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Turning a Novel Into a Musical Podcast

In this digital age, any artist can push the boundaries of how their stories are told.

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Vladimir — stock.adobe.com

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

I remember the first time I saw Annie, I was 10 years old, and it drew me in. The story was one to remember, but the music always stayed with me. Seeing the journey of the orphan brought to life through song and dance evoked an emotional response in me that is still ingrained deep in my memory.

As someone who writes fiction in the digital era, I recently thought to myself: How can you translate the elements of a story and bring it to audiences in a new way? A way that will stick with them, the way Annie has stuck with me all of these years?

I found my answer in a new medium: a musical podcast.

Beyond a Simple Audiobook

This understanding led me to create my first musical podcast, “Shadow Realm,” which came on the heels of a middle-grade fiction novel I had written for Indian audiences. The story was well-received, and it prompted me to wonder: What if I adapted this story in an audio form?

When you have an excellent narrator, audiobooks can help the story come alive, but for me, this wasn’t enough. I envisioned a cast of characters and asked myself if it would be possible to morph storytelling and musicals into a highly utilized and palatable form: a podcast. But not just any podcast. I wanted to take it a step further and create something that would truly connect to listeners. Just like the music in Annie created a connection between my young self and the story, I wanted to bring that experience to my listeners through an original soundtrack.

In this digital age, any artist can push the boundaries of how their stories are told. While it may seem like a daunting task to try something so unique, you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re an artist who wants to reinvent a story by bringing in more audio elements and songs, where to begin depends on how much you want to collaborate. If you have a complete script, you can present this to an audio producer to cast voice actors and a foley artist, or audio engineer, to create sound effects. If you’re looking to incorporate original music, it would be best to present the story to the music composer first, as they’ll be inspired to create original music based on the story. Regardless of the path you take, the opportunities are endless if you have enough inspiration and the right connections.

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New Art Forms Are Only Possible Through Collaboration

When I’m writing fiction, I want to “show” the details of each scene. If I want to show how scared a character felt, I can write about how the hairs on the back of their neck were standing on edge, for instance. A higher level of writing evokes that feeling without saying it directly. It’s the same in sound design when creating a story in audio form. Instead of telling the reader that they should feel frightened during this scene, you can create the sound of footsteps coming toward them. You can use a piece of music to create this chilling effect. It was these subtle but powerful additions and the original score that made my story come to life through the podcast more than it did on the page.

An undertaking like this, however, is never achieved alone. I was privileged to enlist a very talented cast and production crew. Most importantly, I developed a relationship with Kanniks Kannikeswaran, a musician and composer, who fell so in love with the story that he was willing to travel all the way to India to find his muse. By the time he returned, he had developed music and lyrics capturing even elements of the scenery into the songs in a mix of Sanskrit verse and colloquial dialect. Music creates an atmosphere that is hard to describe in words.

We owe so much to our creative collaborators. You know you have a great group of professionals on a project when it becomes a work of heart because the story means so much to each person. In my experience, finding collaborators who are just as invested in your project as you are is part luck of the draw, part research and part networking. You need to seek out the kind of collaborators who would fall in love with your project. It’s also critical to think about how you will work with these collaborators. Are you hiring them for their services? Are you wanting to make them an equity partner? Determining this will define the working relationship.

A Good Story Transcends Generations

One of the most beautiful qualities of a story is the layers. In a given story, a child may simply see good guys fighting bad guys. Older children may pick up on elements of mythology in that same scene. Adults are likely reading it through the lens of their life experiences. And those who are really intelligent in certain areas may pick up quantum mechanics or something high-level that the majority of us do not understand. That is what makes a story so universally appealing — when written or told a certain way, it can be scaled up and down, right and left.

Adding a musical component to this process sparks emotion in a way nothing else can. Lyrics and instruments are powerful storytellers on their own, but when they’re combined with a cast of characters and plotline, something magical happens. All of these elements of artwork together create the most all-encompassing, immersive experience possible. I look forward to seeing how innovators will continue to push the boundaries of how stories are told in the digital age.

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