Since my voice got lower in the 6th grade, folks have told me i should use it for entertainment & profit—start a radio show, announce at sports stadiums, do voice over, read audio books.
i was always flattered and basically agreed with them, but remained ignorant of how that would actually work, and distracted by the need to make money now, doubtful of a reality where someone would suddenly start paying me to read. Fortunately, friends & acquaintances kept encouraging me, including one especially brilliant, hilarious, creative, and energetic friend named Evan Duggan.
After 3 years as a music teacher at a middle school (a job i was totally unprepared for) and a couple of mental breakdowns—you know, screaming by myself in the living room, that kind of human shit—i started corresponding with Evan, getting feedback on my readings of Dune, national park descriptions, and community college advertisements. Evan and i first collaborated on marketing the band In Due Time, one of my most precious musical projects, and then later on the Rooster Cat Comedy Romp—a weekly show of music, hilarity, & improvisation. Working with Evan has always been easy & productive, and we eventually fell into creating my first audio book: Winnie the Pooh.
The original Winnie the Pooh story, written by A.A. Milne in 1926, entered the public domain in 2022. Evan pointed this out to me, and we started recording in July 2023. We met via video call, Evan listening closely and giving tips, asking me to read certain paragraphs a second time, and to sing that Pooh song just once more (i'll write about the musical portions of this audio book in a future post). i had read parts of the story several times to my partner & my sister-in-law, as well as to my now 2 year old child. Evan had exactly the right idea to focus my reading: keep your family in mind as you read, make the story clear and soothing to them, and we will have captured the feeling that we want to transmit to the world.
It was SO helpful to have a real producer work with me on a project! My mind very easily falls into critique in the pursuit of some unattainable perfectionism, so being able to turn to Evan and ask, "Should i read that again?" and hear him say, "Nah, i thought it was perfect," kept the project moving along and put my anxious inner critic at ease.
This audio book already feels like a complete success—i learned so much about microphone technique as i read (slower, softer breaths, they're easier to edit that way), and the process of recording the next book is much less intimidating—but in addition to these valuable lessons, it would be great to make some valuable currency.
The process took about 10 hours to record, 28 hours to edit, and 3 more hours to format audio and distribute to many online stores; we finished in December. Imagine we make $35 per hour for that 41 hours of work, that comes out to $1,435—if the project makes that much money, i will jump for joy, drop some cash in the vacation fund, and start recording the next book immediately!
Evan and i are splitting profits 80/20, so hopefully $1,148 for me and $287 for him. If 160 people pay $9 for the audiobook (the starting price here on my website), we'll be there. This math seems a little ridiculous to one part of my mind, but it really helps me calm my inner anxious critic: i know 160 people for sure, and many folks have expressed their intent to buy this work. If i can continue making audio books & songs that only a relatively small number of people need to buy to 'justify' the time i spent making the work, then this self employed musical entrepreneur business will be beautiful indeed.
Again, i already feel like the work is justifiable because of the lessons learned, the practice of new skills, and the creation of beauty for the world to enjoy. As i try to balance all the forces that motivate me, considering how much money i can make is important—not more important than creating something beautiful, but worthy of consideration for me and my family.
Something i feel slightly strange about is making money at all off of a creation that doesn't belong to me—Winnie the Pooh is the work of A.A. Milne, from almost 100 years ago. But i also think of the value of musicians recording and selling cover versions of songs from hundreds of years ago—like Annie Lennox's version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen—their unique interpretations may bring a song to life for some new listener. Since different singers are connected to different fans & communities, different people singing the same song helps more people hear the song. It's not redundant, it's spreading the joy of the song even further.
Why shouldn't this logic apply to audio books as well? There should be many versions of Winnie the Pooh circulating the world, bringing this wonderful text to many different communities who may not have enjoyed it before. And our labor to create these unique versions of older works is valuable, the experience of art is valuable, and ought to be paid for.
i do hope that this effort will lead to future audio book projects in collaboration with living authors, and i welcome your suggestions for folks to work with (it's been suggested to me already that i look into reading social justice oriented books, especially works that may not yet have an audio book version).
So if you pay for the version of Winnie the Pooh that Evan and i created, you'll get a charming listening experience and you'll help us on our journey to record more beautiful words for your future listening pleasure. You'll be supporting a small business, supporting a member of your very own community, supporting humans who are trying to cooperate, collaborate, and create soothing art in this crazy world.
Evan and i will earn the most money if you buy the audio book directly from my website, but if you prefer using an app to manage your audio files, it is also available on Spotify, Google Play, Libro.FM, and soon many other online stores.
i'm tony—thanks for tunin' in, thanks for reading, and thank you most of all for listening.