Interview: Jacob Ben-Shmuel Shares How the ONE MILLION MUSICALS Podcast Creates a New Musical Each Month!

One Million Musicals released a new podcast musical yesterday, January 18th, entitled Lady Jane's Radio Takeover.

By: Jan. 19, 2021

Interview: Jacob Ben-Shmuel Shares How the ONE MILLION MUSICALS Podcast Creates a New Musical Each Month!

The One Million Musicals podcast has found an exciting, innovative, and creative way to bring the world of musicals directly to you, releasing one brand new audio musical per month... with the ultimate vision being to release one million of them! While producing one million podcast musicals may be a dream, for the talented creators of the podcast, Jacob Ben-Shmuel and Alan Blake Bachelor, it is certainly not an impossible one.

One Million Musicals has produced four musicals so far, including Halloween and Christmas specials, and just this week released its newest creation, Lady Jane's Radio Takeover!

The 1950s style musical features book and lyrics by Jacob Ben-Shmuel and Alan Blake Bachelor, music by Jacob Ben-Shmuel, and orchestrations, arrangements, and additional music by Daniel Klintworth. Directed by Jacob Ben-Shmuel and produced by Jacob Ben-Shmuel and Travis Cook Johnson, Lady Jane's Radio Takeover stars Maggie Bera, Aaron Phillips, Stoney B. Mootoo, Jennifer Holcombe, Taylor Fagins, Jacob Ben-Shmuel, CJ Greer, Alan Blake Bachelor, Jaron Barney, Kevin Clay, CJ Pawlikowski, Daniel Fetter, Chris Lewis, Adante Carter, Corey Jones, Aaron Alcaraz, Kevin Schuering, Dan Klintworth, and James Bachelor.

We spoke with Jacob Ben-Shmuel about how One Million Musicals came to be, the exciting process behind putting together one musical per month, what's in store next for the team behind the podcast, and much more!

How did the initial idea for One Million Musicals come about?

I have a writing partner, his name is Alan Blake Bachelor and he and I have been working on musicals together since our time at UC Irvine in that drama program. And something that we ran into as writers in the theater world is that it is unreasonably difficult to get anything produced, it is so, so hard to do! And that combined with the shutdown that started in 2020 because of Covid, it led us to think about other ways we could produce musical theater ourselves during quarantine. For a while we had kicked around the idea of a podcast musical, because he and I are pretty interested in podcasts. But we decided in September that now really was the time to try this.

We had an incredible orchestrator and arranger working with us, a guy named Daniel Klintworth, who I met while on tour with The Book of Mormon, who works unreasonably quickly and really, really well! So, we actually had the necessary components, the necessary team to make one of these things. And so, we decided to try and write something to release for Halloween, because Alan and I both love Halloween, and once that idea started for that first episode, we realized, "You know what, I actually think that this is something we could do every month if we really put our minds to it!" Which came to the idea of creating one million of these things and releasing them in a podcast format.

Take me through the process how of you and the team come up with the ideas for the musicals. What do those brainstorming sessions look like?

Alan and I have kicked around so many ideas for the past 5, 6 years that we've been friends, and so some of our ideas for musicals just come from, "Oh, hey, we had this idea 3 years ago and it just never made any sense to put it on stage, but we could do it in a podcast, why not!" But, besides that, he and I, our brains are constantly moving. We love stories, we love storytelling. With our first episode we knew we wanted to make a Halloween episode, and basically, I really wanted to do a vampire voice. So, we were like, "Alright, we know we want a vampire in this episode because Jacob wants to play a vampire, so let's figure out how we can fit this in!" And from there we grew these other characters and figured out what journey this ghost would be on.

Then, we really wanted to make a Western, but we didn't want to do the stereotypical 'shoot-em-up Western, because for the both of us, writing an unironic 'good guys shoot down all the bad guys' story right now just did not feel right, that just didn't make sense in the current climate. So, we were like, "How can we twist this on it's head?" And so we came up with The Lawman With No Gun.

Alan just shot me a text one day about the idea for a Christmas episode, about, what if there's another Santa Claus who basically deals with giving gifts to all the poor kids, which is why when you're less financially stable, maybe Santa doesn't get you the best gifts, and lets explore that in an episode. It really is sort of a scattershot, whatever we're excited about at the time, we're just going to run with it. Because at the end of the day we've got a month to put this thing together, which is, I mean, a nanosecond in terms of writing a musical, so whatever idea works that we're excited enough about, we run with it.

How are the musicals rehearsed and recorded?

None of our team that works on these shows have been in the same room as one another since we started this project, we've all been isolated as so many people are right now. And we all live all over the country, some of us are in California, I'm in northern California, Alan is in SoCal, our orchestrator is across the country, some of us are in New York, so we're just scattered all over the place. Basically, the way that it works is, he and I write the book and the lyrics together and I write the music. Once we have that music and those lyrics written and we've sent it to a couple of people we trust for notes and we have our final version, then we cast it. So far it's been, "Let's reach out to the folks we know, we trust, folks who have recording set ups of their own," and we have a Zoom reading. Everybody gets on Zoom, we read through the show, we read through the lyrics, everybody knows what's up, and then over the next week, I do rehearsals with each person while they record. So, they will set up their recording studio with their mic, and then I'll hop in on Zoom and we'll talk through their dialogue. They'll do takes, I'll give them notes, they change things, and then once they have all that finished, they send it to me so that I can edit the show together.

Meanwhile, our music supervisor, Dan Klintworth, he gets everybody rehearsal tracks, then he also does rehearsals with each person where he records their music and talks them through that, gets a few takes, and they send them to him so that he can put everything together. This is maybe week 2 or 3 of the process. While I'm editing together all of the dialogue and adding sound effects and making it sound nice, Dan is sending me music so I can get everything finished. Then in the last week, everything gets sent over to [Audio Engineer] Travis Cook Johnson, he makes the thing just sound as pretty and as nice as possible, he balances the levels, he makes sure all the vocals can be heard, he makes sure all the sound effects are sounding crisp. After he has a few versions of that and he sends it to me and I give the final okay, then he sends it out, and our wonderful podcast network, Campfire Media, gets that and sends it out to the world.

What a cool process to have figured out during this time, and making it all work without ever being in the same space!

And it was totally new to us! With every single one we're learning something new. Podcast musicals, there aren't a ton of them. There are relatively few of these. So, there weren't any experts we could call to help us through the process, it was really us figuring it out, and it continues to be us figuring it out, and I think getting better and better at it. Our Christmas special was over an hour long, had over fifteen songs in it or more, had just as many cast members, it was the hugest project we had put together, but we did it! And we did it in a month. And I'm so proud of our team that we were able to get that done, but like I said, it's only because we continue to learn and get better.

What can you tell us about the musicals we can look forward to listening to?

So, Monday, January 18th we [released] our 4th musical, it is called Lady Jane's Radio Takeover. The entire episode, the way it is presented is as an unbroken radio broadcast from the 1950s. We have a fictional station called WXYZ and there is the typical radio DJ, Straight-Laced Steve, who plays a lot of old tired hits essentially, fictional hits we wrote for the episode. One of his assistants, Jane, comes in, locks herself in the DJ booth and starts broadcasting to the world her and her friend's music that is maybe a little ahead of the times for what would have been released in 1958. But it's basically a story about someone who has been told no by the powers that be over and over again and gets fed up with it and takes the microphone into her own hands. One of the lines we have in there that I really love is, "Sometimes the only way to get yourself heard is to steal the microphone." And that's exactly what she does.

I'm really excited about this episode, our lead is Maggie Bera, who has her own podcast called Actor Aesthetic, which is just fantastic. And we have so many awesome people in this episode performing these songs. We've got Adante Carter, who was in Mean Girls, Aaron Alcaraz who was in Mean Girls, Kevin Clay from The Book of Mormon, we've got CJ Pawlikowski who was in The Book of Mormon and Jersey Boys, Corey Jones, who was also in The Book of Mormon and has done a ton of great voice work, Taylor Fagins who is a fantastic artist and a writer... so we've got a huge cast, a bunch of really classic sounding, but new, 50s inspired tunes. And I think a pretty heartwarming story at its center.

Do you have anyone that you would love to bring onto the podcast and have them star in one of your musicals, a dream cast if you will?

Anyone and everyone! It's funny, just around this week we are launching a casting initiative because a lot of us are professionals in the theater world. I was on tour with The Book of Mormon for a long time, our marketing manager, Cailen Fu, was on Mean Girls on Broadway as one of the standbys for the Plastics, and so, we have some great connections in the theater world, and that's mostly where we've been pulling our casts from. But, we think that part of the joy of this project is that we can bring Broadway-level talent, and national tour-level talent, and TV and film-level talent to anyone. We're making it accessible in ways that it kind of wasn't before, unless you had the money to buy tickets to a Broadway show.

We love having these amazing people, like Ron Bohmer and Sandra Joseph, in our shows, these huge Broadway legends, that is amazing, and we want to do more of that. But we also feel like there are a lot of folks out there who might have their own recording set ups and who might not have gotten the chance to perform in one of these things, or edit a podcast like this, compose for a podcast like this. So, we just created a new email, and we are looking for resumes and samples of work from anybody in the creative field, writers, composers, editors, actors, singers, arrangers, podcasters, lyricists, musicians, producers, directors, audio engineers, we want folks who run the gamut!

Everyone is looking for a way to be creative during this time, so having that outlet is super exciting!

Part of why this project started was as a response to the pandemic. Like, "Gosh, everybody is stuck inside right now, I miss theater more than anything, and we can't do it, so what is our version of theater right now?" And for us, it was making podcast musicals. But, we also feel like there is actually a lot more that can be done with this outside of the realm of Covid. We fully intend on this project continuing long after the vaccine is distributed and folks are back to something resembling normal, because we can do so much in the audio space that you could probably do on stage, but that would cost a lot more to do on stage. There are a lot more gatekeepers to getting something produced on stage because it's expensive, and this is so much less expensive in comparison! We are basically doing it on a budget of dreams and work ethic. We really believe in the project for the long haul.

What is the best way for people to support One Million Musicals during this time?

The best way is to listen to the show. We are on Apple Podcasts, we're on Spotify, basically anywhere you get your podcasts you can find us. And if you do find us, please give the show a listen, give us a rating and a review as well, that helps so, so much. We love podcasts, but there's a million of them, so it's hard to stand out! The more ratings and reviews you can give the better. It helps us show up in people's recommended searches.

The other thing, if you give us a listen and you really love what you're hearing, we also have a Patreon, which we use to help make our shows better and help give back to the incredible artists who donate their time and talents to our shows., we've got a lot of cool extra stuff there, you can get playbills for every single episode, we call them Podbills! We're going to be putting sheet music out on our Patreon as well, we're going to have all the scripts for the episodes in case, when things start up again, people want to put on their own versions! We've got a ton of really awesome stuff, extra interviews, extra podcasts and behind the scenes stuff. So, that's another way you can really help us if that is something that you are able and interested in doing!

It's so exciting to have people finding new ways to make theater during this time.

To briefly speak on some of the other stuff we've come out with, besides for our main episodes - because when folks listen to podcasts they want to have something pretty awesome, you might want to have something every week - and we do provide content every week, it's just not always our full musicals. So between each full musical we release interviews with some of our bigger cast members, we release in depth examinations of the writing processes behind some of our songs that we call Anatomy of a Song. My writing partner Alan and I, once a month we record something we call Jacob and Alan Try to Write a Song in 20 Minutes, which is exactly what it sounds like, we sit down over Zoom and try desperately with a 20 minute timer and a prompt we haven't seen beforehand, to write a song, and then I perform it at the end of 20 minutes!

And then we are also starting to do these extra, bonus, exciting performances. The first of these that we're doing is going to be our artist cabaret. We're bringing on three new writers who each wrote a 7 minute piece specifically for the podcast medium, we're producing it, we're casting it, we're making it sound gorgeous, and we're going to release it as an episode in the middle of February, probably February 15th. So that will be in addition to the regular full episode that we release in February. We've got a ton of stuff, so anybody who's missing theater right now, I really do think that One Million Musicals helps to scratch that itch.

Listen to One Million Musicals' podcast musicals below!


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