Ever since the golden age of radio (roughly 1930–1960), full-cast audio performances have captured the imagination of listeners, and these type of recordings have maintained a foothold in the audiobook industry, with a range of publishers producing occasional multicast projects. But thanks to technological innovations and the growth of the audiobook market, full-cast recordings have become more popular in recent years. A few high-profile projects have included The Diamond of Jeru by Louis L’Amour (Random House Audio, 2015), The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperAudio, 2014), Ender’s Game Alive by Orson Scott Card (Audible, 2013), and World War Z by Max Brooks (Random House Audio, 2007; expanded 2013).
In June, Galaxy Press is set to release a full-cast recording of Battlefield Earth, the 1982 science fiction novel by L. Ron Hubbard; Galaxy’s president, John Goodwin, notes the project is massive on every scale, including the source material, which runs more than 1,000 pages in paperback. The Battlefield Earth audio clocks in at longer than 47 and a half hours and features the work of 67 actors. Some other impressive program stats include the use of more than 150,000 sound effects (many of them created for this title) and 2,400 editing hours spent on the final result.
Though previous abridged and unabridged audio editions of Battlefield Earth have been produced, Goodwin says that this latest incarnation was partly inspired by “so many requests over the years” for a full-cast unabridged version. Additionally, he believes that advances in audio technologies—most notably in the area of data compression—have made this the right time to take on the project. “We have really endeavored to create a complete sound experience, which we have dubbed HD audio,” he said. In Goodwin’s view, the increased capabilities of major online retailers such as Audible (and Amazon) and iTunes to deliver higher-resolution files, and the increasing bandwidth available to consumers, provide the ideal environment for releasing high-quality audiobooks with more original music, sound effects, and voices.
Anji Cornette, v-p of GraphicAudio, whose multicast titles bear the tagline “A Movie in Your Mind,” echoes Goodwin when she says that adopting technological advances has enhanced her productions. “We have a solid process now, after doing this a while, and we tweak it as needed,” she says. “In the last 12 years, we expanded to surround sound and we are playing with 3-D audio.” The company is also planning to add a Foley studio to its arsenal of tools. “We use every opportunity to expand the entertainment experience,” she says, “so as a listener you feel like you’re at the center of the action.” Beside the numerous voices on the recordings, “the sound effects and music become characters in themselves,” she adds. Cornette notes that Graphic has been adapting graphic novels and other genre series to audio, explaining that “action, good pacing, and dialogue that jumps out at you” are among the essential criteria she looks for in potential full-cast audio productions.
At HarperAudio, senior producer Caitlin Garing says that in developing a multicast production, various types of texts can work well. “It depends on what you’re trying to create: a full cast audiobook with a narrative voice, like The Graveyard Book, or a full cast that’s entirely dialogue [similar to a radio drama], like Ender’s Game Alive,” she says. “So far we’ve done full-cast audiobooks [based on titles in which] there’s a strong narrative voice that serves as a storyteller, and characters that are so alive they almost jump off the page when you read it. I think in either scenario well-developed characters and dialogue are key.”
In the majority of cases these days, multicast productions are created by editing together individual voice performances, music, and numerous sound effects planned by sound designers. “Typically we record one person at a time, unless we have a crowd scene or something like that, and we can have some of the voice talent we have on staff work in the studio together,” Cornette says. For Battlefield Earth, Goodwin explains that Galaxy recorded single readers at a time, but director Jim Meskimen, also an accomplished actor, “was in the room with the actors, instead of on the other side of a wall.” This distinction was especially important with such a long program. “Keeping the energy level of the performances up over 47 and a half hours was one of the biggest challenges,” Goodwin says. For Garing, “There are a lot of moving pieces, and keeping track of them all is probably the greatest challenge.”
A number of audio publishers say that logistical challenges aside, they are pleased with the rewards afforded by creating multicast productions. “It’s fun both as a producer and as a listener,” Garing says. “There’s so much room to experiment in audio as a storytelling medium, and full cast and dramatizations are chances to do that. ”
Goodwin says Battlefield Earth will have a substantial rollout, with front-of-store displays at Barnes & Noble stores in June, prominent placement at airport retailers and truck stops, and potential promotions with Indigo and Amazon. The 44 CD edition will retail for $64.95, and the digital download is priced at $59.95. GraphicAudio continues to produce eight to nine audio entertainment titles per month. And HarperAudio plans two new full-cast projects over the next nine months.
“We’re putting a lot of effort into doing more original audio,” says HarperAudio associate publisher Sean McManus. “There’s a new energy and breath in audio, and we want to bring it to the forefront again.” He notes that many audiobook listeners are coming to the format after having become fans of podcasts. “We want to find ways to stay ahead of that curve.”