We just got back from the Audio Producers Association's Conference (APAC) on Thursday afternoon. As I type this I am still recovering while listening to Queens of the Stone Age. That'll help clear out the cobwebs... or not... could have a more numbing effect.
This, of course, was our first APAC. We only started working on Audiobooks last year. But we're trying to grow, expand, find other recording opportunities. This isn't a part time gig. We're totally committed... And there are days where I believe we should be committed... If not us, at least our kids. But I want to at least share my experience, and hopefully Tiffany will do the same.
We take the train from Union Station in DC to New York. It's cheaper than flying, and hey, if you wanna see America, take the train. Well, that depends on what aspects of America you wish to see, Based on the sites along the route we travelled, this is not the America I am looking for. It's not pretty. There's lots of lost industry along the tracks: abandoned warehouses, decaying neighborhoods and left over junk. But it's safe to say that there are still lots of talented Graffiti artists out there keeping America... well if not beautiful.. at least colorful.
We check into our hotel just past noon, after an enjoyable time deciphering the subway system and then later wandering up and down Waverly Place looking like two completely lost tourists. Hauling a rolling suitcase and looking at a map on your smartphone is equivalent to wearing a sign on your back that says "I'm not from around here." But we manage to navigate our way to the Washington Square Hotel. I even receive a compliment on my shirt from a nice panhandler as we walk out of the subway tunnel. And this after I tell him I don't have any change, which I honestly don't.
We only have a few moments to rest before meeting one of Tiffany's former students, Andrew, for lunch. This requires a trip back to the subway but without our luggage. We head to Brother Jimmy's BBQ on 8th Ave across from Madison Square Garden. The food is both delicious and filling. It's not as wonderful as the brisket I once had in Austin, Texas, but it's better than the Dickey's BBQ chains that have opened in Virginia, which, according to Tiffany, is a shell compared to Genuine Dickey's in Texas. I even have two cups of Coke while there. TAKE THAT BLOOMBERG! I know... I know... not the healthiest habit but not the worst either... While Tiffany and Andrew catch up, he shows us a picture of his sister playing in her junior high school orchestra! Her face painted like Kiss' Paul Stanley. SWEET! The next day I see the same picture posted on Kiss' Official Facebook page. DOUBLE SWEET!!!
From there we head back to the hotel, veg for about 30 minutes before showering, and heading for the Pre-APAC mixer, with a side trip to a nearby Starbucks to meet our very first Customer, Dr. Jan Yager, PhD and her husband, Fred. It's a fun and enjoyable visit. Tiffany has already narrated 4 books for Jan's company, Hannacroix Creek Books, Inc., 2 written by Jan herself, and another by her and Fred. Tiffany has talked to a few of our clients on the phone, including Jan, but this is the first time we actually meet one of them in person.
An hour later, Tiffany and I walk over to the Mixer. This is a surreal experience. First, the room is loud. It's as if someone said, "Let's take a bunch of people who use their voice for a living and put them in a small room so that they have to yell themselves hoarse just to be heard above the din." I suspect a few deadlines will be pushed back a day or two.
Mixing and mingling is not my strong suit. Thank God Tiffany is much more skilled than I am. We get to meet people we've seen posting online in the Audiobook Groups on Facebook. We also meet several other people, many attending their first APAC. I so want to list names here so that we can say how much we enjoyed talking to you but I'll defer to Tiffany on that one. I'm so bad with names and the pummeling from Queens of the Stone Age isn't helping... but it rocks so I'm good!! As we were planning to leave the mixer to go back to the hotel and Skype with the kids, one of Tiffany's dearest and best friends, Vik shows up. For those who don't know, he's the one who persuaded her to look into narrating audiobooks in the first place. Of course, I see him first because Tiffany is chatting with someone she's met in the ladies room. (Wow, another unintentional Kiss reference. Ladies Room... Cool tune.) There isn't a room Tiffany can't work. For the record, this... never... happens... in a men's room! It just doesn't! Although I have seen more then a few men on their cell phones tending to business while tending to business. Tiffany finally comes out and there are many hugs, squeals and introductions and what have you that go along with seeing someone for the first time in forever.
We stay a little longer before heading back to the hotel. We're tired from the day's events, Tiffany and I need some face time with the kids... which is a genuine source of entertainment as they act the same way on camera as they do off camera, with 9-year old Evan saying "No Alex. Stop!", and 2-year old Alex responding with a scream and a light hit followed by "Calm it down Evan!" I'm not sure she understands that expression... But, they're our kids. For better or worse.
The next morning we wake up early, dress appropriately and step outside to hail a cab. Yeah... I hail my first NYC Cab! I raise my hand and fingers, exhibiting proper hailing form, and score one on our first try. Bonus points for the newbie! For the record... taking a cab ride in New York is a nauseating and terrifying experience. This is our second ride, and during each one, we look anywhere but directly outside the front window. Surprisingly enough... or unsurprisingly.... we make it to the Javits Center way earlier than expected. We check in, get our name tags, and grab a bagel. After that it's networking time... Business cards ready... hand-shaking hand lose and limber... eye's ready for direct contact... It's go time! (Shameless plug for our children's series of books "Ellie + Ace!" Available now!)
Now this is where things get stressful. Tiffany has a Director's Diagnostics with Hillary Huber at 8:15. For her, this is a big deal because for a year now, the only feedback she has received regarding her performance as a narrator has been from me. But now, a long time professional narrator is going to listen and offer some helpful suggestions. She is excited but also very nervous. Tiffany meets Hillary and off they go! I am left behind.
I want to pause here for a moment and offer a little insight into my psyche. I am by my very nature an introvert. To my close friends, which are few in number, this may not seem the case but I am not wired to go up to someone, introduce myself and start a conversation. I never have been. To make matters worse, when nervous or under duress my face projects an anti-social and surly disposition, that doesn't help my approach-ability. Thank you Dad for passing on that trait. Tiffany calls it stink face which I find a bit inaccurate. To me that makes it sound like I have something on my upper lip that smells horrible. So there I am alone. Terrified. Holding a bag containing an iPad that has a shattered screen, which is another story. This is the longest and most anxiety inducing 20 minutes of my life. People are chatting everywhere and I have no idea how to connect. Yeah me!
This isn't the first time I have been in this situation. This was an issue during my 15 years as a DoD Contractor. I once went to a class in Boston to learn a new systems analyst methodology for my project at the time. I paid attention and learned as much as I could. When I returned, my Project Manager asked if I made any business connections or got any business cards. "No!" I said. "What did you do all week?" "I... ummm... learned what you wanted me to learn I thought!" Yeah! Networking is not my thing. I can't even say the word without getting a chill. At least I didn't stumble into a conversation about golf. Shudder!
Now when getting on a subject that I am passionate about, I can talk and talk and talk... especially if it involves music and recording. My speech tempo picks up, my brain goes faster than my mouth can keep up, and I can I go from unpleasant in appearance to "Okay, this guy is a bit too excited." Just like my... Well, just like my son actually. Now I see what Tiffany means when she says Evan is just like me. It all makes sense now. Damn! So wanted to blame Wendi for that.
Continuing on.... once Tiffany is done, she comes back and says "Meet anyone?" "The lady putting out the bagels seemed nice but I'm not sure she speaks English. Oh and I had a cup of Orange Juice Gotta get that Vitamin C." She shakes her head. It is obvious I am a work in progress.
We go into the main conference room for the APA Presentation: APA 2014 and Beyond!!! Seriously, I expect Buzz Lightyear to fly out of the sky and land on stage. Doesn't happen. Bummer. However, we are now knee deep in the world of audiobook production, marketing and distribution. Maybe even waist deep. Well, we're at least past our ankles at this point. We sit with Tracy Brunjes, who we met the night before and a few other narrators, plus Pamela Lorence, an audio engineer doubling as a narrator. Okay, I may be able to do this, I think. If not, at least I know someone else whose up on Pro Tools 11. Just gotta play it cool. And breathe... And try and not lose Tiffany in a crowd. The introductions of and presentations by the board members has me flashing back to many annual corporate meetings from my previous life. Okay, stay focused... Absorb information. Tiffany is taking notes and I'm nodding and applauding on cue. Always on cue.
After that is the first "networking" break. Groan!!! Tiffany at least finds Vik and we all chat. Being around Vik is like being around a rock star. People keep coming up to him, mostly ladies, and giving hugs. I had a friend like that in college. It was always entertaining. In the middle of a conversation, a random body would fly into the scene, make a happy noise and initiate hug. It's a good way to meet people. You only have to wait for someone to fly in from the periphery.
Back to conference and a presentation by Alan Iny on thinking in and redefining your box. It's like inverted business speak. It's so ingrained in our psyche to think "outside the box" that we never look inward and see existing opportunities within our box. Woah! Mind blown wider than a hot air balloon. The only problem is trying to figure out where my box is and what it already has in it. Is that a problem statement? Anyway, cool presentation with many humorous moments. Well done!
Another break. More networking. Grab water, smile, look friendly... I said friendly not creepy... I sure hope I don't have any crazy hairs protruding from my eyebrows... Stop trying to look at your eyebrows... It's impossible and you look greatly confused...
Panel time. We sit through a discussion on how publishers and narrators can work together to market audiobooks. Good advice. Will explore that more once we score a contract with a big publishing house with the resources and budget to embark on some of their ideas. Until then, we'll work with our limited resources. So follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. :-) We have soundbites on Soundcloud, too!!! I also noticed that Katherine Kellgren has as many crazy, kooky voices as Tiffany. Dear God, the world may be overrun by Tiffany's. And now I'm suspicious of women's handbags.
Lunch time. Why does cheese have to be on everything? Sigh... Well I can work around that. The bread looks good too. Mmm.... Bread....
And now my lovely bride and I separate and follow our different tracks... Tiffany the Performer goes her way and I the humble engineer who isn't really a publisher go mine... which is the Business Track. I will remain calm and soldier on. Is that on a t-shirt already?
Since writing that last paragraph, I have spent a weekend in which my baby girl woke up with a stomach bug that required a trip to the doctor, plus a trip to a special shoe store to get her some orthotics for her shoes, and to the Apple Store to replace the iPad that shattered in New York as well as purchase an iPad Mini for the boy! To him it is a specialty Minecraft Machine! Now back to our regularly scheduled narrative!
Before separating however, Tiffany and I speak again with Steven Jay Cohen about his Studio Bricks One Plus sound booth. Ours should be shipping soon, if at all. As of this writing, I am still trying to sort out the proper paperwork to submit. Steven is enthusiastic and has lots of wonderful advice to give and we love it. We're even more excited now about our booth. I wonder if maybe a couple of trained dolphins hauling it over on a raft would be quicker and easier than dealing with customs.
My first workshop is Thought Exercises & Ideation Techniques with Alan Iny, the keynote speaker. Apparently, Ideation is not recognized by spell-check. This is a minor expansion on his keynote address. Throughout he reminds us that in a normal setting, much more time would be spent on each technique. It's obvious the man is passionate about his subject and methodology, but it's unfortunate time is so limited. It's as if we are receiving a cliff notes version. But he reminds us that it's all in chapter five of his book "Thinking in New Boxes." I especially enjoy the part about trying to describe your industry without using the standard words normally associated with it. So words like Audiobook, publishing and narrating are out. In my head I think of myself as an "Artistic Medium Transitional Specialist." That is what we are doing, isn't it? We are taking one artistic medium, the written word, and transitioning into another medium, the spoken word. It makes sense to me. I say nothing. My brain doesn't operate like others I know so it's best I remain quiet. In fact, I probably shouldn't have written it in the blog post. If I have to explain, it's probably not a good description. Moving on...
After talking again with Pamela during the break about all things related to audio engineering, we head together over to the Publisher's Roundtable which is very enjoyable. Again, Tiffany and I don't have rights to any books at this point. We get our gigs through ACX, but as many are royalty share, we do need to market them. It is interesting listening to multiple vantage points from small and larger publishers. Gilles Dana of Gildan Media manages to steal the show with some wonderfully humorous anecdotes related to his successes and his failures or as he calls them "dogs." Of course, Pamela and I are two of the last to arrive and have to stand by the doors because there are no seats left. This isn't so bad, except once the doors shut behind us, they become stuck together. Anyone trying to leave or get out struggles mightily to open them, yet doesn't want to make too much of a noise and disrupt the panel. We can't tell if they're locked or really just stuck. This goes on for 20 minutes people on the inside pushing to get out, people on the outside pulling to get it. Now would be a bad time for a fire drill.. or worse, a real fire. Finally a worker at the Javits Center pries them open. We are saved! The panel continues through the whole ordeal as if they are oblivious which hopefully they were.
Another break and then on to Advanced Social Media Tools by Morgan Baden, the senior director of social media and internal communications at Scholastic. I enjoy this workshop as well. We're already on the major social media sites, trying to build an audience. If there is one thing lacking in this, it's suggestions on how to build up followers, and how to find the right audience for an audiobook. As someone who doesn't like being inundated with ads at every website I visit, I always worry that sending out notices of our current releases may put off some people. But how else will people know if we don't share with them? Still Morgan shares some social media campaigns that have worked for Scholastic and other large publishers. That's where we find the disconnect. Larger publishers have history, name recognition and thus an established audience built before the advent of social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. So how do you use these tools when starting from the bottom? I would love to emulate some of their campaigns but for now I make a mental note to revisit them when we have enough followers to make it work or to maybe modify it for a smaller scale. Still, it's a worthwhile presentation and I can see why it received high scores the previous year.
The last workshop I attend is Spotlight: Children's Audio. This is the only one that disappoints me. I'm thinking it's more my expectations that are let down more than the presentation itself. I was looking for ideas that might help us with our children's book series "Ellie + Ace." It was mostly market trends based on survey results. There is lots of interesting information, although as a parent of a 9 and 2 year old, it offers little insight. I don't need graphs and charts to show me how their minds work or the differences over the past few years. Why? When you have two kids 7 years apart, the differences regarding the technological capabilities between my two kids at similar ages is startling. My 2 year old daughter is quite skilled with an iPad and finding her favorite videos on YouTube. (Dear God how I hate the Gummy Bear song!) But it does get my mind working a bit so it's not a waste of time. It's just not what I was hoping.
After a drink during the cocktail hour, more chatter with Vik, which involves more introductions to several narrators, Tiffany and I are SPENT! We go outside to hail a cab with no success. I am unable to repeat my magnificent feat from earlier this morning. We wander through Hell's Kitchen until we end up at the Subway station near MSG. We are now skilled at getting from there to Waverly Place at this point. Another chat with the kids, still acting weird as usual, and then a short walk and a late dinner at Waverly Restaurant. We have one more drink at the Hotel Restaurant where another one of Tiffany's former students, Nick, works behind the bar. Luckily we stop at one because any more than that, and someone is carrying us to our room. We are that wiped. Besides, the next day we head home.
My general impressions of the whole experience is that its a lot of information to cram into one day. I always felt that in each workshop, the information I was hoping to get was hinted at towards the very end of each workshop just as it was time to move on. But it was a worthwhile experience and next year we will be even more prepared.
The biggest downside is that after we had booked our trip, Tiffany received an invite to tour the Audible studios on Thursday. In order to work that into our trip would have required an enormous change fee from Amtrak and an arrival into DC at 1:30 AM on Friday morning. Hopefully we'll get another chance next year and we'll plan accordingly.