The Echo of One Hand Clapping
Notes on Audio Publishing and Production by Brian Price
Award-winning audiobook and audio theater producer, Yuri Rasovsky, passed away last week, January 18th, in Hollywood at the age of 67. He was one of the best-known, hardest working and more successful artists in the odd little niche of multi-cast audio drama in the past 40 years. He crossed the aural landscape from radio broadcast to reel-to-reel tape to cassettes to NEA Humanities grants to digital audiobook downloads.
He liked the classics. He liked quality. He liked good acting. He pursued them. I think that’s probably what took Yuri out west to Hollywood. I mean look at the last few shows he produced. SAINT JOAN with Amy Irving. THE MALTESE FALCON with Sandra Oh and Edward Herrmann. And the Grammy nominated MASK OF ZORRO with Ruth Livier and Val Kilmer. Val Kilmer for crying out loud. Yuri worked with a lot of good people telling a lot of good stories.
Yuri had opinions. He liked having opinions. He did not suffer fools or bad audio-production values gladly. So how best to honor a man who fondly called himself the curmudgeonly, El Fiendo?
Start an argument, of course. So, here’s the question—why can’t anybody using one short phrase or less, decide, once and for all, what to call audio/radio/multi-cast/full-cast/spoken word/theatre/theater/drama/ear movies/on-tape/unabridged/fully-realized/down-loadable stuff that we sometimes listen to?
When you say you’re going to the movies, people know where you’re going. If you say you’re going to read a book, people have a pretty good idea of what that means. Of course, there are myriad subsets under books and films, but with one word we get the idea. Not so easy when one is talking about audio theater.
The other day I was sitting in a high school hall listening to a two-voice unabridged audiobook on an old MP3 player while waiting for my daughter to get out of a practice. A parent came up to me and asked me what I was listening to and then what I did for a living. It took me a half hour to explain.
I usually try to start out by saying I produce books-on-tape. The books-on-tape part usually sends the explainee into a fairly safe direction. If you lead with anything mentioning radio you get a split in age: The older ones say, gosh that Jack Benny sure was a funny guy, and the younger ones ask, what’s a radio? If you mention theater the explainee will usually explain how they almost got the lead in their local community’s production of BYE BYE BIRDIE and how the world would’ve been a better place if their lifetime dream would’ve come true.
Words are important. Labeling is important, and a major part of the labeling challenge for audiobooks is that there ARE separate and distinct products that sound different, present material differently and are aimed at different audiences. On the other hand an exciting part of the labeling challenge is that the acceptance by book publishers of more-than-one-voice productions is growing quickly and has out distanced any easy, friendly description.
It remains that a single-voice read is a very different animal than a fullcast adaptation of the same book. It also remains that the two products sound very different from each other and are strongly reacted to differently by listeners.
I honestly don’t believe the average listener knows or cares about all the industry terminology. For instance, the parent from above liked audiobooks, but had no idea what fullcast, audio drama or enhanced meant. Why should they? The audience wants to listen to a story and the story should be in a form of how they want to listen to it. Got that?
Here are a few one-word descriptions that do work: Unabridged – that means long. BBC – this means that there are lots of Cockney and Scottish “accents” and that the product should be good for you. “Independent” producer – this means that when the story was being produced the producer was on drugs.
So, how did Yuri handle this “explaining what you do” problem? He called his company THE HOLLYWOOD THEATER OF THE EAR. This ends up being a fairly informative and very eloquent way to say Yuri valued and was using the best talent he could get ahold of from “Hollywood,” he had a dramatic background but wasn’t going to be purposely stuffy about it, hence the Midwestern “er” in theater; and that the entertainment being offered was solely presented in sound—EAR which sounds like AIR which harkens back to radio airplay which wraps the whole idea of Yuri’s art into a nice little package.
Yuri was a smart guy and produced smart work. That’s something to aspire to no matter what you call it.
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