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Sunday, June 23, 2013

JIAM Interview: Melissa Coates with Brilliance Audio

In her 14 years in the audiobook industry, Melissa Coates has been involved in every aspect of audiobook production. She has been a proofer, recording engineer, post production engineer and director on hundreds of audiobooks in every genre, and is currently a producer and audio proofing supervisor at Brilliance Audio

What is your favorite thing about audiobooks?
Like most people today, I am constantly on the go.  Audiobooks are a great way for me to catch up on the reading that I don’t have time for. Audiobooks are also a great way to experience a book as a group, by listening together. You can discuss the plot and character's motives in real time.

What are some of your favorite books to experience on audio? What do you feel the audio adds to the story?
Two of my favorite audiobooks are the Audie Award winner The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf and The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker. The Watch That Ends the Night is a collection of poems about the sinking of the Titanic.  The production of the audiobook draws the listener even farther into the emotion of each poem through a variety of narrators and sound effects.  In one scene,  you can hear the people screaming for help in the background, making you feel like you are actually there.  In The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker, I found that narrator Laura Hamilton's performance made the characters really come to life off the page. With the number of characters in this book, Laura did a wonderful job interpreting the numerous quirky characters and the dynamics of both the Buttons family and townsfolk, giving them individuality through character voices. A good narrator performance can make a great story even greater.

Do you feel audio appeals to a different subset of young readers, possibly reluctant readers or those short on time? 
I recently asked myself this question while producing an audiobook for kids.  I decided to use my nieces and nephew as a makeshift focus group. While driving them to get ice cream, I played a sample of the audiobook . When it began, I watched their faces in the rear view mirror. Initially, they gave each other confused looks.  After a few minutes, I noticed the 8 year old starting to get into the story, and the 6 year old giggling at certain parts.  After awhile, the 11 year old was getting involved in the story too. When we arrived back at their house, all three were  engrossed with the audiobook and upset when the sample ended.  They wanted to know what happened next. These three kids couldn’t be more different when it comes to reading.  One has little experience reading, another is a voracious reader, and the third doesn’t care for reading, and at times struggles.  Yet, all of them loved the audiobook!  So to answer the question, I would say no.  I don’t feel that audiobooks appeal only to a specific subset of young readers. In my experience, the appeal of audiobooks is more about exposure, than a specific type of young listener.

Can you explain the working relationship between the narrator and the producer? 
The producer is the creative consultant of the project. Producers know each book intimately, and are responsible for casting the appropriate narrator for the given text. Often they work directly with the author to ensure that the author's vision is conveyed in the narrator's performance.  Once cast, narrators will  come to the producer and ask for guidance on pronunciations, character development,  and other questions about the material. Common questions are, “Should I add a slight accent for this character?” and “ Where should I include the footnotes in this audiobook?"  The narrator and producer also work closely when scheduling the recording. Once the recording begins, the producer is there to ensure that the narrator, director, and engineer have everything they need to keep the recording on schedule. Depending on the situation,  producers may personally direct the narrator's performance during the recording, as opposed to hiring a director.

What is your favorite genre of children’s or young adult books to produce? 
There are so many subsets to the children's & young adult genres, that it's  tough to pick one! I like titles that relatethe awkward teenage years dealing with growing pains (Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford), as well as more adventurous books, that explore the world of imagination (Kane Chronicles Series by Rick Riordan).  However, I really lean toward books that teach the value of tolerance. Two examples would be would be the 2013 Audie Award Nominees October Mourning by Lesléa Newman and Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Both deal with the struggles young people have when they are different from their peers. My hope is that these, and other books like them, will open the eyes of young readers and teach them acceptance.

What do you feel are some of the most important innovations in audio over the last decade?
There have been several advancements in audiobooks during the past decade, which have impacted the listening experience and also convenience for consumer. Some of which are higher sound quality, more appropriate narrator selection, downloads and MP3-CD.

However, one of the coolest innovations, has to be Whispersync for Voice.  The ability to combine the e-book with the audiobook is a wonderful experience for readers of any age. To be able to begin reading an e-book, then plug in your headphones and switch over to the audiobook and have the audio pick up exactly where you stopped reading, and then switch back to the e-book  right where the audiobook left off… that's pretty amazing!

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