On February 8th, AudioGals hosted the Narrator’s Forum: Charting a Path to Success, a panel of six narrators – all at the top of their profession. Holter Graham, Barbara Rosenblat, Tavia Gilbert, Susan Ericksen, Karen White, and Kate Reading joined Lea in a two-hour live discussion followed by 40 minutes of Q & A. Although the transcript has remained at our site for others to enjoy as well, we have yet to release an edited copy of the transcript that better categorizes the discussion as it occurred. With a host of new readers to AudioGals over the past five months, we thought it the perfect time to run the edited copy. Our thanks to Karen White for editing the discussion immediately after its completion.
Our original introduction from the live discussion:
Untrained narrators. It was the subject of one of my recent Speaking of Audiobooks columns, Untrained Narrators? I’m Not Interested, which garnered a good deal of attention. In that piece, I basically stated my complaint – as listeners, we are being inundated with what I have referred to as untrained narrators. Narrators who drive people away from listening rather than make it an experience they want to repeat. Narrators whose lack of experience we can sense after only a few minutes of listening and who leave us frustrated with a mediocre performance, especially when we’ve anticipated the audiobook release of a much-loved book.
With our Narrators Forum today, we’ll take the discussion in a more positive direction by talking with professional narrators who were once first time narrators. Through our discussion, we hope to create a path of success for those new to narrating.
Now it’s time to enjoy our edited version – enjoy!
Lea: Our chat starts in 6 minutes! Can everyone check in with me?
Holter: Checking in.
Susan: Good morning!
Karen: I am here!
Kate: I’m in!
Barbara: Mornin’ all! How very cozy…sipping coffee and chatting in my jammys…
Lea: Welcome Susan, Holter, Barbara, Kate, Tavia, and Karen!
Holter: Thanks for having us!
Lea: As a listener, if I concentrate on the performance of a well-narrated book, I stand in awe of the talent and training it takes to make these characters come to life. I’m amazed at the rapid change of voicing required to clearly and consistently perform one character then another then another in a multi-person conversation. And I’m thoroughly impressed that I don’t hear a single intake of breath.
In my mind, I can’t see how all of this is possible without training, an immense amount of practice, the guidance of a director (at least in the first stage of learning to narrate), and some degree of raw talent.
Since there is no clear path marked “this way for a successful career in narration”, how does a beginning narrator gain the necessary tools for the type of performance mentioned in my previous paragraphs?
Karen: I’m sure that there are exceptions to this rule, but in my experience (casting and directing audiobooks) “classical” actor training gives a narrator a solid foundation. That is: training for the theatre that allows the voice, body, imagination, emotion and mind to work together and connect the writer’s words and intent to the audience. (and a lot of that training involves removing inhibitors and clogs that typical human socialization puts on the voice in particular).
That said, training specifically for audiobook narration USED to come from a director. The director’s job is different than it is in theatre or film. They will have read the book and be familiar, but the narrator is the one making the creative choices. I think of the director as like a sheep dog nudging and nipping a narrator toward a good performance: keeping the pace up (or slowing it down), making sure the narrator doesn’t go on autopilot, listening for speech habits like going up or down at the end of the sentence, listening for consistency in character choices, pronunciations…
Tavia: I like that sheepdog idea, Karen!
Karen: Actor training takes years, but what to do if you want to narrate audiobooks and you don’t have a director…thoughts?
Tavia: HIRE a director. Just because publishers have taken directors out of the equation doesn’t mean that it was the best decision.
For the first 18-20 books I narrated, I paid out of pocket for a wonderful director to work with me. It was invaluable, and I would never have learned the craft without that close attention.
Karen: Do you think it’s fair that the narrator should take that cost on? Is it worth it as a long run investment?
Tavia: It may not be fair, but it is absolutely worth the investment. I was a classically trained stage actress with a professional career, but I still had to learn and hone the craft of audiobook narration.
Susan: You wouldn’t dare to perform a violin concerto publicly without appropriate preparation, therefore why would someone presume audiobook narration required anything less? Like Tavia said, seek out the help you need to perform your job at the level it deserves.
Karen: And how do you find someone that you can trust?
Tavia: Find someone who is a skilled theater director. They understand the nuances of what kind of performances go into audiobook narration.
Karen: There’s also steeping oneself in the craft – that is, listen to a lot of audiobooks – it’s amazing how few people do that! Listen to genres that you wouldn’t personally listen to, as you often don’t get hired to do your favorite kinds of books, and each genre has it’s own demands.
Kate: It’s helpful to do a fair amount of listening; we can also learn that way. Working as a reviewer or monitor can be very educational.
Susan: I think it’s very important that beginning narrators LISTEN to a lot of audiobooks with student ears, not just to hear a good story. You learn a lot by hearing veteran readers. The ol’ apprentice program!
Tavia: I listened to a huge number of audiobooks. Barbara Rosenblat was my teacher — in workshop and as a voice in my ears for years and years.
Susan: Also, a very helpful tool is to listen to tapes of yourself reading various texts.
Karen: Great idea, Susan.
Susan: Maybe even texts that you’ve heard veterans read so you can compare and critique yourself.
Karen: Apprenticeship has a strong tradition in the theatre world. Start with the small parts and work up…I know at Books on Tape many years ago, we’d start new narrators in a short story collection where they only had to do one or two short pieces.
Holter: I teach VO in some settings and I always force new people to do the most basic start: call your own voice-mail and read a bit. Then wait an hour and listen to your voice-mail. Often very illuminating.
Karen: It is necessary to be able to listen to your own work objectively, but getting there takes some assistance. Either from a coach or a director.
Tavia: I think, Holter, that you bring up an important point. Voiceover and audiobook narration are VERY different skills. I think a lot of voiceovers believe that they’ve done a volume of voiceover work — commercials, corporate narrations, etc. — so they’re ready to record a book. Not (necessarily) so!
Tavia: That’s one of the biggest problems with the current state of audiobook narration right now, I think. The transition of voiceovers to audiobook narration without those voiceovers understanding the very different skills that go into it.
Holter: Similar basic skill sets. But the digression from one to the other is an enormous change. And that ability to see the need for a different skill, and then use it, is one of the basic structures to being able to do this, in my opinion.
Tavia: Humility, I think, is needed. If that sounds overly negative, I sincerely apologize, but I guess I’ll put it out there, because it’s my genuine feeling.
Lea: What talents and/or skills do you think necessary in this art of narrating? What do you see as the difference between talents and skills? Are there things you can’t teach?
Holter: The industry right now is actually pushing to cut out many of the levels of the craft that allowed people to gain skill as they went. The safety nets of engineers, editors, Quality Control, and directors.
Kate: As in most careers, learning by doing is the most valuable way. Problem, how do you get hired without experience? Read aloud as much as you can, read to kids, read to anyone who will sit and listen. There are volunteer organizations you can call, for the blind, for example. Even reading the newspaper will teach you a lot about how to find your way through a phrase, and how to breathe.
Karen: I think the main talent is being a storyteller. The skill involves being able to tell someone else’s story.
Tavia: READING is important. I feel like in the past audiobook narrators were some of the most educated and literate, well-read people in the acting world. Now…I’m sad to see that being well-read, passionate about literature, in love with language…these are of little importance.
Kate: I am struck by the leap that must be taken by narrators getting hired to do their first book: especially those of us who do not work in a studio.
Karen: Yes, there’s too much to juggle to be able to learn the craft! All the engineering, editing, dealing with outside noise…
Tavia: There is a difference between talent and skill, of course.
Karen: But a very difficult difference to discern!
Tavia: You can learn skills. You have talent, or you don’t, or you’re good or genius. But wherever you fall on the talent spectrum, working hard and honing your craft is key.
Holter: I differentiate talent and skill as nature/nurture. Talent is innate, and skill builds that talent. Either in a vacuum is insufficient. Anyone who thinks it is not an effort, a constant course of effort to become and stay skilled at the craft, is in for a hard road.
Tavia: I totally agree…and love that EITHER in a vacuum is insufficient.
Susan: I think one of the trickiest things is to realize that, unlike a commercial, which has little nuance and is primarily a “get the product out there” medium (no disrespect intended. Good commercial folks are great at what they do, and serve the product if they perform in a certain way.) But in narration, you’re serving the word, the author, and that requires a lot of nuanced thinking/perceiving before you even start speaking and trying to bring those words to life. It’s just a very different orientation from the get-go.
Holter: At a time when the most ‘new’ work is available for audio, the pressure for that work to be delivered fast and with less oversight is at it’s greatest. That is dangerous for performers, listeners, and the industry as a whole.
Tavia: And that’s very discouraging, as that doesn’t create a sustainable, healthy industry!
Lea: Does the industry think the listener won’t care that quality has decreased?
Tavia: Who knows what the industry thinks. I guess it’s like any other product…if you can get something that costs $5 to produce, why would you buy a $100 version?
Susan: I wonder if the same mind-set that is publishing a lot of trash literature (haven’t we all been doing an enormous amount of, shall we say “smutty” books lately? Or been asked to?) is the same mind-set that is dumbing down or “quality-ing” down with narrator requirements? Isn’t it all of a piece? Lowers expectations in a sad way.
Tavia: I don’t know. I have listened to my favorite narrators performances of stupid books, and I’m very happy to be entertained. There are things I’ve listened to that I would never read, and often I’d think, terrible book, AWESOME performance. I don’t think they necessarily have to go hand in hand. As a narrator, I would VASTLY prefer to work with literature and not junk, but I do my best to make anything I’m given a wonderful experience.
Karen: Lea, the question is do listener’s care, and what are they noticing?
Lea: Listeners DO care. But my mission of converting print readers to audio listeners is becoming more difficult. Those starting to listen who choose a poorly narrated book are unlikely to try again.
We notice when we can’t differentiate characters. We notice deep breaths. We notice a lack of understanding of the author’s work.
Holter: The breath sound issue is really more a marker of the lower of Qualiy Control. I’d be impressed if one of us told me they read without breathing. But we as craftspeople learn to do it smoothly, in the background, as it were. But then an engineer and a QC person used to also go through and help us.
Holter: Now it is a noise gate, or compression on a recording program. And it is not the same. It sounds shoddy, because of the costs saved skipping that effort.
Tavia: HATE the gate. Breathing is such a crucial part of audiobooks. It’s the narrator’s body language, and it’s something that must be practiced. But there should be neither gulping, distracting breaths nor the absence of breath (that freaking gate).
Holter: I was THRILLED when Audible’s review system became two-track: did you like the book, AND did you like the narrator. Genius!
Barbara: As to breathing, when done properly, it is a valuable actors asset.
Holter: Many commenters or posts would allude to that anyway–it is a natural response to double craft (the writing and the narration), but to make it as official as the Audible reviews now feel is very helpful, I think, to those of us who pride ourselves on doing this professionally, and on an audience who, I feel, wants to respond to both the words and narration.
Karen: But back to the skill/talent – when I’ve been in on auditions for audiobooks – there was a certain point where you could say that the actor (who may be very talented in other ways) just didn’t GET IT. Telling a story, taking the listener on the ride with them. Talking to you rather than AT you. Can this be taught?
Lea: Choosing an audiobook now reminds me of choosing a self-published eBook. Difficult to find that shining star.
Holter: Unless you are talking about AutoTune in pop music, there is no technology that makes you a better reader. And those of us who work the booth and the mic all the time, as a job, we learn all the tricks (the skill) to layer on our innate ability (the talent) to create a layered work that, best case scenario, you don’t notice. You just enjoy, or are moved by.
Kate: My breathing was key in the werewolf sex series.
Barbara: I rest my case
Karen: Ah, we’ve finally gotten naughty!
Tavia: Ha! Key to a couple of my series, as well.
Tavia: Didn’t take long.
Barbara: Naughty is entertaining
Holter: While I’m like any actor and like a good review, I think I truly strive to have a review not mention me. Just say that they were transported. The best roles are invisible.
Susan: I remember once being in a studio and the engineer interrupted me and asked me to go back because “there was a sound…”, thankfully, the director interrupted him and said, “no, that was acting.” Loved him!
Kate: Raises the good point that narrating is a whole body/mind/spirit experience, except you can’t MOVE because of the noise…
Tavia: But that point doesn’t stand just for sex scenes. Breath is key for small, detailed, nuanced scenes as much as a sex scene or a battle scene.
Kate: Yes yes yes and don’t you find yourself starting to rise up out of your seat in those stirring battle speeches?
Holter: I remember the one–and only–time I tried to narrate in a windbreaker. Hilarious. A lesson very quickly learned. God, we were all young and dumb once.
Susan: And corduroy!
Tavia: Audiobook narration determines my fashion. It’s a rare day I wear earrings or scratchy fabrics. That means I’m on vacation!
Tavia: Oxford shirts are usually out.
Kate: knits and sweats.
Holter: I have footwear that helps with certain characters. Cowboy boots that I happened to wear for the first in a series, that just then seemed right. But they were leather soled and popped, so I had to add the effort of not moving my lower body all chapter to all the other needs of the read. But it was worth it. The protagonist had the swagger I felt he needed.
Barbara: Well, if you want your audience to go on a real journey with you, you take every skill in your substantial arsenal to make that happen. After all, they could have just read the book. It has been reviewed and has an audience. We, the recording artists, take the book to a new level.
Holter: As the only guy here, I need to defend the ‘grunt’ in the way the rest of you defend the ‘breathe.’ Same result, different part of the larynx.
Susan: These are important lessons for beginning narrators – pay attention!
Lea: Barbara – I like your “substantial arsenal” phrase.
Barbara: Hosts like this very worthy site recognize this and I, for one, am grateful.
Tavia: Physicalization has become increasingly important as my performances have grown over the years. Yes, there are limitations, but using every opportunity to physicalize face, upper body, employ gesture…these are all ways to differentiate character and to bring the text to life.
Kate: Let’s talk about the difference between dialogue and narrative – I found narrative so difficult, until understanding it meant finding the author’s voice – then it became dialogue too, and fueled by intention.
Karen: Great point, Kate.
Karen: One that is left out too often.
Kate: I would always run out of breath.
Karen: In the narration?
Kate: Yeah, like a descriptive passage about a landscape
Tavia: It makes me crazy when I hear inexperienced narrators discounting the narrative voice.
Kate: Until you understand WHY it is there, it’s hard to read it with purpose.
Holter: If I have done my prep right and am paying attention, I know it is working when I don’t notice the transition from narrative to dialogue. A lot of it is preparation–even if you are old hat enough to have that happen very quickly. You have to play the role, and the role is “book.”
Tavia: Someone somewhere online this week said something like, “I prep a book differently if it’s non-fiction that is dry and informational vs. fiction that’s got life in it.” NO NO NO NO NO. A million times NO no matter WHAT it is.
Tavia: Yes, Holter. A million times yes.
Kate: But unlocking the author’s narrative voice is like finding the biggest, glorious character in the book.
Barbara: The narrative voice is still a dialogue with the listener. It just comes from a different place anchoring the listener so that they can easily navigate the conversation and action.
Susan: Narration always has a point of view- it’s not filler.
Barbara: Well said, Susan
Tavia: And well said, Barbara!
Karen: And finding the author’s tone – the feel of the book. I love that part.
Tavia: As a writer of memoir and creative non-fiction, I am really troubled by the mistaken idea that non-fiction is less alive or vibrant or conversational or present or emotional than fiction. That’s just madness.
Lea: Listeners can get lost in the narrative (in a bad way) if there is a lot of it and the narrator seems to think it merely needs to be read.
Susan: So sad.
Kate: And here’s where education needs to happen.
Tavia: Narrative is contemplation, the inner life of the mind, in real time, moving moment to moment.
Holter: THAT is purely my fault, if the audience gets bored in narration. Even if the narration is boring. All My Fault.
Susan: So that’s why we like your column, Lea!
Lea: Ah, thanks Susan!
Kate: Right – so, stay with me – in the book Les Miserable’s, which is over 1,000 pages long, you get the author’s view of the society within which the action takes place. But in the play/movie, you don’t have time so you just get the action.
Kate: Do you think that’s a sign of our times? Reduce everything to 140 characters, and lose the understanding of lengthy narrative passages?
Karen: No, Kate, I think it’s just a lack of understanding of our craft. There are still plenty of writers creating beautiful, exciting, transporting narrative.
Kate: Karen – Yes, but in so many ways, the art of extended description is disappearing from every day transactions. People used to write long letters, now we tweet.
Tavia: I don’t think writing is changing. Books are just as long and descriptive as ever.
Tavia: That’s why narrators should be readers, understand literature and language.
Karen: And Kate, that’s where I think the classical training comes in. People still enjoy Shakespeare, so even if you spend your whole day tweeting, if you want to perform classical writing on the stage, or ANY writing in a booth, you have to be able to sustain big long thoughts and marry your feeling, intent, imagination and voice to them!
Holter: I relish nothing more than getting a call to do a book because the producer/publisher knows I will do it well. Not because I’m in the right vocal range, or am free that week. Because the effort I put in to use my skill is recognized by reader and employer, and everyone seems in some way dedicated to keeping the commerce healthy.
Tavia: There’s a level of performance that is tricky to quantify, and very personal. But there’s a difference between emoting and, as Holter has said before, performing so well that you fade away. I see readers get good reviews that give the narration acclaim because it was so emotional. To me, that’s a narrator who is making the performance about THEIR emotional experience, rather than the emotional experience of the LISTENER. Again, hard to quantify, and goes to personal preference, but it’s vital that the performance not be…I’ll just say it, masturbatory.
Barbara: There ya go with more naughty, Tavia…
Tavia: You know me, Barbara….
Holter: Within the lovely range of personal reactions (some people hate my sense of narration rhythm, and that’s their right) there is a general sense that “that was good.” This isn’t about me reading; it’s about me reading to you. There’s a difference.
Lea: Yes Tavia! Usually it’s a lack of differentiation and characterization according to the written work. Other things as well but those are usually the first complaints we hear from listeners.
Karen: But this “differentiation” often gets confused as doing fun voices, vs. making the intent clear in the dialogue between two or more people.
Kate: That’s an interesting issue – how defined is too defined? Do readers want the characters to be as developed as in a film? Or do they want there to be some room for their own imagination? How complete is too complete?
Lea: We simply want to know who is speaking while we drive, exercise, whatever. We don’t want to depend on dialogue tags. But definitely room for imagination.
And high voices from males? No, please.
Holter: In seminars I get asked how high I go to do female voices. I get surprised responses when I say it is rarely about pitch for me. It is characterization. Maybe I’ll go high, but maybe I’ll just soften or tighten or something else. Nuance, human interaction is all nuance. Gag voices and sloppy dialects are killers to narration.
Tavia: A masterful narrator, Barbara Rosenblat is her name…she taught me how little one needs to do to differentiate voices. It’s not about playing the voice as playing the scene, the intention, being specific, making the characters LIVE.
Kate: It’s all about the intention.
Barbara: Ah…now you are getting into the minutiae of the craft. Very important of course and much depends on a level of commitment to the work.
Susan: I think it comes back again to knowing what your task is based on the requirements of the book. Some books demand a larger-than-life rendition if they are really going to sing, others would be absolutely crushed by anything but the subtlest performance. You need to know what serves the book/the story.
Tavia: Exactly, Susan.
Karen: And what DISTRACTS from the book.
Holter: I do a romance-thrill series, and some of the voices are ridiculous. But very on purpose. These are seven-foot-tall guys in leather with swords. They’re supposed to trash my throat to read them. But there is a place for that. I didn’t take any of those tones over to Steinbeck.
Tavia: Thank god.
Kate: And moving from one genre to another, unless you mainly do only one, requires a shift in style.
Holter: I have been hired and am getting a union wage to bust my ass to do the book justice. If I have the skill set to make the book better than it is on the page, then that’s my job. If you just let passages go by, hell with you, get out of the business. This is a job.
Tavia: Holter, I could kiss your face.
Susan: Do you have a holograph option on your computer, Tavia?
Tavia: No, Susan, but clearly I need one.
Tavia: Bad audiobook narrators are bad actors…those actors who check out until it’s their turn to talk. You can’t just tune out until you get to do funny voices.
Barbara: When prep is done properly and you familiarize yourself with all the story arcs, you are in a position to lead the charge for your listeners. They are not being fed audio pablum. No, choices and clarity have to be sorted through and the listener can now make their own choices. So even if the book is less than stellar, a good time will be had by all.
Holter: Even if we love this–and I do–we aren’t doing it just because of that. We do this to feed our families, to pay our mortgage. We are working people. And maybe it’s Calvinist of me–and I’m secular Humanist at best — but working means taking your job seriously and trying to do it well, always. I’ll admit to being less than thrilled with hobbyists who don’t think they are hobbyists. Imagine if the job we were discussing was airline pilot…
Lea: Holter, you just voiced a frustration we deeply feel as listeners. If you don’t do it well (and hopefully one understands what that means), don’t do it. Don’t make us spend our dollars on a poor product.
Tavia: Holter, you just hit the nail on the head again. You’re on fire.
Kate: And the public has the power to voice their opinion through reviews, yes? Do you feel that is an effective enough check on sub-par narrators?
Karen: But we’re here in part to help discern what is “doing the job well”, right?
Holter: That brings me back to reviews. Listener reviews–which the publishers large and small pay attention to–are where that frustration HAS to come out. Please, dear readers, COMPLAIN. Complain in detail, so the producer knows they need to improve their product.
Lea: And return a poorly narrated book to Audible with the reason.
Barbara: That depends on what you consider makes a book poor. Bad text, bad voice, bad post production??
Lea: Although I think we may have drifted into our next question, I’m addressing it first to Holter. From your backgrounds, I see that you are all actors as well as narrators. What parts of your actor training are vital to your work as narrators? Do you think that being an actor is necessary to being a successful narrator? What talents or skills that are useful for you on stage or in film or in other voice over work, actually hinder you in your narration work?
Holter: I think of it in the reverse: there is a general ‘bag’ of skills an actor needs: nuance, tone, breathe control, sense of physical presence, volume, ability to split your thinking between what you are acting and what comes next … then you have to know what to take out of that bag. Narration is intensely intimate. Even when we yell. So you have to pare down what comes out of your bag of tricks.
Tavia: Much closer to film acting than stage acting.
Karen: I am fascinated by that concept.
Holter: I must know where by body is, but mainly from the chest up–breath control and vocal use. Hopefully my butt isn’t too involved in many narrations.
Karen: I disagree on the butt, actually. I have to be grounded there to breathe.
Holter: I agree, grounding is very necessary I’ve had bad chairs ruin books–or chapters at least, until I insisted on a change.
Holter: I need to know where the scene is going so that I don’t spend too much capital at the top, or have too much left and leave it empty. Acting is, as often as not, air traffic control–there are lots of moving parts. And just because you are alone, doesn’t mean that your job as juggler is much easier.
Kate: Except for the seven foot tall leather men
Holter: Well, they live in my head most of the time anyway.
Barbara: The magic of ‘audiosuggestion’ is something one starts to get a handle on after considerable practice and listening. It takes a level of intelligence that provides the platform to use that toolbox.
Karen: What is audiosuggestion?!
Barbara: It is the subtle manipulation of your vocal ‘toolbox’ so as to clarify and suggest all the characters and arcs of your project without overwhelming the listener. Not an easy task, but well worth the effort to retain that pair of ears that parted with a few bucks to spend so many hours in your talented company.
Karen: OK, digesting what Barbara said. And, yes, a good quiet chair is key!
Holter: I find that a catch in the voice–tiny tiny ripples that disrupt a clear word–can be very effective at differentiation without drawing attention to yourself.
Holter: I do a lot of dialect work. And going back to the ‘smaller bag of tricks’ idea, I am almost ALWAYS working on making sure I under-do the dialect. Paint in a bit, don’t yowl and show off. If I want crappy Scottish I’ll rent a Mike Myers movie.
Tavia: I think one danger for the audiobook narrator, especially working alone, is trying to be perfect. Over-thinking, re-recording … bringing anxiety and self-doubt into the booth. That goes to talent and discernment as a self-director and skill and training, of course. But for those who are recording themselves, not having forward momentum because anxiety can be killer. That’s why you need to work with a director to start, to practice trusting your choices.
Susan: Anybody ever read that old book The Art of Coarse Acting? Hysterical, but usually what NOT to do!
Karen: I think the main part of actor training is that vocal toolbox. Spending 2 – 3 years working to open up the instrument and make it available – all the pitches, the direct connections to thought and feeling. All the things that we spend our adolescence covering up have to be uncovered so that when you breathe and speak, you don’t have to manipulate the sounds to make the intent clear. Your voice simply is there for you. It’s organic, rather than controlled.
Holter: I got a job on a book because Neil Gaiman thought a muted animal-noise I made fit the character right. It was brutally difficult sound to make because I was under-doing it on purpose. It was really just the BEGINNING of a sound. But it was right, and Neil heard it…and I shredded my pipes doing it for three days. But totally worth it because I am proud of that book.
Susan: Yes, I have a recurring minor character in a series I do that I made a dreadful (but right) vocal choice for 6 books or so back. Well the author LOVED it, and now she appears in every book, and oh! the vocal shredding! But I get a real kick out of her, and it’s right. It’s what the author wrote. Funny.
Tavia: I had 4 years of daily, intensive voice training from a master in my acting conservatory, have sung for two decades, and my instrument is still developing.
Tavia: Always will, I hope. And my performances will continue to grow and evolve over my career, I hope and trust.
Karen: And, as Holter indicates, it’s not about making pretty sounds. It’s about making ALL the sounds humans (or even animals) need to express the highs and lows of life.
Holter: I remember the first time I had to inhabit a silence in an audiobook. Terrifying. Fascinating. But I got it, I found what that needed to be. Then you just hope they don’t edit it out as dead space.
Tavia: You can do so much with silence, too. That’s a huge frustration with audiobook publishers who use a gate. If I choose a pregnant pause, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t edit it out. I made the choice for a REASON.
Tavia: Holter, we were thinking the same thing at the same time.
Holter: People who listen need to realize that the noise gate–a tool that technically removes all noise below a certain level–is a cheaper way to get final product. Instead of paying a professional to go through the book and remove bad noise but leave good noise, you pop a gate on the recording and off you go. It is, sadly, often out of our hands. When I home-record I purposefully leave in just enough ‘mess’ to ensure that they won’t throw a gate on the whole read and then mail it out to buyers, because that’s not what I signed on for. I read, you guys polish.
Barbara: The “gate” thing is troublesome as it suggests the artists inability to control human noises.
Lea: If we are ready to move on, I’ll direct this to Susan first. What training did you receive either on the job or prior to getting hired that became the underpinning of a successful audiobook performance?
Lea: And I’m aware we may have already talked around and around this one.
Susan: I am a classically trained actor, which I think is a very natural training ground for an audiobook narrator. The goal of my MFA program was to train us to have the skills to perform in a repertory theater, where one might be required to perform Shakespeare one night, and then Noel Coward the next. Therefore we studied a wide variety of dramatic literature, and the acting styles that were necessary to bring those various texts to life.
This meant, of course, learning the voice, dialect, and speech techniques which would allow one to give voice to the style of the literature as well. Then of course, there is the voice, body and movement training that allows one to have the stamina to produce the appropriate kind of performance.
I think that acting is a compilation of mind, body, and imagination, and in order to render a script/a character fully, all three of these things must be well trained and fully operational. I believe that audiobook narration is a kind of vocal acting. It will be subtle or full-blown depending on the requirements of the book. (The only hard adaptation is NOT MOVING – I am a squirmmer in the studio.)
When I start recording 20+ years ago, I was fortunate to get in on the ground floor with Brilliance, and their directors and staff nurtured this new art form very well. One very valuable thing they told me was to think about how a person receives a story when it is told to them. It’s a process that gradually unfolds-just like a book! You don’t have to do it all in the first page, you just need to know where you’re going so you can tuck the listener in your pocket and take them along for a wonderful ride!
Barbara: Right, Susan, It’s about knowing your end game. As to moving around in your seat…Many studios have many different mic configs that allow less or more room to maneuver.
Kate: Susan, talk about your relationship with the mic as opposed to being onstage?
Susan: I try to view the mic as well, like a magnifying class or a portal- that’s my gamer son’s lingo- that gets me closer to where I want to go. It’s not an enemy or a roadblock. Like a good singer can enhance their performance with using the mic well, so to can a narrator. But, like everything we’ve discussed, it takes time and practice.
Tavia: I, too, attended a 4-year acting conservatory and got a BFA in Acting. I had rigorous training in physical technique (from clowning to stage combat), vocal technique (dialects, singing, breath, connecting mind/body), acting technique (from restoration comedy to contemporary surreal drama). After I finished school I worked professionally on stage and on camera. I use all of my tools every day behind the mic.
Lea: Although such backgrounds such as yours may sound overwhelming to someone who wants to just sit down and narrate a book (without such training), it points to what we hear as listeners. Although we can’t verbalize it, we know when a narrator understands thoroughly the task in front of them.
Karen: Thank you, Lea. All of us here have made an investment in a career that we’re passionate about. It helps to know when you “hear” the difference.
Holter: I have an odd relationship with training. I believe in it, but I believe that it can also be where an actor gives up, loses themselves, finds the lazy way through. To me the best training has always been screwing up on stage and feeling the ice-daggers of 400 people losing all connection to what you are doing. You make those mistakes ONCE. That’s learning.
Karen: Oh, yes, Holter, that’s why improv was a great training ground for me!
Tavia: As Holter mentioned before, this isn’t my hobby. It’s my career. Audiobooks is one of the genres of my work as an actor. I’m serious about it. It’s not what I do to make a little money on the side or because it’s fun. It IS fun, but it’s my business and my vocation.
Holter: Which is not to say I don’t love training. I just think it needs to continue forever.
Tavia: Yes it does! I’m constantly learning, on the job, and because I seek opportunities for further training.
Holter: I firmly believe that Dustin Hoffman is as good without all his method hooey. It’s in his genes. But if that’s what he needs to get there, good for him. The end product is genius so I’ll keep my mouth shut.
Barbara: That’s what I meant when I said that one comes to this work with a level of intelligence that allows use of the tool box in manifestly interesting ways.
Karen: But back to the mic, I remember being taught to keep my imagined listener very close to me.
Karen: But I like that magic portal image!
Kate: Yes, like it’s their ear…
Barbara: Quite right, Karen. You work the crowd one pair of ears at a time…
Susan: Nice, Barbara!
Karen: Of course there’s always the exception – I was directed to talk to a group in a book I did last year. And it made sense.
Holter: I have to catch myself when all my relationship to a mic becomes is if its in the way of the iPad. That’s laziness. The mic is the fourth wall. It is the woman you love and the demon you flee. AND it gets in the way of the iPad.
Tavia: It’s like you’re telling a story to your lover, whose head is on the pillow next to you…that kind of closeness and intimacy.
Karen: Or kids next to you on the couch.
Karen: Of course, that’s only certain books.
Holter: I feel very messy. You are all much better typers than I am, and I apologize.
Susan: We’re judging you, Holter. You should know that.
Karen: I don’t think typing skills are necessary for good narration. Except in the prep stage.
Karen: Knowing who you’re talking to is one of the intelligent choices you have to make, Barbara?
Barbara: Yes, Karen…a keen, focused awareness of the world you are creating and its population.
Holter: I don’t physicalize the mic as a point in space. I try to create an environment of storytelling that doesn’t mind the mic being there. Like a camera in close-up. Unless it’s a news story, you don’t look in the camera. You layer and build the world you inhabit so that the mic is just there, totally natural to have a 5,000 dollar piece of plastic and metal near your nose.
Susan: The prep stage! Another big area of controversy! (see Holter, I’m dying here, too) It’s a very personal thing. What I do now is very different from 20 years ago but not appropriate for a newbie
Tavia: However one prepares, one SHOULD prepare.
Barbara: That goes for non fiction too.
Holter: Prep is a very touchy subject for me. Very personal, as Susan said.
Karen: Me, too, Susan.
Tavia: How have things changed for you, Susan? My prep is going through a transformation after five years of doing it one way, which is exciting. I’m curious what you’re doing that’s different.
Susan: I was obsessive at the beginning color-coding all the different characters. Writing an enormous number of margin notes. Not needed now.
Karen: That’s why I love my IPad (though I worry it’s destroying my eyes). I do a lot of color coding on my first read, then type that all up, and delete the notes as I go, so they don’t distract me.
Holter: Let’s be honest and admit that employers can sometimes not let you prepare. Raise hands if you’ve gotten a manuscript the day of recording:
Tavia: Yes. Hand raised.
Karen: I won’t do a book without preparing. I just can’t.
Tavia: I never would have before, but if I have to now, I know how to manage it.
Holter: I wouldn’t if I had a choice. But we get back to that ‘paying the mortgage’ thing. Sigh. Not complaining about the pay. I make a good union wage and get health and retirement coverage through my narration. But it is still business, and sometimes you get caught out and have to wing it. And, like improv, the skill set to winging it is VERY valuable.
Lea: This one to Kate – I know narrating is a solitary career. Often it is just you recording in a booth. How do you personally continue to refine your craft? Are there organizations that serve as resources to you as a narrator?
Kate: I guess I have a very holistic approach. I think that everything I do feeds and refines what I do in the booth. So, the stage work, the conversations, the dinner table: everything teaches me how to listen and how to communicate, and helps me to refine my craft. I have found that my audiobook work has helped my stage work, and vice-versa. But having children, being married, relating to my parents, all that also offers opportunities for nuanced communication. And my husband is narrating in his booth right next to mine, so I’m not exactly alone, though I tend not to ask him for direction. I’ve been working alone, in my home studio, since 1997. I have done a few books in studios in New York, with a director, but there was barely any discussion. They completely trusted me to do my thing. That said, I am very active on Facebook and in my theatre and audiobook communities, and I do what I can to mentor and encourage people starting out. That’s what we need to keep the art and the industry healthy, is new talent being nurtured. Apprenticeship needs to be encouraged, I think, to pass the wisdom down from one generation of artists and performers to the next.
Susan: I agree. Narrator summer camp would be great!
Karen: But everyone would come home very pale.
Barbara: Narrator summer camp cruise…even better…
Holter: I do mostly studio work here in NY with a smattering of home-record. But I agree that life around the work is what feeds the work.
Tavia: I find that my craft refines itself as I go along. The more experienced I get, the more I am able to think about how the listener will hear the performance. My choices are more subtle, smarter, stronger, more specific all the time. I still listen, when I can — not enough. And studying writing at such a high level has definitely created a huge shift in my work as a narrator.
Tavia: It’s great to have a mix of studio and home studio work. I learn and grow in different ways having those two situations.
Susan: I recently did a workshop up at Ithaca College with the BFAs. Even a day working with a seasoned professional can be so valuable. It gives them an understanding of what they are aiming for even if they are awkward with the skills at first.
Karen: Strangely enough, for me personally, studying yoga and meditation have helped my acting and narration work. My monkey mind does all the juggling of hats (director, editor, and performer) easily. My challenge is to stay present as I’m working and my yoga practice supports that.
Tavia: Karen, I think it’s a really important point. Having a meditative practice has tremendous value for any craft.
Holter: I have a community of producers and directors and other narrators here that are part of what feeds my sense of the craft living in the air around me. But one of the most oft-overlooked aspects of being an actor is the part where you put stuff back IN the bag of tricks. We roam the planet collecting little bits of humanity, stealing truths somebody left on a park bench. Then we give them back through our work. So that’s 24/7, and is as likely to happen talking through a scene with a director or getting tea at a bodega.
Barbara: I have never worked alone. I imagine it requires another quiver of arrows to create the final product. Even working with an engineer, I always ask for input.
Holter: Engineers are the most unsung part of this. They are the erector set that holds a lot of this together. I love them.
Holter: Not to rag on home-record, because I do that too. But I miss an engineer immensely when I do, and not just because of the crick in my neck trying to reach the pause button on my own.
Barbara: I think staring at a pair of eyes can be very helpful and, as Holter said, there are some real heroes out there that are sadly unsung.
Kate: I get very little feedback. Often I will hear from readers who enjoyed the book. I think it takes a kind of resilience to narrate alone, without getting any of the attention you get in a studio.
Barbara: I have, on many occasions, asked the publisher to list the engineer as producer as they often are.
Holter: They save me from myself as often as they save me from a Producer or director, or technical snafu.
Karen: I have to say when doing certain romance titles, I’m very glad NOT to be staring at a pair of 20 something engineer dude eyes
Holter: When I home record I feel I am one of the annoying narrators who sends a ‘check-in’ text to the producer out in cyberspace–it is just nice to bounce something off someone. Psychological companionship, I guess. Being left alone with my own thoughts too long could be very scary.
Tavia: I don’t mind working alone. It’s efficient and can have its pleasures. But not having to engineer myself is luxurious. And I’m less scattered – my attention is more focused.
Susan: I am fortunate in that my husband, David Colacci, is a wonderful veteran narrator. We engineer for each other in the studio if we’re short on time. We don’t tend to direct each other overtly that much, but knowing he’s another (immediate) set of ears is very helpful on many concrete and nebulous levels. We certainly are great resources for each other.
Barbara: There it is in a nutshell. That pair of eyes, frees you up to focus!
Holter: Yes, I have had some hilarious producer-enters-studio-during-hot-animal-sex-scene moments. Good times. “‘And then they toweled off and put away the gnome statue’. Oh Hello, my name’s Holter, nice to meet you.”
Lea: Okay, I’m laughing here…
Tavia: My director during my very first hot sex scene once cleared his throat and said, “Um…slow down, please,” a little breathlessly, and it was mortifying and hilarious.
Kate: Once you have self engineered for enough time, your brain figures out how to focus just as effectively. And I love not having to wait for another person, because I’m quick. #controlfreak
Barbara: There is an energy that can only happen when you’re collaborating in the moment…
Susan: Does that relate to Tavia’s story, Barbara? Hee, Hee
Barbara: Oh, shush…I’m thinking and refreshing every ten seconds…
Lea: I’m directing this one to Barbara. We have been talking about preparation. I understand how you all may not need to prepare as you once did but I must admit that I fear the new narrator thinking they can skip as well. Can you share with us how you prepare for each of your performances? If not now, how you did when you first narrated?
Holter: While Barbara types in I will pop in with ‘it is VERY important to prep!
Tavia: YES. Just because my preparation is shifting doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Prep is vital.
Kate: Nothing beats discovering on p643 that the main character has an Australian accent…
Barbara: Prep has not changed for me over the years. I approach a book like Forrest Gump’s mom. It’s a box of chocolates and I want to get the same pleasure as I read that the book buyer already has. That’s for starters.
I read slowly and savor as my audio canvas starts to unveil. I take note of words I cannot pronounce and try to get out of my own way. Also, and this is important for newbies … There are a host of words with perceived pronunciations that we take no notice of because they appear in common usage.
One must be vigilant in not trusting that. Basil, minutiae, schism etc
Tavia: Yes! This comes up for me quite a bit. As a native of Idaho, I find that I have more regionalism that I ever would have imagined. Not pronunciation as much as emphasis. It’s funny. But no assumptions should be made. I don’t have a lot of time to prepare, so I’m certainly not reading languidly, but I am reading thoroughly.
Karen: It’s all part of being able to make those intelligent choices Barbara talked about. You have to know the whole arc of the book to go back and take each step as it comes.
Susan: I’m sure we all have our “can’t do without” resources for unknown pronunciations. First and foremost is the online Merriam Webster pronunciation site, Forvo, etc. The internet/YouTube is invaluable for finding clips with authors or people saying their names correctly. Military shorthand, etc.
Kate: Library of Congress “Say How?” for contemporary names
Karen: Heather Ann Henderson actually manages a list of sites that are good resources. It’s called http://www.audioeloquence.com/
Lea: I hear about cold reads (recordings) – it sounds frightening to me as a listener. Does that happen?
Susan: Cold recording? Not desirable, but sometimes, because of a desperate publisher, it has to. But, as Holter said earlier, THAT’S when all that training and experience pays off. I would hope that a producer would NEVER put a beginning narrator in such a position- the book would be doomed. Preparation is more than just a concept for each individual book. It’s all of your training, experience, and knowledge from other projects that you bring with you to the next one.
Barbara: Absolutely right, Susan
Holter: I typed a nice little bit about what prep is to me and it died in cyberspace. Ah well. Maybe someone on Mars got it and will become a better narrator.
Kate: Prep is as important in narration as in cuisine…
Lea: Holter – No!! We need to hear…
Holter: It was basically that as actors we prep all the time, and as we become more veteran (which means older) we can access that without as much time taken. But it is deeply valuable, just a muscle-memory as opposed to from scratch.
Karen: I do similar prep to when I do a play (except that I’m playing all the parts) – I note ALL the descriptions of each character is as specific to me as possible. Especially physically. I kind of put them in places all over my body.
Tavia: Holter alluded to a skill that takes a lot of practice — the split focus of reading ahead while you’re narrating. George Guidall mentioned this in a lecture years ago, and it blew my mind. Now I rely on that “read this line AND the next lines at the same time” skill for phrasing and reducing errors, and I can’t imagine how I worked before it became a regular part of my craft.
Karen: Tavia, I think of it like having a macro/global focus and a micro/in the moment focus at the same time.
Tavia: Exactly. That’s not something I think you can do at the start. I think that comes with practice.
Holter: There is a scene in Childhood’s End by Clarke where a demon-alien is in an Earth-library, reading a book with each eye. That image never left me–this is when I was 11 or so. A few years ago I finally became aware that I was reading one line out loud and pre-reading another line an inch or so down the page–unconsciously. Proud moment, if a bit weird.
Kate: heh heh.
Barbara: And THAT, my friends, is the magical Third Eye of audiobook narration.
Holter: It is said we only access a small percentage of our brain power. And those moments when my craft actually opens me up to something like that. Something almost otherworldly. Those moments are gifts that narration has given me, and I’m grateful. I try to plow that back into my work ethic, to give it right back.
Tavia: Holter, that is lovely, and I concur. Such a reason for gratitude.
Lea: I’m moving ahead a little for time’s sake. Directed to Tavia… How do you view the exploding audiobook market? Do you see the need for the large number of untrained narrators we see today?
Tavia: I think it’s interesting. And maddening.
Tavia: Do we NEED untrained narrators?
Tavia: The listeners don’t.
Tavia: A business model that is insatiable and callous does, I suppose.
Holter: There is a very distinct business-only need for untrained narrators right now.
Tavia: I think there is a great deal of possibility in the increasing reach of audiobooks, but I think it’s being abused and mishandled.
Karen: Although we’re all benefiting short term from an exploding market, I wish the powers that be would slow enough that we can all take steps to make sure that EVERY book is being published at a certain level of quality.
Tavia: I think it’s terribly disrespectful to the listening audience.
Lea: As a listener, I have a sense of dread that it’s the way of the future. But, as the consumer, it greatly affects my spending habits. I take very few chances anymore.
Tavia: I think the listening audience is being asked to buy into the idea that bad acting is acceptable.
Holter: As Tavia says. We’re in a glut because of technology and the growing awareness of audio as a consumable form. The back catalogs create a glut that there are simply not enough trained narrators to fill. And the industry will not spend the time or money to make sure all their product is done well.
Barbara: I think we all agree that there really are no standards and practices in this art form.
Karen: I like the suggestion that’s been made here a couple of times of an apprenticeship program of sorts. Start new people slow, get them directors, get them lots of good feedback. Have them sit in on others’ sessions, do QC, do whatever to immerse themselves in the business before they start and then give them guidance!
Holter: That glut will cease. Some of our union research gives the massive glut a couple more years, then we sort of ‘catch up to the present.’ Will the industry survive with too much shoddy craftsmanship and cheap production in the meantime? That’s the 64,000 dollar question.
Barbara: Guidance is key, Holter and I think publishers would ultimately agree if it resulted in a better product.
Tavia: I think the people who care the most are the narrators and the listeners. I’m not sure that the people on the publishing side share the same concerns, or recognize the impact that a short-term business model based on volume may have. It seems unsustainable.
Barbara: Good point, Tavia and one that listeners seem to want to address in forums like this.
Susan: I think that’s why getting more/all the producers under the same Union umbrella would be enormously beneficial for the industry as a whole. If you have to pay a decent wage to produce a book, then you’ll certainly want the best read you can get. If you can hire someone one for a pittance, you’re standards will often relax, justified by the cheap rate.
Barbara: And yet, the financial dictates of the business would suggest otherwise.
Holter: That’s where I beg the listeners to REVIEW. State in your reviews that you heard bad audio quality, that there was a noise gate that made the last two words of your book “‘e ‘nd” instead of The End.
Lea: So following up on that Holter, do you think one can succeed in this business without training?
Holter: To your training question: No. But I have to add… As I said before, training has many faces. I don’t mean BFAs or MFAs necessarily. But taking into account that this needs to be a rigorously worked craft like any other.
Holter: We’ve touched on it before… Talent is one thing, skill the other, and hand in hand they win. Lift either out of the equation and you have crappy work.
Holter: And if you are going to put out crappy work, do me a favor: stay away.
Tavia: Yes, please. No matter how fun it is for you.
Holter: I love words. I love story. I love craft and art and beauty. And crapping on any of that because of laziness or cheapness or inattentive selfishness is a friggin’ sin. So cut it out.
Lea: What is the first step you recommend to those just starting – the one thing they can grab, at this very moment, to start moving move toward successful narrating?
Karen: Listen to a LOT of audiobooks is my suggestion. Know that there IS a craft to work on!
Barbara: Correct, Karen…there IS a craft to work on.
Kate: @Lea: Listen, read, read aloud, as much as possible. Practice makes perfect. Volunteer at an org for the blind, at the library, old folk’s home, anywhere you can practice the art of storytelling.
Tavia: And we love our listeners. We are so grateful for them, so appreciative of them. Don’t insult them.
Lea: Ahh, thank you, thank you Tavia!
Tavia: Thank YOU!
Karen: I love the authors, too, and have so much respect for the work they do. It’s my job to serve them as an interpretive artist.
Tavia: Absolutely, Karen.
Susan: Record yourself reading and be objective when you listen. Then record for another 6 months and see how you’ve progressed and then go to a workshop with your samples and ask someone who knows!
Barbara: There is a huge audience out there pining for exquisite listening opportunities. We cannot let them down…EVER
Karen: And don’t even think about doing this if you’re not an obsessive reader. A reader for pleasure.
Holter: I want my ire to come through. This means something to me. My father read Uncle Remus to me to put me to sleep (not super PC these days, but it was the ’70s). those memories are some of the most valuable I will carry for the rest of my life. We need to aspire to that, even when reading the twelfth installment of a mediocre thriller series with stock characters. If you don’t aim high, don’t do it. I take into account the industry and the business and the commerce and I know that there are needs for each. But draw a line. Work hard. Be dedicated. Think of it as your craft, and the listener as the person to whom you owe your best work. It is sustained through symbiosis.
Tavia: Be honest with yourself. Are you more excited about the “glamour” (ha ha) of being an audiobook narrator than you actually are about telling the story, being a medium, a translator, for the author? Is it your ego that is driving you to pursue this work? Or are you passionate about language, story, story-telling?
Karen: I’m not sure if anyone could see this work as glamorous. But I do hope that voiceover artists – who are artists in their own right, don’t just see this as another job they should do because they’re good behind a mic. It’s an entirely different craft.
Susan: “If you build it, they will come.”
Lea: As listeners, we wonder sometimes if the powers that be realize we are the ones who pay the bill. Age old oft used phrase. But we are the ones who choose to buy the product.
Holter: Like I said: REVIEW. COMPLAIN. PRAISE. The customer is always right. Vote with your dollars.
Barbara: Well said, Holter
Lea: Let’s keep talking. Brenda, can we open up to all who are watching the chat now?
Holter: I was called in to re-do a book that a publisher had spent a lot of money buying because the first narration was getting panned. The guy was good, it was just miscasting, a vocal issue. But they did it. They spent the dough to get a new read, because it is business. Listeners can help this process. Insist that you get the respect you deserve.
Tavia: And please don’t be impressed by performances that are simply emotive. Please don’t think that just because the narrator cried that what you heard was good acting. I don’t care HOW the narrator feels. I care how I, as a listener, feel. Did YOU cry? Did YOU laugh out loud? You’re the most important part of the equation, not the narrator.
Lea: Well, we have you all to thank for joining us in this cry for quality narrations.
Karen: Thanks for leading the way, Lea!
Tavia: Yes, thank you so much!
Lea: I think it has become my battle cry!
Barbara: It is voices like yours, Lea, that will set the stage for a higher craft focus. Much needed. Thank you
Lea: Before we officially end our narrator’s discussion, I want to give a special thanks to Karen White for brainstorming with me when planning this event. Karen – we appreciate you and your dedication!
Holter: And Karen, too, of course.
Karen: My pleasure, all! This was educational.
Tavia: Yes, thank you, Karen!
Anne Stuart: I’m loving this. Holter mentioned shredding his voice for three days — how long does it usually take you to do a book?
Holter: Very dependent on the book. But I am pretty quick, and the average book in studio for me is 2.5 days. That’s very rough.
Susan: AH, Holter! No young children I see! Home studios make a whole different time schedule.
Holter: My wife works from home and in the noise of a NY apartment; we have other lovely distractions and sound issues. It’s always something, but we do what we can. Thank you all, I’ll check in again. Here’s to craft and dedication. Down with rubbish! Down with rubbish!
Lea: Down with rubbish – love it!
Guest_147: Are any of you available as Directors?
Guest_147: Karen, can you say more about placing the characters physically?
Lea: If we don’t see an answer to your question, they will be answered. It may just be later today. Please ask away.
Kate: Many thanks all, back to the booth for me…
Guest_83: Thank you all for your insights, and for taking your valuable time to chat. It was so informative — and fun.
Tavia: Thank YOU for caring enough to spend time with us, and for allowing us this opportunity to share our thoughts.
Guest_147: Barbara and Tavia: you alluded to a subtlety in accents. Can you say more about that?
Karen: Guest 147, my imagination is seated physically – I think most people work more visually, but I just don’t. So it helps me to locate the characters. Sometimes it’s like, this guy is “punchy” and he’s in the upper left corner of my head. This girl is “floaty” and she’s very forward in my face. This guy is very straight and in my chest. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else?!
Tavia: Makes sense to me, Karen.
Tavia: Guest 147, I think it doesn’t take much to differentiate. You’re playing the character’s inner life, first. If you know that — if you’re specific about that — then that’s like 90% of the work for the voice.
Barbara: Subtle, subtle, subtle…that is the overarching tool that will make all choices sensible. You don’t want to exhaust your listener, you want to invigorate them and keep them on the path you and the author have set.
Guest_147: Before you all leave, thank you for all your time and thoughts! I really appreciate you all!
Guest_140: If not now, perhaps later you all can recommend how to find a good director/engineer to sit in on a home studio session. It’s a great idea and one I’d welcome but how to find one? What’s an appropriate rate?
Susan: It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you!
Barbara: It was a treat. Despite my 10 thumbs
Lea: I have to know more about “the gate!”
Barbara: A gate suppresses any extraneous mouth noise until the artist kicks in with actual voice.
Lea: I think it’s time to feature “the Gate” in a write-up. Hopefully one of these kind narrators will help me in that effort.
Lea: Many, many thanks to Holter, Barbara, Kate, Susan, Tavia, and Karen! You are spectacular!
Brenda: Thanks from behind the scenes! We’ll be in touch!
Lea: And we’re extremely pleased that someone listens to our concerns.
Guest_147: I just narrated a book where a main character was recently from Madrid, there was also a 17 year old Irish boy who sang a non-rhyming song of his own musical composition and the last chapter had a light French accent. I really needed a director.
Tavia: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure. I have to record approximately 79,850 or so pages, so I must go for now, but I’ll check back in and reply to subsequent posts later. Lea, you are so deeply appreciated. Thank you so very much for all you do. Thank you, too, Brenda, for making this possible!
Susan: I hope you have a decent enough relationship with that producer, and enough nerve to say, “You know, for a project that complicated it would have been invaluable to have a director. What are my options with you when I come up against another project like that for you? Will you get me a director? Can I do it in your studios (if they have one)? Or will they subsidize it- say 25 dollars an hour? I think it’s worth it to ask and advocate for what you need so you can give them the very best product.
Guest_739: Thank you all, for a very interesting and enlightening conversation about the ‘art’ of Audio Book Narration. I’m a VO actor in the Los Angeles Market trying to find my way ‘in’ [here] from Southern California… (and as luck would have it, have to get out the door to a commercial audition right now). I will pick up where I’m leaving off on the blog/conversation later. Many, many thanks for your valuable insight(s). — Kevin Goulet
Karen: Guest 147, if you’re in LA or NY, finding a director or an engineer is easier. A director could work with you remotely, but an engineer has to be there to set you up at least initially.
Susan: I’ve got to go as well. I’m happy to check back later to see if there are any questions which I could answer. I am so impressed with this whole set-up and process, Lea, not to mention the quality of the conversation. Way cool! All the best to all of you! And East-Coasters, bundle up and stay safe!
Guest_140: Karen et al, what if one is not in LA or NYC but seeking a director/engineer? I’m in DC market but I know others in more remote areas are interested as well.
Barbara: Check with your local SAG-Aftra office and see if they can help.
Guest_147: Karen: I am set up to take direction remotely, but I’m not in LA or NYC. I’m in the SF area.
Guest_147: Susan: thank you for your thoughts on how complicated the book was. I didn’t push back on the publisher and didn’t see the entire ms until after I signed the contract. I think even then I could have said something as you suggest.
Karen: I love Susan’s suggestion – try first to get a subsidy from your producer/publisher. They may also be able to help with engineers or directors that they trust.
Karen: Guest 140, Kate is actually in the DC area. So she may know more, but also Sean Pratt in DC does audiobook workshops and from what I’ve heard is an excellent teacher.
Karen: Guest 147, check with Steve Sidawi at SAG-AFTRA – he may be able to put you in touch with other SF narrators who might be able to share resources.
Guest_140: Yes, I know them both. Was more interested in finding a director/engineer to work with. Thinking Lib of Congress recording staff may be a resource. Thanks.
Guest_147: Karen: thank you!
Karen: I would like to make the point that a director and an engineer do really different jobs. Unfortunately conflating their jobs is another cost cutting device that’s been employed lately.
Karen: An engineer’s expertise is primarily to set up your space and equipment optimally, to listen for technical issues, to problem solve when things don’t work (that is the extent of my understanding – I am lucky enough to have a sound engineer for a husband). A director’s expertise is more in the area of craft and performance. So you want to be clear about what kind of help you need.
Karen: My tea is ready and I have to get to work. I’ll check in later, though!
Guest_140: Argh. Live Chat made me refresh in the middle of my reply. Karen, I do well understand the differences. But I cannot afford to hire two additional people to sit in with me during recording. That said, I want to structure a business model where I don’t have to wear three hats at once. I’ve invested in a great studio, complete with a vocal booth and excellent equipment and I’ve already had an engineer set everything, etc. I simply want someone capable to handle the simple record and punch in/out commands on ProTools and help direct me in session. I then want to hand off the QC work.
Lea: We’re closing the chat but you can continue your discussion in the comment area below.