Audible’s Words + Music Series Shares Performer’s Stories At Asbury Park Music Festival
The Sea.Hear.Now Festival recently took over the Asbury Park shore for 2 full days of music, art, surfing, and food everywhere with three music stages spread out over several blocks and thousands of fans soaking up the end of the summer.
After a mix of local acts like Dentist, and Fletcher rocked the house, older performers like Boy George and Culture Club proved they still had the right stuff with moves and songs that felt fresh and connected with the wide-ranging all ages crowd. After a raucously entertaining day, the first night’s headliner, Stevie Nicks, began by asking a question from the main stage right on the beach, “Is this the world of Bruce Springsteen?”
One of the festival partners, Audible, was present with a pop-up activation called the Surf Shack Experience that gave listeners the chance to listen to selected acts from their Words + Music series including second night headliner Billie Joe from Green Day and Sharon Van Etten. It was also a place to relax in a branded lawn chair and get a free Words + Music t-shirt screen printed onsite.
Words + Music is an exclusive audio series by Audible that they say “shines a light on today’s most influential artists” and has become an archive of curated, first-hand stories with no signs of slowing down. As of this writing, the series is currently up to 30 volumes with “Light, Spirit, and Soul” narrated by Carlos Santana being the latest.
While at the festival I got a chance to speak with Preston Copley, Executive Producer for Words + Music, about the series in an enlightening conversation that shines a light on just how special their production is.
Preston says the series started in 2018 as their live entertainment business unit with live performances at Minetta Lane Theater in Greenwich Village and programmed it with plays, comedy shows, panel discussions, and anything narrative. They evolved from there to storytelling events and music that started with Patti Smith and those recordings moved to Audible + where it became an exclusive. They began releasing one every month, starting in 2020.
What was the inspiration for Words + Music?
Preston: Audible has always been on the hunt for storytelling and letting creators take agency over their storytelling. We hadn’t broadened our stable of storytellers for musicians until our Originals effort got mature. We wanted to deliver our customers the widest block of voices possible and there is something very obvious about why you would engage musicians to tell the story of their lives and what’s important and to deliver that experience with audio of their songs.
This is your first time at this event.
Preston: We activate wherever our listeners are. Our headquarters is in New Jersey and we love serving with and engaging our community, the music fans.
How hard is it to tell Billie Joe or Sting’s story, for instance? Do you interact with them directly?
Preston: We interact very directly. It’s a very intimate experience building the shows with the artist to create something that sounds unique to them that aesthetically represents their voice the way they want it. You talked to Rufus. He had a very different execution than other artists in the program because he used Audible in a very innovative way. We do some live performances, some scripted originals and a style where we’re pulling the story from the artist in a more interview style format over a series of very long interviews.
I’m guessing you interview them and cut your parts out, right?
Preston: Yes. It’s always direct from the artist’s mouth. It’s their opportunity to take agency over their story.
What direction have you been taking the series in this year?
Preston: We finish up this year with two fabulous artists. The first week of October we premiere John Legend’s story called “Living Legend.” We recorded that in Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London, and it was an extraordinary experience. It’ll be as intimate an experience for the listener as it was for the 100 people there. And in December we release ‘New Moon’ by Brandy. Santana was our release in September, and earlier we did Tenacious D. and Beck. We’ve had a lot of fun this year.
Is that the feeling you’re going for with the listener of being right there with them when they talk?
Preston: The great benefit of the audio medium is the intimacy you can create between the storyteller and the listener. It’s like a 1 to 1 relationship, especially if you’re listening alone with a speaker or great headphones. That relationship is what we keep top of mind with every new release.
What are some of the challenges you had to overcome?
Preston: The main challenge has been Covid. We were trying to build one every month with artists quarantined. It’s an always on franchise and we’re delivering one every month rain or shine.
Has anyone ever pulled out in the middle of production and decided it wasn’t for them?
Preston: No, because I think they see it as a rare opportunity to take the reins and have an unmediated form of expression.
I think a cool thing about Words + Music is that if the artists were just releasing something like this on their own then not as many people would find out about it as they would in a collection like this. It becomes an archive.
Preston: Exactly! For us the connective tissue is storytelling. We know you are a fan of the artists proper, but we hope that you understand the story is what we’re emphasizing and the music is an important part of the story, and if you’re a fan of one artist, we hope you’ll be a fan of the entire series.