Thursday, February 18, 2016

To Audiobook, or not to Audiobook?

As of late, I've been contemplating audiobook narration as another possible genre to add to my repertoire.  I guess part of the reason is that I feel somewhat inundated with the training offerings that have cropped up as of late and some are quite enticing.  Complete with written and video testimonials of voice over talent that have taken the plunge and are experiencing some levels of success, a voice over talent like me will certainly take notice.  The other part of the reason is that I do like to read books - I read to my kids at night, I read technical certification books, and books written by voice over pros on how to become successful in this business.

For a few years I've been hearing about ACX, the Amazon subsidiary of the very popular Audible Inc. which is probably the biggest seller of spoken audio entertainment around.  ACX though seems to be the for lack of a better phrase the "second tier" level of printed material.  You won't find books from the giant publishing houses like Simon and Schuster, or Harper Collins to narrate.  Instead, ACX caters to the smaller companies and those that are self-published.  It's a great service for authors that may be starting out with their first book and want to have an audiobook version of it to sell on Amazon.com.  

It's also great for budding voice actors to earn income for "just reading books".  For voice over talent, the ACX site also comes complete with video tutorials on setting up your studio to performance tips covering what I would guess are the necessary fundamentals in becoming a successful audiobook narrator. There doesn't seem to be to much emphasis on having prior voice over experience though, but the tutorials are compelling enough that anyone could at least give it a try. 

As a side note, from reading up on the subject and speaking with other voice over talent there is an apparent level of criticism of the material found on ACX.  I've heard observations calling out the lack of thorough editing, continuity issues within the material, and that some are just simply not well-written books.  That's not to say that all are bad.  You'd just have to read the samples posted before deciding if you'd want to be a part of a particular project just as you would with every copy in any other voice over genre.  

Registration is pretty simple.  For authors, as long as they can verify that they are the proper right holders of the printed work they can then post a portion of their book and seek voice over artists, engineers, etc. to produce the work.   Creating a profile as a voice actor is free though one cautionary requirement would be that of your social security number for tax purposes or provide an ESN number if you have one.  This is unlike pretty much all of the online casting sites where that information is not required.  

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, there's been a small proliferation of experts in the audiobook field offering webinars that cover some of the nitty gritty insider tips that claim to get you better noticed to the authors.  They also offer a more in-depth analysis of performance; after all, those ACX "how-to" videos make it seem a little too easy.  As a voice over talent mainly of short form narration there are specific techniques and approaches that use on those deliveries, but wouldn't really work for audiobooks - something that I thought the videos on ACX don't really get into.  Now, some of the experts go really in-depth, but at a premium.  (I always say to myself, purchase with caution especially when you're being asked to pay a considerable amount of money, and the only guarantee is that "results may vary".  I consider myself to be the frugal and cautious learner.  I do proper and diligent research which can include harmless virtual stalking of these experts, and getting feedback from peers.  What I always find most important is patience - there's no need to rush into anything).

For one, I've heard repeatedly that voicing audiobooks takes its toll physically and mentally.  It requires long periods of time confined to your jail cell, er, recording space.  You have to find the most comfortable sitting position (remember, this is long-form narration which discourages standing like we do for the shorties).  There is also mic placement - certainly you're not going to read the entire book in one sitting!  The mic will have to be fixed and you'll have to remember to sit at the exact spot that you began or else if anything is out of place at each recording session you'll notice it in the different sound levels you'll get during the editing process.  Some techniques to address this challenge have been affixing a pencil at length from your pop-filter to where your mouth would be facing your mic.  Another is using an attached mic on an arm to your headset which basically gives you a bit more flexibility in your physical placement.  Also, plenty of hydration and lots and lots of rest for those vocal cords.

I picked up some of these tips at a recent webinar I attended led by audiobook narrator, coach, and author +Sean Pratt .  Sean has voiced over 800 titles so he knows a thing or two about how the audiobook genre works.  The webinar focused on non-fiction techniques, but for me it was the most comprehensive introduction to audiobook narration.  Some of the main take-aways were:

  • The audiobook's main purpose is to always entertain first even though non-fiction is more instructional
  • Put the writer's voice up front; it's their thoughts that are coming to life and you'll provide the sustenance as the talent
  • Writers most likely already have the ideal voice in mind so this requires establishing a good relationship with the writer before the project begins
  • Some think that non-fiction is not entertaining, but that's untrue.  As a result, the performance becomes monotonous if everything sounds important - vary the rhythm, tempo, tone, and melody
  • Know who the audience is and establish an intimate connection with the material
The biggest eye-opener Sean shared was at the very beginning of the webinar.  If you're really serious about pursuing audiobooks to narrate, then try this:

Grab a book, sit in your recording space (get comfortable) and read for two hours a day, for two weeks straight.

If you can make it past that torture test and feel good about yourself, then you're on the right track for audiobooks.

I have yet to take that challenge (so much just reading books and getting paid for it)... 


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