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Inside the Audiobook Studio: Arnie Cardillo of Live Oak Media


Winner of the first Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production, Arnie Cardillo of Live Oak Media is a meticulous craftsman of children’s audiobooks and readalongs. I had the pleasure of interviewing Arnie for Booklist after he won the Odyssey for Jazz, written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Christopher Myers – you can read here his description of the process of creating original musical pieces to underlay the sung & spoken narration of each poem in the Myers’ journey through the history of jazz. Let’s hear what Arnie has to say in response to my weekly Inside the Audiobook Studio questions…

1. What’s on your MP3 player?

MP3 Player?  I prefer listening to CDs, not downloads (and I’ll tell you why later on).  But did go to see David Sedaris, on the first night of his fall tour, and got to hear him read some of his new material. Not the greatest voice, but an incredible reader and storyteller; and someone who is deeply committed to the spoken word.  His delivery and pacing are impeccable; and, when you are listening to him read his stories, the stories themselves transcend his vocal qualities, and he transports you into the stories themselves, into his genius.

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

When I’m wearing my production hat, I’m responsible for finding the right books, (a ongoing process that I share with my editor in CHIEF and wife, Debra) obtaining audio rights, drawing up contracts, researching information in text to make sure recording or facts are authentic (and solicit the aid of the author when appropriate or necessary), spotting the book with my engineer and composers to plan out the production (places music will appear, type of music and instrumentation that will provide the appropriate emotional support to the reading, places where sound effects should be used and placed so that the text/words make a greater impact and imprint on the early readers memory and mind), hire narrator(s) and musicians, work with narrators at the voiceover sessions, working on final mix of all audio elements and components with the engineer to make sure production sounds the way we want it.  Boy I should give myself a raise…but really, productions are a collaboration with many talented artists, and my main purpose is to make sure it all get done, and of course, pay everyone!

3. What was your most interesting/embarrassing/hilarious moment in the audiobook studio?

Many hilarious moments at the voiceover sessions—and what language comes out of these actors.  But the funniest narrator we’ve ever worked with is John Beach (titles he recorded for us include Punctuation Takes a Vacation, Mystery On the Docks, Art Dog, Moo Cow Kaboom, the Grandpa Spanielson series).   It’s like he channels voices that come out of nowhere.  During a recent recording session for Grandpa Spanielson #3 The Shrunken Head, we were trying to find the right voice for the rotund Queen of the Headhunter pooch tribe, and all of a sudden he comes out with an impersonation of James Mason!  He is so spontaneous, and every session with him is an adventure into hysterics.  By the way, Barbara Caruso’s reading of the Minnie and Moo series, and her characterizations of the Lucy and Ethel of the Bovine world, is another non-stop, laugh out loud fun-filled experience.

4. What future trends or changing perceptions or technologies do you think will have the greatest/worst/revolutionary impact on the audiobook production field?

OK, here is the answer I was referring to at the beginning of question one.  In a nutshell, I think downloaded audio sounds horrible.  It’s thin, hollow-sounding, and lifeless.  Call me a throwback to an ancient time, but I still love listening to vinyl, and loved the introduction of the CD because of dynamic range that it lent to sound and the total lack of recording (white) noise that used to be introduced in the recording process and was ever-present on cassettes.  All of the good sonic qualities, like a warm, full and life-like sound that we heard on vinyl and CDs, has been squeezed out of the digital download sound quality.  It’s like taking all of the healthy, nutritious, and vitamin rich contents of whole wheat and making Wonder Bread.  It’s processed sound, if sound is an appropriate word for it.  Maybe technology will correct its own sonic shortcomings in time, but right now, I consider digital download sound a giant step backwards.

5. What’s new and exciting in your part of the audiobook community?

Our plan is to add more video clips to our website, so that avid audio listeners and fans can “peak in” on the recording/production process and get to see what a recording or mixing session looks like.  And, by the way, you have to listen to what the reigning queen of audiobook narration, Barbara Rosenblat,  did on our recent production of Kate DeCamillo’s and Harry Bliss’ picture book, Louise: The Adventures of a Chicken.  She dances gingerly between the voices of French chickens, Pirates, circus performers, Mid-Eastern fortune-sellers, etc., all with a clever tongue-in-cheek flair, to make for a truly enjoyable audiobook experience.

Thanks so much for being here as our guest, Arnie! I am looking forward to the new releases from Live Oak – especially This Jazz Man, Karen Ehrhardt’s clever play on the finger-play chant “This Old Man,”  retooled to introduce nine jazz masters. Sure to be another great title in the Live Oak “Music Makers” collection. And check out Arnie & Debra Cardillo’s great Behind the Scenes interviews on their website!



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.

4 Comments on "Inside the Audiobook Studio: Arnie Cardillo of Live Oak Media"

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  1.' Sue-Ellen says:

    And I just had a reviewer bemoan the fact that cassettes are dead as she recently was sent a couple of titles to review for Booklist and the CDs were faulty, skipped, and had other problems.

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