Dolly Parton’s new book Behind the Seams chronicles the evolution of her iconic style through the clothes she’s worn, and is now available as an immersive audiobook packed with archival music, interviews, and Dolly’s own stories. To learn how such a highly visual subject became an audio journey, we spoke with Behind the Seams audiobook producer Dan Zitt about the unique challenges of working with extensive audio material and a months-long research process.
Behind the Seams is a book on Dolly Parton’s fashion style, and fashion of course tends to be a visual medium. What decisions were key in creating an immersive listening experience?
Producer Dan Zitt: The beauty of where we are with audio right now, is that it feels like anything and everything can be adapted for the format, if you have enough time. We decided early on that we would work in parallel with Matt Inman, as he was brilliantly designing and editing the book, and that would be our blueprint for the narrative structure of the audiobook. Matt and his team used the many hours of interviews they had conducted with Dolly and her longtime collaborators as the outline of the book, and I saw this as an opportunity to capture Dolly more conversationally than she would be if we recorded her in studio after the book was finished.
These interviews were so candid, so intimate, that it made perfect sense to use them in the audio, even if they didn’t align precisely with the final text of the book.
Behind the Seams takes listeners on a journey from Dolly’s early days in rural Tennessee to her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and beyond. It was crucial for me to set the tone for each chapter with carefully selected music and archival audio, providing listeners with a sense of the time period Dolly discusses in her interviews. I wanted people to hear her growth as an artist while she discussed her evolution as a fashion icon. All of these elements, combined with Dolly Parton’s undeniable charm, create an immersive experience. Additionally, we were able to include a PDF with the program, featuring images from the book, allowing listeners to visualize what Dolly was discussing in the audio edition.
The audiobook features archival interviews, performance clips, and many of Parton’s collaborators. What was the research process like and how long did it take?
The production process spanned approximately six months, during which multiple editors and sound designers, under my guidance, worked on different aspects of the project. We maintained close collaboration with Dolly’s team throughout, ensuring that all additional audio elements we wanted to include aligned with our unified approach.
Once we had edited all of Dolly’s audio in what I believed to be a chronological order, flowing seamlessly from one topic to another, our next step was to provide listeners with more context about the various eras of Dolly’s style. Holly George Warren and Rebecca Seaver play such prominent roles in the book that I felt it would be a nice addition to have their voices contribute to the audio as well. Holly provides historical context, while Rebecca’s expertise in curating the clothes featured in the book made her an ideal guide for the conversation with Dolly.
While compiling and placing the voice tracks, I delved into every album Dolly had ever released to find suitable music for each era of her artistic evolution. Additionally, I wanted to showcase significant milestones in Dolly’s career by incorporating archival audio clips of her winning awards or being honored at various stages of her life. This work took months to compile and required substantial assistance from Dolly’s team in securing the rights to these songs and clips. However, each layer of these elements adds incredible depth to the audio experience. Hearing Dolly win an award or listening to “9 to 5” immediately after she discusses being on set for that film truly transports you to the moment. The effort invested in these elements allows listeners to truly relive her remarkable evolution.
What felt like the biggest challenge during this project and how did your team rise to it?
The primary challenge we faced was effectively organizing and editing the extensive audio material and interviews conducted with Dolly and the contributors. Matt’s exceptional work in arranging the chronology of Dolly’s stories in the book served as our inspiration in the audio version. Unlike written text, audio interviews cannot be easily tweaked or improved in terms of context, so we had to carefully shape and integrate them to ensure a seamless listening experience. Additionally, the sheer abundance of content in terms of Dolly’s music and archival audio posed a daunting task. Choosing songs from an artist this prolific was a massive undertaking, and we had to consider their placement and how they would enhance the storytelling. For instance, when you listen to tracks like “Nickels and Dimes” (one of my personal favorites) or her receiving an award in the 70s, you immediately gain a clear sense of the time period Dolly is discussing.
Tell us about a favorite story that you discovered while working on the audiobook!
There are so many captivating stories, but I really loved learning about Dolly’s early days as an artist. She started playing locally in Tennessee at a very young age, and she was always a regular guest on television programs that were primarily driven by male artists and hosts.
Very early on she realized that she had a vision for who she wanted to be as an artist, how she wanted to look, and nobody, especially the men who owned the country music business at that time, were going to compromise that vision. She was writing feminist anthems long before Taylor Swift was selling out stadiums, in an era of country music when female artists were often relegated to perform on duets with male artists. They would try to tell her how to dress, how to manage her career, but she was always unwavering in her commitment to who she was and who she wanted to be.
Her career is inspiring, and a master class in music, business, and fashion. To hear this evolution unfold in her own words, and the words of others paints an immersive auditory portrait of an impactful life. To be able to be a part of that is a humbling experience.
Listen to clip from the Behind the Seams audiobook:
Please note all images included in this post are approved for Press from the Dolly Parton Archive.