The audio engineer of books: It helps not to know him well

with Richard Romaniello

The first thing that I ever did with (or rather to...) Richard Romaniello is shouting his surname in his face. We were at the AES Convention at the Packard Campus of the Library of Congress in Culpeper, VA, in June 2018, and we didn't know each other. I read his name on the tag and went full ROMANIELLO! Turns out, he is Italian by descent but he doesn't speak much Italian as he's a 100% New Yorker. And the second thing I learnt about him is that he is an audio engineer of audiobooks. Isn't that an interesting sector? Audiobooks! So I decided to learn more and what better way than to invite him on Technoculture, and oh the stories he had to tell.
A few days after the conference last year, I visited Richard at his workplace downtown NY, the Penguin Random House Audio, the largest commercial publisher on the planet with over 200 audiobooks releases per year. He showed me around the studios and told me about the specific challenges of engineering an audiobook. If it sounds easier than music, you're wrong. It's a very specific craft, and Richard is a master in the field.

This is what he says about himself:
"I have been playing with tape recorders since 1965 when I got my first tape recorder for my 10th birthday. The brand was Acme and I got 3, 3" reels of Shamrock tape (which later became AMPEX tape). I made ambient back round tapes of bombs falling and machine gun fire for my G.I. Joe dolls.
A few years later my family got a reel to reel so we could exchange audio letters with my cousin in Nevada. I didn't get any formal education in Audio until 1981 when I attended The Institute of Audio Research in NYC.
I believe it was the first school for Audio Engineers in the country. They were established in 1969 and unfortunately closed in December of 2017. I graduated in 1982 and have been working as an Audio Engineer since then. I was very lucky to have met Malcolm Addey (Chief Engineer @ EMI Abbey Road from 1958 - 1968) in 1983 and I have been his protégé since then. I have worked with the greatest Jazz musicians on the music side and with some of the greatest actors on the spoken word side."

Fig. 1 - Richard Romaniello with producer John Wynn and JFK Jr.

The list of musicians, actors, political figures, and celebrities Richard has worked with, and the titles that were nominated for Grammy Awards is long, but here's a highlight. Spoken word: Glenn Close, Matt Dillon, Michael Douglas, Michael Moore, Dolly Parton, Christopher Plummer, Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr. And for music: Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Tom Malone...

Fig. 2 - Can you guess who that blond is? That's right, she's Dolly Parton!

Richard is also a musician and at the end of this episode you can hear a live recording of his band, "The original famous rays", peforming the song "It helps not to know me well". In the slider below: left to right, Kevin Schmidt-Baritone Trombone, Rafik Cezzane-Tenor Saxaphone, David Frawley-Trumpet, Keith Mulhare-Drums, Jim Wilmer-Keyboards, Richard Romaniello-Vocals and Guitar, David Wasserman-Bass and Backing Vocals. The picture was taken in Lincoln Park, Jersey City, NJ on Aug 8th 2018.

Richard is someone who has worked "behind the scenes" all his life. He's not a loud man, you may easily underestimate him. But if you... know him better ;) you get to appreciate the audio professional he is, loving father and husband, hard worker, musician, and black belt of karate. Among other things! And what a kind soul. I think men like him rarely get in the spotlight, but they keep the world moving forward, with their hard work every day... behind the scenes. I am glad I got to hear and share some of Richard's stories in this episode of Technoculture.

Here is a live recording of Mozart's Requiem Richard made a few years ago at St. Patrick's Basilica in Little Italy NYC. He recorded the concert and Malcolm Addey mixed it. And then back to audiobooks!

My favourite quotes from the episode: "I like noise."
And: "I completely got into the business by accident, but I became enamoured with storytelling. This is what a book is: storytelling."