While the world was still calling the genre “Books-On-Tape” in 1993, Airlift Productions self-published and successfully sold spoken word CDs to libraries across America – and to the world via the Playboy catalog.
I realize that this all sounds a tad mad, but let me tell you the story.
I first met New Orleans icon “Miss Linda”, Linda Mintz, during a session at the Airlift Studios on Iberville street in 1993 while recording radio commercials for a local client.
Our muses, along with the stars, somehow aligned after that session while Linda and I discussed our love for poetry… as we hatched the egg of an idea for an outfit we dubbed “WordMusic”.
Linda, long known and loved by generations of New Orleanians as Romper Room’s “Miss Linda”, had been reared with a love and respect for the magic of poetry.
Yours truly, while working all over New Orleans airwaves as a commercial voice and producer, was looking to create a self-published project that had “legs”, would be “evergreen” and that we could get behind and market to the world.
Produced on Iberville Street (all on reel-to-reel tape), voiced by Linda & me, and backed by husband Albert Mintz… we called the project “SOFT WORDS, WARM NIGHTS”.
** “I Love You/A Bright New Land”… Soft Words, Warm Nights excerpt with Linda Mintz & Micheal Ziants **
Imagine the world’s most romantic poetry lovingly rendered – and cast against the lush backdrop of the sounds of nature, coupled with a meditative new age score.
Score one for the kids on Iberville Street!
** Bess, the landlord’s daughter sacrifices herself to save her lover, Mike Ziants reads the classic, “The Highwayman” from SWWN **
Together with marketing pal Charlie Biondo, we drew the attention of Bayside Distributors in California, produced cassette tapes AND CDs in 1993, were successfully reviewed by all the major trade publications, and took it to market!
** “Will You Love Me When I’m Old?” from SWWN **
After selling over 3,500 to libraries across the U.S., we attended the American Booksellers Association trade show in Chicago, where I personally pitched the project to Hugh Hefner!
Hef was back in his hometown that weekend to promote Playboy’s 40th Anniversary coffee table book and, little did he know it – but get a fast pitch from Micheal Ziants.
Playboy Magazine’s catalog then featured our “Soft Words, Warm Nights” in several editions, helping us to move over 500 units, saying that our CD created “Irresistible Ambiance”.
While I caught a lot of kidding & ribbing from family and fellow radio pals here in NOLA over this entire escapade, it remains one of my favorite stories.
What wasn’t so pleasant?
In an attempt to get a major ongoing distributor for our work, upon sending our CDs to every single major AudioBook publisher at the time, we were not only turned down – but ripped off!
As the idea – romantic spoken word, produced with music & sound effects – was copied within a year by many of them, along with known Hollywood actors that carried marquis–type names.
Oh well, as the Bard once opined, “It is better to have loved and lost… than to have never loved at all.”
Besides, it still makes for great “Did-you-hear-the-one-about-the-BIG-one-that-got-away?” type stories around the bar and NOLA parties.
Furthermore, as Churchill reminded us all, “Never. Never. Never. Give up!”… and from the vernacular, “He who loves and runs away, lives to fight another day.”
I haven’t. (Given up.)
And.. I have! (Lived for another day.)
I mean, back in the 1990s, how was I to know that here in 2019 my path would intersect with one of the world’s biggest and best-selling authors?
And trust me, gang – Soft words and a warm night, this ain’t!
“Working with Airlift Mike in NOLA was an utter pleasure. I was in town for business for a month and needed to maintain my audiobook recording schedule. Mike was accommodating and a pure professional. He mastered the punch and roll technique in 24 hours to be ready for our first session, and over the course of the month we laid down 5 books and a number of auditions. His studio sounds great. The vibe & atmosphere can’t be beat. You’d be hard pressed to find a better recording studio in the southeast – no matter what your needs. I wish I could have stayed!” ~ Amy Landon