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Paul Ruben on Digital Shift

Grammy & Audie award-winning producer/director Paul Ruben’s expertise in the recording studio has resulted in top audiobooks for every major industry publisher. Voice actors who have benefited from his  coaching and narrator workshops name him one of the best in the business. Savvy audiobook fans know that the entire production team deserves recognition for memorable audios, and seek Ruben’s name in the credits. Paul graciously offered his observations on the changing world of audio production with me when I asked five industry pros about the impact of digital 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. I’ve already featured Paul Gagne, of Weston Woods/Scholastic Audio and narrators Tavia GilbertJohnny Heller, and Barbara Rosenblat. You can click the link to check out the abridged Booklist column Digital Shift Happens .

I’m so grateful that you’ve stopped by Audiobooker, Paul! I know fans and librarians will appreciate your thoughtful observations.

Paul, you’ve won many honors & awards as an independent  audiobook producer/director, and have coached scores of narrators. Your wonderful blog gives an inside look at your important role in the audiobook community. As many narrators create home studios, what do you feel is the shift in the industry that is driving this change? 

Thanks, Mary, for the kindness and opportunity to respond. Home studio is two facts of life: for the future more publishers will be employing home studio narrators; the shift to home studio is largely driven by publishers’ desire to spend less on production. Because I’m not a publisher I don’t have even anecdotal experience to  more specifically address this shift. What I can more confidently say is that advances in technology make the home studio recording a reasonable option for publishers: relatively inexpensive, professional equipment, electronic delivery of scripts, program, etc. Essentially home studio talent can create, edit, and master an audio program far more inexpensively than a traditional studio.

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?

If you extract money from the equation (no small positive if you’re a publisher) I’d argue there is little or nothing inherently beneficial about a home studio recording.

While working with a full service studio, such as John Marshall Media, where I record all my programs, does not guarantee an award-winning program, the full service studio does meet publishers’ needs in a way that a home studio can’t, especially  if you regard those ‘holy trinity’ needs through the lens we who work to serve publishers do: speed, quality, price. Because a recording studio can employ highly trained engineers and post-production staff, and have access (particularly in New York and LA) to hundreds of experienced narrators, it is capable of turning out multiple, high quality (both technically and in terms of talent) audio programs for multiple publishers, inexpensively and fast. Though the audio book director may soon become an anachronism, some publishers still employ them, and only at a traditional studio.

It’s important to emphasize that there are many gifted home studio narrators (I’ve employed some and know many). That said I have never met a narrator who wouldn’t prefer a competent director. Why? The likely result is a better performance, thus, arguably, a more enjoyable experience for the listener.

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?

I think librarians are a compelling force in the audio book industry. From my perspective they not only provide free, or low cost, audio programs to consumers, they are quality conscious. They care about the program, technically and aesthetically. I can’t speak to acquisitions policy. But I can speak about performance, and how to evaluate a narrator. Though determining performance quality is, of course, impossibly subjective, there are what I’d call ‘performance markers’ that, once identified and explored, may shed light on why a consumer does or doesn’t like a given performance. Knowing how to evaluate performance may be one way of determining: who’s going to like this? And why?

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?

ACX is a meaningful response to the need for product.  There are only so many books whose audio rights are acquired by publishers. ACX seems particularly suited to home studio talent, largely, I think, because it’s simply less expensive to produce an audio program for a home studio.

Any other information that you feel is important for librarians to know about in relation to these topics?

 I mentioned evaluating narrators’ performance earlier – it’s all I really feel relatively certain talking about. What I want librarians to know is that, in my opinion, there may be an axiomatic relationship between home studio and performance quality: While it bears repeating that there are many very talented home studio narrators and certainly lots of poor performances direct from a traditional studio, in the aggregate, a traditional studio with director will produce a more satisfying listening experience than a home studio.





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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