By September 22, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

Inside the Audiobook Studio: Riot by Walter Dean Myers

Riot cover

Exclusive video and audio clips and an interview with producer Dan Zitt  – what a great visit inside the recording of Walter Dean Myers’ Riot. Listen to this clip <> of the audiobook released today by Listening Library, and be sure to watch the video at the bottom of the post where you’ll  really be inside the studio with members of the Anthony Morgan Choir. Here’s a photo of Riot author Walter Dean Myers, winner of multiple literary awards, with today’s Inside the Audiobook Studio guest, the astonishingly talented Dan Zitt on the right.

walter and dan

Dan, please take a seat in the interview chair and let’s get started…

1.    What’s on your MP3 player?
I usually have three or four audiobooks in my iPod at one time, and I listen to parts of each depending on the mood I am in.  That being said, I am wrapping up an audiobook by Luanne Johnson titled Muchacho.   Ozzie Rodriguez is perfectly cast as the juvenile delinquent Eddie Corazon. Louanne Johnson’s characters are so authentic, and Rodriguez doesn’t need to do much to enhance the story.   A minute into the audio you believe that Rodriguez is Eddie Corazon, and as an audiobook producer, that is what we always aim for.   The book is also topical for today’s teens. It covers immigration and drugs, and more importantly, self esteem, which is a major issue with teens today. It is an audiobook that I am going to pass on to all of my teacher friends.  I am also listening to Jim Dale’s recording of Alice in Wonderland.  I loved hearing it in the studio, but to go back and listen to his performance again brings me right back to my childhood.

2.    Tell us about your role in the audiobook community.

I am the Director of Master Recording for the Random House Audio Publishing Group, which essentially means that my team is responsible for the production of every recording that Random House Audio and Listening Library produce. I have been producing audiobooks for thirteen years, and I have probably produced over 750 or so audiobooks in that time.
I have always considered my job as a Producer to be about collaboration. Who better to discuss what the author had in mind than the author? From the moment that I receive a manuscript from our editorial director, the collaboration begins. I have often said that there is one voice for every book, and I spend a lot of time with our authors trying to find that one voice. I also spend a lot of time picking the brains of talent agents who are always willing to help us find new performers. There isn’t a cookie cutter approach to casting here, and that is why Listening Library and Random House has been so successful over the years. Sometimes it is more than one voice. Sometimes it’s finding the right music to sprinkle in. Either way, every book we work on has a voice, and we do our best to help find that voice. After we’ve found what we are looking for, it is off to the studio.  Our collaboration doesn’t stop there. We talk with our authors about pronunciations if we need to, and we even invite them into the studio if it is convenient. The more creative voices in our process, the better.

3.    What was your most interesting/embarrassing/hilarious moment in the audiobook studio?
Wow, I have had so many interesting experiences in the studio over the years.   I’ve had the chance to work with former Presidents, Oscar winners, Icons and wonderfully talented actors and authors, so picking just one is so hard. I would have to say that casting, producing, and working with Walter Dean Myers on our full cast recording of his book Monster was by far the most interesting. I spent about two months casting that book and probably saw about a hundred actors or so to fill all of the roles. In the end, I found the main characters voice in a boy who had never acted before. The minute that I heard this boy’s voice I looked at my director and said, “that’s him.” There is nothing like finding the perfect voice for an audiobook, and in that case, I can honestly say that it was perfect.   The one thing I learned that day is that you will sometimes find talent in the most unlikely of places. In the end, the recording was one of the most amazing experiences of my career. We had 17 actors in big studio reading for all different types of characters, and the experience of being alongside all of these talented people made it the perfect audiobook production to me.

4.     What future trends or changing perceptions or technologies do you think will have the greatest/worst/revolutionary impact on the audiobook production field?
I think that casting trends relative to awards have taken over the industry in a negative way. If an actor wins a few cheers from the audiobook community, producers are casting (or should I say miscasting) them solely on these accolades. I think it is a terrible approach to producing audiobooks. If you are the trendy narrator one year, you seem to get ten gigs the following year based solely on that trend. It takes all of the thinking out of the casting process and quite frankly it can take the heart out of a production, regardless of how well that trendy narrator narrates the program. Authors and their audiobooks deserve more attention than that from producers. That’s not to say that good narrators shouldn’t be hired over and over again. It simply means that producers are taking the easy way out with their casting. Awards are nice, but trendy narrators change, and producers are doing these books a disservice by casting the flavor of the month.

5.    What’s new and exciting in your part of the audiobook community?
I have just completed a full cast recording of Walter Dean Myers’ new book Riot. This book takes place during the draft riots of 1863. We’ve cast twenty or so actors to perform the various roles in this book, and sprinkled in some music and sound effects. It is the most dramatic audiobook listening experience that I have ever had. We spent a significant amount of time casting this audio which has 60+ roles ranging from ages ten to sixty.  The characters are so diverse that we were really challenged throughout the production process. We had to cast Irish immigrants, soldiers, and children of all backgrounds. We also have some members of the world famous Anthony Morgan Choir who were good enough to come into the studio and sing a song during one of the most important parts of the book. When I listened to it (for the third time) I could see the guns going off in my mind, I could feel the fear of the children in an orphanage, I could smell the smoke of the burning buildings. It is an amazing experience.
The other thing that I am really excited about is our recording of the classic Jack London novel, Call of the Wild. We just cast Jeff Daniels to narrate this book, and we really think that it is going to be amazing. I am also working on an audio only project with author and narrator Ron McLarty.

Thanks so much for being here for our weekly look inside the audiobook studio, Dan, and sharing the exclusive first sneak peeks at your production of Riot! Please be sure to thank director Davis Rapkin for allowing us in the sound booth. This video gives a real feel for what it’s like to be part of the recording session with the Anthony Morgan Choir:



About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

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