By January 11, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

Barbara Rosenblat on Digital Shift

Audiobook narrator extraordinaire, recognised as the gold standard, gracious grand dame of voice actors – the accolades could go on and on. That’s what I wrote when Barbara Rosenblat was named the 2009 Booklist Voice of Choice in recognition of her lasting impact in the world of audiobook narration. I first interviewed Rosenblat to gather her reflections on voicing  Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken, the 2010 Odyssey Award winner. She recently shared her thoughts about the changing world of audiobook production with me, and I am so honored to add Ms. Rosenblat’s long view on digital shift.

This conversation came about when 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 this month. I’ve already featured Paul Gagne, of Weston Woods/Scholastic Audio and narrators Tavia Gilbert and Johnny Heller. I’ll finish up this series of posts tomorrow with a visit from producer/director Paul Ruben.

Many thanks to the marvelous Barbara Rosenblat for stopping by! Lend an ear to her words of wisdom below…


There is a wonderful new movie out called, ‘The Artist’. It is in black and white and, what’s more, it is a ‘silent movie’. Talk about retro! It tells the tale of a silent screen heart throb at the dawn of the ‘Talkies’ who refuses to ‘get with the programme and adapt’. Speaking on film?? Rubbish, he declares. Of course, the upshot of this is that he is left by the technological wayside, while a pretty young thing who adores him, makes her way in ‘Hollywoodland’ and becomes the darling of the Talkies.

I once asked a prominent audiobook producer for his thoughts on where our industry is now and he said, ‘We are at ‘the Talkies’. Technology is changing rapidly but the demand for quality product has never waivered.

Ask any librarian and they will tell you that fans of audiocontent abound and the entire industry stuggles to keep up. That said, the way in which this content is provided has proven quirky and multifaceted. Just as librarians used to just deal with Dewey Decimal System and tell you to be quiet, they are now uber-librarians,guiding patrons to computers, digital downloads, vast resources never before available. The advent of hand held devices has steered the industry into helping listeners get their content as quickly and portably as possible.

My own history dates back to reel to reel recording with, at least an engineer and, at most, a director on board. This triumverate has always and will always take a lot of the guesswork out of the final product. But times being what they are, and technology advancing as it is, it becomes clear that recording artists like myself have an opportunity to create good product from home studios as well as in the traditional environment. Self directing is a skill that, one hopes, does not take away from the immediacy of the recording. The sense that what you are listening to is not being simply read but performed. That is key to any audiobook worth listening to.

What librarians need is a cogent way to separate the wheat from the chaff and, at the moment, there is insufficient oversight of the industry. Blogs from ardent audiofans abound but they are scattered in the webisphere. Audiofile Magazine works tirelessly to keep abreast of the industry and inform patrons of the choices out there. Booklist and other mags for the publishing industry try to focus on the many changes and fine work being produced with either the ‘triumverate’ or the ‘home studio’. Either way, tastes will always remain highly discerning and cream will rise to the top. After all…in an audiobook, you can’t skim.




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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