This is How Things Happen Part 2: The Audio Book

Raven sun

I’ve got another metaphor for how things happen, this one uses the water cycle. So picture some hot Colorado day in July when the sun is being a greedy jerk and not only taking the perspiration right off your skin, but drinking up every drop of spare water everywhere, the dew on your grass at dawn, the puddles in the gutters, the reservoirs draining slowly and putting us on drought alert. Well, as we know from elementary school, the water that goes up must come down somewhere. I imagine it going to some place that doesn’t need it at all like Oregon, Washington, Maine, you know those water hoggers. Well, wherever it is, somewhere out of our sight people are doing a little rain dance and going outside with their mouths open and spinning in joyous circles while we’re here in Colorado siphoning water from cacti just to survive.

I know this is neither scientifically accurate nor logically sound, but stay with me. So those hot summer days, that water being sucked dry from us, that’s all our hard work and all our persistence and creation. Some days, some weeks, some months, we might not see a drop of our own product or production. It might just go up into the ether and fall down on some chump somewhere else who doesn’t even know what hit him and doesn’t know how to appreciate it. But what do we know from the water cycle? That everything circles back around. So some day we’re going to be out in the desert of inspiration and suddenly clouds will boil up above and the sweet rain of abundance and fulfillment will wash over us. And slowly, slowly the grass grows around us, the flowers bloom, the reservoirs fill, and then after months and months of waiting things start to happen and they keep happening at their hare or tortoise speed. Whether we see it or feel it, or believe in it things are always happening, sometimes life just has its own pace. We just have to keep on keeping on.

And so I just keep writing because I have to believe that if I stay with it and don’t stop that day of fulfillment is going to come.

So I left off in Part 1 at the first half of the process for self-publishing my children’s book One Day as a Raven. I went a little into writing, editing, illustrating and the creative process. Now I’m going to talk about the creation of the audio book and putting an idea into a tangible form.

The audio book was a lot of fun, a lot of hard work and a lot of tedious hours recording, mixing, sound engineering and mastering.  Overall it is my favorite aspect of the book and the part of the book I’m most proud of. I’d probably feel different if I was the illustrator, because obviously what’s a picture book without the pictures? But the audio book is so whole and complete in and of itself, and so surprisingly well done (not tooting my own horn because I had very little to do with it turning out so well) that it’s a work of art all on its own.

This is how it started. I knew I wanted an audio book, I had my own ideas and then I brought them to Patrick and to Daniel Grant, the composer of the music behind the audio book. Patrick recommended I find some other people to do some of the characters rather than just doing the whole thing myself. I don’t know if I resisted at first because of ego or because of my attachment to the integrity of the work itself, either way, I’m glad I gave in to that idea and brought in voice actors. First was Jackson, played by Jackson. Jackson Tunheim was a bit of an inspiration to the main character, as I spoke about in the Part 1. He, along with a handful of other curious, capable and maybe a little ornery young men, including myself at that age, inspired this character. I had worked as a manny, baby-sitter and teacher to the Tunheim boys for several years so naturally I thought they’d be perfect for a couple of the roles. Annie Tunheim played the mother part perfectly, Alex Tunheim threw in a short but sweet line, and Jackson performed like he was born to act. I still remember our second recording session with him. He was getting so into the role that I had to calm him down a bit. He was moving and bouncing and shouting into the mic, but like a true performer he reigned in his skills and finished his lines in just an hour or two.

Check out Annie’s blog

Raven was played by Laura Goldhamer. When Patrick and I were talking of who should play Raven both of us immediately thought of Laura and deemed that she was the one born for the role. Laura’s music is most certainly what led us to this conclusion. She is an amazing musician and songwriter, with a lovely and unique voice, and she also makes her own stop animation shorts that are a part of her musical performance. Laura, being used to the recording process came in and blew us away with her performance. It was an immediate validation that she was the perfect voice for Raven. Check out Laura Goldhamer on bandcamp and her blog

Now for Coyote. Patrick tells me one day that he has the perfect Coyote. It’s a guy he works with at the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado. Okkkkk, I guess, if you say so Patrick. I meet Lloyd for the first time the day he shows up to record. He’s a middle aged gentleman wearing a Marvel comics T-shirt, and he’s ready for action. Now I must say that I was wary at first, mostly just because I didn’t know the guy, or his voice, most importantly. What ended up coming out that day was Coyote reimagined in a way that I myself had not conceived of. But the Coyote that Lloyd played was far better than what I had imagined and he added a whole new dimension to the character. It was magnificent.

I had already narrated the rest of the story and was sick of hearing my own voice, but I was surprised that I didn’t hate my voice like I thought I would. And thus the whole audio book was laid down, at least the words. The really, really hard, and some days painstaking, and some days refreshing and liberating part was the music of the audio book. The goal was to have a different musical composition for every transition (as in ever turn the page part) and to have one complete One Day as a Raven theme song and to make an intro. All of it got done except for the complete theme song (which actually did get done, but something happened to the recording that we couldn’t fix, and then we ran out of time, and then the song got lost and sent to wherever lost songs go), but now in the second edition we have two completely new songs which I will talk about later. So I had a vision of this magnificent self-enclosed work of art which would be the audio book and Dan Grant had a vision as well. He had the musical understanding, the songwriting know how, and all the instruments and equipment to get the job done, I just sat around and bounced around a lot when I got excited and hung my head when I was tired and worn down.

Dan Grant and Dwight Forcey were the driving forces behind the first version of the audio book. Dan conceived that the whole work would be in the key of C major, and he began to pick and pluck and beat and pound it out day after day. The whole process took about 3 months, I think, and that was every weekend and a couple days a week, and still we were pressed for time. Dan played piano, guitar, keyboard, banjo, ukulele, lap steel, drums, toy piano, glockenspiel, harmonium, and probably about a dozen more instruments that I’m forgetting. Dwight played guitar, drums, piano, glockenspiel and probably other instruments too. I even threw in some a-rhythmic guitar, bad bass, make shift beats and some other random things maybe.

I couldn’t say how it happened, I guess that’s why I keep trying these cheesy metaphors, because one day we were talking and conceptualizing, the next day after day after day we were chipping away at a seemingly infinite block of imaginary music shaped wood, and then finally we had this whole thing done, or at least ready to be mastered. It would be hard to understand the vision and care that went into every little part of the audio book. Every single turn the page transition was 3-10 hours of work. Each transition is only 10-20 seconds long, but each one could be a complete song in and of itself if expanded on. There are 17 transitions and one intro song. When you add up the hours spent it gets a little absurd that this much time was put into a children’s audio book. I can’t thank my friends Daniel Grant, Dwight Forcey, and Max Winne enough for all their help with the audio book. Not to mention all the voice actors, additional instruments, and support.

So the songs were finished, the narration and voices were put together, but we still weren’t even close to done. Next comes mastering with Max Winne. I’d estimate that the whole mastering process took between 30 and 40 hours. These hours took place in a week or two after work for both of us. Max was pulling 16 to 20 hour days with work and mastering when we were in this process and he only made me feel like a jerk a few times for making him do it.

Now I say mastering, but Max actually ended up doing a ton of mixing and hours and hours of the most tedious work that I really couldn’t describe to anyone who’s not an audio engineer. I don’t even really understand it. I just sat there and watched him cut, chop, edit, tweek, mix, EQ, and fit and form files into place. And of course all of this wouldn’t even be possible without the very, very expensive equipment and programs that he was operating through. Do I take advantage of my friends a little? Maybe.

One or two torturous weeks pass and I still remember so clearly when it was all finished. It was about 2 or 3 A.M. in Aurora, Colorado. We were in our old childhood neighborhood where Max’s studio/bedroom was. We went out to my car because Max  assured me car stereos would give a really good picture of what the audio book would sound like through average speakers. So we sat under those same streetlights that I grew up under, on those wide asphalt streets that I endlessly ached to burn rubber on and leave behind throughout my youth. We leaned back the chairs of my Buick Regal and heard for the first time the complete audio book. I can’t remember many joys or triumphs in my life that were as bright and billowing as this moment. It was finished and it was awesome.

And that’s the story of the audio book (Part 1). It’s taking a lot longer to tell the tale of the tale of One Day as a Raven than I thought. I still have to talk about printing, sales and marketing (or lack thereof), remixing and remastering the audio book, working with a publisher, branding, and all the million other little details. Oh well, I usually have a hard time thinking of crap to blog about. Looks like this one’s gonna be a 3 or 4 parter. So stay tuned.

Here are some links to the blogs or music of some of the people I’ve talked about or people that have helped with the book.

Max Winne/The Maykit:

Dwight Forcey:

And Daniel Grant is in several bands. Websites and facebook pages pending. But Dan is too cool for facebook.

And if you’ve never seen it, check out the trailer on our kickstarter page


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