Meet Matt Durai. He loves podcasts so much that he founded Malaysia’s first company that creates fiction podcast series.
ZAG Media was made possible through the collaboration of 30 creatives in the form of scriptwriters, actors, sound designers, artists, and directors launched its four flagship series, with the first one, Malpraktis Universiti, released in July 2021.
The team followed that up with sleep meditation series; Tidur and romance series Hi Sayang. The recent addition to ZAG’s diverse offerings is Dirty Datuk, a scandalous fiction tale written by acclaimed writer Terence Toh and directed by award-winning actor Abi Manyu.
Dirty Datuk was nominated for Best Podcast at the Asia Podcast Awards 2021 and also at the Asia TV Forum and Market, and it’s in the process of being adapted into a TV series.
We recently spoke to ZAG’s founder and general manager, Matt, on what led him to start the fiction podcast series, the challenges he faced creating them, and what are his long-term plan for the company and its content.
I’ve been following indie podcasters such as Tim Ferris, Joe Rogan for ages, but it was when I binge-listened Homecoming, a psychological thriller podcast produced by Gimlet (which later was adapted into a TV series starring Julia Roberts) that I really fell in love with the storytelling possibilities podcasts offered.
Firstly, there’s a huge amount of creative talent out there with very interesting stories to tell. My view though is that the supporting infrastructure and systems for creators and scripted series are still relatively feudal; so we wanted to create a nimble outfit that pushes boundaries on both the storytelling IP and operating structures fronts; (in short we want ZAG when most zig).
It’s self-funded. I’ve been lucky to work with creatives, friends, and family who have believed in the mission and subsequently have contributed their time and effort at significantly lower rates, and in certain cases pro-bono.
As we scale this business, the idea is to collaborate with these creatives consistently and allocate ownership stakes in various projects we embark on.
Firstly we find great writers, and then discuss and brainstorm scripted genres/themes that are in-demand, cool, and suitable for audio. Then the writing commences, there’s a significant quality control process we adopt.
In parallel, we audition voice actors, and some parts are written with the actors in mind. Then it’s rehearsal and recording. Post-production process timelines can vary depending on how technical the sound design and editing requirements are.
All in all the process takes up to four months. But as with anything we do we are constantly iterating and optimising this process.
Our first series- Malpraktis Universiti, was a hell of a learning experience. Firstly, it wasn’t easy to rope in talent, as no one had done this before locally so I had to describe what the heck audio series were!
And then the MCO hit and we had to somehow build chemistry between the cast online and pivot to remote recording solutions. Overall we needed to be tenacious and adapt, the series turned out great, it hit the Spotify charts, and even the Spotify Studios SoutheastAsia CEO said he loved it!
Asides from that, the obvious challenge is distribution. Podcast listenership is relatively nascent in Malaysia. Heaps of supertalented local podcasters have been fighting the good fight, and as more creators, platforms, and brands actively participate in the space; it will signal a shift in media consumption behaviour that we are observing now in developed markets.
We want to work with creatives who are bold, live and breathe their craft, and have an enthusiasm for disrupting the status quo!! It’s an equally daunting and exhilarating time to be an audio series producer, so meeting these like-minded talents is always a thrill!
Absolutely. It is easy to get lost in a sea of content and TikToks. The beauty of scripted audio is that it forces us to be very intentional in the stories we tell. When we put something out into the zeitgeist, it has to contribute even if it’s in an intangible way. For example, our latest series Dirty Datuk written by Terence Toh and directed by Abi Mayu is an authentically Malaysian crime comedy caper that deftly speaks to hot button local issues such as abuse of power.
We are just getting started. We are busy wrapping up the year with some branded and commissioned projects we have on hand in addition to releasing Dirty Datuk. Aside from that, we’ve got some exciting scripts in development; and are exploring different approaches to bringing these stories to life.