The Author's Voice.
When your mind goes wandering
If you’re worrying about your recording space or your settings - or if your concerned that you're making too many errors, taking too many noisy breaths, are having mouth noise issues - if you’re thinking about anything other than what you’re actually READING, then these wandering thoughts will make it impossible for you to fully connect with the text and to give a memorable and compelling performance.
Voicing anything, particularly an audiobook, take 100% concentration. If your mind wanders at any point, then the listener’s attention will also wander - they’ll hear the difference in your voice, and will know that you're just 'not present'.
If you find your mind wandering - take a break. Refocus, Regroup - then get back in there with 100% concentration. You know it makes sense!
One Voice Awards 2019 . . .
The Acceptance Speech I wish I'd made
"Thank you so much for this wonderful award - it seems that after a career spanning fifty years during which time I have undergone several re-incarnations - actor to TV continuity announcer to TV researcher to TV programme producer, to voiceover, to video director, to tutor, to director, to theatre producer, and then full circle back to acting and voiceover - and finally I've found my way into audiobooks. At last I've found my niche - Thank goodness!
Being nominated for an award for something you love is amazing. Winning an award really is the icing on the cake!
What makes this award particularly sweet for me, is that the audiobook submitted for consideration was one that I self-directed and recorded remotely from my personal studio, delivering chapters as clean audio to the publisher for final editing and mastering. This is not the way audiobooks in the UK are generally produced as many of you will know. The vast majority of UK publications are recorded in a mainstream recording studio with a producer or engineer sitting on the other side of the glass. But for this book, I was flying solo! This means that the tech stuff and the sound quality was down to me. My personal studio and I rose to the challenge successfully and though I had obviously discussed the overall feel of the book, the characters of the people within it with the author and publisher, essentially, the choices I made about the overall tone of the read, the narrative voice, the ambiance, the pacing, the characters, their accents and their relationships and reactions, were my decisions.
I know that remote recording is a somewhat contentious issue, with some voicing concerns that it's impossible to achieve high quality audiobooks when narrators self-record. Of course, not all 'home studios' are equal, but superb audiobooks with the highest possible production values can be, and are, regularly narrated by performers who are flying solo. I, and many other UK based narrators work regularly and successfully with major publishers in the US (Brilliance, Blackstone, Harper, Tantor, Audible, Macmillan, Disney Audio and many more) as well as with a few pioneering publishers in the UK and these productions regularly get fantastic reviews in Audiofile Magazine and elsewhere, are awarded Earphone Awards and Audies - and now a One Voice Award - so are being acknowledged for their technical and creative quality.
I am not knocking mainstream studios. Many extraordinary audiobooks are created in the traditional way, and it is a real treat when I am cast to record in a mainstream studio - but working from home gives a flexibility which makes the whole process more relaxed - but believe me - I am much tougher on myself than any director or producer I have ever worked with.
I'd like to congratulate all the nominees and winners this evening, particularly all my audiobook colleagues. I know the quality of your work and how tough the competition for this award has been. I'd like to thank the One Voice Awards and Gravy for the Brain and their teams for pulling all this together, and to Penelope Rawlins for presenting this beautiful thing to me ... it will be in pride of place. I'd like to thank Equity - particularly the Audio Committee for the support they give to everyone working in this industry. And thank you to the publishers and producers of audiobooks who keep raising the bar; to the listeners who keep on listening; and to the authors who create the words and people - before bravely hand over their babies. And finally, I'd like to thank my long suffering husband. It can't be easy living with a woman who spends much of her life shut up in a small padded room talking to herself."
PS - and I was so flumoxed, I didn't have my celebratory photo taken at the end of the evening!
What's In A Name . . . ?
You - a voice actor, a voiceover, the talent - call yourself what you will - want to have your profile and voice reels included on an on-line casting site, that is are advertising itself as 'An Agency' and opening its books to voice artists looking for representation. All fine so far - but they're asking their represented artists to use a different name from the one they are known by. This rings alarm bells. I don't get it - and I find it a really worrying trend. Why would a voice agent ask a voiceover to be listed under a different name from the one they're known by and recognised by in the industry.
Some audiobook narrators do have a nom-de-voix that they use for certain genres - but such pseudonyms have their own persona - their own website, twitter account and social and on-line profiles; this isn't quite the same thing.The name on your website, your business cards, you social media profile, is your name, your professional persona. It matters that there is consistency as your portfolio grows and you become more recognised.
We are all working in a vastly overcrowded professional - so to make our voices stand out from the crowd, our voices combined with our names and our reputation are what get us every enquiry, every job and every repeat job. We're a package - and if you have an agent, then they should, in my opinion, market you under that persona. To force an actor to use another name is surely counter productive.
I know the argument is that having a nom de vox on an online casting site means that potential clients can't search for you directly and book you direct, thereby cutting out the middle man; but surely it's about trust.
As voiceover and impressionist Darren Altman says:
"One word, trust. Personally I think it shows a distinct lack of trust on behalf of the voice over artist and insinuates that we will take on a repeat client and bypass the source from whence it came. That’s not my style. I will ALWAYS refer back to the source if it came back from an agency. Personally I’m not a fan of a pseudonym at all."
Surely a true agent works in your best interests. They actively seek work on your behalf, have a great network of contacts and are known as professional and trustworthy. They negotiate on your behalf and you pay them commission on your earnings, this is how they gain their reputation as an agent. Surely its in your interest as an artist, to refer any direct enquiries to them, they take all the pressure of negotiation and invoicing off your shoulders, and as this is how they earn their money, its in their interest to negotiate the best possible rate on your behalf. Any other way of working seems to me to do nothing to enhance the reputation and credibility of either the artist nor the agent. After all, in an agency has even a moderately recognisable name on their books - they want everyone to know that the artist has chosen to be with them, not their competition.
If you get a great gig then you have the right to claim that work as your own, to use a clip (with permission of course) on your website - you earn bragging rights, but if that work appears to have been recorded by Felicity Flybynight, then you can't add that work or that client to your portfolio - without giving the name away which totally defeats the object - so in effect, you're giving away the right to claim that work as yours.
Of course, if the middleman, whether it be a Pay to Play site or an online casting site purporting to be 'an agency', is charging the end client huge fees for booking us, then there is something very wrong.
It's your choice of course - and I know many people sign up for this without thinking beyond the possibility of earning some money as a voiceover - but for me it's not an option, and I can't help wondering whether this rule applies to everyone listed on such an online agency. Do any even moderately well-known voices on there have to chose a different name too? I wonder.
Re-inventing yourself from time to time leads to a fulfilling and continuing working life. It's easy for actors and voice actors - and I guess for artists of all kinds - to get stuck in a rut and just repeat and rehash whatever has brought you success, to play safe and to concentrate on whatever brings in the pennies. But experimenting in new areas of work, changing your perspective or finding new outlets for your abilities, is something I have found to be rewarding emotionally and professionally and also to be lucrative. You change - your skills develop - and if you have the ability to be flexible, to accept and build, to continue developing new threads and honing your craft, you realise that all of the skills you have picked up along the way help you to stay relevant and employable - even in a young industry such as audiobooks.
My first visit to the theatre was a Christmas treat in 1954. The play was 'Toad Of Toad Hall' (designed by Voytek I know now) at the old Nottingham Playhouse in Goldsmith Street - with Michael Hordern playing Toad. It was magical. I left the theatre on a cloud and announced to my astonished parents 'that is what I am going to do when I grow up!', and really, I never wavered from that ambition - and I still haven't. Every job I have ever had of any meaning has been connected to that one desire. To be an actor, to interpret language and emotion, to bring words to life.
It wasn't an easy journey to begin with. My father was of the impression that being an 'actress' was akin to walking the streets! He insisted that I went to secretarial college before drama school - and though I hated every moment of it, the touch typing has come in very handy! Fortunately, I won a scholarship to Guildhall, and got a grant as well, so with the financial burden out of the way, and the unwavering support of my half-sister and my mother, he was eventually persuaded that I was actually going to drama school, not into some den of iniquity! So - at the age of eighteen I headed for London and the start of the greatest adventure of my life.
At about the same time, my oldest friend, whom I first met at primary school at the age of seven was also embarking on a career in the theatre. She had a similar passion and though our journeys were different, our careers ran a parallel path - these paths crossing surprisingly often during a friendship spanning more than sixty years. We did drama classes together as children, were in numerous plays together, did public speaking and poetry exams. We both went to a summer school at Rose Bruford college when we were fourteen - and we were both bitten by the acting bug. I went to college, she joined the local repertory theatre as an student acting ASM, then after I graduated from Guildhall, we both ended up in the same repertory company at Nottingham Playhouse for several seasons. When she was pregnant, I stepped into her role in Stuart Burge's production of 'Sons and Lovers' for the BBC, when I was pregnant, she was my maternity cover at Central television - and when I returned from maternity leave, she and I worked together at Central for several years. We both had young families by this time, so when Central stopped in vision live continuity, our options were a little limited - going back to treading the boards wasn't really viable for either of us, but we both found a way to use our skills in different ways and we stayed in touch, meeting when we could. I went into television production, she retrained as a drama teacher (some years later, I directed a student production at the school where she was head of drama). Latterly she travelled the world as a LAMDA examiner - I got into audiobooks and voiceover - and so it continues.
We have re-invented ourselves yet again. Both returning to our roots!
The day after my birthday - we went to our monthly 'Speakeasy' voice and accent class at our local theatre. We are years older than the vast majority of participants, two silver haired women with a few creaking joints - both of us once again jobbing actors - quoting passages from Shakespeare to each other (from memory I may add) loving what we do, supporting each other and enjoying ourselves while continuing to explore and discover. My pal Evadne Fisher and I, developing our skills, honing and practising our craft - and acknowledging that re-inventing yourself every now and then is a really good idea - and that we are both very lucky!
An exciting update!
I am delighted to announce that Amanda Rose Smith will be giving tech advice and personal studio feedback to everyone taking the new Audiobook Specific Narrator Coaching Course from Helen Lloyd Audio.
Amanda is a 15 year audio industry veteran with notable projects in the audiobook, gaming, film, and television fields. Amanda is something of an audiobook engineering legend having recorded, edited, and directed over 1000 audiobooks, including 7 Audie nominations. Bryan Cranston, George Takei, and Hillary Rodham Clinton are counted among those she's recorded throughout her career.
After earning a Master’s degree in Music Technology from New York University, she spent time working as a live sound engineer before turning to studio work. She served as ADR engineer for hit shows such as ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and ‘The Good Wife’, and recorded and edited dialogue on video games such as Telltale's ‘The Walking Dead’ as well as directing voice performances for animation.In addition to continuing her studio work, Amanda is audio producer for SerialBox.com and coaches voiceover actors in the NYC SAG-AFTRA voiceover lab.
I first met Amanda in New York when I attended her one of her audiobook technical workshops – she has since been my Audiobook editor of choice whenever I am producing independently, including for ‘But My Brain Had Other Ideas’ which is shortlisted for the best non-fiction audiobook performance in the 2019 One Voice Awards.
I am so exciting to have Amanda working with me and the narrators taking the course. I know her insight and feedback will be invaluable.
Having great samples on your website and various profile pages and they can really help you to get work. I mark excerpts that I think would make useful clips while I am prepping my reads, and also keep the audio of those sections (if I am recording remotely) or re-record them at home when I'm working in a mainstream studio - that way I have all kinds of samples at hand - featuring dialogue, accents, styles of deliver and different genres to send to publishers - and add to my list of clips on my VoiceZam profile, Sound Cloud and other profiles - having asked permission of the rights holder of course!
But My Brain Had Other Ideas
'But My Brain Had Other Ideas - A memoir of recovery from brain injury. by Deb Brandon. Published by She Writes Press - and now available as an Audiobook.
Winner - Beverly Hills Book Awards
Winner - Reviewers Choice Awards 2018
The Indie Book Awards - Finalist
The Best Book Awards - Finalist
International Book Awards - Finalist
I read a lot of books - both personally and professionally. I always enjoy the challenge of narrating no matter what the genre, but I wouldn't necessarily choose to read for pleasure all of the books that I narrate. However, occasionally - and joyously - I get to narrate 'a keeper', a book that I will return to again and again.
'But My Brain Had Other Ideas' by Deb Brandon is such a book!
When Deb discovered that cavernous angiomas - tangles of malformed blood vessels in her brain - were behind the terrifying symptoms she'd been experiencing, she underwent brain surgery.
And then another brain surgery. And then another.
Three surgeries - two carefully planned, the other, a terrifying surprise - in as many weeks.
And that was just the beginning!
Cavernous Angioma (in which abnormal clusters of blood vessels in the brain sometimes burst and bleed) and the three life saving surgeries that Deb has undergone, have had a profound effect on all aspects of her life. She has to deal with sometimes terrifyingly random symptoms: loss of taste, dizziness, seizures, memory loss, depression and a heightened sensitivity to smell, noise and light that cause her to 'zone out' in difficult situations and environments..
Deb tells her story with humour, rage, pragmatism and hope and manages to find humour and courage amid the nightmare that is happening in her head which affects everything around her; her work, her life, her children, her relationships - even her belief in herself. She tells her story of survival with searing honesty and self-knowledge and a complete lack of self-pity. Her conversations with herself carry you through her journey to survival with her and the whole memoir has a lightness of touch and sensitivity that engenders not only empathy, but admiration for her courage and determination - not to mention admiration for her skill as a writer.
This is a book that made me thankful to be alive and healthy - and gave me a new perspective on my life, my family and friendships and all the things that I value the most. I was so honoured that Deb chose me to 'get inside her head' and tell her story in Audiobook form - it was a privelige - and I am so grateful to her and 'She Writes Press' for giving me the opportunity.
Here's what Deb says about the audiobook:
'Helen did a fabulous job narrating my memoir “But My Brain Had Other Ideas.” Not only was her voice and intonation perfect, but she really captured the essence of who I am. She hit all the nuances of my inner self, fear, humour, grief, just right. As I listened to the final product, I felt as if I was listening to (a better version of) myself telling my story. I can’t be prouder of this audiobook.
Thanks so much, Helen. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude'.
Deb Brandon PhD was born in England, raised in Switzerland, Israel and England and is now Professor of Mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She has participated nationally and internationally in Dragon Boating and is a renowned textile artist and enthusiast. Her essays have been published in Dragon Boat World International, Hand/Eye Magazine, Logan Magazine; and SIAM Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Journal of Integral Equations and Applications. She has also written 'Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe'
Muse from The Booth - It's that time of year again
2018 was also the year I began my personal studio upgrade - purchasing a new mic and interface and investing in a Kube isolation booth. I also attended more coaching and audio related workshops than ever before and invested in new headshots and new voice reels. I am blogging more than ever and have joined Instagram and You Tube as well as being on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
A 'silver surfer' grasping the nettle with a vengeance!
As far as audiobooks are concerned I have been so lucky and have performed some really wonderful titles in 2018 including several for publishers and producers I hadn't worked with previously. I am so grateful to them all - existing colleagues as well as new ones - for casting me and giving me such great books to read.
Looking forward into 2019 - I have, as many of you may know, been considering offering audiobook narrator coaching for some time. I spent several years running BeeAudio's highly acclaimed Audiobook Narration Studio Certification Course - and when that came to an end, the material I created for that course was sitting on my laptop doing nothing. Several friends and colleagues approached me last year asking me to work with them, so using my existing material as a starting piont, I developed it into a comprehensive and detailed coaching package designed for trained actors wanting to get into audiobook narration and for narrators who want to raise their game and find out about working remotely.
I'll be sharing more information about this exciting development shortly - and adding some coaching content to my website in due course - so watch this space.
I'm still going to be narrating of course - so am limiting the number of students I take on at any time to six - so will still have lots of time to collaborate on more wonderful books.
In the meantime - I wish to thank all my blog and social media followers, my friends, coaches and mentors, my fellow narrators, actors and voiceover colleagues; all the people I have worked with and for - authors, collaborators, producers, proofers, audio engineers, directors, casting directors for their continued support - and wish you all A Very Happy, productive and creative year in 2019.
New Voice Reels now available
I am delighted to announce that I have new voice reels! They've been a long time coming - but I think the wait has been well worth it.
These voice recordings are my calling card if you like - a way of allowing casting directors, producers, publishers, prospective clients and indeed anyone seeking a professional voice, to hear what I sound like across a range of different types of voiceover recording across a range of genres.
My voice reels cover Audiobooks, Commercials, Corporate VOs - including IVR & Explainer voiceovers. E-learning, Gaming, Narrative VO - including narration for documentaries - and Web commercials.
You can find the full version of my these recordings on the HOME PAGE of my website - or by visiting my VoiceZam profile HERE
The compilation Voice Reels - short clips combined into a genre specific file on my Soundcloud profile: By clicking HERE
That sinking feeling - money thrown away or a wise investment?
Do you ever get a sinking feeling after you've made an impulse buy that you perhaps couldn't afford, and which, when you get it home, turns out to be a big mistake?
I certainly have a few disastrous impulse buys hanging in my wardrobe - and it's even easier to buy impulsively online. However - this post is not about buying a new dress or a pair of shoes. I am talking about spending money on your career and investing in your business - and how to avoid making some costly mistakes.
It's important to invest in my career and in the equipment and software that I use. I want to learn how to use my skills effectively, I want to build my business and to expand into new areas of work; I want to make social media and marketing work to my best advantage - and to make the most of my USP in an increasingly overcrowded market.
And it goes without saying, there are numerous individuals and organisations that will take my money and in exchange, will promise to help me with all of these things. However, it's all too easy to get swept away on a cloud of enthusiasm leading to some very expensive mistakes!
- Can I afford it?
- 'Will this new thing be compatible/work well with what I have already?'
- 'Does it suit me and my lifestyle?'
- 'Will its value last and will I get good use from it for years to come?
If I can honestly answer 'YES' to those questions - then I ask myself
- 'Have I already got something that does more or less the same thing and is still working?
But what about shopping online for stuff I need for my business, whether that be equipment, software, coaching, mentoring, support - or membership of an industry related organisation or group?
I know that on more than one occasion I have been swept along on a wave of optimism and have pressed the 'buy now' button without a second thought. It's so easy to do - maybe I've succumbed because colleagues are posting on social media about joining this or that amazing organisation; signing up for this fantastic course; taking classes with this wonderful coach; or how simply doing X, Y and Z has transformed their career.
Sometimes it's a persuasive sales pitch or an hefty discount 'upgrade to the latest version of 'A' and save $100 dollars ... offer ends on Friday' that convinces me that my life and career can be transformed. Why am I tempted to buy a new mic, or the upgrade to the latest version of my editing software rather than sticking with the tried and tested version that I already have - and which works perfectly well? Why on earth do I find myself being tempted into signing up for this, that and the next thing? Why and how is usually-cautious-me being so easily seduced?
Audiobooks - Telling the story
In audiobooks, the narrative voice refers to the voice of whoever is telling the story. The most common narrative voice in fiction is the 3rd person narrative, but 1st person narrative is also used; in non-fiction many books are written in the 2nd person narrative - but in autobiography and memoir, obviously the first person narrative voice is used.
What does all this mean? And how, as narrators, do we approach these different narrative voices?
And importantly - how to we ensure that we stay engaged and connected with the text so that the listener is drawn into the story and remains fully involved and connected throughout?
UK Audiobooks - Competition, Cost & Quality?
Has the Audiobook industry in the UK become obsessed with keeping down costs? Judging by the numerous discussions on various Facebook Narrator and VO groups, the answer is 'yes'.
Despite being told that Audiobooks are the darling of the publishing industry - the largest growth area in publishing for decades, it seems that rates for all the creatives involved in audiobook production are not showing any improvement. It seems as though a lot of audiobook publishers are asking studios to compete on price rather than on quality? If profits are so high, why are the rates for bread and butter audiobook narrators, not to mention freelance producers, audio proofers, editors and audio engineers in the UK, sinking so low?
Speaking at Frankfurt’s half-day Audiobook Conference, Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association (APA), highlighted growth in audiobook output and sales in the US (46,000 titles published in 2017 with sales up 23%) and the UK (3,700 titles produced with sales up 16% in 2017). As a percentage of all sales, Cobb said audiobooks were averaging out at around 4% in the major markets, including Germany. In the UK, 36% of audiobook consumers were new to the market in 2017.
So - though we're lagging a long way behind - with just 3,700 UK productions as opposed to an amazing 46,000 in the US. But sales are increasing even in the UK and I can't help feeling that we should be feeling more of this audiobook related golden glow should surely be reflected on this side of the pond? UK sales are a long way off the figures in the US, but although there is certainly not anywhere like as much work available for narrators, many UK studios seem to keep pretty busy, but rates for narrators in the UK appear to be static - I am being offered exactly the same rate (or in some cases rather less) as I was being paid four years ago.
It seems to me, that the Audiobook industry in the UK has become obsessed by bringing down the costs - but at what cost to the listener?
B is for ...
We are all increasingly aware of the value of exercise and keeping fit and while many of us are interested in improving our physical appearance and stamina, traditional keep fit and gym training doesn't necessarily give us the kind of workout and body training that fulfills our needs as performers - needs which are quite different from the kind of physicality needed to be an athlete.
For an actor the emphasis is on flexibility, stamina, expressiveness, characterisation, on motivated movement with purpose as well as on posture, relaxation, stillness and control. But what relevance has this for a voice actor?
Dancing, fencing and tumbling have no immediate relevance to voice acting; indeed you may wonder whether 'the body' and its fitness and flexibility has anything at all to do with voice acting. When you're in a small padded room in front of a microphone, you can't move around very much, you can't gesture and no one can see your posture or the physicality of your character.
However - especially for long form narration, stamina is vital - so is the reduction of physical stress which affects the voice, so body training and awareness combined with specialist forms of movement and relaxation such as the Alexander Technique and the Laban method are relevant and play a significant role in a regime that helps to build stamina, good breath control and vocal flexibility - all vital requirements for voice actors.
Your body is part of your vocal equipment and you owe it to yourself to stay generally in as good a shape as you can manage. Being generally fit is a great blessing and an asset to all performers and aids stamina and the ability to breathe properly.
Let's delve a little deeper. . .
Helen Lloyd - Newsletter 2018
You always knew I was super organised didn’t you?
Here is my latest quarterly update:
‘Life in the Garden’ by Penelope Lively has been published in the US by Penguin Audio.
'Helen Lloyd’s Trina is warm, thoughtful and seeking. The Curator, Anders, who has been fairly recently widowed, is writing to her in his second language, so Lars Knudsen’s Danish accent conveys the differences and distance between them, even as they come to trust and rely on each other as they acknowledge joys and face hard truths about their own lives … to deeply satisfying effect. ' Audiofile Magazine Review
‘Widow’s Wreath – A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery’ by Cynthia Riggs Published by Blackstone Audio.
‘The Allotment Girls’ by Kate Thompson. Published by Whole Story Audiobooks.
‘Lady Osbaldestone and the Missing Christmas Carols’ by Stephanie Laurens This is the second 'Little Moseley' Christmas adventure for the redoubtable Lady O and her grandchildren. Published by Blackstone.
‘The Hour of Death– A Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn Murder Mystery’ by Jane Willan Published by Blackstone.
‘But My Brain Had Other Ideas – A Memoir of Recovery from Brain Injury’ by Deb Brandon for Findaway.
AND IN OTHER NEWS: The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that I have a new headshot. This is a major thing for me, I hate being photographed, but it was comparatively painless. I also have a new logo, and am getting some new voice reels recorded next month.
And due to demand, I am also now offering audiobook narrator personal coaching and am working one to one with a few select narrators.
And finally … after many years as an unrepresented actor, I am delighted to be represented by one of the UK’s foremost voice agencies, Suzy Wootton Voices
Till next time!
Your Natural Voice - Is it 'Authentic'?
Your voice is your voice … or is it?
There is a lot of talk about ‘authenticity’ buzzing around at the moment. Just Google ‘Authentic Voice’ and you’ll see 11,000,000 results. Many of them are about writing, urging authors to find their ‘authentic voice’, but ‘authentic’ also seems increasingly to be seen as a desirable asset for actors. Everyone, it seems, is trying to achieve that ‘an authentic performance’. Surely there can be no such thing! A performance by definition isn't 'real' or 'natural' or 'authentic' - it can never be. It is a performance.
I became ‘bi-lingual’ within a few days of starting school because I knew that if I spoke at school the way I spoke at home, I would sound too different to be accepted by my peers. So I am left struggling with the concept of one voice being more authentic than another - particularly within an audiobook, or any other kind of vocal performance.
We are actors … it is our job to make whatever we are doing believable and authentic. When we act, we aim to create something that is credible and convincing even though we may be playing a character light years away from ourselves in age, in experience and in attitude. And the joy of narration is that we get to play all of the characters - many that we would never be cast as in any other genre - and the narrator's skill is to make every single one of those voice sound 'authentic'.
Does this mean that I lost my ‘authentic’ voice? Does the fact that I (and many other actors and narrators) speak with a neutral ‘RP’ accent, make our voices less authentic than someone a voice with a regional dialect?
I don’t believe so … and actually I am inclined to think that applying the word ‘authentic’ to a voice is just so much gobbledygook!
Remote Narration & Audiobooks - A Viable Option
In my last post 'Muse from The Booth no 17, I discussed audiobook narrators recording for the first time in a Pro Studio. Today, the opposite - remote recording an audiobook from your own personal studio.
Remote recording is the norm when recording audiobooks for the majority of publishers on the US - though not yet in the UK. However, as more British audiobook publishers can clearly hear the quality of the audiobooks that remote narrators are recording from home studios, they're becoming more flexible.
What is expected of the narrator recording remotely - and what do we need to do to ensure quality and production values don't fall?
Of the more than fifty titles that I have recorded since 2013, three have been recorded in a mainstream recording studio.
While remote recording is regarded by almost all US publishers and production companies as being on an equal footing with recording in a mainstream studio, this is not the case in the UK though things are changing slowly. Publishers are slowly recognising the quality that narrators are able to deliver when working remotely and appreciate the added flexibility that remote recording brings. Thankfully, an increasing number of major publishers are beginning to explore the possibility of remote recording.
Remote recording is not going to lead the Audiobook industry into the jaws of hell!
So what is expected of the narrator recording remotely - and how do those of us who regularly work remotely safeguard technical quality and high production values - how do we ensure that our performances match what we deliver when recording in a mainstream recording studio?
First Time Audiobook in a Pro studio?
The world of audiobook narration has changed immensely even over the past three or four years - and a recent email from a colleague highlighted something I hadn't previously considered. There are an increasing number of established professional narrators who record audiobooks remotely - so despite having a significant number of reads to their credit, plus Earphone awards, Audie nominations and awards - and other significant gongs, there are an increasing number who have only ever recorded remotely. Being invited to record in a professional recording studio for the first time is pretty daunting - but perhaps even more so if you are used to flying solo. I know it was for me!
Why? Why is it so daunting to work in a pro studio for the first time - even when you have a shed load of audiobook experience? What did I learn from the experience? What is good etiquette in a pro studio?
APAC, hosted by The Audio Publishers' Association (The APA) and sponsored by Audiofile Magazine, is held at the same time as Book Expo America. APAC is totally centred around Audiobooks and there were over 500 attendees; narrators, tech folk, casting directors, producers and publishers - authors, audiobook reviewers, and listeners as well. There were workshops, panels, and break-out sessions on performance related issues, industry developments and business and marketing strategies - and lots and lots of opportunities to meet fellow professionals in informal settings - at a cafe on edge of the Hudson River, the roof garden of an Irish pub in Manhattan and various other bars, cafes and restaurants. venues - and at the AUDIES Gala, (the audiobook equivalent of the Oscar ceremony) and the now equally important NAUDIES (Not the Audies) where those not nominated, or not able to get a ticket for the gala, socialised and waited for the glittering nominees and their guests to arrive in their finery after the gala was over. For narrators there was also a worksop day of performance related coaching and advice hosted by Johhny Heller held the day before the main conference and a technical workshop examining the technical side of audiobook production hosted by Amanda Rose Smith.
The whole thing was loud, enthusiastic, invigorating, exciting, inspirational, surprisingly 'ego-free' - and utterly exhausting - and it was over all too quickly.
There were half a dozen other UK based British narrators who also made the journey - as there were last year and in previous years - and we were all genuinely and generously welcomed by everyone involved. Every one of us, no matter what our level of audiobook experience, felt that we belong to a community who values us and acknowledges us as colleagues and friends. It was an extraordinarily heartening experience that all of us will cherish.
Perhaps I am looking through rose-coloured glasses, but I truly felt blessed to be there. I have never come across anything even remotely similar in the UK, though of course there are various organisations that host social events, webinars and workshops geared to the more general voiceover fraternity - Gravy for the Brain and The Voice Over Network for example. There are many voiceover performers belonging to these organisation who also read audiobooks and both VON and GFTB hold the occasional audiobook related event or workshop, but audiobooks are not why either of those organisation exist. There is no equivalent to The APA, no UK based professional organisation whose raison d’être is audiobooks.
I know the audiobook industry is significantly smaller over here than it is in the US - but if the articles in the US and UK press are to be believed, it is growing apace. It seems to me therefore that there is a real need for an UK based, professional audiobook-related organisation which welcomes audiobook producers, narrators, editors and engineers. The question as to whether that would be viable is already being asked - Neil Gardner of Ladbroke Audio posted an article on LinkedIn recently asking whether it was time for a Professional Organisation to represent those of use who earn our living from creating audiobooks.
I think the time is absolutely right.
We are constantly being told that Audiobooks are 'saving' the publishing industry, but few people within the industry are seeing any benefits of this alleged 'boom', in fact for most of us rates are falling. Our Union, Equity, though it has an audio committee, is unable to set audiobook rates, or even to suggest them, and in the competitive world in which we live, cost becomes an overarching consideration for audiobook publishers. We are all. whether producers, voice actors or technical folk therefore increasingly competing on cost rather than on the quality of the product we create and ultimately, surely that is something of an 'own goal' with disastrous results for the industry and the listener.
A UK based professional organisation might just be able to steer audiobook production out of the chasm it is in danger of falling into and give us all a sense of professionalism and unity such as appears to exist among our US colleagues who are fortunate in having the APA (and a strong Union) to support them.
An open letter from an Actor to Casting Folk
Now I am sure that I am sure I am not the only actor to whom this has happened - but it makes be mad!
On Wednesday morning an email pings into my inbox with details of a job: How exciting! It asks whether I am interested and available, gives me dates and rates. It's an interesting job that is almost certainly going to lead to more work - and yes, I am available! I agree to the rate - and put the dates in my diary.
I email the casting director by return saying thank you, how nice to hear from you. Yes I am available/interested and can do the job within the deadline you specify - I ask a couple of technical questions - and she helpfully suggests, that since I've not worked with these guys before, it might be a good idea to chat to one of their tech guys regarding my queries. He is not available right now, so we arrange a time for me to talk to him the following afternoon. The tech person and I speak late in the afternoon of the next day. A very useful helpful conversation - and everything I was uncertain about is cleared up. I email again as soon as we have spoken (though I know they won't pick up the email until Friday morning), to say all is now clear and I am happy to go ahead.
I have a lovely weekend, happy in knowing that I have a job in the pipeline ... and not just one, potentially a series of jobs.
On Monday morning, I email the casting assistant again, just to confirm everything and to ask her to send me the scripts as soon as possible. It's a big project ... and as I have other work in the pipeline, plus I will be away for a couple of weeks before the delivery day, I'd actually like to begin doing my preparation as soon as possible, even though the deadline for completion is some way away.
The response comes by return ... thank you, we have gone with a different voice! A male voice!
Now, I have been around the block a few times and I know how casting works, and I know the final decision is not always down to the casting director - or even the producer; there is normally an end client who calls the shots. That's quite normal and I accept it is part of the job.
My problem with this particular 'offer' that wasn't an 'offer' was the wording of the email. Never once was it indicated to me that I was being 'considered'; was being 'asked to audition'; was being asked of my availability for a 'possible' job that might or might not happen. There is an enormous difference between 'we have an upcoming project that we hope will interest you. Are you available between these dates to record it?' and 'would you be interested in being considered for a project within these dates?
Perhaps it was just a fishing expedition to check whether I would work for the rates they were offering - not the greatest, but with the mention of this being an on-going project - yes, I would accept their rate on that basis, though perhaps not for a single job only. Perhaps they were just thoughtless.
So ... a weekend spent on a high thinking I might have a lovely job popping into my inbox on Monday morning, giving me a couple of months work at least, has turned out to be a damp squib - a rotten tomato - a nothing! Plus the fact that I have cancelled several other jobs to make room for this one ... the job that never happened! Thanks a bunch.
So casting people - I know you're busy, I know you're stressed and working to tight deadlines, just as I am ... and I know the final decision is not likely to be yours, but I beg you, please consider the wording of your emails and how it reads to someone on the outside. Are you emailing with a firm job offer, or merely an availability. You know us actors ... we're often out of work; we're often up against immense competition. We know the industry is vastly overcrowded and we know how busy you are. We also know it's not you who makes the final decision. We know all that - and we accept it is just 'part of the job'! But dear casting director, have you ever thought how it feels to receive an email that appears to be a firm job offer - only to have it pulled from under your feet? How such an event may not actually incline an actor to feel kindly towards the organisation you work for - and how actually, you've been totally unprofessional.
We actors know we're totally expendable, that there are a hundred others waiting to step into our empty shoes - but that is no excuse for not behaving professionally when checking availability or making job offers.
Who knows, next time you want me to work with you, with a bit of luck and a following wind, I might just not be available.
A jobbing actor!
My opinions are mine and my views are my own!