Obama records audiobook in Martha’s Vineyard studio

Phil daRosa helps produce high-quality audio for Barack Obama’s ‘A Promised Land.’

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Former President Barack Obama with Phil daRosa, left, inside daRosa's Oak Bluffs recording studio. — Courtesy Phil daRosa

Singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and studio engineer Phil daRosa recently worked with former President Barack Obama to record an audiobook version of his memoir, “A Promised Land.”

The memoir, which is the first release of an anticipated two-volume series, chronicles Obama’s life as president, and “the forces we grapple with as a nation, and how we can heal our divisions and make democracy work for everybody,” according to a Tweet he wrote about the book. It also discusses his life prior to his presidency, and his family takes center stage at certain points.

The book’s first printing is set for a run of 3.4 million copies in the U.S. and Canada. There will be 2.5 million copies printed for international readers. The book is slated to be a top seller, according to the New York Times.

Although daRosa has worked on some high-profile projects before, he said he was honored (and a bit nervous) to work with the former president, along with directors and producers from Random House Audio, whom he collaborated with throughout the recording.

Initially, daRosa said in an email interview with The Times that the opportunity “sort of fell in [his] lap,” and he had to reshuffle some of his other projects to focus on the audiobook.

“The director of the audiobook called me two days before they were supposed to start recording. Luckily I was able to push back a few other projects that I was working on to prioritize the sessions. The timing of it all just worked out,” he wrote.

DaRosa suggests that anyone who wants a compelling read with insights and enlightening perspectives on life, politics, and family should read the book or listen to the audiobook.

Aside from Obama and the recording team working entirely from daRosa’s sound studio, daRosa played an essential role in creating the audiobook, and making it sound crisp and clear.

DaRosa was the audio engineer for the recording process, although he was working alongside other skilled and knowledgeable engineers from Random House.

His recording studio, the Print Shop (TPS), is on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, above daRosa’s family business. 

His primary role was to create high-quality audio over the 15 days of recording, and ensure it was consistent throughout each session. 

In his email, daRosa described the scene inside the studio and soundbooth, with the director and producer of the audiobook in the control room next to him, and Obama inside the live room on the other side of soundproof glass. The Random House folks communicated with Obama while another producer sat behind and checked word pronunciations, marked last-minute edits, and acted as daRosa’s “backup ears” in case he missed anything.

The entire group used headphones to monitor the live audio closely, and make suggestions or changes. 

And even after having worked extensively with many big-name artists, daRosa said it was “a bit nerve-wracking” to work with the former president. But daRosa said that apart from a little bit of nerves at the very beginning of the process, it was an “overwhelming honor to be able to hear this piece of writing as it was being recorded, and to work with such an inspirational person.”

According to daRosa, Obama did everything he could to make the people he was working with feel comfortable.

“Just as you’d expect — he has a way of making everyone around him feel at ease, so that definitely took some of the pressure off. The first day when Mr. Obama walked into the studio and greeted us all with fist bumps, it was immediately comfortable,” daRosa wrote.

DaRosa said his father, Dennis, who passed away this past summer, would have been “over the moon” to see the work happening inside the daRosa building.

The project started Sept. 19, almost a month to the day after daRosa’s father passed away. “I like to think he had something to do with all of this aligning the way it did,” daRosa wrote.
There were a number of memorable moments shared during the recording process, but one of the most special times was when daRosa’s partner, Ann Quigley, arranged some flowers from their home deck to put in the green room where Obama would take his breaks. 

“When I mentioned to him [Obama] that she [Quigley] had made the bouquet, he immediately offered to write a personal ‘thank you’ note. He’s a genuinely nice person who is really thoughtful and easy to get along with,” daRosa wrote.

Ultimately, daRosa said, he couldn’t have made the project happen without the assistance of his family at daRosa’s. He thanked them for being so accommodating during the sessions — “from the ‘Secret Service parking lot shuffle’ in the back lot every day, to everything else they did to make the project go smoothly and help us out. I can’t thank them enough. It couldn’t have gone better.”

In a video recording, Obama spoke about the process of recording the audiobook in daRosa’s studio. “I’ve always got to be careful with this analogy, but maybe it’s a little bit like childbirth in the sense that you forget the pain because there’s great joy at the end of it.”

During the brief video, you can see daRosa on the other side of the glass inside the studio.

Obama said in the video that although there are days when he felt tongue-tied or wanted to make some adjustments or tweaks, recording an audiobook is a reminder that the written word is ultimately derivative of our voices.

“And the human voice, I think, can maybe transmit some things that the written page can’t,” he said.

21 COMMENTS

  1. So fabulous! I had a feeling that was going on. 😉 Thrilled that that was such a lovely experience for everyone. Congrats Phil! What a beautiful opportunity – for you both!

  2. Kudos to you, Phil, for the collaborative endeavor with former president Barack Obama and I’m sure is a masterful audiobook. While @ BJ’s shopping before my return from a Thanksgiving trip back to the Vineyard, I had to pass on the purchase of either the book or audio version offered on sale in order to try to make my 5 pm SSA return passage, which never happened to the high winds that evening. “The Promised Land” would have been a good beginning introduction while I was @ the Woods Hole Inn for the evening. Going forward, the collection will be an early Christmas gift to myself, with the knowledge of where it all originated. More power for the good word that that you do. We both know that your dad is continues to provide you with guidance.

  3. Congratulations Phil…what a wonderful honor for you and for President Obama. It speaks to your credibility, talent, and expertise. I can envision your dad with his magnanimous smile beaming with great pride from above! Looking forward to both the audio and written versions.

  4. I’m so proud of you Phil and no doubt your Dad not only lined up the planets for you but he watched over this session like the great guardian angel that he’s always been
    Cannot wait to listen to this book on my cross country road trip and knowing that my brother Phil was the sound man behind this , will certainly tickle the cockles of me heart !!
    Congratulations Phil you deserve and great Job by your lady w the bouquet
    Keep up the good work brother !!

  5. Kudos to you, Phil! I own a copy of The Promised Land…Insightful! When will former President Obama autograph his book on Martha’s Vineyard?

  6. My condolences on the passing of your Dad, Dennis. Kudos to you, Phil on the recording of the Audiobook of former President Barack Obama’s (44) book entitled: The Promised Land…INSIGHTFUL and easy reading! When will this first Memoir be autographed on Martha’s Vineyard? And, will his earlier writings be available at that time: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope?

      • John– I doubt 2 people who are tested on a nearly daily basis and are not wearing masks for an unknown period of time would constitute a “super spreader” .
        Super spreaders are people or events where hundreds of people are gathering with no regard to the possibility of contracting this “hoax” disease.
        As we have seen , several hundred people in close proximity with no protection will facilitate the virus infecting a few dozen people. Look at the numbers, John. If these 2 guys got together every day for 100 years, the statistical probability is 100 % certain that only one person could possibly be infected.
        No super spreader event possible.
        Alternative math doesn’t work any more than alternative facts.

  7. Mr Keller why do say these two are tested on a ”nearly daily basis”? I doubt very much this young man is tested often if at all and do you know if Obama is tested often. I have had the test and it is unpleasant. Besides why are you mentioning ”super spreaders”–dont all of us have to wear masks even if not in crowds

  8. How Wonderful…Is this wealthy fellow helping anyone, on the island, who needs help” on the island “other than himself??

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