eric: Yeah, this is something that I catch myself doing like in a good way because I spent a lot of time being a producer for podcasts and also editing and mixing podcasts. I want to be like the best talent possible. When I work with Brandon who's our director and also does our editing, and he's an amazing sound designer, when I'm writing it I'm just like, I don't want to put ten people in the scene here. Like why would I need to jam ten people into our recording booth and then you can have ten tracks here. I think this also works really well for comedy because like having a ton of people in a room, obviously not like the office but in so many traditional sitcoms where it's just like where you have friends together in apartment kicking it. Like you would rather keep that number low. Like I can't be like How I Met Your Mother, where there's like six people kicking around. Even like that, you can't have just like five people kicking around and then someone's girlfriend, someone's other boyfriend together. I want to keep scenes to three or four people and I still think that I can make funny things happen there. Like obviously I'm not restricted, but I'm cognizant of the production that's going to go into making the thing and also like how feasible is it and also for the actors, like are they going to be able to do their best work if six people need to be in the studio at the same time or if we have to do three and three and not everyone is in the same room.

Something that I care about a lot is the amount of people in each scene and where people are focused on each other. You're going to have a scene with five people, but really it's just two people talking to each other and then other people make jokes off to the side, like there's a peanut gallery, but there's really like... it's really a one on one conversation or like I have a scene in one of them where someone is making a speech, so there's a ton of people in that room. There's an audience, but really it's the person on stage and then our main character who is reacting to it in the back so that it's kind of like a one on one conversation even though the scene feels large. You can do that in sound designing. It's like I want to care about what the relationships are and usually it's two or three people having the main relationship in a particular scene.

Tamara: Yeah and I find that the more voices, the more I can be confused by who's talking, especially early on in the series. I'm like, okay, their voices sound similar but who is this?

Eric: Exactly, and this might be a sitcom thing, but I love giving just like making the smaller like... role players are the people who show up just for an episode, like making them as ridiculous as possible so they stand out. Give them like verbal ticks or a particular syntax. Like you've got to make them stand out in relationship to the voices because of course you can't see their face so how would you know?

Tamara: Right. It's accommodating the fact that you don't have the visuals so they have to be really distinct and sometimes larger than life to give them that sort of fullness of character.

Eric: Yeah. You got to write for your medium.

Tamara: Eric, is there anything else that you would like to mention related to the collective, the new audio fiction piece? Anything that we didn't cover that you'd like to touch on?

Eric: Well, I love having conversation with other artists about money and making things feasible for other people. I always like I was gravitating back towards that when we were having our conversation and the only reason we talk about is that like Multitude bet on... we bet on ourselves that we could make a go of this and I think that's always so important. It's like if you really think that you have something there, you can work it out too and make sure that the money works for you. Like there is value in the art that you create and you should be able to do that at least part time if not full time, if this is something that you really want to do and it's something that we worked really hard on Multitude to really push forward. We're like the grand internet creator experiment. We're taking everything that we learned from the 2010s and both in the early part and in the later part and we're betting on ourselves to do jobs that people wouldn't let us do and we're really excited about that. We want to make it easier for people down the line by making as many resources as possible.

The white paper that we're doing for the fiction podcast for next stop or we have so many resources on our website just for free if you want to make a podcast and things that you should keep in mind. This is a media thing but I think it's also for theatre is like the best thing about my job at Multitude is that I don't think I would get laid off. We live in New York City, so I have all these friends who work at websites and blogs and they just like lose their jobs. Like it's gone and it's like we can fail, Multitude can... we did our best but it just didn't work out but like no one is... a boss is not going to walk into my office and be like, Hey Eric, you're laid off. You don't have a job anymore and I would rather that and try my best instead of putting this in someone else's hands who probably doesn't understand me and maybe doesn't care and I think that that's something that I care about in Multitude and something that energizes me every single day. I think that's something for theatre if doing a real go of this and trying to put together a theatre, just like remember at least that you're controlling your own destiny even if it doesn't really work out.

Tamara: Thank you so much.

Eric: Absolutely.

Tamara: If you would like to continue today's conversation, please visit howlround.com and follow HowlRound and Artist Soapbox on Twitter and Facebook. A big thank you to the staff at HowlRound who make this show possible. Our music is Spring Idle by Penny Miles. Check out the show notes for links and for more information. Thank you.

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Thoughts from the curator

In this podcast series, Durham-based theatremaker Tamara Kissane chats with artists about their work, their plans, and their manifestos. This interview series is part of Tamara’s quest to learn more about audio drama by speaking with the people who are working in the medium.

Adventures in Audio Fiction Podcast


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