Movies For Your Mind: Creating an Audio Drama Soundscape

Stylized image of audio tracks on a computer screen.

In the first episode of our audio drama podcast “The Adventures of Captain Radio,” our heroes step into a noisy bar, exchange ray gun blasts with a couple of disgruntled aliens, and witness the opening of a time portal. If we were making a movie, we’d have to scout locations, build sets, populate these scenes with actors and extras, and invest in costly special effects to do all of that—but in the world of audio storytelling, we instead have to make you believe all of these things are happening using only sound. Here’s how we did it.

Foley Art for Fiction Podcasts

Filmmaking has a long history of using foley artists to add texture and nuance to movies and TV shows through the clever use of sound. Most of the little sounds (rustling leaves, jingling car keys, background chatter in a coffee shop) are not captured on set, but added later, lending realism to the world onscreen.

Sound effects play the same role in a fiction podcast, but they have to carry all the worldbuilding, not just part of it. Sound effects have to do all the work to establish and immerse the listener in the world of the story. Dialogue and music may be the most obvious elements of an audio drama, but it’s the effects and environmental sound design that draw you in. Sounds like footsteps and doors swinging open suggest that our characters are interacting with a larger world and not just floating in a vacuum—they’re an essential tool for audio drama creators.

Anatomy of a Sound Effect

So, let’s break down a couple of the sound effects you hear in “The Adventures of Captain Radio.” As a science fiction show with heavy speculative elements, the design of our soundscapes fall mainly into one of two camps: something familiar and something strange.

For the familiar, the trick is creating a sound your audiences will recognize and can use to anchor the setting. For a scene that required our characters to trudge through a blizzard on an ice moon, I recorded myself making whistling wind noises and looping it so it felt continuous. I tried some classic techniques for mimicking the sound of footsteps in snow, including pressing on a plastic bag full of cornstarch, but it was difficult to make it sound believable. Thankfully, a real life snowstorm came to the rescue and my neighbors got to watch me stomp around in the fresh snow with my recorder. Easy enough.

But getting the background chatter in the bar on Alpha Centauri was a lot more work. To create a realistic environment, I recorded twenty separate tracks of myself mumbling dialogue, shuffling chairs around my dining room, and pouring water into various bottles and glasses. The end result was tedious to assemble, but it made the space our heroes were in feel like a real place. And hopefully, it didn’t call attention to itself, but rather served the needs of the story by fading into the background of the scene.

For sounds in the second camp, the strange and unusual noises like crashing spaceships, howling space whales, and whirling extra-dimensional portals, the task was to find familiar sounds and make them unrecognizable. This is where the tools within my audio editing software, Audacity, came into play. There, I could take recordings of the clothes dryer and a slamming file cabinet drawer and make them sound like a spacecraft hitting a mountain by adding distortions, reverberation, and extra bass to imply something far larger than the real life source. The same process helped transform my puppy’s growls and play barks into the pained vocalizations of a massive interstellar beast.

When it came to making sounds with no analog in the real world, like the portal to the Eleventh Dimension, I had to build it up piece by piece with help from GarageBand instruments (shout-out to church organs and French horns) and many layers of effects, like playing sounds in reverse and adding distortion until it sounded appropriately spacey.

Worldbuilding with Audio

Sound is a powerful storytelling tool. When used correctly and with restraint, it can suggest an entire universe of possibilities and conjure incredible images in the mind of the listener. Our imaginations are so much richer than anything a Hollywood special effects budget could produce.

With nothing more than a microphone and a struck wineglass, I can make you imagine the bells of a hidden monastery. Loose change can become a broken robot. A wet sponge can plunge you into the digestive tract of the mighty leviathan.

So, the next time you put on your headphones to enjoy a fiction podcast, I hope you’ll take a moment to thank the foley artist who brought that world to life — and then I hope you forget all about what’s happening behind the curtain and allow yourself to be swept up by the story.

– Jonny Eberle, writer and co-producer of “The Adventures of Captain Radio.” New episodes coming early 2023.

Don’t forget to vote for “The Adventures of Captain Radio” for the Audio Verse Awards! Voting closes October 30, 2022! Learn more.


Our Commitment to Telling Diverse Stories

When I started Obscure Studios as a high school student interested in making short films, I’m not sure the words “diversity” and “inclusion” were in my vocabulary. I was a middle-class, straight, white kid—I had the privilege to ignore injustice and racism. As a rather clueless high schooler and later, as a still mostly clueless college student, many of my early works of creative output were riddled with stereotypes. We were making comedic videos for YouTube and our brand of comedy sometimes relied on hurtful stereotypes for the sake of a joke.

As I got older and my worldview expanded, I realized that even though my words didn’t come from a place of hate, they could still inflict harm. And I slowly began to perceive the injustices around me. Living in a border state, I became aware of immigration issues. I learned about the history of the native peoples whose land (upon which I was living) had been stolen. Many of my friends came out as gay, lesbian, or trans as debates about LGBTQIA+ rights began to dominate American cultural politics.

I knew that I, and by extension, Obscure Studios, couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore. We had to take a stand in support of marriage equality, women’s rights, trans rights, immigrant and refugee rights, anti-racism, and a slew of other issues where we could lend our voice.

We had to be the best allies we could be.

It’s been a long road, but I’m glad to say we’ve taken steps as creators to empower and lift up diverse narratives whenever we can. Diverse voices matter more than ever. Today, I’m proud to announce Obscure Studios’ official diversity and inclusion statement, clearly outlining our commitments and goals to foster a storytelling community where everyone is welcome.

We still have a long way to go, but it’s a start.

With gratitude,

Jonny Eberle, President

Why We Do What We Do

VHS tapes
Photo by DS stories on

I recently watched the film, Be Kind Rewind. In the movie, the main character works for a small video rental business on the verge of losing everything. When all of the VHS tapes in the store are accidentally erased, they remake the films in a nearby junkyard and become local celebrities.

Watching this film reminded me of Obscure Studios. We’re small and the budgets of most of our films are less than $10 or $20. I know that we’re not the greatest filmmakers that ever lived. We have technical problems and time constraints that hold us back, but when you watch an Obscure Studios short film, you are watching a labor of love.

Hollywood is in the filmmaking business to make money off of you; to take 90 minutes of your time for the price of a movie ticket and go live in opulent mansions far from people like you and me. At Obscure Studios, we have yet to turn anything akin to a profit off of our work and that’s okay, because we don’t do this for our wallets or our egos. We do this because this is what we love.

I certainly don’t want to treat anyone like a dollar sign to be exploited. I want to remove you from reality for a few minutes and provide you with original entertainment. If only you could see the love and care that goes into everything we do here. People give up their time and energy, skipping out on leisurely activities and spending their precious free time making the little works of art that we feature on this site. Filmmaking is a passion, and as long as you’re enjoying it, we’re happy and we’ll continue to work hard to bring you more.

We’re far from perfect. We haven’t achieved the level of technical prowess as the big studios in Hollywood, but at Obscure Studios you’ll find more originality and more heart. We’re dreamers and storytellers, not corporate movie-making tycoons. If that makes the big studios better than us, that’s fine — but they can’t match our small studio where it counts.

I dare you to find a more talented and dedicated group of people than all of my friends who have bought into my crazy dream and turned Obscure Studios into a reality. I thank them for making this little business come to life and I thank you, our small band of viewers, for having fun with us. That’s what makes it worth the time and effort. It’s all for you.

– Jonny Eberle
Founder and CEO

Editor’s note: Originally posted on our old site on June 23, 2010