Friday, June 29, 2012

Audiobook Week, Listen Up!

Where do you learn about great audiobook titles? Find reviews? Buy your audiobooks? Share your secrets with the rest of us!

One feature of my job is that I select the titles that go out to listener advisory services, which is another way to say that I send out free audiobooks to reviewers! Some of the listener advisory services are easy in that they want the whole monthly slate of titles or all titles in a specific genre. Other reviewers require more thought: Reviewer "X" really doesn't like narrator "Y" (and never will) or can't stand violence against animals or only likes a very narrow sub-genre... Then there's the part where I'm asked to provide only the best of the best and that's really tough. There are big titles with big narrators; but then again there are some smaller titles with great narrators too! At this point, I actually use an unusual standard, What was the narrator's response to the book when it was assigned or while s/he was recording it? There are narrators who are game for anything and everything and will take whatever we throw at them; but then there are those narrators who come back and say things like, "Oh. My. God. This book was absolutely incredible! I love this book! That denouement was mid-bending!" Or whatever. You get the idea. It's that little extra something that, while intangible, comes through on the recording. I never hesitate to recommend these titles even if I have not personally listened to them or worked on them. In this way too, those same audiobooks make it onto my own personal TBL-to list.

But believe it or not, I actually listen to audiobooks above and beyond the borders of the Blackstone Audio campus! My tastes are extremely eclectic and so I heavily rely on other bloggers' opinions. The blogs of Bob Reiss (@guildedearlobe at - Zombie, PA, SFF; Jennifer Connor (@lithousewife at, - litfic, #shakennotstirred #ArmchairAudies #ListenersList; "Beth Fish" (@BethFishReads at - whose tastes are as equally as eclectic as mine, plus she also reviews graphic novels; and Jennifer Karsbaek (@DevourerofBooks at - wide range of different genres as well -  are written by major audiobook advocates and audiobook bloggers whose views I respect immensely. I also like reading audiobook reviews from people who don't normally blog about audiobooks; but feel so strongly about what they've heard they have to post (e.g. Mike Alatorre a.k.a. @le0pard13 at It Rains... You Get Wet) - movies and references to "she who will not be named" and; some of the up-and-coming audiobook bloggers like Cassandra Neace (@CassandraNeace at - whose enthusiasm for the audiobook form is refreshing. There are dozens of others as well who are probably reading this and saying "What About Me?"  To those audiobook bloggers who I have overlooked (mea culpa), please feel free to leave your blog URL in comments below!

Where I actually get my audiobooks varies. Sometimes I pull them off the shelves over at the warehouse; sometimes I request a review copy from another publisher; sometimes I troll the publishers' sites and, yes, I've been known to try an audiobook I would not normally have considered if it was on my Maybe list but is now on sale :-)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Audiobook Week: Mid-Week Meme

Current/most recent audiobook:

I'm currently listening to A Discovery of Witches (by Deborah Harkness; narrated by Jennifer Ikeda)


A couple of people whose opinion I highly respect recommended this title; but quite frankly I'm quite disappointed with it. I had no preconceived ideas about what it was about or what to expect other than that the story would be compelling. It's about a witch who calls up an alchemical text from the stacks At the Bodlean library at Oxford. I'm about halfway through and I'm just not feeling it. Jennifer Ikeda has a lovely voice but every passage in the book is treated with the same intensity, whether its that moment when the protag meets up with an avowed enemy or she's in a yoga class. The evenness with which the narrator delivers the story bleeds the excitement out of the tale. And then there's the issue of a couple of mispronunciations which is driving me batshit crazy: Stuff like Magdalene (College) being mispronounced "mag-da-lin" instead of "maud-lyn" and "dressage" being mispronounced as "dres-idj" instead of "dre-sahdj." There are a lot of suspect pronunciations but I'm too lazy to drag out the OED to do a look-up every time a not-quite-right-sounding word pops up.

(So why haven't I dumped the audio in favor of the book? Basically because I'm cheap. I spent my book allowance on a FitBit (a fancy pedometer) and the hold list on the library is rather long.) I'll get through this; but when the sequel is published I plan on getting Shadow of Night in print.

Current/most recent favorite audiobook:

One of my favorite audiobooks this year was actually released a couple of years ago, The Ghosts of Belfast (by Stuart Neville; narrated by Gerard Doyle.) I'm about to add it to my Personal Pantheon of All Time Great Audiobooks. The story is about a former IRA hit man, Gerry Fegan who is haunted by twelve ghosts. The ghosts will leave him in peace if he executes a vendetta against the people ultimately responsible for their respective deaths. It's a great story and Gerard Doyle is perfectly suited and cast for it! You can read my review of it on this blog :-)

Favorite narrator you’ve discovered recently:

My favorite new-to-me narrator is Wil Wheaton. His narration of Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline) was perfect! I often blow off celebrity narrators but this is an exception I'll gladly make :-)

One title from your TBL (to be listened) stack, or your audio wishlist:

Hmmm, next up may be Hillary Mantle's Wolf Hall (narrated by Simon Slater.) I tried reading the book before and was lost. Then I switched to audio and was equally lost! Then I tried listening to the book and listening together and it all made sense! I stopped for some reason though. I need to get back to it however and wrap it up so I can listen to Bring Up the Bodies (by Hillary Mantle; narrated by Simon Vance.) I've heard that Bring Up the Bodies is more accessible (whew!)

Your audio dream team (what book or author would you LOVE to see paired with a certain narrator, can already exist or not):

I really can't go there! Let's just say that I make casting recommendations for a lot of books and sometimes I win and sometimes I don't :-/

06/27/2012: 10:100: UPDATE! I'm changing my answer! I wish Xe Sands had narrated the final chapters to The Last Werewolf (by Glen Duncan) and then gone on to narrate Talulah's Rising.

Monday, June 25, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 25

When do I listen to audiobooks?

In #StudioA: I'm a  studio engineer and so it's generally a good idea to listen to the narrator while he's talking to you! Most recently, I listened to Kevin Kenerly narrate First Evidence (by Ken Goddard.)

In the car: I listen to a lot of audiobooks produced by the company I work for AND by other audiobook publishers. I primarily listen for my own edification; but I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was also not-so-subconsciously vetting or auditioning the narrator for possible future work. Some audiobooks make me miss my exit (e.g. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; narrated by Simon Vance), make me late for work because I don't want to go in a crying mess or make it difficult for me to drive (e.g. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein; narrated by Christopher Evan Welch) and/or have my DH coming out of the house wanting to know why I'm still in the driveway (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; narrated by Sissy Spacek.) Occupational hazard, I'm afraid.

On the exercise bicycle: I used to listen to heart pounding music like Drowning Pool's "When the Bodies Hit the Floor," etc; but when I realized that I could sneak in a couple of extra minutes of an audiobook; I made the switch. I don't listen while I'm walking the dogs (I'm with my family and that would just be rude) or when I'm hiking (bear, rattlesnake, mountain lion and drunk hunter territory and that would just be stupid.) Right now, I'm listening to Deborah Harkness' A  Discovery of Witches (narrated by Jennifer Ikeda.)

When I'm playing Angry Birds: I can't just sit on the couch or in a chair and listen. For some reason, when I try, I enter into some sort of catatonic state and quickly find myself asleep. Worse, when I wake up, I've found that I've got a crick in some body part and/or I've managed to drool. I can't explain it, but something happens to my alpha waves and I'm down and out for the count! But now, if I want to make a point of listening to something, I sit down with Angry Birds. It keeps just enough of my brain waves activated that I don't fall asleep.  I mute the nook, turn on my iPod and play! BONUS: I don't have to listen to the pigs laugh at me when I fail to clear a level. For the ultimate of uber-meta listening, game playing experiences, Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline; narrated by Wil Wheaton.)

Audiobook Week: 2011-2012, My Audiobook Year

I've been listening to audiobooks for something like seventeen years now and have been working in the industry for nearly as long! Every year, there is something new that captures my attention in terms of book trends, narrating styles or changes in the industry itself; but to bring this closer to my own personal listening experience, I have to say that the thing that I've "discovered" this year is audio drama! Now I have listened to and worked on audio dramas in the past; but it has been only one of the many forms of audio that I listen to. This year as a part of the Armchair Audies (hosted by @lithousewife at I decided to listen to a couple of audio dramas that were finalists in this year's Audies Awards.  The Mark of Zorro (by Johnston McCully; dramatized by Yuri Rasovsky; full cast performance) was the first finalist I listened to and it was great: really well produced and a lot of fun! I was really hooked on the form and I ended up listening to all five of the final nominees! I'm now eager to claim the same category in next year's Armchair Audies. What was really interesting to me about the audio drama finalists, was that it held a few sub-genres in an of itself: studio productions, live staged readings, podcasts, and radio broadcasts. The things I look for in the performances are how quickly the actors get the characters up on their feet, edge-to edge energy (does the performance slag off at any point?) and how the sound effects are used. This is addition to the normal considerations of any audiobook as to being well cast and well executed.

See Also:
2010-2011, My Audiobook Year (My response to Jennifer K.'s (@devourerofbooks at Audiobook Week meme last year)

If you want to know more about me you can check out these two interviews:

If you want to know more about the Armchair Audies, you can check out the Armchair Audies (hosted by @lithousewife at and the wrap-up I wrote for the audio drama category, which also contains links to the individual reviews :-)

n.b. - Jennifer will be moving the Armchair Audies to it's own site before the next Audies start up, so stay tuned!) 


Thursday, June 21, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 21

None of our performing services agreements, whether actual or implied, include special items on the order on Van Halen's (in-)famous M&M clause; but there are certain things that some narrators want or need and, within reason the studio provides them. Some of these things have become a sort of ritual between the narrator and the studio staff and we are always willingly oblige for the simple fact that it makes the narrators happy and, ergo the sessions run smoother.

Some of the things that narrators have asked for have included, but are not limited to:

  • the same provisos that stage actors expect including water and scheduled breaks;
  • quarters (as in money) and company to the vending machines;
  • airfare, hotel, meals and/or snacks, and/or car rentals for guest narrators
  • transportation to/from the studio;
  • that the engineer pre-read the script to help them with figuring out what an author meant, if the typo is indeed a typo, or how a certain line might be read;
  • that the engineer not pre-read the script so that the narrator can read the engineer's expression and thereby provide direct reactive feedback to the narrator's performance;
  • chat sessions about the books and alternately, limiting or cutting the chatter and getting right down to recording (that the engineer shut up and just push the buttons or do lookups upon request);
  • use of an iPad, enlarged fonts on paper scripts; 
  • specific chairs, lamps, tables, stands and/or foot rests for the booth;
  • specific studio;
  • specific engineer;
  • room temperature re-sets;
  • pillows to combat stomach growls from being audible

I know of one engineer who prepared special snacks for his narrators: sliced apples and a selection of teas and, other engineers who have had to basically become a guest narrator's personal assistant on and off the grounds of the studio. And, as I mentioned before, none of it is an inconvenience and we're happy to accommodate.

That said, if you get me as an engineer, there are a couple of limitations I have and that you should know about:
  • I will not join you on a smoking break.
  • I cannot for the life of me make coffee. I don't drink coffee and the mechanics of a coffee maker baffle me. Theoretically, I just need to pour water into one section of the machine and coffee magically comes out another part of the machine; but as anyone who has known me for five minutes will tell you, kitchen appliances (indeed kitchens in general) are a complete mystery to me and the results are never pretty :-/
  • If you need a ride in my car, my car has dog hair

As studio engineers we really only ask of the narrators four things:
  1. that you come in prepared (having done your homework) and ready to work;
  2. that you take care of your voice/person on a physical and emotional level;
  3. you not treat any of  the studio staff with contempt or in a condescending manner and;
  4. that you tell us what you want/need :-)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 14

Last week, my DH was out of town and in the middle of the first night of his being away, my dogs simply would not settle down. There were a lot of perimeter patrols, snuffling, growling, collar-and-tag clanking, and general issue restlessness of a pair of dogs who are uncertain about everything when the leader of the pack is away. I'm annoyed. I tried to ignore them, but their wandering around the house was driving me crazy. I shut the bedroom door, but they would shuffle around and whine and softly bark. At point I was yelling "GO THE !#@% TO SLEEP! LIE DOWN!" (And feeling rather pleased with myself for being gramatically correct , i.e. "lie" vs "lay" at this time of stress and fatigue) but all to no avail. My dogs do not care about grammar. They just wouldn't settle down. 

So I decide to let them out.  I live in the middle of !@#% nowhere (which roughly translates to  Southern Oregon) so when I open the door to the backyard, there are no city lights, street lights or even car lights to help me out here: all there is... is darkness. I'm about to turn on a porch light when I hear it: an insane keening, growling, hissing, scuffling thing out there. My dogs are going ballistic and vault into the unknown, growling and barking viciously. I absolutely freeze in the doorway, thinking the following thoughts: Raccoons. Big Foot. Aliens. I am not ruling anything out.

Because, you see, I've been in #StudioA with Kevin Kenerly all week. He is narrating First Evidence (by Ken Goddard) which is an X-Files type of book with shadows that... well, you'll see. Or rather hear. Anyway, the story takes place in Southern Oregon... In fact, in the very town that I live in. And from the first passages, with Kevin sliding words into my ears so insidiously, I've been a little tense. Kevin can do that:  The distance between the page, his voice and your ears disappears and you experience the story.  Which is all great except when you're talking about some seriously scary shit like what First Evidence gives you and you can do more than just imagine the places in the story because you live there... well it's a perfect storm of paranoia and insanity :-/ 

You may laugh; but that photo above? That's an actual un-retouched shot of my backyard at night. Anything could be in that darkness...

 P.S.  - My big brave dogs scared it way. And no, I did not go out there in the light of day to investigate.  When DH came back from his trip, he went out to "ride the fence." He reports that the blackberry brambles were out of control  and has spent the week-end clearing them. I am pretty sure blackberries  were not the problem that night; but as they are alien to Oregon, I guess it could've been... Like I said, I'm not ruling anything out!

Monday, June 11, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 11

My hands hurt. More specifically, my wrists, with radiating pains up my forearms. Years of gaming followed by years of working in ergonomically poor conditions at a computer job have left me with chronic carpal tunnel syndrome. It flares up maybe once or twice a year when I've spent way too much time at the studio console and then at various computer keyboards. That's what I did this past week and its an occupational hazard that is not covered by OSHA, so many businesses do not accommodate it. There are friends and co-workers of mine in the past who have had surgery done to ameliorate the pain; but it's effectiveness appears to me temporary so I am hesitant to go there. In the meantime, I resort to using Ice Patches and a wrist band!

I used to literally plunge my hands into ice baths; but then I came across these ice patches at the drug store and inspiration struck! I cut the patches into thirds, apply one strip to the top of my wrist, a second strip to the bottom of my wrist (creating a sort of broken bracelet) and then don the wrist splint/band. Repeat for the other hand. I then do this odd little exercise wherein I press my finger tips together, leaving space between my hands and bend my wrists. I don't know what's really happening, but it feels like I'm stretching out the inflamed nerve ends and  it feels really good!

Anyway, this solution enables me to work for hours, pain free. But I'm not pushing my luck tonight. I've got another week of studio and keyboard time ahead of me so I will keep this post short :-)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 10

You may have seen some of the photos from the APA Audie Awards as tuxedo-clad gentlemen posed for their promo shots with a glass of champagne in one hand and a bedazzled woman on their arm; or conversely a stunning woman with a brilliant smile with a bemused husband by her side... In many of these pictures, you will notice one or more of the subjects wearing a medallion. No, they are not visiting ambassadors from obscure countries; but Audie Award nominees! 

I'm not sure when the tradition of handing out medallions to the nominees first started; but I do know that the first couple of years, my husband kept turning his back in, thinking they weren't to keep. Then he brought them home; and now he doesn't anymore again because they take up space and weight in his luggage which is better allocated to bringing home little blue boxes from Tiffany's. Also, because the medallions don't cite the year or the nomination and are therefore  indistinguishable from one year to the next, they amount to little more than a shiny souvenir.

True Story: Last year I was told to hold on to a bunch of the medallions until the Blackstone nominees came in. I was standing next to the incredibly suave and charming Robin Sachs. I cannot for the life of me remember what happened to fluster me: it could have been Robin Sachs himself (he can say the most outrageous things! ;-) or just a matter of trying juggle medallions and hors d'oeuvres and stuff; but I ended up dropping and scattering the medallions onto the marble floors of the Times Building anteroom, causing many people to turn their heads and interrupting a pitch one person was giving  the company studio director (and for which she still apparently hasn't forgiven me because she still brings it up; but in all fairness for which the studio director is still thanking me)! Yes, that's me, full of grace and elegance :-D

Anyway, so what do we do with them? For awhile they were sitting in a drawer. Then my daughter found them and used them to create safety harnesses for various stuffed animals for a zip line she set up in our house. Yeah, I know, it sounds disrespectful;, yeah. I got nothin' in my defense.

Friday, June 8, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 08

Many in the print publishing industry take Fridays off during the summer. I have heard that this is because the heat in NYC, the center of the publishing universe, gets stifling and people escape for the more tolerable climes of The Hamptons or The Poconos or wherever. Though it makes sense, I wonder why it seems to be a tradition in the publishing industry and not so much in the say... the banking industry. If any one can shed a light on this for me, I would appreciate it!

Anyway, if you are not in the print publishing industry, you are probably working on Fridays; but have a reasonable expectation of clocking out as it were and kicking back for the week-end. Through the efforts of unions over the decades, you will have week-ends, holidays, and paid vacations. Increasingly nowadays, though, that "time off" comes with that ubiquitous and somewhat insidious 21st century umbilical cord, the cell phone.

The above picture is the shadow of the Studio Director at Blackstone Audio, Inc., after hours in the early evening at the dog park. He is taking a call from a narrator. He often gets calls from narrators et al at all hours of the day and night, weekdays and weekends, holidays and vacation. If you call Grover and he doesn't answer or return your call right away, it's usually because he's on a chain of calls dealing with some issue or challenge; or he is literally in a place where the signal couldn't get through (e.g. the Javitz Center, Klamath National Park, etc.) He views it as a part of his job to be accessible to narrators in particular to answer any and all concerns regarding casting, research, and whatever.

There are jobs in the audiobook industry that are "9 to 5" but at a certain level, the job isn't so much a job as a lifestyle. The love for the art and craft of it carries you through 24/7/365 :-)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 07

This is the recording sign out side of Studio A. It is the equivalent of an "On Air" sign at a radio station or more pointedly, a "Do Not Disturb" sign on a hotel door. The recording sign, when lit, is actually telling people two things: 1) Please keep the noise levels down in the areas just outside the studios and 2) Do not enter. Sadly, many people do not seem to understand these things which leads to studio engineers, directors and even narrators to come charging out the booth to give offenders dirty looks.

There is a lot of sound baffling and insulation in each of our booths, which keeps out a lot of noise; but very simply can't compete with the cocktail party level of conversation that people like to hold outside the studio doors and windows. Plus, some someone at our company decided that the hospital-green walled space outside the studios was the perfect place for a monster copier machine. The copier itself can't be heard in the studios, but the people who like to chat it up while waiting it for their turns at the copier can. They are probably trying to compete with noise of  the copier machine; but I cannot rule out the possibility that their collective and general experience as habitues at local bars and restaurants makes them think they are talking normally. Also, I am not ruling out the possibility that everyone is deaf. Yes, it's that loud. Why is this a problem? One the noise is distracting and two, there are noises that will get picked up the recording. It can be particularly disappointing when the narrator has just worked through a particularly difficult passage involving Irish wristwatches and or a run-on sentence that covers a page and a half, to have to do it again because someone was squeeing in delight over baby pictures, at a frequency to alarm dogs. The only thing that makes this whole situation worse is when the overheard conversations aren't even interesting. Really, I just don't think that,


should be acclaimed with the same fervor and volume as,


Oddly, there are also people who see lit recording sign and think it's a "Welcome" sign. It's actually exactly the opposite. Sometimes we have celebrity narrators, authors as narrators, or guest narrators that everyone wants to see work. They fail to understand that the act of observing actually does affect the process being observed. The narrator is there losing himself in the story; and the engineer (and the director if the session requires one) are right  there along with the narrator in an intimate setting (To put it bluntly, walking in on a recording session is akin to walking into a bedroom while a couple is having sex.) In comes someone who has decided to see what's going on or meet the narrator. The intimacy is broken. Now the narrator has an audience. Even if the session ostensibly continues, the reading has a different feel. Often, I've had to scrap the sections that were recorded while there was an audience and re-record those sections. Every interruption is a delay.

Whether you know someone working at an audiobook publisher's studio or at home, please think twice about entering the studio space when the "Recording" light is on. Or that hotel room with the "Do Not Disturb" hangar on the door as a matter of fact :-/

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 06

Last night, in NYC the official APA Audie Awards were meted out and, a dozen Armchair Audies participants vicariously experienced the thrill by following the action via twitter. I had printed out the Armchair Audies ballot so I could follow along. There were two trains of thought running through my mind as the evening progressed: The first was in comparing the Armchair Audies picks against the APA judges' picks and; keeping track of Blackstone Audio's nominations. 

When the Audio Drama category was called, I really expected The Mark of Zorro to win; but when I, Claudius was announced, I wasn't surprised. I myself deliberated between The Mark of Zorro and I, Claudius and flip-flopped on my final decision many times! They are both truly excellent productions and, as I noted on my ballot, there is certainly no shame in losing to the BBC Radio 4 presentation (AudioGo.) I highly recommend both productions and am sincerely happy for AudioGo  :-)

Blackstone had been nominated for a total of twelve Audies and, as categories were called and the awards went to other audiobook companies, hope lingered until the final Big 5 categories: Best Narration by Author or Authors, Best Solo Narration - Female, Best Solo Narration - Male; Best Achievement in Production and, Audiobook of the Year. In the Big 5, we only had one nomination (The Mark of Zorro) in the Best Achievement in Production, so that meant we were not going to be coming home with our usual three of four. And we didn't win this one either. That's right, Blackstone was zero for twelve! 

But Blackstone did garner one extraordinary distinction: The Special Achievement Award was given to Craig Black, the founder and owner of Blackstone Audio, Inc. Apparently, he got up, thanked his family, staff, some narrators, and then proceeded to have a poignant moment in remembering the late Yuri Rasovsky (audio dramatist who adapted Johnston McCulley's The Mark of Zorro and directed the production as well.) So, in the end, no one at Blackstone was terribly upset about not having won any title awards; but rather very pleased to have been recognized within the industry that they helped build.

And yes, I am happy they are not unhappy because that means I still have a job [knock on wood] :-)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

JIAM 2012 Photo: 05

These are the Sennheiser Pro HD 280s, the headphones that are the most common in stock at the company I work for. They clamp around the head and provide great sound. And I hate them. I hate them because I always feel like my ears have been vacuumed sealed and somethings I imagine my eardrums coming out when I take the headphones off. I hate them, because after a couple hours in the studio, it feels like a vice and I end up propping one earpiece off and wearing just half the set; alternating ears every twenty minutes or so. The narrators don't seem to mind wearing them though, which is just as well because they are closed-backs and the mic can't pick up any feedback from them.

For myself, on the other side of the glass, I prefer a lighter-weight, open-backed headset and right now I'm pretty happy because I have a set in play in the studio I'm working in (I believe the set I'm working with right now might be the Sennheiser 650s.)  The only thing is, is that they are far from noise canceling so I also hear the noise in the hall outside the studio as some Other People apparently feel the need to talk about their week-ends as if they were at an APAC Mixer in NYC :-/ Still I take the trade-off, because the frequency of noise distractions is less then the incidence of pain when I wear the HD 280s.

For many people, a pair of headphones is a pair of headphones; but if you have to work with them x number of hours a day, you need a pair that picks up all the sound and is comfortable. And regardless of your choice, you really do have to take breaks form listening. You know if you've been on the headphones too long of you start having headaches, if you starting getting a ringing in your ears or, when you take off your headset, you suffer from some auditory hallucinations...

True Story: In 2007 I had to work on proofing a book that was a crush. The company wanted the book fully proofed and slated by the next morning so I pulled an all-nighter. I did not take listening breaks. At somewhere around 4:00 the next morning, I took off the headsets and started typing up my notes. Except I was distracted. It sounded like my refrigerator was singing Dolly Parton. At four a.m. there really is no one that you can ask, "Can you hear that?'  so you pretty much resign yourself to the fact that your ears are toast or that "bad trip" you took in college is still manifesting itself or that your refrigerator is actually channeling Dolly Parton or that you're insane. All bets are on, so not being able to resolve which one it was, I went back to filling out the proofing sheets, occasionally hearing Dolly wafting in and out.  Sometimes I would walk over to the refrigerator and try to pick out the song; but always it was tantalizingly distant or would fade away. Finally, I finished up and had to drive down to the company to deliver the work. It was a morning of Golden Fog: the fog rolls in; but instead of being all white, it's this incredible golden hue. Of course, you can't see any better driving through it than in a white-out; but it does add a surreal touch to the day, especially when you've spent the most recent hours contemplating past indiscretions and The Grand Ole Opry and if, in fact you've died and you can't tell whether you're in heaven or hell. Anyway, I eventually dropped off the work, went home and crashed. I never did hear Dolly Parton again; but I did resolve to practice safe listening after that!

Everyone once in while, I'll have to pull a double session which required longer stints on headphones and; one those days, after work, I always feel like my ears are blown out. It takes me  awhile to decompress and often, I don't want people even talking to me. Yeah, I'm a veritable ray of sunshine on those days!

There are studios that don't use headsets for session work, preferring to use monitors; but it's more difficult to pick up the finer noise anomalies (e.g. a stomach growling or a machine hum) in the wash of the sound as it travels over a wider area. It's better to pick up and correct as many noise anomalies in the session before it it heads out to proofing and post. Correcting at source provides a better over all recording.

At home, I have a pair of Grado SR60s which I adore though I could probably stand for an upgrade as they're pretty old and beat! In my husband's studio, he wears AKG K271s which he doesn't hesitate to extoll as the best and most comfortable headphones he has ever had.

What headphones or ear buds to you use?

P.S. - In case you were wondering, we did finally resolve The Mystery of the Singing Refrigerator: About eight months later, it sounded like our old built-in/wired-in 1950s heating units were singing something very hillbilly. On that day, just as when the refrigerator was channeling Dolly, there was low cloud cover. Putting two and two together, it seems that an AM radio station's signal was getting trapped underneath the cloud cover and some of our appliances were picking up the signal! It happened only once or twice again after that; and now, for whatever reason, our appliances have gone back to making just plain old humming noises :-)

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Pink Chair: Ways to "Back Burner" Yourself as a Narrator

You're good, in fact you may be very good; but for some reason the number of calls for work has been dropping. Chances are, it's because, really and truly, you aren't right for the books that we have on hand. Gone are the days when we had shelves of books to mete out to narrators who needed work. Gone are the days of indiscriminately or blindly casting a book. The fall-out has simply been too expensive. But you're looking at the catalog and saying, "I would be perfect for that book! What aren't I getting the call?" Here may be a few reasons as to why:

You are not paying attention: Every week, I get e-mails from narrators who recommend themselves for a list of books and, every week I send out explanations as to why they are not getting the call: because the book already as an narrator attached, or; they really, truly are not right for the book. Admittedly, on the company's web-site, the narrator may be listed as "To Be Announced;" but the company's priority is to list the book first and the narrator later. If it's a series, chances are the narrator who read the previous titles, will read the next one. Also, reading the book's description, though sometime seemingly vague, will let you know if you are the right voice for the African-American Kentuckian vampire slayer who has fallen in love with the Amish boy. Or not. Chances are, if you're an older British male narrator, not. Still, the self-recommended requests roll in and the hit rate is proportionately small and now you think, "They never call me." It should be noted that, the highest rate of success for a narrator who wants to narrate a particular book is the narrator who asks for that particular book; not a scatter shot selection.

You don't do your homework: Turnaround times between the publishing houses' editorial staffs and the audiobook publishers is often very tight. Whenever possible, we will send out a preliminary so that the narrator can get an idea of the language and style of the book before the final arrives. If, on our end, skimming the book, we think that it needs to have research done, we send it out for research; but it is up to the narrator to let us know if there is a list of terms that we may have overlooked but that s/he needs to have looked-up before s/he will or can begin narrating the book. If the narrator waits until the last minute though, s/he has just caused production delay$ :-(
Also, there are still narrators out there who don't pre-read their scripts and who think they are getting away with it. You're not. Our casting director himself has been a narrator for at least three decades; I've been critically listening to them for at least two; and we have an insanely deep and experienced proofing department. We know.

You are careless in your reading: You're counting on that same insanely deep and experienced proofing department to catch all your misreads and mispronunciations. Or maybe other companies don't have as careful a proofing department so you think that a verbatim read doesn't matter. But it does, now more than ever as new technologies are being developed that bear a more unforgiving light on mis-reads and mis-pronunciations; and too there is as an ever more discerning ear amongst the public. The more time the proofing and post-engineering departments have to spend on your work, the more expensive you become. All of the sudden, you find yourself narrating fewer new titles, and mostly just series to which you've been attached.

You can't or won't upgrade your home studio: As the famous American, Johnny Heller once said [something to the effect of], "The home narrating trend has made all us narrators suspect engineers." True! And yet, we have a studio director and engineers standing by to help you, at no charge. Grover Gardner has handed out a home narrator's set-up guide for years to all and sundry. And I've personally witnessed engineers go to lengths way above and beyond the call of duty to help home narrators out. And yet, there are narrators who have remained stubborn, insisting that whatever is good enough for [insert another audiobook publisher's name here], should be good enough for us. Um, no. Again, new technologies are emerging that require better overall sound quality than even five years ago. The days of thinking that car noise will mask the flaws of an inferior recording or, that the post-engineers have a magic "de-crapping" plug-in are simply... wrong.  Later, in The Pink Chair series, we will talk a little about post-processing, so if you've got you're hackles up about what "they did to my recording," relax, we'll get to it.

You are late: Deadlines are very serious business nowadays, whether it is for a simultaneous release or a backlist. For every day that a recording is late for a simultaneous release, the best "Golden Hour" monies are lost. In the publishing world, new releases are published on Tuesdays. Everybody wants the new title on the date of release. By next Tuesday, consumers want the new New Releases, so for every day beyond the date of release of the print book that the audio edition is not available, the demand decreases and perforce revenue. For both simultaneous releases and backlists, there are promotions put in place: Sometime it's a matter of placing a title in a catalog (which is the product of hundreds of man-hours), sometimes it's about library pre-orders and, sometime it's a cross-promotion with If the book is late, if all or most of your books are late, you are causing the audiobook publisher massive headaches and costing them beaucoup dollars.

You don't deliver and you don't communicate: There have been a couple of narrators who have gone A.W.O.L. We send them a book. We hear nothing. We send e-mails expressing concern. Nothing. We make phone calls, only to be screened by voice-mail, and still nothing. Clearly, you have a lot of things going on in your life and you've made some choices - prioritized things as it were and, somehow, we have come out on the short end of the stick. Um, not great, but it is the not-telling-us -about-it that will piss us off more than anything else. And before you know it, you're not hearing from us anymore either. And when you decide that you want to re-start the relationship, it's pretty damaged. Sour milk doesn't get fresh after cooling.

You have too much drama going in your life: I'm not taking about actors who take on roles - that's par for the course. What I am talking about are the narrator's whose personal and emotional lives have manifested themselves into a state of constant crises and upheavals. The narrator can't help it, s/he brings the drama into the booth and everybody is put through an emotional wringer. Or, even worse, the narrator needs to take some time to go take care of business. It becomes a very hit-or-miss proposition as to whether the narrator will be in any shape to actually work. Yes, I know, shit happens, but when you become a magnet for trouble, we'll give you wide berth. Helpful hint for other audiobook professionals who have a Drama King/Queen in their midst: Never ever ask how they are doing. They will tell you :-/

You don't take care of yourself: As a narrator, your voice is your most important asset. If you are chronically ill with colds, allergies, laryngitis, strep throat, throat cancer, etc. you're going to get iced. It makes sense, yes? And yet, the are an unusual number of narrators who try and get away with it.

You don't follow instructions: This, oddly enough, comes from mostly veteran narrators who have been doing things a certain way for so long, they don't know any other way. You would think that they would have learned that to be flexible and capacious was the key to the social Darwinism in play in the audiobook industry; but they remain stubborn in their ways. One of the more blatant examples of this would be contacting the author directly even when we've told you not to! There are many situations now in which narrator-author contact needs to be pre-approved. When the author, agent and/or the publisher asks that contact with the author be limited, or prohibited, it is not cool to take to take it upon yourself to contact the author anyway, relying on your charm and experience. This backfires more often than you would think and really smacks just short of hubris and a lack of respect for the studio director. (See The Pink Chair; Contacting the Author.)

You took bad advice: You were doing great, but now you've attended some sort of workshop and you think you've made huge strides forward in your style; but something's gone awry. This is usually a voice-over workshop as opposed to a narrator workshop; and we can only hope that you will "Stop it" because now you've gone back to square one and think it's all abut your voice and how nice it sounds. It's a very narcissistic sound, superficial and slick; and great for telling me about the Memorial Day car sales being extended an extra week-end; but not so great for telling stories.

You have hidden costs: You told us you have a home studio; but not really. FYI: Having access to a studio is not the same as having a home studio. Accounting gets hit with unexpected invoices from studios, outside engineers etc. and the cost of hiring you just went through the roof. Or maybe you were happy to get work from us and "forgot" to tell us you were AFTRA-SAG and you need to be paid through TEAM. There have been narrators who have given themselves a raise by bumping up the numbers on their invoices without having discussed this first with the studio director. Um, you really need to tell us how much you really cost. When the production costs double, treble or even quadruple because of hidden costs, we feel conned. Get me once, shame on you. And there it ends.

You backed us into a corner: You're attached to a series. You think that you can't possibly be replaced. You demand more money. You're effectively blackmailing us. Guess what? No one is indispensable (See The Pink Chair: Changing Horses Mid-Stream.) Another neat maneuver is to ask for advances on your next book, holding up corrections on the current book until the advance comes in. Just to let you know, there is a point at which a company will cut their losses and say "Later, alligator!" If you think Advance Extortion is very clever and that you might like to try it, please be aware that our company no longer makes advances because some narrators abused the policy and ruined it for everyone.

You are an asshole: Yep, no one likes working with you. Maybe you're a male chauvinist pig. Maybe you're a boor. Maybe you're just downright mean. Whatever contact you have with anybody in the company, it seems to always result in walls being thrown up in your face and feelings of animosity. Chances are, you'll be hired to work at home or remotely, but everyone is glad to have as little contact with you as possible. Why do they call you at all? Because, for right now, they have to; but don't think that they aren't looking for alternatives.

Social Faux Pas: Maybe you said something incredibly inappropriate that was overheard at The Audies or in an interview;  or maybe you posted something on Facebook that was downright mean; or maybe you over estimated your sobriety and propositioned the wrong person at a mixer. It's funny how when you slam somebody's religion, politics, sexual orientation or generosity or; pawed at somebody's significant other without pawee's consent, how that can come back to haunt you :-/

So how do you know if you've really been "back burnered" or if things are a bit slow? Ask. I don't know how honest other audiobook publishers are; but I'll tell you because very simply, I don't believe in killing with kindness and I think people are much less sensitive to the truth than we give them credit for. Please don't get me wrong. We're not looking for ways to "back-burner" our narrators - in fact, far from it. We try to be understanding and work through whatever it is that may be an issue. I like to consider many narrators as my friends. And maybe that's my problem as I expect them to behave in kind and, when they don't, my feelings are hurt. Whatever, I know that the audiobook publishers aren't perfect friends either.

If you're a narrator and there are reasons you would back-burner an audiobook company, please feel free to comment below or; you can e-mail me at I will treat all e-mails confidentially and reply to them in a future Pink Chair post as anonymously delivered unless you tell me otherwise. If you are not a narrator, you can still leave comments and/or e-mail me :-)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 03

This is a picture of Grover Gardner staring goofily at his martini at Pigalle's in New York City. I suspect he has sent me this picture to taunt me: "Here I am at a fabulous French restaurant in NYC where they make my martinis just the way I like them. Don't you wish you were here?" Well, yes, !@#$%, as a matter of fact I do wish I was there, especially to savor a plate of their duck and champagne; but I'm not. I'm here in Southern Oregon having just come from a Shari's where they had run out of Strawberry Pie (and on only the second day of Strawberry Month!) but I digress...

The helpful bit of advice that I would actually like to impart to many first-timers to the #APAC2012-#BBC2012-#Audies2012-#BEA2012 week-long extravaganza is this: You've got to pace yourself. There are going to be an incredible number of invitations to go places, drink alcoholic beverages, eat fattening foods, see shows on Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway; in addition to the regularly scheduled events, meetings and meet-ups. Last year, I went to APAC, The Audies, BEA and Book Blogger's Convention and I hit the ground running. I was in NYC for six days; but I was toasted by the end of Day #2! By the end of the week, I was staggering, my face swollen with exhaustion and trying my damnedest to remain standing and coherent. By 7:30 Friday night, I was passed out in a hotel room surrounded by ARCs and busted out shoes, ten pounds heavier and ... well, let's just say, it wasn't a pretty sight :-/

Yes, I know I could have made smarter choices; but the fact of the matter is, is that NYC offers so much that you will want to see and do, and eat and drink, places to go and people to see, that it really requires mammoth amounts of self-restraint not to take advantage of all of the opportunities! Plus, you're surrounded by friends and colleagues, people you want to see, people you just have to see and, the people who just have to see you! If you're not careful though, your week can end up looking like After Hours (starring Griffin Dunne) - on a continuous loop :-/

If I could have a do-over (and I certainly hope to have the chance next year,) I'm not gonna lie; I would still order the duck and champagne, the truffle-oil dressed pasta, the vodka martinis, the single malt scotches, hit the delis and Greek diners, museums and shows and, meet-up with everyone; but maybe I wouldn't indulge so much and I would definitely self-impose a curfew. Two hours of sleep a night just simply isn't enough!

And, yeah, on my final night, I would have no shame in admitting that I was watching cable in my hotel room. Otherwise, that long plane/train/automobile trip back might qualify as the worst hangover experience ever... outside of that time involving tequila and a plastic dinosaur on Columbus Circle anyway :-D

Saturday, June 2, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 02

This is my husband's garment bag which he has packed for his jaunt to NYC. If you were to look inside, it would look like a blue Oxford button-down torte, each shirt layered with a different shade of khakis. Tomorrow he takes an early morning trans-continental flight in order to attend:

  • An APA (Audiobook Publishers Association) Mixer: This is where, for audiobook professionals, the week's festivities begin. Everyone crowds into a very small, loud space and attempts to be heard by yelling stock rhetorical pleasantries and hopes that the responses are remotely appropriate to what the other person has said. This of course adds to the noise level and so it continues for two hours. People smile, pay $12 for a glass of house white wine, and are ultimately relieved when they can leave and breathe in the fresh air of Manhattan :-/ But it is really nice to see who's come in for the big event.
  • The APAC (Audiobook Publishers Association Conference) panels: For APA members, there is a narrator track and a publisher track. Ostensibly, members attend panels that will help them in their professional lives. What really happens is that panel members, for fear of either giving away their respective companies' "secrets" or offending a major audiobook publisher who would then sue the sound bytes off of them, will use euphemisms (lie) and not really be helpful at all. Members will then sneak off for cigarette breaks outside of the Javits center and gossip. In all fairness, I should point out that the gossip usually proves to be invaluable.
  • The Audies: This is the industry's equivalent to The Oscars - without the acceptance speeches. In years past, there was a  full dinner served and winners got to say their thank-yous; but at one point during the evening, the number of losers in the room outnumbered the potential winners: People got restless and by dessert, many were playing with their remaining silverware. Now, The Audies are preceded by an open buffet of hors d'oeuvres and bar and, followed by a champagne and dessert bar - all to be followed by a a post party at a small, loud space.... As far as the actual ceremony goes, the emcee will either make or break the proceedings as any number of dark horse candidates end up taking home a crystal trophy. Polite, bemused applause follows.

In between and all around these events are a number of meetings, meet-ups, early dinners, late dinners, teas (wine served before 5:00 p.m.), cocktail hours, nightcaps, shows... It's exhausting but  I would be lying if I didn't say I am extremely jealous that my husband gets to go this year and I don't :-/

Sigh. Maybe next year...

Who do you think will win at The Audies? 

Friday, June 1, 2012

JIAM2012 Photo: 01

The player I listen to audiobooks on is a 30GB 2005 Video iPod! Yes, it's still in play! I'm actually trying to see how long I can keep this baby going :-)

What's currently on the iPod?

  • The Arthur Miller Collection (by Arthur Miller; performed by various full casts)
  • The Eleventh Plague (by Jeff Hirsch; narrated by Dan Bittner)
  • Half Blood Blues (by Esi Edugyan; narrated by Kyle Riley)
  • Pinned (by Alfred C. Martino; narrated by Mark Shanahan)
  • Quantum of Solace (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance)
  • Sense and Sensibility (by Jane Austen; narrated by Wanda McCaddon)
  • What Dreams May Come (by Richard Matheson; narrated by Robertson Dean)

And, for those days that I finish a book on a Thursday and don't want to start an audiobook on a Friday, music:

  • Armchair Apocrypha (Andrew Bird)
  • At Least I'm Not with You (The Insomniacs)
  • The Bells (playlist created by yours truly featuring all the music from Richard Harvell's novel of the same name)
  • The Crane Wife (The Decemberists)
  • Dvořák (playlist featuring his Symphony No. 9 in E Minor
  • Great Mass in C Minor (K.427) (Mozart)
  • In Time - The Best of R.E.M. 1983-2003 (R.E.M.)
  • The King is Dead (The Decemberists)
  • Live from The Middle East (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones)
  • Le Nozze di Fiagro (k. 492) (Mozart)
  • Pin Points and Gin Joints (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones)
  • "White Rabbit" (Jefferson Airplane)

And what do these lists tell you? Pretty much nothing except that I'm curious about all sorts of books and have extremely eclectic tastes in music :-)

What player do you listen to audiobooks on? What's on it now?