David - Talent Around The Block

If you are a great admirer of horror stories and haven't heard of the No Sleep Podcast, that means that something is very wrong. But, not to worry! We are here to fix this mishap and meet David, the man behind the haunthing audio dramas.

Interview in collaboration with Patrick Godin

• Who are you and what do you do?

I’m David Cummings, the host and showrunner for The NoSleep Podcast, an Internet radio show of original short horror stories, featuring rich atmospheric music and sound design to enhance the frightening tales

• How did you come up with the NoSleep Podcast idea?

The idea for the podcast started in early 2011 when people involved with Reddit’s NoSleep subreddit came up with the idea of narrating and recording some of the more popular horror stories. I joined early on and started producing the initial shows along with narrating. When no one else stepped in to take over the show I became the de facto producer and remain so to this day.

• How has NoSleep evolved since its start in 2011?

When we started it was very barebones in terms of production quality. I have a background as a musician so I had some experience with audio production but the show was very much a “learn as you go” experience.  The early shows were around 30 minutes long featuring solo narrators on a couple of stories with a public domain musical soundtrack.  Today our shows run over 2 hours and feature 5-7 stories with multiple voice actors, original musical scores composed for each story, and full sound design/effects to give the stories a full audio drama atmosphere.

• What are your influences and how do you think it affects the podcast?

My biggest influence in terms of producing the show is the old time radio horror shows I used to listen to when I was young.  Back in the 70s, Toronto’s Q-107 radio played scary stories on Sunday nights from 10-11pm.  I would lie in bed and listen and love every minute of it.  I want my show to be something similar to those; a chance to close your eyes and fall into the immersion of the scary stories and let them transport you to somewhere creepy yet safe.

• What are the criteria you use to pick a story of Reddit?

Most of our stories are written in the first-person, meaning the writer (or narrator) is conveying events which happened to them. They are largely fictional but told with the understanding that they are plausible as long as you can suspend your disbelief.

I look for stories in which you can connect with the people in the story and care about them.  If the person is trapped in a haunted house or being stalked by a psycho I want to care about what happens to them.  I look for stories which are, of course, genuinely scary but that can be very subjective. 

Another strong feature of a good story for the show is solid audio cues. A story can adapt well to audio if it features lots of sound ideas, like footsteps in the attic, screams from outside, whispers from unseen people, etc. Being able to match the atmosphere of the story with audio creates a very effective production.

• What story performed on the show haunts you the most?

It’s not often I get spooked by the stories I produce. I’m too “inside” the story to get genuinely caught off guard by them.  There are, however, some stories which resonate with me emotionally in a haunting way.
From our third episode was the story “TheThing in the Fields”. It was the first time I sort of acted the narration rather than just reading it. It allowed me to understand how I could do more than just be a reader; I could convey the stories more powerfully by performing them. By becoming the character I am able to immerse myself in the story more fully and experience it more deeply.

The story, “The Showers” from our 2012 Halloween show was one which worked well on so many levels.  It really stuck with me because I connected with the person(s) I was portraying. It’s such an excellent and terrifying tale.  It remains a fan favourite to this day.

• We can imagine that producing a podcast involves a lot of work. Who are you working with?

The show has become a collaboration with many people from all over the world. I work with writers, voice actors, musicians, and producers who are from the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia. 

The process involves choosing the stories – either by me picking them or the narrators choosing the stories they want to read. I contact the authors for their permission and then the story is recorded and sent to me. I edit the audio files and either I or my musical collaborator Brandon Boone write the musical score. I add the sound design and wrap all the stories together for an episode.

Our show is an example of the power of the Internet for collaborative creative output.  The fact that I have never met any of my collaborators face-to-face yet I count many of them as close friends speaks volumes about the ways in which creative expression will evolve as time goes on.  I’m alone in my modest little studio yet produce a show which is a product without creative or geographical borders.

• Even if you are not looking for any narrators at the moment, due to a big amount of volunteers, for future reference, what would it take to become a narrator on a podcast?

One of my biggest regrets with the progress of the show is that it has grown beyond the grassroots show it started as. It was a show in which people could cut their teeth in becoming narrators or voice actors. Today I simply don’t have the time to help people develop their narrating skills. I am looking for people who have voice acting experience and who can produce high quality audio files for me without a lot of editing and corrections. 

I think our show will always be a form of audio community theatre where hobbyists and not-quite-professional voice actors/writers/musicians can share their talent. But as the show has grown so too has the need for the talent to grow along with it.  We will never be the slickest Hollywood-style production but we will always strive to make our shows as high quality as we possibly can.

• Do you manage to live off this project?

As of August 2014, I am producing the show as my full-time career and passion. That’s thanks solely to the members who pay for our “Season Pass” program.  Members get the full-length 2+ hour episodes instead of the 45-60 minute free versions of the show. Their generosity funds all of the show’s expenses and allows me to just barely pay my bills.  It was quite a pay cut to go from being a full-time software developer to full-time audio producer but so far things are working out and we are seeing some decent growth in the show’s audience lately.

• How has your listenership grown from the early days of the show?

At the very start of the show we were only known by the people who frequented Reddit’s NoSleep subreddit.  From there – largely through word-of-mouth advertising alone – we have seen the show grow slowly but steadily. Listeners share the show with their friends and family and it takes off from there. Thanks to some recent opportunities for interviews on other podcasts and some high rankings in the iTunes charts our audience is almost five times larger today than when I went to the premium Season Pass model back in May 2013.   

• What is the ultimate goal you are hoping to achieve with NoSleep?

My ultimate goal is to become one of the first audio fiction Internet-based shows which pays all its contributors a decent wage for what they do. We currently pay each contributor a small stipend for their work but it is much less than they deserve. I feel strongly about being able to pay people for their talent rather than just relying on volunteer work from everyone. That will happen when audiences understand the need to pay a bit for what they are getting.

It bothers me that some people are still unable to understand the need to pay for good quality entertainment in order to have talented people provide that quality. Internet-based shows like mine offer a lot of quality for such little money; in my case the equivalent of less than 40 cents per hour of content.

As more and more people come onboard we will continue to put that money back into the show and its contributors, and hopefully continue to increase its quality and entertainment value for years to come.

• What work in other than your artistic field impresses you?

While my artistic field technically includes voice acting there is a field in which I would love to have the time to be a part of: audiobook narration. It takes a great deal of talent to be an effective audiobook narrator; talent similar yet removed from stage acting or audio drama acting.  To that end, the person I most admire in that field is the voice actor Scott Brick.  He is a top-tier audiobook narrator whose style and talent is what I aspire to.

• Where can we find you?

Being an online presence I’m not really tied to one geographical location.  I am proud to have been born and raised in Toronto and still consider it my touchstone. I currently live about an hour north of the city but remain connected to it through my family members who still live there

• If Toronto was a person, what kind would it be?

Toronto would be the kind of person who inside is insecure and in constant search of validation while putting on a bold and brash face to hide that fact. Toronto screams, “Look at me!” while not wanting people to get too close or look under the bed.  There be monsters under there.

• Last word for the road?

Brace yourself…

Check out the latest episode here:


  1. Très jolies photos et superbes interview :) bravo pour ce beau travail !!



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