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January 12, 2009

It's An Audio

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The Michael Blowhard creativity onslaught continues. Back here I wrote about co-creating a trash novel in two months with The Wife. Back here I wrote about co-creating a webseries with The Wife and a young director friend.

I’ve just finished another deeply satisfying adventure in co-creation: The Wife and I have co-written and co-produced an audio extravaganza.

It’s a raunchy satire of the movieworld -- and, as we like to say to each other, it isn’t “just an audiobook.” Instead, we roped together more than 30 actors, we utilized real audio production values ... Episodic, satirical, and ultra-raunchy, it’s like an audio version of a Showtime or HBO series, or like a dirty-minded and up-to-date season of the kind of audio plays that used to be common on American radio.

(I say “not just an audiobook” with the greatest fondness and admiration for good audiobooks, by the way. I also hereby acknowledge the masterful audiobook creator Charlton Griffin as the godfather of our project. Without Charlton’s tips and encouragement we’d never have known how to get started with our own project. In case you’re unaware of his work: Charlton, who often drops by 2Blowhards -- and who is now Friendable on Facebook too -- produces and narrates some of the best audiobooks out there. Check out Charlton's product line at Audible by typing his name into the Search box.)

A handful of observations about the making-audio process.

  • It’s a performance. When The Wife and I kicked our project off a couple of years ago, the plan was to emerge from the process with a novel, not an audio entertainment. Not having an actual book contract to enforce a deadline on us, we set up our own deadlines by arranging readings in downtown bars. The readings became our deadlines. We raced to complete sections of the project in time to put them up in front of live audiences.

    But something unexpected happened. As we did the readings, we found ourselves writing less and less in the way of on-the-page style prose and more and more in the way of dramatic/comedic material for actors. Writers reading on-the-page prose are usually a drag, after all, where actors reading dramatized comic material are often enormously entertaining. The Wife and I? Well, we’re opportunistic enough to go where the applause and the laughter seems loudest.

    By the time we’d rounded the live-presentation phase of our project off, what we had in our hands wasn’t a novel at all but instead a collection of related audio plays. We looked at each other and said, Hey, so far as setting-this-in-stone goes, what do you say we skip the turning-it-into-a-novel thing and produce it as a recorded audio entertainment instead? The performance side of the project had taken over. I wrote back here about touring our stories around the country.

  • Why don’t more writers do audio? As everyone knows, reading time is diminishing; even interested and devoted readers are finding less time to give to books. Yet even as this development occurs, many are spending more time at the gym and on the road. Why not appeal to this audience? Audio can be a great way to tickle the brain and the imagination ... So why don’t more writers do what we have done and create directly for today’s commuting, on-the-go audience?

  • Audio is like a combo of movies and writing. Creating an audio is something a little distinct from writing a book. The “reading” and “performance” side are of course much more important, and pacing and putting the material over are somewhat different matters too. An audio is considerably more like a movie than a book is.

    Yet an audio isn’t a movie either. While it has some theatrical elements and effects, it takes place mostly in the mind. You don’t actually have to paint a wall red, as you do if you’re making a movie. Instead a character can simply make a reference to a “red wall.” As a process audio is different yet similar too. Writing a book is a long lonely thing, involving much in the way of physical decay and too-much-brain-effort.

    Audio is much more physically and socially active than that, as well as much more a matter of technology and distribution. Yet it’s far less demanding of physical effort and monetary investment than making a movie is. (In discussions about movies, not enough is made of the fact that narrative movies are exhausting to make.) So making an audio entertainment for us was a nice cross between the nice parts of writing a book (directness, relatively low budget, words) and producing a movie (the fun of collaboration, techies, performers, of pitching in together).

  • Actors love doing audio. The Wife and I used over 30 actors in our production and had an amazingly problem-free experience with nearly all of them. They showed up on time, accepted the pittance we could offer them, and really put out in performance terms. Why? we wondered. I mean, our material is great, of course, but still ...

    Finally we decided that the explanation is that audio is simply a blast to do for performers. It’s a chance to perform without being burdened by many of the anxieties that usually accompany performing. An actor can show up and be a little overweight, or have a pimple or a bad-hair day -- and still have a creative blast. As long as the performer is alert, on time, and into the material, he/she can come out with all guns blazing.

    And have I mentioned how amazingly creative, imaginative, sexy, and intuitive actors can be? And often are? Too many people take high-quality performing and performers for granted, it seems to me. Good actors perform miracles of creativity on a regular basis.

  • Techies are fun. At the audio studio where were produced our masterwork, The Wife and I worked closely for a couple of months with two young techies. We grew very fond of them. They were helpful, eager, talented and enthusiastic. They really put out for us.

    Part of what we enjoyed was the contrast with book-creation. Book people can be snobs, are usually emotionally mingy, and are often seriously introverted. (I wrote back here about the temperamental differences between bookworld people and movieworld people.) By contrast, audio people are often profane, dirty-minded, funny and earthy. Many audio guys -- and the audio world is at least 90% guys -- have their own rock bands, or are musicians. They’re often combos of geeks, showbiz people, and heavy metal freaks -- they’re good at math, at messing with software and circuitry, at mosh-surfing and rockin’ out, and at little else. They show up at work bleary from last night’s misadventures, have a few smokes and too much coffee, and get down to work. And, y’know, after too much time spent among high-minded and overintellectual people, I gotta say I really prefer down and dirty.

  • Ears. The Wife and I were in the studio for a large part of several months. (I did stress that this was a really ambitious production, didn’t I?) For much of that time, at least once we had gotten the vocal performances into the computer, what we were doing was closing our eyes and focusing hard on what we were hearing. Did we want this take or that take? Were the voices sounding like they inhabited the same room? It was a terrific education in zeroing in on the acoustic dimension, and nothing but the acoustic dimension.

    Fascinating, the way our musician-techies could hear so much more than we could. They’d fuss over a passage, tracking down and stamping out imperfections that were truly beyond my hearing. (Although The Wife has better ears than I do, even she was sometimes unable to hear what our techies were attending to.) It was an interesting thing to experience. When our techies would present us with a passage that they’d cleaned up, I couldn’t literally “hear” any difference in it. But I could always sense a difference. In most cases, what they’d come up with felt more professional and slicker than it had before they’d worked on it. Scientists: Explain the difference between hearing and sensing, please.

  • Racey. Our material in the project -- it’s a raunchy satire about moviemaking -- is nothing if not R rated. Calling it uninhibited is an understatement, in fact. Kinkiness is enacted and orgasms are mimicked. And our actors really pitch themselves into the outrageous moments and the wild-and-crazy characters.

    A funny thing about creating racey entertainment: When you’re in the midst of such a project you take the raciness for granted. It seems normal to spend hours editing and polishing fuck scenes. Your focus is primarily technical and professional -- on plowing through the project and making the material work.

    Yet for the rest of the world, what you’re doing can seem quite, er, exotic. We’d be polishing a section concerning two characters (or more!) getting each other off, and visitors passing through the studio would poke their heads in and beam at us. A blast of naughtiness in the middle of the day had cheered them up.

    Early on, we’d discovered that audience members at our live shows often seemed to think that, because we write about sexual adventurousness, The Wife and I are experts on the topic ourselves. Some people seemed determined to believe that The Wife and I spend our days and nights attending orgies, pausing occasionally to scribble down funny stories about our wild life.

    At first we tried earnestly to straighten people out. No, we’d say. In fact we’re writers, and we make most of this stuff up. At the end of a day of writing we’re usually pretty tired.

    Pretty quickly, though, we both decided that it would be far better to let our fans enjoy their fantasies. If some of our fans want to think of us as erotic ringmasters who document our adventures, why should we put any factual truth in their way?

    Small reflection: An underacknowledged aspect of the arts is learning to let fans and critics project onto you and your work whatever the hell it suits them to. A very big part of art is what the audience brings to it.

  • We’re New Media producers. As people who have created a webseries and an independent audio entertainment, the Wife and I (and our director buddy too) now regularly attend New Media get-togethers and parties. It’s a truly fun world, and remarkably different than the Old Media world. Where Old Media types bemoan the direction culture is going, New Media types are along for the ride. Where Old Media types snipe and backstab -- as people will who feel that there isn’t enough to go around -- New Media types generally wish each other well. After all, what with digital production tools and the web as a distribution vehicle, there’s room enough for all of us. It’s a cheery, opportunistic, kooky world, too full of fun and mischief to bother with negativity. And how can you doubt our credentials as New Media producers? After all, it says quite clearly that that’s what we are, right here on our business cards.

  • Explosions are fun. Our techies had told us ahead of time that it can be a kick to craft crazy audio effects. For most of the project we confined ourselves to simple, modest effects -- slamming doors, creaking beds, echos, and passing traffic, for example. But in a couple of our episodes we treated ourselves to some extravagances: helicopters, back alley rumbles, explosions. And, man oh man, they really are fun to create. The typical explosion sound that you hear in a movie? That’s made up of maybe a dozen sub sounds, all of them carefully selected, tweaked, sandpapered, and arranged. (Crack. Kaboom Whoosh, Zing. Tinkle-tinkle. Etc.) Creating an explosion is more than a little like structuring and orchestrating a piece of music.

    In fact, one of the lasting impacts the process of making an audio had on me was to increase my respect for the typical Dolby-audio-extravaganza soundtrack that most American movies come equipped with these days. I don’t as a rule like them; being overwhelmed by sonic tinsel isn’t my idea of a good time. But I now realize that I was too dismissive of them. They’re in fact awe-inspiring creations that are often beautifully invented and engineered by skillful and talented people. I don’t really like them any better than I used to -- but I am a little better informed and more respectful (and maybe even appreciative) of them than I once was.

In any case, The Wife and I had a great time creating our audio entertainment, and we hope that a few of you might be curious enough about our work to give it a whirl.

Whether you’ll like it or not, we can absolutely guarantee a few things. For one, it’s anything but corporate product. We created it in complete freedom, and we’re distributing and selling it on our own too. We can guarantee audience-tested laughs and outrages; a lot of spirited and sexy performances; and a whole bunch of genuine storylines. Don’t let this get around, but underneath all the satirical hijinks and turn-ons there are some real themes churning around in our audio, the main one being “In a world in which everything is permitted and all is possible, how can an artist create in a way that means something?” So, a little sociology and aesthetics for the eager mind to chomp on -- that’s guaranteed too.

If you’re interested in giving our creation a try -- and I sure hope you will be, because The Wife and I are immensely proud and fond of what we’ve made -- please drop me an email at michaelblowhard at that gmail place, and I’ll send you a link to the website we put up for our audio. It’s a fun website in its own right, by the way. We gave it some energy, love, and craft too. So don’t be afraid to get in touch even if you’re unsure about whether you’ll want to make a purchase. And please let your friends know about our work too.



posted by Michael at January 12, 2009


Sounds like a lot of fun.

Posted by: JV on January 12, 2009 5:00 PM

"Scientists: Explain the difference between hearing and sensing, please."

There's an interesting topic. One thing is clear, most of what goes in your ears does not directly reach your conscious mind, but is processed subliminally and passed off to consciousness as an impression of some sort.

A perfect example is the harmonic series: every pitched sound is really a cloud of pitches, but it's usually impossible to sort these out and hear them individually. But everyone effortlessly perceives the result as timbre: why a trumpet playing an "A" sounds different from a violin on the same tone. We can't say what makes them different, but we all sense it.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on January 12, 2009 7:23 PM

Raymond Chandler meets Larry Flynt! :-)))

This is immensely entertaining. In fact, you'll run off the road listening to this. With chapters with titles like "Dick Worship", you know this is not your average audiobook. Don't worry, nothing hardcore here, just adult language. And truly hilarious. Bravo!

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on January 12, 2009 8:14 PM

Audio performances are something of a lost art. Sad really. I have particularly come to enjoy audio performances of Shakespeare, as opposed to a lot of really mediocre performances on video or film.

Some recommendations:
Ian McKellan in the Naxos Audio version of The Tempest and Sir John Gielgud in the 1948 version of Hamlet, also available from Naxos.

Posted by: Thursday on January 12, 2009 10:17 PM

I've downloaded the chapters, and I'm burning them to an audio CD. Just the thing to listen to as I commute to nursing school.

When I was a kid, my father had a most unusual job. This was back in the late 50s and early 60s. He met the midnight train for the Illinois Central at the Kankakee station on Sunday morning. The crew threw the Sunday Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times in our truck and we delivered the bundles to small towns within a 50 mile radius.

I still remember riding with him throughout the night and listening to the old radio theater shows. I don't quite remember their names.

I've just started listening, and it reminds me of those old shows.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 13, 2009 9:21 PM

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