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Paul Gagne on Digital Shift

Reflections by Weston Woods/Scholastic Audio producer on changes in audiobook creation. I asked five industry pros about the shift from studio production teams to solo narrators recording in home studios for my January “Voices in My Head” column in Booklist. Their answers are so thoughtful that I want to share every word with you, before the column with their abridged remarks appears next month. You’ll hear from all five – Gagne, Tavia Gilbert, Johnny Heller, Barbara Rosenblat, and Paul Ruben – one each week in alphabetical order. Today I’m hosting a man whose work has been recognized in so many ways, including Odyssey Award Honors, in his 30+ years in the industry. It’s interesting to compare Paul Gagne’s remarks below with an interview here on Audiobooker from 2009 that also includes an adorable audio interview with Mo Willems & daughter Trixie.

Here’s the scoop on digital shift from Gage’s point of view:
As many narrators create home studios, what do you feel is the shift in the industry that is driving this change?

PG: I think that publishers are continuing to feel the long-term effects of a weakened economy, combined with the market shift from physical audio CDs to digital formats.  With the consumer price of a digital copy generally being less than that of a physical CD, a publisher needs to sell more copies to net the same profit.  So there’s an ongoing concern with reducing production costs, and a good narrator who can offer one-stop shopping by doing their own recording and editing can give the publisher significant savings in the cost per finished hour.

What do you see as the positive and negative aspects of recording with an audiobook production team in a recording studio versus solo recording in a home studio? As a producer/director, have you ever used any creative methods to combine your expertise with the convenience of a home studio, such as Skype or other ways to guide narrators using their own recording facilities?

PG: I’m very old-school in believing that an actor, a director and a sound engineer in a good studio all bring something vital to the table in any audiobook production, and that each of their contributions affects the performance and the overall sound quality of the finished recording.  I think it’s critical to have an actor who can give a solid reading, a director to listen intently and offer coaching and suggestions to draw the best performance out of the actor, and an engineer monitoring the technical quality, flagging character voices to easily play a line back if a reference is needed for consistency, and carefully checking the actor’s spoken words against the script for accuracy.  I’m very much aware of the trend toward working with narrators in their home studios, but I’ve been very reluctant to go there, and will probably only do so kicking and screaming.  For one thing, I think that the recording quality is likely to fluctuate from narrator to narrator depending on the equipment they have and the effectiveness of whatever soundproofing they have installed in their home studios.  More importantly, I don’t want my casting choices limited to only those actors who have home studios — I want to be able to cast the best reader for a given book from the full pool of available talent, period.

To answer the second part of your question, at Weston Woods we have actually been using things like phone patches and Skype to direct talent for a good number of years nowin instances where an actor either can’t come to our studio in Connecticut or the physical distance is more than a train ride into New York City.  This has worked very well for us, and in a couple of instances we’ve done it with actors recording in their home studios, but the decision to do that is always based where the actor we want for a story is located, not whether they can offer their own recording services.

As audiobooks move from a physical  edition created by a team of narrator plus a studio production team to a digital-only edition created by a smaller team or perhaps a solo narrator/producer, how do you see these changes impacting the decisions that must be made by librarians evaluating and selecting audiobooks for library patrons?

PG: I think that librarians evaluating audiobooks will have the same factors and criteria to take into consideration when making their selections that they’ve always had, but they’re likely to hear a wider range in things like audio quality, whether a reader not only delivers a good, professional performance but has that “x” factor that really helps the the listener to connect with the story, etc.

Care to reflect on the impact of the impact of Audible’s Audiobook Creation Exchange or other possible major shifts in the industry that solo home recording or digital technology makes possible?

PG: I love the basic idea behind the Audiobook Creation Exchange because it creates the potential for many more titles to be produced in audio form, particularly if you’re a writer who has retained the audio rights to your work.  Anything that creates more enthusiasm and more listeners is good for all of us in the audiobook field.

One of the things I don’t like about the overall trend toward actors recording themselves in home studios is that I think it makes it harder for young actors to break into the field and gain the kind of experience that will result in more work.  Not only do you have to prove your acting abilities, but now you have to invest in your own recording equipment and be able to learn the technical aspects of recording and editing.  I’ve heard from several very talented narrators who are trying to gain experience and have been frustrated and discouraged by this trend because it makes it that much harder to get work.

I can’t thank Paul enough for sharing his expertise! Tune in next week for narrator Tavia Gilbert’s take on this digital shift.

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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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