Karen, it has been a very interesting path. I actually started my career as a newspaper reporter after graduating college with a Journalism degree from the University of Georgia. I worked for several newspapers, the last being the Tampa (FL) Tribune. But after my first daughter was born, I felt the need for a change and moved to the arena of public affairs for a multi-county planning agency. There I began to be involved with graphics, speechwriting and photography. This provided a background for an eventual transition to jobs involving the production of multi-media presentations.
I had started in 1969 by recording a speech and adding slides (early multi-media?). After several years and jobs, eventually I was developing multi-image presentations with up to 5 screens, 25 projectors, and computer control that featured elaborate soundtracks. And that last bit, producing sound design, was what eventually captured my attention. I was fascinated in the studio with what the engineers could do and I finally gave in and went to night school to study the craft while maintaining my day job. I felt that know what engineers did would help me to communicate with them more effectively. Little did I realize that I would eventually switch chairs.
After a three-year foray into video production in the late 1980s, I returned to book and bible publishing to launch an audio book library for Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville. Interestingly, the first full-length book I directed and produced was a Charles Dickens story and the talent was – wait for it – Ben Kingsley. My first session was even in a London recording studio. Not bad for my first outing. Of course, that was a mountaintop experience and most of my subsequent work was in the valleys.
I produced a total of 12 books that first year (1991) as the fledgling audio book industry (cassettes) was getting underway. These products were two-cassette abridgements, and seemed to find some traction. But while at Nelson in the early 80s I had produced 36 titles as single-cassette highlight audio books that went nowhere. And of course, eventually, the public made their desire for the entire book content, not abridgements, known.
After three years and more than 50 books, I was invited to come to Michigan to Zondervan Publishers, where I spent the rest of my career retiring in 2008. I am not real sure of the final numbers but I probably worked on more than 400 books and eight editions of the Bible during those years, as well as a dozen video-based curriculum kits. It was a fantastic way to spend one’s career. I loved going to “work” everyday.
2. You have done production work on an astounding 400 + audiobooks and eight editions of the Bible. How can your experience be of benefit to talents in the creation of their audiobooks?
While I did edit and master most of the titles I worked on, I also spent a lot of time as producer in recording sessions in studios across the country directing authors and professional voice talents. We had a studio in the building, but it was not always convenient for the narrator to come to Michigan, so I went to them. As a result, I spent quality time with some very fine engineers in studios in Tennessee, Florida, California, Colorado, Texas, NY and Washington. And those engineers were always willing to teach me tricks of the trade, which I have always tried to pass on and share.
In my current role as an editor/proofer, I am happy to offer any assistance I can in helping the talented people I am working with to produce the finest audio product. Since I am not involved in the recording, my suggestions frequently involve quality issues such as ambient noises, microphone placement and level fluctuations among others. Most times these suggestions will help on the next project, but I have been asked about many technical issues like microphone choices, use of plugins and outboard devices, noise control, etc.
While on the subject of noise, perhaps you will allow me to get out my soapbox. I have become dismayed over the public’s apparent acceptance of “poor audio”. I was always ticked when a beautiful, high quality video project would have a lousy soundtrack. Money was always spent first on lights and sets, and lastly on the audio. Come on folks, the first word in Audiovisual is – AUDIO.
But in recent years, with the advent of podcasting and Youtube, there is some real crappy audio circulating. I understand that the goal is to get the content out there, but I hate to see this lack of concern over quality spill into audio books. And I have listened to some books from major NY publishers that had some noisy artifacts that I find objectionable. I guess my philosophy is that if one is going to spend hours recording an author’s work, make it the best possible audio you can. And now that many, if not most, books are being downloaded at low bit rates, it is more important than ever to start with some good clean audio. To quote a famous Nashville personality, Mack Truck, “That is my opinion. Ought to be yours!” Nuff said.
3. After you moved back to Tennessee, you described yourself as retired. What led you back into the world of audio production?
After I left Zondervan, I worked under a contract for a year and produced 180 titles using over 25 voice talents across the country. My daughter worked with me, handling scheduling, scripts, proofing and invoicing, while I did the editing and mastering. She trained several proofers and after I finished my contract, she continued to proof for other publishers.
Things slowed down for me and work almost stopped completely after that. I was producing the odd book, taking long motorcycle trips and enjoying “retirement” but I started feeling that there had to be more to it than that. Then last September, I got a call on a Sunday afternoon from a narrator I had never met, but who knew me by reputation. He had three books due and his editor was not able to keep up with recording and editing. I agreed to edit/proof two of them for him. It was exhilarating to be back in harness and under a deadline again.
Then this new friend introduced me to his broker, who also knew of me, and the rest is history. He put my name out to his suppliers and now I am honored to have more than a dozen new friends that I am able to edit/proof for. Since that first call, I have worked on more than 25 books and as of this writing, I am committed for 7 more. Needless to say, I am not riding the bike as much now as before. And that is ok.
4. Do you prefer long form projects – audiobooks – or are you available for other work as well?
While I have produced other audio and video projects over the years, such as radio theatre and audio sales catalogs, I prefer the long form projects if given a choice. I am still doing full production on several titles for one publisher, but I am really fond of my “new career” as an editor/proofer.
5. What is the best way for people to reach you?
I can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (615) 995-5296.
As a post script, if you know anyone who you think would fit in to my ‘techie’ interview series please email me at [email protected] Also, you can check out previous interviews with Morgan Barhart of SociableBoost.com here, Dan Friedman here, Jeff Kafer here, Eric Souer here, George Whittam here, Dylan Gamblin here, Louanne Frederikson here, Dan Lenard here, and Zak Miller here.
And next week I’ll be talking to another audio professional Jake Walther, that I met on Linkedin.