Blackstone Audio, Inc. has received two Grammy nominations, The Recording Academy announced Dec. 2. The audiobook "The Maltese Falcon" is nominated for Best Spoken Word Album, and the company's audio version of "Through the Looking Glass (And What Alice Found There)" is nominated for Best Spoken Word Album for Children.
"We're really delighted. This year we will have produced 400 audio books and we strive to make every one of them the very best," said Craig Black, founder of the largest independent audio company in America. "To receive recognition from the Recording Academy really validates our efforts. It feels like we've gotten there; like we've really arrived."
Started in 1987 in Black's Medford living room, Blackstone Audio is no stranger to awards and visibility. Its 4,500 titles, narrated and produced by top-tier professionals, can be seen in Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, iTunes.com and other major retailers. The Audio Publishers Association has awarded Blackstone 16 Audies (the audio equivalent of the Oscar). In the past three years, Blackstone has won more Audies than their primary corporate competitors, including Time Warner, Random House and Penguin.
"Our list of books is considered one of the strongest out there," said Blackstone President Josh Stanton. "We take great pride in picking books that aren't just going to be best sellers for two weeks. We want books that will be enjoyed generation after generation."
The classic crime novel "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett first appeared in Black Mask magazine in 1929. Blackstone Audio, Inc. brings the book to life with actor Michael Madsen as the tough, cynical P.I. Sam Spade and actress Sandra Oh as the treacherous femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy.
Produced by Yuri Rasovsky and Josh Stanton, the audiobook has been named a Top 10 Crime Fiction Audiobook by Booklist Magazine and is a 2009 Booklist Editor's Choice, the AudioFile Best Book of the Year and an AudioFile Earphones Award Winner.
"A large group of people made the nomination possible," Stanton said. "Michael Madsen really delivered a top notch performance; everyone's got Humphrey Bogart on their mind when they listen. Yuri, an award-winning dramatist, wrote the script, led the cast and did post-production. Audio engineers, World Wide Wadio in Hollywood, proofers, production, packaging and presentation all had a say in it."
"Through the Looking Glass" is the 1871 sequel to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Here, Alice finds herself in a fantastic land where everything is reversed. Madcap kings, queens and mythological characters lead the heroine through an adventure loosely based on a game of chess.
"Stefan Rudnicki, a Grammy-winning audiobook producer, and great-selling author Harlan Ellison just put together a really special production," Stanton said. "It was a little risky using an American on a British classic with a Southern belle as the queen, but the risks they took obviously paid off."
Consultants Rick Bleiweiss and Deborah Morgan of Ashland also played a hand in the nominations.
"We really look at them as part of our senior management team who really educated and informed us on the ins and outs of the Grammy process and helped further our production to another level," Stanton said.
What does it mean to Stanton that Blackstone Audio has been nominated for two Grammys?
"It validates all the hard work that everyone in the company puts out each and every day," he said. "As a small company, we've always had big goals. We've strived to be the best and this just shows we're on the way to getting there. We're very optimistic that we might be able to win."
Nomination is "good news" for a family of friends and employees.
"Most of the 200-plus people that work for us or with us, meaning readers and employees, reside here in the Valley and many have become friends," Black said. "There was uproarious applause when I told them about the nominations. It truly felt like I was giving good news to family."
The best thing about working at Blackstone is "definitely the culture," said Stanton, who has been with the company since high school and has worked his way through every department. "It's a very family-like business culture — very relaxed, creative, everyone has their own self-drive and everyone brings something unique to the table."
Blackstone inhabits 40,000 square feet of office space on Mistletoe Road in Ashland, outfitted with four recording studios.
"We do everything in-house; we're completely integrated," Stanton said. "This is pretty neat because most publishers outsource large chunks of production or recording. We are absolutely community-oriented. It is the creative culture and amount of talent here in the Rogue Valley that keeps us here."