Aric Johnson, owner of Colorado-based Anti-Matter Media, is still reeling from their Audie nomination for the production of Josh Kaufman’s wildly successful The Personal MBA. Josh used ACX’s DIY platform to upload the completed audio and distribute it through Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Today we’re checking in with Aric to discuss Josh’s newly released The First 20 Hours, and to get this studio pro’s advice for authors, narrators and producers.
Tell us about your current audiobook project.
We just wrapped up The First 20 Hours: How To Learn Anything… FAST by Josh Kaufman. We get to ride with Josh as he explores a few completely new skills, and the ups and downs are not only entertaining, they’re very educational. Listening to this book, you might be surprised at how your interests expand. After working on it with Josh, I found myself wanting to try things I’d never thought about before.
Of course, that’s one of the main benefits of being an audiobook producer: you get intimately exposed to some really great content! Especially when working with an author as productive and focused as Josh is. His stuff is so useful, so applicable, that just working on his projects has impacted my business in ways that go well beyond the act of recording them. And since this was Josh’s second turn at bat narrating himself, we were able to really settle in and enjoy ourselves
Tell us about yourself.
I have always wanted to inspire people, much the same way that I was inspired by the movies and music I experienced when I was young. So I started out in film production, but moved into music production because it was much easier to be independent in music. I started out producing albums for independent artists on small labels, and I’ve been doing that for over 20 years now.
After working on several small independent films, mostly documentaries, I was fortunate enough to be able to combine music production and post-production into an ongoing business and own my own studio. And now, my wife and I – we own the studio together, and are a team in the business – we get to work on really interesting projects with really interesting people from all over the country.
That’s part of what is so exciting to us about ACX and the Audible model. It is truly empowering to authors who want to work independently, to produce and own their content. Even if authors are already partnered with a publisher, the ACX/Audible engine affords them great control over quality and the means of distribution. And that’s everything, in the digital era: getting as close as possible to your audience, with efficiency and a minimum of overhead.
After working on The Personal MBA, I knew that anything Josh Kaufman created was something I wanted to be involved in. Josh’s projects are very congruent with the whole reason I love what I do: both The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours are about empowering people to be their best and to be successful without the huge institutional overhead we so often assume is necessary. We had built a rapport on the first project, so it was a no-brainer that we would work together again. I enjoy working with authors who narrate their own projects; I think you get a passion and immediacy that, sometimes, only the author can provide.
What advice do you have for authors who are considering having their titles made into audiobooks?
First and foremost: keep your rights! Audiobook rights are and should be separate from publishing; do what you can to keep control and as much ownership as possible.
Then think about what you want your audience’s experience to be. Put yourself in their shoes, and create an experience for them that really honors your intentions. Don’t just hand it off and let it be done by someone who isn’t invested in your vision. Passion matters.
Don’t be afraid to break rules or stand against convention; be creative. As a producer, I would say to an author the same thing I often say to songwriters: If it helps tell the story and make it more compelling, do it! If it takes away from the story or distracts, throw it out. The story is king. That’s why sometimes letting the author narrate their book works. It may not be as polished or smooth as a professional read, but there are some ideas that are stronger coming directly from the mind that made them.
What advice do you have for those new to audiobook narration/production?
For a narrator: Put some of your self into a project. It will come through, and you’ll end up attracting more projects that are similar in tone and intention. That may be a basic life principle, but it is uncannily literal in audiobook production, simply because the naked human voice always tells the truth, in spite of what you might want it to say. There’s just nowhere to hide.
How you feel about the project, about yourself, about what your cat did or your primary relationship that day – all that will come through. So do whatever you need to do to bring your best self to the booth.
For producers: God is in the details. I can’t stress this enough: details matter. Get the editing really clean. Fix every fade and every breath. Even minor technical glitches or inconsistencies register subconsciously in the sophisticated voice-recognition software in our heads. It will pull the listener out of suspension of disbelief and remind them that they’re listening to a recorded product. You don’t want that.
It’s also the producer’s job to help the talent bring their best selves and to find the project’s core. That’s a whole art in itself – maybe that’s a book on its own – but use common sense and always keep the big picture in mind.
Are you listening to any other audiobooks now? Which?
What’s your biggest takeaway from Aric’s interview? Tell us in the comments below!