Getting your subscribers to contribute to your podcast is one thing, but using that listener support to help bring in a 40-person choir for your audio drama’s soundtrack is a great way to (re-)invest in your own show. When you’re in the U.S. and that 40-person choir is from Budapest, now your show is truly international. That’s what Travis Vengroff can claim in talking about his show “Dark Dice” and the soundtrack he was able to fund and facilitate for it.
Already a multi-instrumentalist and producer for 16 years, he knew in early 2018 that he wanted to “give the show my best at a worthy soundtrack. This would be an opportunity to show my strength as a musician and music director, to showcase the work of friends, to do justice to the story, and to challenge myself after about four years of relative musical silence.”
Most content creators at some point are faced with a decision regarding audio, but few go to the lengths of enlisting a sound designer or sourcing a 40-person choir from another country. For Vengroff, though, it wasn’t as difficult as it might sound.
“I called an old friend… who knows how to capture a Hollywood sound without a Hollywood budget, and can turn a basic idea into exactly what I want,” Vengroff explained. “He and I went from idea to arrangement… within a few hours.
“From there, he got to work on the choir arrangement, because I felt it would sound much better with an actual choir… I knew a choir in Budapest, and wrote lyrics while Enzo (Puzzovio, a fairly well-known performer at renaissance festivals around Europe), Sam (Boase-Miller of the Marsfall podcast), and myself recorded our respective instruments.”
You don’t realize how easy your podcasting life is made by a five-minute online music purchase until you hear Vengroff describe the timeline for creating this soundtrack for “Dark Dice.”
He said, “Lyrics… were formed to proper sheet music in under a week while I arranged the session. Since you can expect to record about ten minutes of finished music in two hours (the amount of time we had with the choir) we bundled a few extra songs into the mix for my (two) other… audio dramas. We were able to add a choir to augment the introduction/outro themes for both shows to fill the extra time.
“It took exactly two hours to record, and it was the most intense and technical two hours I have ever directed in any recording session. We got into musical terms I'd almost forgotten the meaning of… and listened roughly ten time zones away for the right takes, communicating with the conductor, who was the only person in the room who spoke English. It was a lot of fun. About a month after that, we were able to properly mix and master both of the primary tracks to completion.”
Financing the Choir Soundtrack
As fascinating as this all is, there comes a point where you stop and wonder about costs associated with such a massive undertaking and then, how Vengroff and/or his show(s) cover all these expenses.
“I paid for the music out of pocket,” he said. “But it’s sort of like asking a musician what they should have paid themselves to put together their passion project in terms of actual costs paid out. There was more bartering and work on my end with friends than I suspect others could easily replicate on such a project, and I didn't pay myself for any of the work I had a hand in. As an experienced studio musician who plays a semi-rare instrument (accordion) and can record in-kind, and has a lot of other skills to barter as an audio engineer and sound designer, and in editing most of the tracks myself, I was able to realistically produce a ~$20,000 soundtrack for significantly less.
“The podcast is funded largely by our fans through our Patreon, which helped make some of this happen. ‘Dark Dice’ also has a few sponsors and makes regular merchandise sales.”
After taking a glance at the impressive Patreon that Vengroff has, the question had to be asked, ‘How can others duplicate that kind of success?’
Vengroff explained, “We've been slowly building a following on Patreon for all of our shows over the last three years. We've grown to over 500 regular supporters who make what we do possible and have allowed us to pursue podcasting as a full-time career.”
Getting Listeners to Support the Vision
He then gave the following tips for building and maintaining an audience:
1. “Quality – A scientific study found that people will turn off a television show or movie for bad audio much quicker than they will change the channel for poor visuals. If you do not meet a baseline level of quality, your show is not worth listening to regardless of the content. You can achieve a great baseline level of quality for less than $100 by purchasing a decent microphone, using a pop filter (you can make your own or purchase one if it didn't come with your microphone), and making sure that you're neither too loud nor too soft. Basic editing to cut out dead time also helps.
2. “Consistency – Releasing content on a regular basis (every week, two weeks, or three weeks) will allow you to build an audience on a regular basis. You can't grow if you don't release content, and you should consistently refer your audience to your ONE call to action: Patreon, social media, mailing list, etc. It doesn't have to be the same one every week, but no one will find your Patreon or social media if you don't talk about it.
3. “Add Value – If you want your audience to invest their time in listening to your show, to donate funds to help make the show possible, or for others to donate their time to be a part of your show, it needs to add value to their life. This can be entertainment, knowledge, or something else entirely. For example, my shows are entertainment and listeners who support our show get bonus episodes, stories, bloopers, music, behind the scenes access, art, and more, in addition to the regular free releases.”
For Vengroff, now comes the exciting part – the unveiling. The show launches a new episode each month and the latest installment – Episode 9: Tunnels – marks the premiere of the aforementioned soundtrack. While not as a character on the show, somewhere in Budapest, a 40-person choir is smiling knowing that they played a part in it.