Ears on the Odyssey

What’s it like to be on the Odyssey Committee?

Take a look inside our year as 2017 Odyssey members! The photo above is from our big day when the Odyssey award celebration.

What was your first thought when you were accepted to the Odyssey Committee?

Sarah: Squeeeee! Seriously, it was a dream come true. I had been hoping that I would be able to serve someday, but I really thought that I’d have to wait a long, long time. Truly, what an honor! 

Natalie: This is going to be so much fun! It felt like a chance to help other people understand more about why I love audiobooks so much and why they’re a great alternative to print reading as well as cool in their own right. 

Lizzie: OH YES! I have always loved the audio medium. I’m big into podcasts and music, so I was excited to learn more about technical production side of things. When we started we got a manual with a glossary of helpful terms, and I hand copied that glossary to help me absorb those words.

How did your listening ears/experience change over your Odyssey career?

Sarah: I felt like I increased my listening skills on the micro and the macro level. I learned to listen for small things–dubs, volume changes, sibilance, plosives. I also learned to think of the bigger picture, stepping back and gauging the power of the audio when taken as a whole. 

Natalie: I’ve always had opinions on what I liked and didn’t like in audios, but now I have a much stronger and more versatile vocabulary to express what those things are and how they impact the whole package of an audio. Instead of saying “it was good” or “I didn’t enjoy it,” I can talk about narrative style, tone, and production values. 

Lizzie: The sheer amount of my listening changed dramatically. I felt like I could look at 8 maybe even 10 hour audio and be like oh I can do that in day if I need be. That normally would take me a week/s! I also felt like I got to know the field of narrators and publishers a whole lot better. I began to know certain narrators’ body of work and had opinions on which type of stories best suited them.

What was it like to work in a virtual environment with people spread across the country?

Sarah: You really get used to working with Google Docs and Google Sheets, that’s for sure! It’s important to remember about time zones, too! Absolutely loved hearing about what was going on in different parts of the country, not to mention the goodies that our committees members brought from near and far! 

Natalie: It keeps you on your toes for sure! One the one hand, you get all of this great input from people whose careers and relationships to audiobooks are totally different from your own, but you also have to be very self-policing because no one is around to look over your shoulder and make sure you’re doing your committee work correctly. 

Lizzie: It is helpful to keep in mind two things are different in virtual environment: tone and timezones. We all had a lot of passionate ideas, and early on it took time outside of the virtual space to understand how everyone’s writing style matched their real life way of communicating. Once we meet in person, I had a couple of oh that’s what you mean when you say that phrase or what not. Also, I had just moved to West Coast when I started on the committee, and handful of times I felt like I misremembered that I was on West Coast time now.

Describe a “milestone” audio moment.

Sarah: I don’t think that I’ll ever forget the first time that I listened to Anna and the Swallow Man. Hearing Allan Corduner as he switched from language to language with such effortless skill…it was so beautifully done that it brought tears to my eyes.

Natalie: Due to a fault in my downloaded copy, I listened to several disks of Kill the Boy Band on a discman borrowed from my mother. Listening to a book that pays homage to the multigenerational appeal of the boy band while strolling down the street with this piece of equipment the teens in the story probably wouldn’t even recognize made me think about how much these stories are universal and how much an excellent audio production adds to the power of the work. 

Lizzie: I was cleaning my bathtub and listening to Nimona, and I threw off my cleaning gloves many times to write down detailed notes about the amazing atmosphere created in that audio. It felt like an old time radio drama who was building a sense of place sonically.

What’s the most interesting technical jargon that you’ve learned?/Odyssey Committee slang?

Sarah: “Voiceless glottal friccative.” Say what? I can’t say that this is one that I use on a regular basis, but wow, I really loved hearing it the first time that someone mentioned it. 

Natalie: The ones I probably use the most now are clips and dubs; I might have heard them before serving on the committee, but now I can’t unhear them, and my brain goes “oh, that was a big one” every time. The one I enjoy the most as a concept of reader engagement. Having listened to a large volume of audios, you can tell pretty quickly whether the narrator is engaged in the process of creating a fully realized story by mixing the text, the performance and the production, or just reading some words on a page. 

Lizzie: “Wall of performance” – As much a loved/loathed all the many visceral words used for wet mouths (“gluey” “juicy”)… the wall of performance was that intangible quality that disguised good audios from award worthy audios. In interview we discussed during the year, narrator Scott Brick fleshes the “you know it when you hear it”  quality of great narrators who remove the wall of performance:  “”There are so many people I know who have a beautiful voice, a magical-sounding voice, but they just don’t know how to carry a story. It’s not necessarily their acting skills, because there are celebrities who’ve got fabulous acting skills and yet they may not be able to tell the story quite right. It’s an intangible thing; you know it when you hear it.”

What advice do you have for future committee members?

Sarah: Stay on track! Don’t fall behind! Be vigilant! Sounds like you’re going into battle, but honestly, you really don’t want to fall behind. It’s so hard to catch up, and you really can’t do the quality of work that you need to if you’re always struggling to catch up. Things get really busy near the end of the year, so be prepared!

Natalie: Even when you don’t want to, take good notes during your listening and write down your thoughts on one title before moving to the next. Once you really get going, you’ll appreciate being in that habit because titles can start to bleed together, especially once you’ve heard the same narrators several times. And invest in high-quality headphones; your ears will thank you! 

Lizzie: Be prepared for the many hours you’ll spend listening. Take up new “handicrafts” ( I dabbled in watercolors, knitting, sewing, etc)  to keep your hands occupied. Let your loved ones know that they too will be enjoying audio books during all your vacations. It is a huge time commitment – on average the 2017 committee listened to about 500 hours of books each. Clear your late Fall schedule because the majority of that happens at the end of the year.

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