The Art of Storytelling: Audiobook Narration Myths (Part 1)

“Sometimes you have to go places with characters and emotions within yourself that you don’t want to do, but you have a duty to the story, and as a storyteller to do it.”

– Hugh Jackman

I’ve had a lot of questions about how to get into audiobook narration, and honestly, it’s a longer answer than most people realize. I’ll address some of the basic rumors that I’ve heard here, and next week I’ll talk a little bit about the preparation and technical side of audiobook production.

Thank you all for the requests. I’ve really enjoyed talking with each of you.

Now first of all, it’s important to note that not everyone is meant to be an audiobook narrator- and that’s okay. With that being said, let’s address some rumors.

Myths:

You need to know someone in the industry : FALSE
While it’s certainly helpful to know someone in the business, it is absolutely not necessary. All that’s needed to have a successful career narrating audiobooks is skill and hard work. There are a ton of resources to help new narrators navigate the industry.

Having a quiet place to record is essential: TRUE
Yes. I know that this seems like an obvious one, but whether you decide to record at a studio or from your home, you would be surprised how much the microphone picks up. And reverb. I’ll address reverb thoroughly in my post next week.
If you decide to record at a professional studio, make sure to thoroughly vet them first. I once heard a horror story from a narrator whose producer left car noises from the passing street in her final product. Those sounds should never have made it into the raw audio in a professional studio, let alone after post-production.

You have to have a background in acting: FALSE
Once again, while it’s certainly helpful depending on your genre, it is absolutely not necessary. Actually, in some cases, it might even hinder your career.
Why?
Because the microphone catches everything. Every breath, every quiver of your voice, and every inconsistent tick in that foreign accent you thought you had perfected. Audiobook narration is not a “fake it ’til you make it” industry. There are acting coaches who specialize in voice acting, because it’s an entirely different kind of beast. Even without coaching though, you can constantly work to hone your skills. Above all, audiobook narration is professional story telling, and if you can spin a good story, you’re on the right path.

You can use a USB microphone: FALSE
You. Guys.
I’ve been asked to review some of the demos that come across my producer’s desk, and there is a distinct difference when a USB microphone is in use.
(On a completely unrelated note, A NEW PRODUCER JUST JOINED OUR TEAM! I’m so excited. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been wearing two hats for a hot minute while they scouted for new talent. Your girl is tired. And ready for a promotion.)
Here’s the thing about USB microphones: yes, they technically work. Yes, you might be able to score a few gigs with them. However, the odds are that these books will be a royalty share deal, which means you get paid royalties for every copy of the audiobook sold. Clients, or Rights Holders, have higher standards for PFH (per finished hour) products, since they’re risking their own money.
A royalty share deal means you only get paid if people buy the audiobook. Guess what’s a huge factor in people buying the book? Quality. Invest in a decent microphone and XLR interface, because trust me, it’s worth it. I’ll talk more about this in my next post. Even if you think you’ll start with the USB mic and upgrade later, do you really want those lower quality audiobooks floating around with your name on it? Do it for the brand your building.

You have to love reading: TRUE
I feel like this one should also be obvious, but you really have to love reading or this will be the most miserable career move you’ve ever made. You’re locked in a studio talking to yourself for hours on end. Sometimes in different voices. If you don’t love reading, and the project you’re working on, it can become amazingly tedious. We’ve all been there though, I mean, it’s a job. You don’t always love your work. When you have a project that you’re less than enthusiastic about, it’s important to push through and not let it show. Remember how I said that the microphone picks up everything? That includes boredom, smiles, shrugs, everything.

A great voice is all that you need: FALSE
Ooh, you guys. Do you know how many people think that because they have a great voice they can just sail into this career? A lot. Audiobook narration is about acting with subtlety, distinguishing your characters, channeling the emotion, tone and pacing of the book. A great voice is nice, but it is far from the most important part of storytelling. A wonderful example would be radio personalities. Their larger than life voices are great, but their training is a world away from the skills of an audiobook narrator.

You need to read the book before recording: TRUE
I don’t know how someone got it into their head that they could just jump right in, but that makes so much more work for everyone involved. A lot of planning goes into creating an audiobook, and it’s essential to know the story that you’re working with.
I always read a book twice before starting production, and I have a handy dandy notebook that I use to take notes on all of my projects as I go. I read it first to get a hold of the story, and write down a list of characters as I go, then the second time I mark down specific characteristics of each one that will affect the voice that I create for them.

This series is a bit longer than I expected, so next Tuesday’s book review will be replaced with Part Two of this series, and I’ll release the final part on Saturday. Check back on Tuesday for tips and tricks on how to decide if its right for you and how to prepare!

Thanks again for reading!

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