There are few things I love more in life than story. Nature, maybe. Water, but that’s a subset of nature. People aren’t things…well, not generally anyway. But the point of this big reveal into story at the head of my behind the scenes insights on audiobook narration is that the tales we tell and how we tell them, whether through aural or oral tradition, wrapped in celluloid, tramped across boards or lining the pages or screens of books has been my happy obsession for decades.
Prep and Lead In
So with a lifetime drenched in a study of story, how it’s written and performed it was with great joy I sauntered into my first audiobook trilogy this month. A fictional biography to be recorded in a local studio over the next few weeks. I poured over (absorbed, really) the first book on Labour Day weekend and we began the following Wednesday.
Day 1 Oh my gosh, what fun! Breathing life into the characters, massaging vocal choices into form, hearing the story unfold like a film through the instrument of my chosen art. I really, really like this. The book is so lovely. So wonderfully spun. I must do it justice. I will. I am so exhausted after today’s session. You expend a different kind of performance energy. I have to take a nap. Two hours later – whew – that’s better. Now to the booth. A job came through while I was away. I need to clear it off my plate so I can concentrate on tomorrow’s work.
Day 2 Oh, hurray. The studio sent the first chapter to the author yesterday. She had a couple of notes, but overall, liked it very much. Huzzah! Still loving this process, but I’m not happy with my unfinished to finished read rate. (That is how many hours it takes to complete one edited, “finished” hour) When I quoted my rate for the trilogy, I assumed that I could apply my very tight read ratio to an audiobook read. But I seem to be taking an inordinate amount of time. Only 36 pages in almost 5 hours! Wait a minute. Hmm. Ok. There are 720 on an average page in this format. That’s 26K. 9000 words in an hour. So, almost 3 finished hours. I guess that’s not bad. I’m exhausted again. I need another nap. I never nap!
Day 3 Pearl Hewitt, an audiobook narrator friend of mine messaged me I should not worry about the read rate. I am reading at an respectable rate. Darn my ego. Making me think my skill at speed was transferable to this medium. Reading news, narration and eLearning even for a couple of decades is not the same as reading an audiobook. This adjustment requires time. Time to world build. Time to mete out the appropriate emotional weight and pause. Plus, I am going back and forth in French and English. Many French names in an English book. Plus, there are so many characters. I feel duly shamed. I am going to complete this at more like a 2:1 or maybe even a 3:1 rate. This brings my pay per hour down. I care, but I also don’t care. I am happy to be on this project.
Day 4 A crazy busy weekend. I worked up a few more voices for upcoming main characters. I need to anchor phrases and lock them into place. Johan, the sound engineer is making samples for me to refer to when I forget how this or that one sounded. Smart!
Day 5 What a great day! I am seriously loving this book. Enjoying the characters SO much and feeling of nailing their voice and how they would deliver a line is invigorating. I pushed hard to summon the necessary energy and so was dismayed at the end to discover we’d only gotten through about 34 pages (21K words) in almost 5 hours. I had 56 minutes (finished) of medical eLearning to record later in the afternoon and was again distressed when I didn’t read as smoothly or quickly as I normally would. And took a 2:1 read ratio on text I would normally chew off at a rate of 1.3:1 when fresh in the morning. I guess I’ll chalk that up to fatigue.
Day 6 I’m still unsettled about my read ratio. I am going to convert this pdf into a word doc. I want to try a few new things. Changing the font to something I’m more used to working in (like Calibri) and at a size of 14. I’m going to do something Hilary Huber –at least I think it was Hilary- told me to do. Use highlighters in different colors for various characters.
Day 7 A fresh insight today: it’s not about how long the audiobook takes. It’s about the performance. The tension of pushing to get a certain amount of word done per day threatens to take me away from delivering my best performance. Or at least enjoying that process. My ears were sore at the end of today’s session. I wonder if I should bring in my own headphones. We used to do that when I worked in radio. The station headphones got seriously mangled and then there was hygiene.
Day 8 Today I figured out that Audiobook Narration is like Theatre in the voiceover world. Most actors love theatre. Above film and television. Above voice work. It’s immediate. Instantaneous. The connection with a live audience is exhilarating. The work is intense and profound. It pays the least (except for Broadway) and often demands the most. In voice acting, gaming and dubbing also require energy and intensity, both highly technical and exacting and ironically and unfortunately on the lower end of the pay grade. The marathon that is a good fiction audiobook performance is similar, albeit less technical in terms of dubbing and less exhausting in terms of sustained gaming energy requirements. A book is this beautiful play that one gets to act out solo, but embodying many characters, including the narrator. Sorting and accessing all those voices, anchoring and locking them in place is the technical aspect. Alex, another audio engineer I’m working with, created a grid of voice samples for quick access today. I also spoke with Serge about perhaps recording remotely with my home studio and using Source Connect or an ISDN bridge. I could save parking fees ($15/day x 10 days) and 90 minutes on the road. That would free up a studio for them to rent out as well. We will experiment with this between book 1 and 2. Not a good idea to change studios/mics etc., in the midst of a recording. Ears ached at the end of today’s session again. Must remember to bring in my own headphones on Monday.
Day 9 Today’s session went by so fast! Am I perhaps getting the hang of it? Sliding into the characters more easily? Making the adjustment from one to another with fluidity? I am very conscious of helping to unfold the story in the best way possible. Imbuing the characters with light and life as well as maintaining variety, especially in scenes where five or more converse. Only fifteen pages left for tomorrow’s session and then we wrap. I am sad it’s coming to a close. Yes, this is the theatre of voice work.
Day 10 Ok. The voice over narration marathon is over. The book is complete. I feel good. By the end of this intense run I am happy with my performance and understand and have such a greater respect for the energy and creativity required to perform a book. And I am thrilled this is a trilogy. Because I don’t think I got enough of the experience. I definitely still enjoy shorter voice projects. Simply because of all the reasons I’ve always loved them: variety, the challenge of working well within the limitations of a construct and frequency. But the audiobook? Ha. This is a dance I might just become addicted to.
Need a narrator for your audiobook? Or want to talk story? Drop me a note in the comments & let’s chat.