Showing posts with label #ListenLit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #ListenLit. Show all posts

June Is Audiobook Month: The Full Experience #ListenLit

So in this final post for June Is Audiobook Month, I want to talk about why audiobooks are so powerful.  If you haven't had a chance to check out my previous posts on the subject, please do. I've discussed authors as well as my appreciation and considerations for narrators and even the unsung heroes of audiobooks, the sound crew.  

Why Audiobooks Are So Powerful

I listen to a lot of audiobooks in a given year (probably about 150).  Some are amazing aural adventures and others teach me things about the world and myself that I may never have known otherwise.  In fact, sometimes, it's the voice itself that helps me to think about the information, much more than the information itself.  Inflection and emphasis can do much for our understanding and I value that much with audiobooks.  They provide vocal direction that helps immensely in moving through a text.  It's why I encourage everyone I meet to listen to audiobooks and keep listening until they find what works.  People claim to be certain types of learners and I get that, but that doesn't negate the idea that they can still learn in other formats and in fact, should learn in other formats if only to keep their minds receptive to different ways of understanding the world around them.  

With audiobooks, it's that crisp and clear sound (created by the sound engineers) coupled with a powerful voice (created by the narrator) that send us off on an adventure, a journey of learning, or just some great laughs or scares.  They have supplied me with tens of thousands of hours of entertainment and enlightenment over the years and I suspect will continue to do so until I die or become hearing impaired.  

When I think about all of the books I have gained access to as a result of listening to audiobooks, it's pretty substantial.  It's something I often explain to people when I talk about audiobooks.   I don't listen to them in lieu of traditional books but in addition to.  I cannot always be buried in a book, especially when driving, walking or doing chores.  Yet, I can be thoroughly engaged in listening while do these things.  

When I first press play on an audiobook, I sit in a moment of anticipation.  Who is the narrator and what will he or she sound like?  How will they seduce me?  How will the narrator and the author collude to inform, entertain, inspire or move me?  Often, they read the book title, author, and increasingly the narrator.  These are mere teasers for the main event:  The first few sentences.  I'm waiting at this point to see just what kind of tone, rhythm, projection, and emphasis they will strike with the text.  How easily will I be sucked into the audiobook?  Some of these questions and experience arise less so if I am familiar and fond of the narrator, but they are still present.  

Throughout a rewarding listening experience, I am often struck by how the narrator becomes the life of the text and draws out the emotion and importance of the words.  At times, it's clear the narrator knows which lines are meant to hit home to the listener and he or she delivers those lines with just the right balance.  Often, as I close in on the end of an audiobook, particularly if it is fiction, I begin to experience reader's remorse.  Many of us have been there with books we've read.  The end is near and so we know the journey will soon end.  We hate this about our authors.  They suck us in and spit us out, changing our mental chemical make-up in the process.  This goes doubly for audiobooks because the relation with the story is that much more palpable because of the voice.  

I've spent a couple thousand words in this series on audiobooks talking about how wonderful they are.  What can I say, I'm a total convert to the experience and carry that zeal along with me to try to convince others to put on a pair of headphones and give it a try.  I hope that you will!

If you do, be sure to come back and share your experiences--I'd love to hear them.  If you already listen to audiobooks, then also please share your thoughts and experiences!

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

June Is Audiobook Month: The Production #ListenLit

In the past few weeks, I've talked plenty about audiobooks with regards to authors as well as my appreciation and considerations for narrators.  In this feature, we are going to take a gander at the production end of audiobooks.  

It's clear when people pick up an audiobook they are thinking about the author and increasingly, the narrator.  These are the two biggest forces that come through in audiobook productions.  But the unsung heroes are the sound engineers, directors and others involved in turning the static text into a dynamic experience.  They are the like the book editor who does so much labor and yet whose presence is rarely seen in the finished product.  

Seamlessness of Sound

7Let's first just recognize that the production crew creates a finished product.  They weave together and level off the narrations that have been produced into a coherent and (mostly) seamless product.  After all, even the best narrators are going to make mistakes, stumble, or need to re-read sentences if not entire paragraphs.  Their work in the studio can take anywhere from a day to weeks and therefore, the production crew must pull all of that together in a single experience for the listener.  

They must listen for consistency and accuracy of sound, making sure a narrator not only sound the same throughout the production, but also that he or she correctly pronounces words (such as foreign words) and maintain character voices. 

The Non-Narrator Sounds

But there are other touches that the production crew adds to the experience that we're not always aware of.  The introductory music or even the musical segues from one chapter to the next (or from one CD to the next--for those that still use CDs).  These often set the tone and mood, providing a simple cue to the listener about what kind of journey they are about to embark upon.  Some companies used this pretty consistently while others avoid it altogether.  I imagine that it can be seen as an unnecessary expense or one that seems relevant for only specific markets (e.g. young adult or children's audiobooks).  

An extension of the musical segues is the musical score wherein music will be added in numerous ways to the production as background or even foreground (Swing! A Novel comes to mind).  Though musical scores don't happen that often with regular audiobooks that have a single narrator, they do occasionally appear and they are interesting products to say the least.  

Of course, some audiobooks go beyond music to add a variety of sound effects.  These are not necessarily dramatizations (which we'll talk about down below), but just added features.  A good portion of the Star Wars audiobooks adds these such as Artoo Detoo's beeping or the snap-hiss of a lightsaber.  I'm not entirely convinced they add much to the listening experience and they can sometimes be poorly integrated such as when, the text mentions the sound and pauses ever so slightly so the sound effect can be heard on its own.  These can feel redundant and forced.  It's better when sound effects replace text (as we'll talk about below).  Though I'm not convinced on them, they still take a good deal of time and consideration by the producer.  The best example that integrates sound superbly is Ross Ballard's productions at Mountain Whisper audiobooks.  These sounds often make up the setting and enhance the experience without being distracting or feeling forced.  

So Many Voices In My Head

Another element that the production crew must put in the extra mile is when working with a full cast for a production.  Some productions will have all the narrators together, others will have them read separately and weave the pieces together.  Getting everyone in the same recording studio produces it's own share of challenges as much as having each narrator do his or her own part separately.  Regardless of the format, this can be a tricky process as it requires blending together numerous voices into a singular production that feels seamless.  

A subset of the full-cast production is the audio dramatization.  I love audiobooks with a singular narrator. They are amazing to no end and will always listen to them.  However, I do believe audio dramatizations are best understood as the most accurate means of adapting an audiobook into an audio format.  I wrote a journal article several years ago about audiobooks as adaptation.  The central argument was that taking a text and moving into an aural medium can be considered an act of translation or adaptation.  If it were to be an act of translation, then you would indeed need a single narrator, reading the text straight with no inflection. But if adaptation is the goal, then dramatization is necessary.  In the dramatization process, one would need to replace sound-oriented words with distinguished sounds.  So to me, dramatizations are always a high-water mark for the potential of audiobooks because they maximize the medium's abilities.  

It's also in audio-dramatizations where the director, sound engineers, and other background are hardest at work trying to weave together numerous inputs to make the most powerful audio experience--or as Graphic Audio puts it: "A movie in your mind."

My Favorite Sources of Audio Dramatizations

I first came into audiobooks because of dramatizations.  The BBC's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sucked me into the world of audiobooks when I stumbled upon it at my local library in the mid-1990s.  It helped me make sense of a book I had tried to read a dozen times.  So I always try to pick up an audio dramatization at least once a month because it always feels like home to me.  If you are looking for some great audio dramatizations, these are the best places to start.  

L. A. Theatre Works:  Full-cast performances of plays both known and unknown.  They often have well-known actors in lead parts and are performed in front of a live audience.  They will also sometimes include interviews with the director or other great material.  Many libraries carry them or grant access to them through OverDrive.  

Graphic Audio:  They do amazing productions with full-cast, sound effects, and musical score.  They focus on genre and serial fiction.  They have been putting out some great audiobooks on Marvel & DC Comics narratives.  The drawback is that many libraries don't care enough of their titles and they don't sell their productions on Audible, which is the go-to place for many audiofiles.  

BBC Radio: I would be remiss if I did not mention the BBC, given how much they changed my life in terms of audiobooks.  They are still a major player in the audio dramatization field and they provide many great productions.  They are a bit harder to access through the library but they do eventually end up on Audible.  

AudioComics:  Though they are not as prolific as the ones mentioned above, they are still the potential game-changer for the field of audio dramatizations.  They bring an amazing range of talent, lead by the excellent, William Dufris and focused on adapting non-mainstream comics.  I have high hopes for them as a company.

Again, all of these fantastic experiences are made possible by the production crew, the ever-present but often unheard workhorses of every audiobook production.  

That's all for now--keep an eye out for my final entry in the series that pulls all of these together.  

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

June Is Audiobook Month: The Narrators Part 2 #ListenLit

In the last post, I gushed an awful lot about narrators.  I couldn't help it.  They have changed my life in profound ways.  This week, we'll explore a few other elements around narrators that aren't necessarily as positive.

Author as Narrator

It needs to be said: most authors do not make good narrators, even when it comes to telling personal stories such as memoirs.  There are definitely exceptions to the rule but usually when an author delivers a good narration, they have experience in radio or acting, thus transferring previously established skills.  I root for authors as narrators but they just don't make the cut and it can often feel like to narrate the book is an act of ego.  Too often has the author's inability to navigate their own complex prose turned me away from their book or the inconsistency or over (and under) dramatic voice done them in.  Ideally, an author should read the introduction, the foreword, or the afterword--that is, they should contribute and provide a small sampling of their voice that the listener can appreciate and contextualize with the production.  However, the full text should be left to the professionals.  
Vocal Microphone

Bad Narrators Happen

And that's not to say that narrators are always perfect.  Some narrators have definitely botched it in some ways small and big.  Though sometimes, this can be the fault of the narrator, the director, or the sound engineer for not picking up on things.  I regularly come across vocal shifts in productions where it is clear that the narrator has had to reread a section, possibly days later and his or her voice does not match with the previous voice.  Such moments can feel like bad dubbing.  Then, of course, there are when narrators get accents wrong, overdo them, or are inconsistent with them.  This too can be draining for the listening experience.  

Questions I've Always Wanted to Know (And Hoped to Get Real Answers)

I've interviewed several dozen narrators over the years.  It's been a great experience and I'm a total fanboy when it comes to narrators.  However, the interviews were largely promotional so it was often hard to get to really deep and controversial questions.  So the following is my wish list of questions to ask narrators.
  1. How does narrating a book that has uncomfortable content or content that you are personally opposed to (ethically, philosophically, politically, etc) effect you?  
  2. What's the worse narration you have ever done and why?
  3. What's the worse narration you have ever heard and why?
  4. Who's the worst author you've ever had to narrate and why?
  5. What's the most embarrassing mispronunciation you've ever uttered into a microphone?
Maybe I might get an answer for that last one but the other questions are likely to be dodged.  That's all for this edition.  In the next post, we'll talk about the production--or where the magic happens!  

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

June Is Audiobook Month: The Narrators Part 1 #ListenLit

In my last post in this series on June Is Audiobook Month, I took time to celebrate the author as the foundation for any and all audiobooks.  In this entry and the next entry, we are going to talk about the narrator--the life of the audiobook.  I should warn you, this post is pretty much a fanboy rant about how wonderful narrators are.  It will be filled with praise.  The second post (next week) on narrators will have some critiques, but this post--not so much.

Narrators are wonderful.  They are.  They take static words on a page and breathe life into them.  They give color to the black and white page with their inflection and emphasis, timing and projection.  The listener is passenger to a long drive filled with twists and turns, sometimes with rather challenging stretches, but the narrator brings through to the destination with apparent ease and grace.
london calling

Narrative Dynamics

Not all narrators are alike (and we'll talk about that in the next post), but any good narrator must find a way through the text.  They must establish a rhythm and method of narration that is likely to change from book to book depending on content, point of view, and writing style.  For instance, a narrator's voice should be more inviting if the text is a first-person memoir rather than a history of some person or event.  The author might imbue her voice with more emotion if reading a children's novel than if she is reading a literary novel.  Narrators also have to balance and consider how to do voices within a given text.  In nonfiction, this means delivering a generic male-sounding or female-sounding voice when quotes arise, but this can change, if the author provides vocal cues about the voice or if the voice being offered is a very famous voice.  How closely should the narrator aspire to sound like the person if it is William Shatner, Chris Rock, or Bill Clinton?  Does hearing a good Bill Clinton impression enhance an audiobook, whereas a neutral reading might pull the listener out of the experience?  Would it matter if the book is written for a political viewpoint?  By contrast, fiction can be quite challenging as narrators must keep track of the different voices they use for different characters and remain consistent.  They also have to consider what it means to sound authentic.  For instance, when it comes to race and ethnicity, how far might they go to capture authentic sounding voices without crossing over the line into being exploitative or performing some form of blackface oral performance?

All this is to say that the narrator needs to be a co-creator of the content with the author.  He or she must translate a textual experience into an oral experience, often with little or no help from the author.  And more often than not (as indicated by the explosion of audiobooks in the last twenty years), they are quite successful at what they do.  

Favorite narrators

Finally, I want to identify some of my favorite narrators.  In truth, I've listened to so many narrators over the years, it's hard to keep count, but here are some of my favorite narrators with links to their websites or to a listing of their narrations on Audible.  The first thing I will willingly admit is that the list is stacked towards males.  I think this seems to be my experience with audiobooks as a whole in that it favors males (like many other industries), but I could be (and would love to be shown that I am) wrong on that.  Anyway, these are some of my favorite narrators and I encourage you to check some of them out.  They're arranged alphabetically because trying to rank them...would take hours to figure out for me.  They all are pretty great people to be speaking into my ears.

Keep an eye out for my next post that looks at some of the challenges about narrators as well as I lay out the tough questions I'm dying to ask any narrator that's willing to answer!

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

June Is Audiobook Month: The Authors #ListenLit

For those not in the know (it's ok, I'll forgive you), June Is Audiobook month.  Why not?  The other 11 months of the year can belong to books (which I still love!), but apparently June is dedicated to audiobooks according to the Audio Publisher's Association.

In honor of audiobooks, this month I will be focusing several blog points on audiobooks.  I've certainly talked about them before on this blog, so that should be nothing new.  For instance, I wrote an article on audiobooks and comics, interviewed narrators, found fascinating and free audiobooks on Librivox, considered how audiobooks help me fold time and space, discussed my intial--but never followed up writing opportunity at Abbreviated Audio, explained my experience with volunteering with an audiobook site brought me great opportunities, considered the variables in listening to audiobooks, and reflected on my experience as a judge for the Audies.  This is all in addition to reviewing audiobooks for over a decade for Publishers Weekly and Audiofile Magazine.

Hardcover book with earbuds.
That's one kind of
For this first post in the series thought, I want to take some time to talk about authors, who hold curious position in the realm of audiobooks.  

When we think about the author of a book and reading his or her work, we think of this almost direct lifeline between the author's ideas and our minds.  It's the closest thing to telepathy that we have.  They write the words and those words enter our minds through our eyes and become a great many amazing things in our imaginations.  It's all lovely.  

However, when a book becomes an audiobook, this twosome often becomes a threesome (who knew writers were so frisky) and in some ways, the experience becomes much more intimate as the authors words no long sit static on a page but are breathed into your ears by some skilled narrator.  In fact, much of celebrating audiobooks is celebrating the narrators--the amazing voices that turn books into audiobooks.  However, I wanted to dedicate this first post of the series to the authors.

Not all but some authors do get involved in the audiobook process.  This can happen in several different ways.  They are sometimes given the option to select a narrator from a group of audition files.  Other times, they are given the opportunity to narrate their introduction or author's note.  Some even go the distance and narrate the book themselves (something with very mixed results depending up the author's narrating skills).  Though some stay out of it entirely, never making any decisions about it and never listening to it, there are authors like Stephen King who have been profoundly involved with audiobooks and selecting the narrator.  

But there are a great many authors whom I have been exposed to that I might not have ever encountered were they not in audio.  I'll give just five examples from the books that I've read in the last month or so, though the truth is much bigger than this snapsot since I easily listen to 2 or so audiobooks a week that I would not be reading because I wouldn't have the time:
  • Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier
  • The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
  • How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson
  • Charity Case: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up for Itself and Really Change the World by Dan Pallotta
  • The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch by Lewis Dartnell
Now, I've listened to other works by Johnson and read another book by Lepore, but these are not books that would have made it to my radar without their delivery unto audio.  Each of these books I was quite impressed with and thoroughly enjoyed but would not have found the time to read them on top of all the other reading I do.  

So if we are going to celebrate the audiobook, I think we need to make sure we take time to celebrate the authors as it begins and ends with them.  

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.