Imagine Johnny Depp sitting in a bungalow on a Caribbean beach, recording the audio version of Keith Richards’ Life just for you. Not only did it happen, but this magical moment translated into yet another success for Hachette Audio. No wonder Anthony Goff, Senior Vice President, Content Management, and Audio Publisher of Hachette Book Group, said, “We are doing so well!” In fact, audiobooks are now the fastest growing format in the book business today. To learn more about this trend, NYU MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students visited the audio studios of the Hachette Book Group to see how audiobooks are recorded and to talk with the staff.
In the last 14 years, Hachette Audio has grown from producing 45-50 books a year to an anticipated 700 in 2017. “It’s challenging because we are limited in our resources and capacity,” noted Goff. “But we have a lot of partnerships with small production companies and up to 14 professionals on our team. And also, we are relative control freaks. We want to meet our standards: the packaging and the recording need to be perfect.”
To give us a sense of the process and the need for perfection, Goff invited the students to see Hachette Audio’s sanctuary—the two recording studios in the new Hachette offices. The main studio features state-of-the art equipment and has its own dedicated staff. We learned that the dark, compact room with carpet-covered walls possesses “dead sound” (little or no reverberation), important for effective recording and editing.
As we all slipped cozily into the small space, Elece Green, Associate Audio Production Manager, asked: “Does anybody want to try?” She then invited two students to read a scene from Freak Show, the young adult novel by James St. James. Although the hardcover was published 10 years ago, no one ever published the audiobook; Hachette bought the rights since they considered it a terrific opportunity. Our two students loved the chance to try out their narrating skills as Elece and her colleague Charles McCrory, Hachette Audio’s recording engineer, guided them through the process.
After we emerged from the recording studio, Megan Fitzpatrick, Senior Director, Marketing & Publicity, Hachette Audio, explained the main difference in promoting printed books and their audio editions: hardcover books usually have one publicist who promotes that title and its author. At Hachette Audio, one person promotes all audiobooks, highlighting their narrators and special qualities, and helping people understand the convenience of listening vs reading. (Surprisingly, 25% of people like to listen to audiobooks in their homes and 23% while exercising; the rest are while driving.)
We also learned that Hachette Audio provides unabridged audiobook recordings free of charge to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress. Kim Sayle, Associate Publisher, reported: “Not all publishers do this, so we are very proud of our contribution.” Other points of pride for the division: Hachette Audio is a nine-time Grammy winner, and the outstanding recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton: The Revolution” is a finalist for the 2017 Audio Publishers Association Audiobook of the Year.
After two hours in the Hachette Audio offices, it became clear that the secret of their success is not in the terrific studio and its dead sound, but in the team’s passion. They love what they do. Sitting amongst almost 20 students, Charles McCrory closed his eyes and became totally immersed in the audio recording, and the team can talk endlessly about recording features, mouth noise, covers, designs, types of microphones, etc. This passion makes them a trusted partner not only for celebrity authors such as Keith Richards, James Patterson, and Tina Fey, but also for the entire Hachette team eager to have as many books as possible available for your listening pleasure.
Ready for some fast facts about audio? Listen up!
- Microphones can be different types: omnidirectional, unidirectional, and bidirectional.
- Drinking tea, warm water, and honey is usually all that a narrator needs to sound the same for six hours of recording.
- It’s better to use professional actors for fiction; for nonfiction, like memoirs, it’s often good to hear the author’s real voice.
- The actors are usually the most expensive part of recording.
- An average audiobook length is 7-10 hours, so the narrator spends around 20-30 hours inside the studio. In total it takes 3-5 days to record one book.
by Raushan Naizabayeva
Images and video courtesy of M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media student Raushan Naizabayeva