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VC #7: The Writer's Room x SALT Audio
The Jenkins Audio Experience will expand Jenkins' storytelling fabric and transport us all to a few new places with new communities.
This is Valet Confidential (VC), the best way to keep up to date on Jenkins the Valet, Azurbala, the Jenkins Audio Experience, Book 1 with Neil Strauss, mutant hijinks, and everything else in the Writer’s Room ecosystem.
As a reminder, our journey at VC began with a two-part interview featuring the co-founding legends themselves, Jenkins The Valet and SAFA. Take a moment to go back and read their thoughts on Web3 publishing, worldbuilding, community-generated content, and community-led DAOs in Part 1 and Part 2.
Our journey here at Valet Confidential has already led to us meeting with some of the biggest names in the Art and Web3 space. It’s spurred so many conversations that give us confidence that some of the brightest minds and most innovative organizations on the planet are firmly declaring their intention to join the Web3 movement. Our conversation with Nick Panama, CEO of SALT, was no exception.
SALT is a leading audio media company that has worked with some of the biggest names and most successful projects in the space. Dave Chappelle. Mos Def. Dr Death. Rami Malek. Talib Kweli. Pete Davidson. Blackout. Dirty John. The Edge of Sleep. The list goes on and on. And soon, Jenkins the Valet.
SpaceWalk and I sat down with Nick to learn more about SALT, how the Jenkins Audio Experience came to be, why they are pursuing audio, and what the future may hold. This was a really fun conversation with someone who clearly lives and breathes his business and Web3. Let’s get into it.
The Audio Experience
Valet Confidential (VC): Audio storytelling, it's as old as stories are, right? The NFT space has been mostly visual to this point. And now, this venture that SALT, Jenkins the Valet, and the Writer’s Room are getting into is zigging when everyone else is zagging. And they’re adding at least six communities. As someone whose company builds intricate stories in audio form, what's the benefit of going down the audio path, as opposed to a book or more NFTs?
Nick: Yeah, it's a really interesting question. I think in a lot of ways you can get away with more in audio, because you have the theater of the mind. I don't want to get scientific about it, but film and TV in a lot of ways, it's sort of immersive and lazy, because it does all the work for you. And that's also why we're wowed, and you can create much more spectacle. And things like amusement parks and theater are just extensions down that road.
But audio is different. Speaking to early forms of storytelling like the Iliad and the Odyssey, that was an “audiobook” that was passed around person to person, and when you lean on the theater of the mind, there's something innately personal and personalized about audio. Everybody imagines and sort of recreates their own context, and ascribes their emotions to that. It's why music is such a powerful medium. I think it's why people gravitate towards audio storytelling.
VC: Ok, so there’s been a bit of confusion in the community on the Audio Experience, and whether it was an audio version of “Bored & Dangerous” or something completely different. It’s not that, correct? And then would you have a suggestion of a program the community may be able to listen to, so they can get a feel for what this Audio Experience will feel like?
Nick: This is not an audio version of Bored & Dangerous. We know Neil from other projects we’ve done with him. We love Neil and he's incredible. But no, this is completely different. You know, it's the same Jenkins, but it's going to be a continuation down a different path. Jenkins the character will have a voice and his own mythology and story. The Tally Labs team is super intentional about creating this never ending journey for Jenkins. So the goal is to continue to build the lore and the character that everyone is so excited about.
As for something I’d recommend, The Edge of Sleep, definitely. Tonally it’s different, but I think it gives you an idea of capability and scope.
Also, don't think for a second that we're not paying attention to chatter and things that happen. Twitter and Discord and all that.
VC: Wait, what?
Nick: Yes! We pay attention to this, seeing what people are talking about, and some of the speculation and obviously, there's moments and stuff where we tap in on. The community gets to be involved with their feedback. Community generative storytelling will be at the heart of this project, much like in Bored & Dangerous. We have a huge opportunity here to be reactive in real-time to community feedback.
VC: What can you tell us about the content of the Audio Experience without getting in trouble?
Nick: Ha! Not much. There is a relationship between the Audio Experience and some things that have already been announced, but also we're designing it to be standalone too. I think that's really important as well, is that we want something that feels authentic and it's going to take Jenkins out of a two-dimensional space and put him into more of a three-dimensional environment.
We also need to tell a story that's effective to people that have never heard of Jenkins, you know, it's got to stand on its own legs. So it will feel very much self contained and entertaining and totally awesome. And I think if you're part of the community, and really understand the Web3 community at large, I think you're going to be even more excited the further the rabbit hole goes. We think of this as an opportunity to tap into many corners of the Web3 space to tell a story that can be appealing to a wide variety of people.
Creating World Class Audio Stories
VC: How does SALT put together that rich audio experience, allowing our minds to fill in the gaps? Is there a structure to building an audio project?
Nick: I don't know if there is a formula, but I definitely think there's a number of ingredients that we certainly put forward and really try to continually improve upon.
In audio, I think there's a big divide right now. There's a sort of post-NPR generation of journalistic audio, which is more like radio and it wasn't emphasizing sound design. It’s more about getting the story out and the information across. It was sort of a quantitative approach, if you will, to storytelling.
Now we're getting into this qualitative world where people are valuing the experience. People are valuing the consumer relationship with the project. Is it a weekly thing? Is it daily? Do you need three and a half hours of my attention? Or can you give me the story in 12 minutes or 20 minutes?
It’s so cool that each one of these generations of audio format are all happening at once. So it's not a linear path. It's more of like a multiverse, where they all exist in parallel, and they're all growing and improving upon themselves.
I think the dimension that we're definitely trying to improve is: How can we make something cinematic? How can we best tell the story? How do we make something that feels like the Dolby surround sound, THX, IMAX experience? Where you sit in those seats, and you hear that massive sound, and you say, “Oh, my God, I'm in for something.”
So I think that for us, that is more of the creative concept – that we really just try to dial everything up to 11. Obviously it’s not that simple, but you can get away with so much more in audio because people's minds get to fill in the rest.
If we're designing a scene, you know, in practice, we've got sound designers that just do insane things to build organic sounds for something like a fight scene. Music is a huge piece of this. In the NPR dimension, and everybody in the podcast dimension, music feels more library, more referential, or archival, right? And for us, we build bespoke music from the ground up for every single thing we do. And maybe that's just because we're ex-musicians. I think even music in film and TV is so overlooked as a consumer. You just don't even understand how impactful it is. And then, on the opposite end, there are certain directors that use silence in the absence of score to really fuck with you. That’s exciting.
VC: So you’re doing a bit of worldbuilding now with the Audio Experience. Are you working with Emma Needel at all – the lead “worldbuilder” for Azurbala?
Nick: We are not working with Emma on worldbuilding, but we’re thinking through some of the same concepts. When you think about dramaturge in theater, and how they work – or how big Spielberg movies are made, like Minority Report – huge worldbuilding. Alex McDowell, brilliant production designer and worldbuilder who teaches at USC – love the gentleman – I mean, in the design of Minority Report he basically invented some of the gestures we use everyday on our iPhones. That came from Spielberg and McDowell and a bunch of futurists sitting down and thinking, What does the future look like? If we can pre-visualize crime? Let's talk through all the other things that we can do? How do we engage with our interfaces in our world? And we all know when we watch a movie and something feels off right or it doesn't feel real. So they have to go to the nth degree in production design. We don't have to do that. We can get away with a lot more in audio. But I do think that we start to ask the same questions Emma does, which is, What kind of world is this? What are some of the rules? The coolest thing is that we will have the opportunity to work with other NFT communities outside of Bored Apes to help them build their world — or expand on it. That’s the real value-add of Jenkins and SALT coming together to visit a community. We’re deploying real resources.
VC: This may not seem directly applicable, but the world you built around Chappelle’s Midnight Miracle was phenomenal. As long-time fans of his and Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), SALT somehow captured the essence of their vibe – as a listener, we felt like a fly on the wall as Dave was hanging out with some of his best friends. Is that connection to the true ethos of the creators’ vision something that can be carried over to the Jenkins project?
Nick: In the Midnight Miracle we wanted people to feel like you're sitting in an environment with all types of multimedia, new and old, at your fingertips. And they're just talking, but they're referencing all sorts of cool stuff, and there’s tons of music in it. There's amazing music in it. But there's a record player as part of the beginning. It's old music, but we stopped the tape, and then all of a sudden, you hear a television open up, we're now listening to a clip that's on YouTube. You know in your mind that it's YouTube, because you've heard the sounds, and you've done the action.
The majority of season one we did in Ohio with Dave. But Yasiin doesn't live in the United States. He lives in Europe, but we had a second studio and a link. So it makes it feel like they're all in the same room. Each one of those episodes didn't happen in one sitting either. So a lot of those conversations we recorded over the course of a summer, probably 30 sessions. And we then went through it all and reconstructed around themes and created some narrative. We didn't edit what people said, but there's obviously things that are happening in the world and certain subjects would come up time and time again. So we then use those as organizing principles to sort of stitch this tapestry of all these people having like the world's greatest hang. So the way that I think that we were able to make that successful is with the use of music and building out the identity that makes it feel like you're in this environment. Like you're in a venue, like you're in this environment.
As for Jenkins, we're working with these communities to build worlds that Jenkins can own. But I think we're also not necessarily writing off the world that he exists in now as well. More or less the real world. Why can’t Jenkins go to a basketball game? He may not do this in our show. But you know what, at some point, more and more, we're going to find ways to blur those worlds. And I think, you know, going back to your original question, why audio?, I think you can get away with a lot more. We can go into our world, we can go and visit other worlds, these other communities. And that is really exciting. Because going and producing the animated version of Jenkins or going and producing like the live action version is too on the nose.
It’s an experiment as well. There's going to be a huge story for Jenkins, and there's so much more there that is visual. So there's definitely a consideration of, We don't want to compete with that. We want to build something that's complementary and expands that universe. And so audio just makes a ton of sense. It's the safest place for us to take the most amount of risks.
On the Web3 space
VC: It sounds like you are pretty involved and excited about the Web3 space, both as an individual and with SALT?
Nick: I've always been excited about NFT space. I'm excited about the first principles of it – the Community First aspect, because it's sort of in the DNA of myself and my co-founders from our music days. And we just wanted to do something that feels different. Something totally new, something with huge cinematic quality, has a bit of risk to it, but also a tremendous amount of imagination. How far can we push it? We really don't have any rules. And that's exciting. Every other fiction thing that we've ever worked on, exists for the most part under our laws of physics. And this one doesn't necessarily have to. And I think from a creative standpoint that is really exciting. And then we try to think about some of the interactive participation, some of these other elements that are more on the product experience/user experience side of it. I think that is actually an interesting challenge for us, because so many people quite often overcomplicate interactive UXs and forget that some people just like simple stuff.
Software and the Community Involvement
VC: So there's a unique software dynamic to the project. And we know Jenkins and SAFA are software guys. They've been incredibly focused from the beginning on making everything that you touch in their ecosystem, easy to use, and to have a software face to it that they own. You're not having to go through anybody else's portal or deal with anything, they own that interaction. And so acknowledging the possible integration of software, is this a weekly release? Or is it bi weekly to where in that interim, there might be an opportunity to make some decisions? Or could we make decisions up front and participate?
Nick: I can't say too much without getting in trouble. But I would say that there are some things that we think are really exciting, that we are already exploring. We think one of the fundamentals of the Jenkins community is that there's a relationship between Jenkins, the world, the community, all the people that participate. And that's something that we plan to empower and value inside and outside of the audio experience, sort of just as a whole. The cadence will be regular, not something that will deviate too far from how you experience podcasts today.
VC: So, if there's licensing, this will be something that you'll have to pay for, or someone will have to pay for. Have you guys talked about how you're going to actually release it yet? Is it going to be an actual NFT that we'll be able to take with us and listen to in places? Or are we going to get special access on Spotify or iTunes, or can we only listen to it through the Jenkins portal? What specifics can you share?
Nick: The majority of the content will not be paywalled, it'll be open. This is a conscious decision to let as many people experience it as possible. However, in true Web3 fashion, we have developed a gamified NFT experience that will appeal to the audience who wants to go deeper into the story. That’s all I can say for now.
VC: So can you help us understand how licensors will receive royalties if it is given away essentially free?
Nick: The consumption will largely be free, which is a strategic move. The monetization will come in the form of the gamified NFT experience that we think will appeal to the diehard members of the community by taking them deeper in. We also have a ton of experience adapting audio IP into Film/TV. Of course, that’s a huge goal of ours. In fact, it was one of the reasons audio made so much sense for the Jenkins team. You can get something out quicker and in a more cost-effective manner to really build the IP. In short, licensors will benefit from lending their IP to the project.
We want to thank Nick for joining us. He and his team continue the trend of being world class people and collaborators partnered on a Writer’s Room project, and we can’t wait to see the finished product. In a space like Web3, where the vast majority of projects have been visual/art driven, pursuing an audio project is unique and could be a masterstroke. We’ll be looking forward to answering some of the open-ended questions still remaining. What is the story going to be? Who are the 6 communities the Writer’s Room is partnering with? How will this be monetized, and thus deliver royalties to licensors? How will the interactive software work?
We've also been thinking about podcasts more. Generally, podcasts automatically download onto your phone or your device, and then they just kind of live there. And the best part of it is, you can go and enjoy them whenever you want on your own free time, while you're doing a million other things. I wonder if that kind of aspect of enjoying the product at your leisure versus being plugged into the 24/7 NFT hype cycles, alpha drops, and mint times – will a different pace make the Audio Experience more approachable to people outside of the NFT space? Will that sort of mechanic be more appealing than jpegs, MetaMask, and Discord grinding? Is this the project that your friends and family will all finally say, “I get it"?”. Now wouldn’t that be fun?
Some Disclaimers: None of this is financial advice. DYOR. And yes, SpaceWalk and FilmBook are WR collectors and long-term hodlrs.