Inside the Audiobook Studio: Bruce Coville & Tamora Pierce
Posted by: Mary Burkey
Full Cast Audio founder Coville and fantasy author Tamora Pierce made audiobook history when they collaborated on audiobook original Melting Stones, the first time an author’s work was completed and released as an audiobook before the publication of the print edition. Pierce directed the audiobook, and both she and her husband voiced characters in the fully cast recording – as did Bruce Coville and 19 other members of the Full Cast ensemble. This example of full participation by author in the creation of an audiobook is not unusual at Full Cast. Collegial collaboration is the standard at this company formed by prolific author Bruce Coville partially as a response to audiobook productions of his own works that did not meet his expectations. He’s succeeded so well that the Full Cast studios resemble family reunions – authors returning with each new book, often stepping in front of the mic accompanied by spouse or child. You can get a glimpse of the process in any of the terrific videos posted on Full Cast Audio’s YouTube channel, featuring great behind the scenes looks at recording sessions such as that of Coville’s new book The Last Hunt above. Today I’ve asked Bruce & Tammy to share a look Inside the Audiobook Studio with us by answering my Five Questions:
What’s on your MP3 player?
Tammy: I’ve been listening recently to Celtic rock, specifically Heather Dale‘s “One of Us” and “Mordred’s Lullaby” (gave me goosebumps!), and Steeleye Span‘s beautiful “The Wife of Usher’s Well”. “Wife” is a variant on the Goddess story in which a woman calls up a world-ending storm if her three sons, who have gone off and not returned, do not come home. They return, but they tell her that at dawn they have to go, because they’re dead and have to report to heaven. Steeleye Span gives is a passionate treatment, with Maddy Prior’s soaring voice conveying the kind of power a woman can have to raise that kind of story. Dale has the same power in “Mordred’s Lullaby,” the kind of song a woman bent on the destruction of a kingdom might sing to the baby who will achieve that for her as a man. “One of Us” is about a girl who sees a lady knight in the fields of chivalry just as she was about to give up her dream, and realizes that if this woman can do it, she can, too. Since I have lived my whole life on this principle, this song, which I just discovered, moves me deeply.
Bruce: You’re gonna laugh, but I don’t have an MP3 Player. When I’m listening to audiobooks, it’s usually for editing/vetting purposes, in which case I need the best quality sound I can get. My other primary listening time is in the car, when I listen casually and for pleasure. Right now I’m finishing the final listen on our recording of my own book, The Last Hunt. Happily. I’m enjoying it enormously. ;> The truth is, it takes most of my available listening time simply to cover our own recordings, and we’re still small enough that I try to listen to every minute of every title we release.
That said, I have found the audio versions of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas books extremely enjoyable.
Tell us about your role in the audiobook community.
Tammy: I started as an actor, when Bruce Coville at Full Cast Audio asked if I would want to be the narrator when Full Cast recorded the first Circle of Magic quartet (Bruce knew that I had done original radio comedy and drama in the 1980s as a writer, director, and actor). Full Cast also used my husband in the books, so it became a family deal. I was the one who came up with the idea of writing books that would be published originally as audio books, with print publication a year later. Since I fell in love with the voice of the actress who did Evvy in Street Magic, the first of those books was Melting Stones, which was released by Full Cast three years ago, and Scholastic Press two years ago. For that I was edited by Bruce and by the members of the company who had to perform the lines, and for my sins I got to direct the book as well. I had plenty of input into the books I had not directed, including giving (composer) Todd Hobin ideas about music, but I was still a bit of a wreck when I directed for the first time. Even when I’m not directly involved in a project, sometimes Dan (Bostick, Full Cast’s Artistic Director) or Bruce will ask me to come listen to a voice to see if it works for a particular character–it seems they like my ear, and since I now live in Syracuse, I’m right down the block!
Bruce: I’ve been producing and directing audiobooks for about fifteen years now, first as a partner in the “Words Take Wing” imprint of Listening Library, and for the last nine years with my own company, Full Cast Audio. I lead a dual life now, both as a writer of children’s books (95 published, and counting) and as a producer, director, and occasional narrator of the audio versions of not only my own books, but those of a dozens of other children’s book writers as well.
What was your most interesting/embarrassing/hilarious moment in the audiobook studio?
Tammy: Oh, those. Ahem. Normally I’m a fairly well behaved person, even shy, but when I get comfortable with people–well, they aren’t quite ready for the real me. The first time we recorded, the only person who could see me on my narrator’s microphone was Bruce, so I treated him to my wide, international vocabulary of obscene gestures. The next year they closed my microphone off entirely, so I had to resort to verbiage to relieve my tensions. Now Brett (one of the engineers) and Carmen (who plays Tris and Daine) wait for my first utterance of “feces,” which they know is the sign that I’m warming up. Bruce tries to keep a muzzle on me by reminding me that there are kids in the room, and I do try, but when there aren’t any kids, I’ve reduced everyone within hearing to near-apoplexy. It’s amazing how obscene a proper description of applying chapstick to your mouth can be made to sound.
They claim they’ve kept my outbursts on record and intend to release the disc as “Tammy Pierce Is a Pottymouth.” I keep telling them that they’d make big money from my fans on Ebay if they’d do it–my fans want it!
Bruce: All of my most embarrassing moments involve directing Tammy . . .
What future trends or changing technologies do you think will have the greatest/worst/revolutionary impact on the audiobook production field?
Bruce: Well the obvious answer is the shift away from having a physical product. Since I still have basement full of cassettes (sigh) we’re being much more cautious with our CD runs. That they are a transitional medium is not in doubt. The only question is how long they’ll last.
The problem is that once you get rid of the physical product there is a huge downward pressure on price points. That seems reasonable, but doesn’t take into account the cost of producing the recording itself, especially when you’re doing a full cast extravaganza as we do. The cost of the physical product is the least part of what we have to earn back in order for a recording to pay for itself, but because that aspect is somewhat invisible, the consumer doesn’t really see it
What’s new and exciting in your part of the audiobook community?
Bruce: We’ve just released two long-awaited recordings – my own book, The Last Hunt, and Tammy’s The Realms of the Gods. Each is the final volume of a four book series, and it feels very good to have them out there where people can hear them. (Not to mention that I’ll no longer have to field well-justified complaints from fans wondering why they are not available yet!)
Also, we recently (finally!) launched a regular e-newsletter that I think is pretty cool. We’re trying to make better use of the social media to keep in contact with our listeners, and we’re now on Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube, where we’ve been posting some “insider” video showing our unique recording process, and some cases including commentary. You can link to all of the social media from our website (www.fullcastaudio.com, natch) and sign up for the newsletter here: http://fullcastaudio.com/newsletter/signup.html
Thanks, Bruce & Tammy, for taking us on a trip inside Full Cast Audio’s studio!
Update! Speaking of the “family reunion” feel of Full Cast Audio, there are two new videos up on the YouTube channel: Football great Tim Green gives his perspective as an author on listening & reading, plus you can see and hear as Tim, along with his kids Troy and Tate, record Football Champ with the Full Cast family.