Crowdsourcing the Muse: Alumni Find Creative Outlet in Podcast

When recent alumni Hunter Hawes and Brady Heyen come home from work, they sift through pages of story submissions, write dialogue and record sound effects to tell continue the story of their podcast, Ink Still Wet.

 Ink Still Wet is an audio drama podcast, with each episode continuing a developing story. Listeners use their imagination to visualize the story with the help of dialogue, musc and sound effects. An audio drama was not enough for creators Hawes and Heyen.

Their idea to produce an audio drama with a crowdsourced plot is ambitious in theory and daunting in practice. Ink Still Wet gives the reins of storytelling to its listeners, as they submit ideas to create the next episode’s plot.

“I feel like it’s a very unique concept,” Hawes said. “The idea of crowdsourcing is very common, the idea of storytelling is also very common, but putting those two together—we hadn’t really seen it done before.”

Hawes and Heyen allow the audience tremendous control over the writing process, only inputting their own ideas when absolutely necessary. Hawes refers to the podcast as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” project.

The first episode, “Through the Wall,” was released Dec. 16, 2015. Within the first few episodes, there is already a mysterious and secretive government, fearsome phantoms and interpersonal drama.

Hawes said he hopes Ink Still Wet can unite people in the way that only narrative can.

“I think it’s way more challenging to do it this way than if just the two of us would have sat down and written a story,” Hawes said. “Anyone can do that.”

Hawes and Heyen have been friends since they met as freshmen at Union. After graduating with the class of 2015, they both entered the workforce—Hawes found a job in accounting, and Heyen works in digital marketing.

Not long after graduation, the two found themselves at a friends’ wedding talking about starting a new creative project together.

“Both of us were expressing a need of wanting to do something fun again, to have a creative outlet,” Hawes said.

Hawes and Heyen use Ink Still Wet as a way to explore creativity they are not always able to express in their jobs. While at first the goal of the podcast was to make money, Hawes said the process and product is so enjoyable he doesn’t care if he makes a profit.

“It’s such a different way of thinking from my day to day job,” Hawes said. “I work in accounting. It’s super boring—I sit at a desk all day. For me, it’s been healthy, honestly.”

While Heyen’s day job is more creative, working on the podcast brings a different kind of satisfaction than sitting in front a screen eight hours a day.

“With Ink Still Wet, I’m running around in a forest with a microphone,” Heyen said. “So it’s definitely two different worlds.”

Putting the story together is more than gathering content. Hawes and Heyen write out each script and bring together music, actors and sound effects to create a story.

Writing is a collaborative process for the two. To produce dialogue, they each log onto a Google document and type as if they were two characters having a conversation.

“I’ll pretend to be character A, and he’ll pretend to be character B, and then we’ll talk back and forth to each other,” Hawes said.

This process makes the dialogue seem more natural, according to Hawes.

The graduates use their Union connections to recruit talent for the podcast. Thomas and Jay Griffith, Aaron Parke, Audrey McKnight, Taylor Hare, Elizabel Riggs, William Spicer and Evan Estes are among some of the students and alumni featured. Most of the recording process takes place in Jackson.

Heyen was a member of the band Wolvski during his time at Union and has a background in recording. He has written and produced most of the music used in Ink Still Wet. The podcast includes music from Wolvski, Flying Colours and Tonic Water

Each episode takes about a month to produce—a week for gathering ideas, another for scriptwriting and a third for production and editing. Lots of creative input goes into each episode, featuring voice actors, artists, scriptwriters and ideas from all submitted stories. By allowing the audience to help build the story, Ink Still Wet gives them the chance to participate communally.

“For the audience, I guess the goal is to have people be able to engage in a story in a way that they never have before,” Hawes said.

Both Heyen and Hawes bring different skills and inspirations to the podcast. As a massive comic book fan, Hawes has always been interested in writing.

“He has read more comics than any person I know,” Heyen said.

Hawes has a love of comic books that has given him the ambition to write one himself. Hawes said he is most influenced by comic book author Robert Kirkman, the author of Invincible and The Walking Dead.

Heyen is more influenced by good filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson and Alejandro Iñárritu. But as far as audio drama inspiration goes, he is most inspired by a short story show called The Truth.

“I’m constantly thinking about how things will sound and feel,” Heyen said. “[We have] a nice little yin and yang thing going on.”

The two collaborate in the storytelling process as well, with Heyen serving as a moderating force for Hawes’ more outlandish ideas—like the time when he wanted to kill off a character in the first episode.

By combining their creative forces, Hawes and Heyen have created a podcast that has a wide appeal but remains interesting.

“We didn’t want it to be some R-rated crazy mature thing,” Hawes said. “I’ve had highschoolers and family members listen to it and they love it. It’s accessible, at this point in the story, to all kinds of ages, thanks to Brady probably.”

Both Hawes and Heyen bring their love of stories and music together in their podcast to create an immersive product. Both credit the other as a good opposing force in the process. They complement each other well, and Ink Still Wet benefits as a result.

“I had a desire to write a story, and like, a tiny bit of experience in it,” Hawes said. “He had all the equipment to record a podcast, and the experience to mix it and edit it together, and so all we had to do was come up with content and go.”

 Ink Still Wet has been met with relative success, even sponsorship from audiobook company Audible. Ink Still Wet can be found on Facebook, iTunes, Soundcloud and its website, InkStillWet.com.

About Luke Brake 33 Articles
Luke Brake is an English major in the Union University class of 2017. He is the Cardinal & Cream's News editor and Arts and Entertainment co-editor. Luke loves poetry and wants to be a knight when he grows up.