Amplifying Communities – ep.138

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May 23, 2024
Supporting Black-Owned Business – ep.139
June 13, 2024

This week I am joined by the founder and CEO of Pro Audio Voices Inc. Becky Parker Geist as she shares how her company seeks to better communicate ideas and perspectives, overcome community barriers by amplifying voices through storytelling and offer advice for authors to enhance their audio presence effectively.

Becky Parker Geist is the founder and CEO of Pro Audio Voices. Pro Audio Voices is a Portland based company serving clients internationally as a go-to place for exceptional audiobook & podcast production and marketing, including complex and unusual projects that may involve multiple voices and/or music and/or sound effects.

Social Media Accounts to Tag::

#AMPlifyAudiobooks #ProAudioVoices #Indieauthor #LoveAudiobooks #AudiobookConnection

Melyssa Barrett:

Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

Becky Parker Geist is the founder and CEO of Pro Audio Voices. Pro Audio Voices is a Portland-based company serving clients internationally as a go-to place for exceptional audiobook and podcast production. They also do marketing, including complex and unusual projects that may involve multiple voices and or music or sound effects. Reach So again, I am excited this week to have be Parker Geist, join me for this conversation and I am just excited to talk to you. Excited because I know Pro Audio Voices has been doing phenomenal things. They are in fact the production company behind the Jolly Podcast. And I have to say it has been a labor of love. And so I’m so grateful to have a team like yours who is absolutely my wow team to work on my podcast. So if anybody out there has a podcast and you’re looking for a production company, I pull heartedly provide you recommendation for Pro Audio Voices. So I’m happy to have Becky here as CEO of the company. And I’m, so you’re here. So I just wanted to start by just asking you about your background and what even sparked your interest in studio production, voiceover. You have such an amazing background as well.

Becky Parker Geist: Oh, thank you so much. It’s great to be here. And I just want to reflect back to you, you are also one of our wow clients, so we know how much a difference that makes as we are finding the people that we’re aligned with. So yeah, my background, if I were to go way, way back, well, I’ll go back to really sort of the point in where I was starting my career, and that was back in 1981, I was just graduating from grad school degree in acting and theater and one of my first jobs out of grad school was recording talking books for the blind. And I fell in love with that whole experience of bringing these stories to life in audio. And that was so long ago that technology was a whole different experience, but really what I realized was just how passionate I was about that, bringing stories to life.

It fit in so well with my whole trajectory to that point of theater and performance and jump ahead. Many years later, I was in California, I had three daughters and was at a point where my youngest daughter was taking a voiceover class and I was like, wait a minute, this is great. And I loved that work. And so I came back to the voiceover world and I had been always active in theater, but this, it was really around 2011 that I jumped back in sort of a few toes at first checking out the audiobook world in the voiceover world, got an agent and was trying to find where my place was in that world. And by 2013, thanks to a kind of mentorship relationship I had in with a trainer in a course I was taking, who at the point when I started telling him about what I was up to in addition to this other business I was doing, he’s like, wow, Becky, you just light up when you talk about that. That’s what you need to be doing full time. I was like, okay. Jumped in with both feet and so glad that I did. It is truly my passion.

Melyssa Barrett: Well, and I love the fact that you have such a perception for making sure that people can tell their stories and that they have the ability to not be silenced. Can you talk a little bit about how did Pro Audio Voices come to be? What was that vision you had and how do you implement your vision to make sure, I know I’ve talked to authors before that you have been working with many of them women, many of them minority, and I just think it’s fantastic that it’s like you want to make sure that they get their stories out there.

Becky Parker Geist:

Absolutely. Yeah. So back in 2013 when I was still in that training course, one of the things that we were supposed to do was to write your ideal day. What’s the picture of your life if you would take a snapshot? And a part of that for me was having an international, a global business, meaning for me that I had team members and clients from around the world. And why that was important to me was because I feel like we have so many of these imaginary boundaries between us country boundaries and language boundaries and all these things that are, they’re completely made up, but they slow us down from being able to understand each other as fellow human beings. And so from my perspective, I think that stories and especially audio stories, because it’s such an intimate experience to listen to someone else tell a story, they do so much more than just communicate an idea or entertain us.

They actually create a doorway into other worlds. And a part of that is now if I can step into this world of someone else’s experience, whether they’re fictional, even fiction is built on what our own life experience is. So I can then step into the shoes in my mind through these stories of someone from a whole other part of the world having a whole different cultural experience and that then it’s like opens up the heart a little bit more because so much I think of what keeps us locked into this feeling being of otherness is that we don’t really know what it’s like to experience what it’s like in their shoes. So the more that we can use stories to better understand another person’s point of view, another perspective, what maybe it’s like to have the rest of the world looking at you in a different way.

There’s so many things, so many things. So that was a big part of my vision. And now as we have grown so much over this last decade, almost 11 years now, we ask our authors when we’re first meeting with them, whether they’re authors or podcasters, one of the most important questions that we ask is, what is your message? What is it that you want the world to receive or experience as a result of listening to your audiobook or listening to your podcast? Because we want to have an impact. We want to be bringing the world together and making the world a better place. And we’ve turned away clients that have brought us material that feels like is either racist or somehow degrade some other culture. The authors don’t always think it is that, but it’s the way it comes across and it feels like that’s not the kind of impact we want to have.

Melyssa Barrett: Well, and how nice it is to be in a position where you can decide

For your company what types of material you would like to put out in the world to create the positivity that we need, but also the authentic stories from different perspectives I think is so valuable. And I think you probably know my husband was a storyteller. Many of my podcast listeners are aware, but he was being a storyteller and a voiceover artist. I think there’s just so much love for what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. So I just enjoying watching you thrive in this way. I think it’s just so awesome that there’s so many people that can take advantage of it. So then talk to me a little bit about why did you even call it Pro Audio Voices as an audiobook company, but there’s so much authorship in there, but in terms of podcasting and all that, how did that even come to be?

Becky Parker Geist: Yeah, so when I was first starting back in 2013, figuring out the name of the business at that point, I still wasn’t sure which area I was going to focus on. I was doing commercial work, I was doing voiceover for video. I was doing all kind of whatever I could to get fully going in the world. So I actually named the business before I moved most fully into the audiobooks and podcast realm. But the aspects of it that were important to me were the professionalism because really always committed to providing the highest possible quality that we can, that the voices was. It’s voiceover, and it’s not just me and the audio, partly because of audio books and we’re working in audio, but it also then helps to provide the overall picture. I was looking also at things like if you just put in pro audio, but not without the voices, you’re going to get a lot of equipment.

Was trying to find that place where it would be clear what we were doing and the kind of quality that we were aiming for. What’s interesting now is this is not an official announcement, but we are in the process of since launching Amplify Audiobooks, which is this app, and I’d love to share more about that, but since launching that, we’ve realized that at this point we’re in the trademark process for that name and that we may be shifting the business name overall, sort of the overarching business name to amplify audiobooks because we are trying to amplify the voices of these wonderful authors and podcasters that we work with. And I think it will be all the clearer to people who are just getting to know us, what it is that we’re about. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, I love it. I love that. And I know you guys are really focused on high quality production, which I love. So before we get to Amplify, can you talk a little bit about what are the typical stages when we think about audiobook production or if you want to even go into some of the podcasting, but in terms of what does that look like? And I know you all do things in terms of, because a lot of publishers having a book, I know a lot of publishers just kind of say, okay, here’s your book, have a nice day, good luck, and you guys have a bunch of other things that you can offer to just be out there.

Becky Parker Geist:  The publishing industry has been for most of its years, focused on print and then eBooks as that came in. And the trend over the last decade plus at this point has been double digit growth in the audiobook industry. So as more and more people listen to audio books and get hooked on them and then that’s all they want to do is just listen to audio books not as read as much or just mix it up. So that has made it all the more important for authors to get their books into audio, because if you don’t, you’re just missing out on a big chunk of your potential audience. And so that’s the big reason. And then, let’s see, there are many components of this, of what you just asked. So in terms of the overall process and just from the author’s point of view, because there’s way more going on behind the scenes, so I try to keep it as simple as I can.

So I look at it as three basic phases. The first is pre-production, and that is actually the area that so many production companies just don’t pay any attention to. And yet from my perspective, it is like that’s where the gold is. That’s where you’re creating these opportunities to build community and to create an ongoing engagement between author and listener. Pre-production is partly about casting, but it’s also about that manuscript preparation and looking for what are the ways in which we can enhance this ongoing engagement. That could be anything from inviting listeners to an author’s website to see some visual component that’s in the print book. For example, it could be we’re going to record part of an interview and we’re going to have the full interview on your website. It could be a sneak preview is so many different ways, but creating that opportunity is a gift to both the author and to the listener because if you think about it, any listener who they’ve gone to the author’s material, they want something from it.

They either want some great entertainment or some information or some guidance. And if the author is providing that in the book, the audio book, then it makes sense that the listener is going to get even more value from an ongoing engagement with the author and the author is going to get even more value from their listener being a part of their community. So I see it as a much bigger picture than just, it’s not just about marketing. Marketing is important, but it’s not just about that. It’s about community. Again, for me, it comes back to that whole thing about removing the barriers. And just as a sort of a sidebar example, I think about one of my favorite authors, very well known, has lots of audio books. I think I’ve listened to all of them great work, and there is no way that I have been able to find that I can actually engage with that author. I can’t find a website, I can’t find any. There’s like, okay, well, I just have to keep an eye out for some future audio book, so I’m missing out even though I really want to be a part of that author’s community, but there’s no community available. Now, I know that she is published by a publisher, but it’s just an example of how they’re making uninformed choices about what’s possible with their authors and their audiobooks and their following,

Melyssa Barrett:  Which is so interesting to me that because everything these days has a community, I mean, there is some network, some social media, some connection, and it’s interesting that you highlight that because the whole focus when we think about belonging really has to do with us connecting in some form or fashion to a part of community, whichever community that is. So that’s really key, and I think that’s probably one of the many reasons that you are so explosive in your growth these days because it’s not just about delivering books or stories into the market. You tend to go much deeper with everybody that you all relate to, and it shows in your team, the employees that you have, everybody wants a deeper relationship so that they can do the best work for the people you’re serving, which is awesome.

Becky Parker Geist:   Yeah, So pre-production, so important. And then phase two is like production. So that on the back end includes much more than just production. It also includes what we would consider the recording. If it’s an author narrator, it’s getting them set up for recording and working with them. If it’s a professional narrator, then it’s all the recording, the editing, the proofreading, the client review, all of that process. It gets us from the start of production all the way through to where, hey, your audio book files are approved and ready to go. And then the last phase is distribution and marketing, and that’s where we have these different options. So we provide a lot of guidance to our clients because there are some production companies that just, here are your files, good luck. And authors don’t always know what to do with them. So then they’re searching around trying to figure out, well, okay, now, right?

We get them all the way out to your audiobook is launched. But more than that, as we provide guidance around strategies for launch and the places where you can get your highest royalties, have your most control, how you can run promotions, use discount codes, things like that. And that’s where Amplify audio books comes into play. I’ll talk just a little bit more about that in a moment. But we also have, as a part of that last phase, a lot of different marketing support that we’ve developed over the years based on what our clients were asking us for what they needed help with, we’re like, well, we could provide that help. We have a tremendous network that we’ve developed over the years, especially me, I’ve been very active in the indie publishing world, and I love networking, so I love meeting people and getting to know them and building alliances with people who have this great expertise in different areas.

Melyssa Barrett:  Do you want to go into tell us what Amplify is? Because now that you’ve mentioned it a couple of times, people are probably like, what is that?

Becky Parker Geist:  What the heck is that? Yeah, amplify Audiobooks is a platform that we developed. It is kind of like the Etsy of audio books, if you will. It’s a direct seller platform where your audiobook can be in a store with other audiobooks, but you are getting all the benefits of selling it directly, which means you get to control your pricing. You can schedule a promotion, you can change your metadata at any time. You can create discount codes, whatever discount codes you want. And one of the biggest things is you actually get to know who bought your audio book so you can build that community again. So that community core value is kind of baked into everything that we do.

Melyssa Barrett:  But you don’t get that on Amazon.

Becky Parker Geist:  No. What I found was really I, as early as when I started this business and started to realize how I’ll use the word abusive, the industry is in terms of how the authors who are doing all the creative work of writing the book, incurring all the expenses of having the book made into an audio book, and then they put it out there, they send it out to these retailers to sell. And what happens? Well, the retailers take most of the money, keep all the control and deliver just a little tiny sliver of the revenue to the authors. And I have always thought that is just so wrong. And I searched for solutions. I was hoping to find something that was already out there that would make it possible to do a direct sale option. And there really wasn’t. There wasn’t anything that was viable. So we created one through sheer determination and scraping by to make it happen.

And with the most magnificent team of people who share the values that we do and have the skills that are needed to make it come into being that awesome team of people has brought Amplify audiobooks into fruition. So it is a platform because that’s going to be best for our authors, and we always want to do what’s best for them. And then we also can distribute out to the platforms that most people think of when they think about audiobooks. They always think about first. They think, oh, is my book going to be on Audible? And we do provide a lot of education around how the industry works and the ways to work within the industry to get the better results that you’re after. Because if you focus and encourage people to go get my book on Audible, you’re going to have the least control, the lowest returns. You’re never going to know who bought your audiobook.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and to your point earlier about building that connection and the community, it’s almost as if the industry wants to eliminate that so that they have the control, but you really want as an author and even as a podcaster to be able to know who’s listening, what’s happening, and who am I building that relationship with? So I think it’s critical, and I love the fact that you’re doing all of this work, especially when you have folks that are, shall we say, restricting books and things. Well,

Becky Parker Geist:  It’s very disturbing how much pressure there is and success, I’ll use that word, it’s in a negative connotation in this case, but how much success, some people that are trying to limit access to books and content and stories that are actually going to educate and uplift voices, let voices be heard that have been traditionally suppressed, and to limit our education system, even having access to content that is so important to our understanding our history, we need to understand our history by no means done with the journey that we’re on in terms of trying to move towards more equity, more inclusion, more diversity, more understanding of each other. I don’t understand why there are as many people as there are that clinging to this divisive agenda because it’s not a happy place to be.

Melyssa Barrett:  No, they’re not happy people.

Becky Parker Geist:  They’re not. And it’s so sad that they fight so hard, like, oh my gosh, it’s just tragic.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and that’s so interesting to me about your entire business model because I mean, obviously you have a lot of remote workers, but they are from all over the world. So what is that like for you as a business owner, entrepreneur, CEO, to be able to tap into that global scale even as a business that is traversing all different segments?

Becky Parker Geist:  Yeah, I love it. So I love having people and we have core team members who are spread across the globe. I would say that the biggest challenge that we face with that is sometimes scheduling meetings can be harder when you’ve got time zones that are dramatically far apart. But it’s such a great thing to be able to both partner with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds to learn from them. And this is one thing that I think has been a real strength overall, and I would encourage every business owner to be open to one of the things that we have always stated every time we’ve brought on new team members is to say, we really value your experience and your opinions. So if you have ideas about ways that we can do something better, we want to hear them. And that doesn’t mean we’re always going to try them out.

Some of them we may have tried out and they didn’t work out. Sometimes we’ll try something out and we’ve had this experience where it seemed like a great idea and then we learned, oh, actually it’s kind of causing some different things that we didn’t anticipate. While it can be challenging to keep modifying your systems, it is so incredibly powerful. I think it’s empowering to our team members to know that we respect and honor them and appreciate all their experience and what they can bring to the table. And it’s helped. That itself has helped us grow because people will bring in ideas and we go, that is a great idea, let’s do that. Or someone will slightly modify something that we had mapped out as being a particular way, and they’ll go, how about if we do it this way? And we go, yes, certainly. Let’s do that. It’s allowed us to grow more quickly, to improve more quickly, and that’s exciting.

Melyssa Barrett:  What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into the industry? Because publishing is so different now. When you think about, my father used to publish towards the end of his life. He went into publishing and he wanted to expand and kind of make sure that stories were told, but it was all written then and it was a very different process.

Becky Parker Geist:  If you are in the process or aspiring to write a book or have written a book, a great resource, great resource is, I’m going to name two, and they’re closely related. So one is IBPA, that’s Independent Book Publisher’s Association, and the other is and vapa, B-A-I-P-A, and that’s Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, which is a sister, like an affiliate organization of IBPA. I am currently president of VAPA and have been for about 10 years now, and it is a wonderful organization, about 200 members and let’s with monthly meetings and a lot of guidance, a lot of nurturing community people trying to help each other out. So if you’re in that journey of publishing your first book or 10th book, whatever, it’s a great place to be and doesn’t, it’s not limited to the Bay Area. Ever since Covid, we went zoom full on, and so it’s available to really anyone around the world to publish content.

So being a podcaster is a fantastic way, whether you’re already an author, so authors can be podcasters as well, and those two work really well synergistically together. You can also, if you just want to be a podcaster, what a great way to share your expertise with the world, and that might be the expertise of asking great questions. It might be that you have a great network and they have information and ideas that you want to share. It can be your audiobook. If you have an audiobook and you want to turn that into a podcast, that’s an option. And then also, there are other ways if you’re a screenwriter, well, screen screenplays can be audio books as well, even though they don’t necessarily work quite as well as a print book because it’s a smaller audience of people who actually like to read a screenplay version, but they can make fantastic audio books.

So there’s just so many ways that we can bring our own expertise and gifts out into the world through story, whether it’s through audio books or podcasts. I’m in the audio world. I love audio. I love what I experience as that kind of intimacy. Even though if I’m in the booth by myself with my microphone, I know that I’m telling the story to one other person in the moment. Now in some other space and time, that one other person multiplied by however many is going to be experiencing that story and my voice as telling the story. And that is, I think such an amazing gift to share with each of those other people, and it’s one of the myriad of reasons why I am personally opposed to the idea of AI as narrators. I just feel like it’s kind of missing the point in a big way.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and it’s interesting that you bring that up because the more we talk about connection, there’s only so much you can connect when it comes to ai. I’m sure somebody will tell me like, no, there’s way more ways you can connect, but at the end of the day, the human to human connection is an amazing one. So before you go, I do want to just ask a little bit about underrepresented voices. I know I mentioned that you do a lot of work there and the industry. I think audio books certainly has such a play when it comes to the broader audio industry and amplifying, and I’m using that word on purpose, diverse voices and stories. How do you think the industry can improve? I mean, obviously you are forging your own path, but are there things that the industry can do to improve in this area?

Becky Parker Geist:  There certainly are, and I know that there is a significant effort that is being put forth. I know that’s true in IBPA, that there is a very intentional set of programs and guidelines and policies that even when you join, they’re asking you about DEI. Basically they are asking you, they’re making their own statement and a part of their mission and asking if as a member, you support that, which I really think is great. And I know that there are other publishing companies that are making some effort. I’m sure it varies how significant or how token that might be, but I’m really pleased with how IBPA is moving forward and forging that path for their own membership. And as being a leader in the indie publishing industry, one of the other things that we have done, we’ve created programs whereby we have some flexibility in terms of our pricing, for example, that will allow for when authors reach out to us and we feel like, yes, we want to do your content and their budget just can’t handle what our normal process is.

We do have options whereby we can make it more possible. So we’re doing what we can. We recognize there’s a little bit of the airline, put the oxygen on yourself first before you try to help others. So we have to recognize that while at the same time developing these systems, because it is so important to us. And we’ve also had conversations. We haven’t done as much of the implementation of this as we would like yet, but our desire and conversations and intention has been around reaching out to some of the authors whose books we find that we think that’s an important message. Let’s see if let’s get that book into audio if we can work it out with them. Right. So yeah, it’s so important.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and I think even what you all do from a narrator perspective in utilizing voices that are diverse really creates different impact, I think as well.

Becky Parker Geist:  Yeah, our casting director is great about this, about really honoring what is the voice of this character, whether it’s the full narration of the book, the author who is an appropriate narrator, and sometimes that means that we have to reach out to a different community. There was a project where the author was Navajo and we’re like, there are Navajo narrators. We can reach out to that community. And it’s not always easy to find them. But what we have found is that when we reach out to our talent bank, wonderful talent bank of narrators, and we say to them, Hey, we’re looking for a native Hawaiian speaker or someone who is, whatever the parameters are for what we need so far, we have always found what we needed for those voices that is appropriate. Not a cultural appropriation, but actually appropriate

Melyssa Barrett:  Ask and you shall receive.

Becky Parker Geist:  Indeed. Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome. So any exciting projects or developments that you’re particularly excited about you want to share?

Becky Parker Geist:  Well, this year we’ve been doing a lot of full cast projects, and that’s really exciting. It’s one of my favorite types of projects to be working on because it allows me and many on our team who also have a theater production background, and so all of that gets to come into play with those kinds of projects. But we’re also have been expanding in the podcasting world and really looking at this point to build that aspect of our business even more because we realize the power of it for the voices, the hosts, and the authors that we can serve in that way. That and our social media support has been growing at the same time. So we’re finding that we have many authors who are looking for that kind of assistance and podcasters who are also able then to take advantage of that. The interesting thing about podcasting, I will say, from someone who has, I’ve gone out there and looked at different podcasting platforms and doing all the research of what do people offer and how do they structure it, and each is a little bit different, but it’s really one thing that I could say that where we stand out is we create that very personal community, a professional caring team that will work with the host or the author to develop what they will want to develop based on their goals, helping them really understand what their goals are.

When we start to dig into that and we start asking those questions, that’s powerful because when we get in touch with our own clarity about what it is that we would like, then it gives us that foundation and the energy to really move forward on it towards those goals in a big way.

Melyssa Barrett: I love that. It is such a pleasure to have you on the Jolly Podcast, and I just appreciate all the insights and experiences that you bring because I think you bring your own authorship and theater and performance with every encounter that you have, which I think is just such a different perspective from a lot of ways that people engage. So it is truly a pleasure to have you all as part of my team, and I just am so thankful and grateful for all that you have done, and I think I’m going on, I don’t know, this might be maybe the hundred and 38th or 40th podcast that I’ve done. I never thought that I would even know who to talk to out of all of those episodes, so I just appreciate you and the team. It has been a wonderful ride for me, and I look forward to continuing for as long as I can. But it’s been amazing. I just want to publicly say how much I appreciate you and the team at Pro Audio Voices for all that you all have done for me.

Becky Parker Geist:  Well, thank you so much. We feel greatly honored to be able to help you with the production of your wonderful podcast and all the good work that you’re doing in the world. So thank you as well.

Melyssa Barrett:  Appreciate you so much.

Becky Parker Geist:  Likewise.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.