Penguin Random House Executive Producer Dan Musselman has produced more than 3,000 audiobooks over the course of his career. A fixture in the Los Angeles recording studio, he has given many acclaimed narrators, including Golden Voice Scott Brick, their start in audiobooks. On the occasion of his retirement, AudioFile asked Dan to look back on his more than 30 years in the audiobook industry.
AudioFile: Congratulations, Dan! Can you share some of your career highlights and most memorable moments in the studio?
Dan Musselman: The fondest memories, I think, all involve firsts. The first audiobook I ever listened to, the first time in a recording session, producing my first title, day one in our newly built studios. But the single biggest highlight for me was having the opportunity to cultivate a growing audiobook community in my early days at Books on Tape/Penguin Random House. There was a time when we would regularly hold open auditions, and those were long and exhilarating days. It gave us a chance to meet many talented actors and ultimately open the door for a lot of them. Seeing them narrate their first audiobook made all the hard work worthwhile. Shortly after building our first couple of studios we began contacting actors for auditions and the game was on. Soon we were adding to that directors, engineers, and editors, and now things were really cooking. Everything was new and everyone was new to audiobooks. It was an electric time full of discovery. Each minute I spent in the studio with a new narrator brought me tremendous joy, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
AF: What’s the most important direction that you give to narrators who come into your studio for the first time?
DM: I like to think that by the time we get into the studio, the author has done most of the work for us already. The trick is to bring yourself to the narration without getting in the way of what has been written. It’s really all about you just being you. There’s no right or wrong to this. Perhaps the most important thing is to take your time. Don’t rush, it’s not a race. If you’re human, you’ll be a little anxious at the beginning but you’ll settle in and find your rhythm. Also, if you’re human, you’ll make mistakes. That’s OK. You can’t rehearse the lines over and over and take them again and again. Audiobooks are too long for that. Trust yourself and keep on reading. Your director will keep you honest and on track, and will be your new best friend by the time you’ve finished. Incidentally, you’ll be exhausted at the end of the day. Be yourself and take your time. That’s all there is to it. Now, all you have to do is get in that little room and be brilliant!
AF: Do you have any studio “outtakes” you can share—embarrassing, emotional, or otherwise unexpected moments?
DM: What happens in the studio, stays in the studio. Although there was the time we had overbooked Scott Brick and decided to see if he could read two books at once. He actually was able to narrate one book out of the left side of his mouth, and the other book out of the right. Unfortunately, we couldn’t acoustically isolate the two from each other and ultimately had to scrap the idea.
AF: What’s the most important thing that has changed during your time in the audiobook industry?
DM: Today’s audiobook industry is attracting the best and brightest talent out there. That wasn’t always the case. Not long ago the acting community was barely aware of this medium, and audio publishers were primarily booking actors who had some on-camera or stage success, but had little or no prior experience narrating. Every time we went into the studio it was Audiobooks 101. That’s not to say we didn’t have plenty of magic moments and great performances, but now there is a whole industry of narrators who are knock-it-dead talented and making a career of it. The same is true of directors, engineers, and editors. This industry is populated by the best of the best. It’s been insane to watch audiobooks come to such prominence. We used to say that no one grew up wanting to work in audiobooks. I’m pretty sure that has changed.
AF: What do you love most about the medium of audiobooks and the art of narration?
DM: To begin with . . . everything. Every book is unique. Every narrator is unique. And every project is unique. It’s that variety that has made it such a vibrant way to make a living. Audiobook narration is intimate, and each and every listener has their own personal experience. That’s what makes this medium so inspiring. Storytelling is an ancient artform that has been celebrated for centuries by cultures all around the world, and our audiobook industry has taken it to a whole new level and made it accessible to everyone. It’s a perfect combination of old and new. Old-world spoken word brought to the listeners through new-world technology.
AF: Is there anything else you’d like to share as you reflect on your career?
DM: Back in 1991 when I edited my first audiobook on reel-to-reel tape, I couldn’t have imagined it would be the last stop on my itinerary. I think most people in this industry would tell you they love the work. I sure did. What a great community we have, and I look forward to hearing of its many future successes. I also look forward to hearing TONS more audiobooks!