“Even if you’re doing a work of nonfiction, talking about, say, the history of immigration at the turn of the 20th century, you still have to know how to best communicate the through-line of the author’s intent or the character’s thought.”
What is the most difficult thing about narrating and producing audiobooks in your own home studio?
I am by no means a self-production expert, or any kind of audio production expert for that matter. I know just enough to sound as close to professional industry standards as I can with my equipment, my recording space, my signal processing, and whatever storytelling and acting skill I may possess. I couldn’t audio engineer my way out of a wet paper bag in a big studio. Now, two years into a serious effort to make audiobook narration my profession, achieving the ultimate goal of making audiobooks that evoke a compelling and satisfying storytelling experience for the listener is the primary and never-ending challenge. It’s a long road, but for people like me whose brain works a certain way, it’s at the very least fun and interesting. At best it satisfies my need to create in a big way.
I was a Radio-TV major in the mid-seventies and then I got my masters degree in directing for the theatre. I also started acting in stage plays my junior year as an undergrad. So I have at least a conceptual reminiscence of audio production, acting, and directing. I grew up splicing magnetic tape, ripping and reading news copy from the wire, producing and hosting live and pre-recorded radio, and envisioning, guiding, and being guided in the creation of theatre, the kind with a live audience. Throw into the mix a more recent and much longer career managing projects and it feels like audiobooks might be a good fit. Right?
One of the most satisfying things about self-producing audiobooks at home is having total control over literally every aspect of the effort to create an orally delivered work of literature that fulfills the promise of the story as only the spoken word can. While at the same time, one of the most difficult things about self-producing audiobooks at home is having total control over literally every aspect of the effort to create an orally delivered work of literature that fulfills the promise of the story as only the spoken word can. I am producer, director, audio engineer, and talent. This is not as easy as it sounds.
What do my directing brain and my technical brain do while I’m in front of the microphone attempting to reach my full potential as a storyteller? Do these two brains monitor the performance in real time, guiding and shaping theatre of the mind on a separate track as my storytelling brain delivers the best story it knows how? Or do the director and technician somehow take a break or at least objectively observe and simply wait for the storyteller to finish? So far, I’ve found the more aware I am of the director and technician in me while I’m speaking into the mic, the worse the performance. For me, this is the most difficult aspect at the moment.
When I go back and listen to my first audiobook, I am truly embarrassed. I have to think of that production and narration as my audiobook boot camp. In truth, I very nearly bit off more than I could chew as I reacquainted myself to mic technique and taught myself waveform editing, signal processing, and mastering on the job and on current technology platforms. The narration alone was a significant challenge with over fifteen characters, including teenage boys and girls, as well as four languages in addition to English, and three distinct European accents. What was I thinking? Add in my beginner level and slowly developing processing and mastering skills and the experience of completing my first audiobook nearly killed me. Well, not really, but it was very, very difficult. However, I learned a lot. As a result, my next project was a bit easier, as each successive one has been since.
At the same time, I become increasingly more aware that I still have more work to do to meet my own standards. I know I get better with each book, but I do have high standards where listening to someone tell a story for ten or twelve hours is concerned. So, I will continue to have more work to do as the most difficult thing about self-producing at home changes over time. And that’s a good thing. It means I’m making progress.
Who doesn’t love Ira Glass? No hands raised. In this five-minute video, he absolutely nails the struggle of the artist, in my opinion; the gap between vision and creation. That seemingly insurmountable thing, whatever it is, that keeps an artist from achieving a work that actually expresses what they intended in all its nuance and effect, a work that resonates with those who experience it and satisfies and fulfills itself. What makes an artist continue for years striving to close the gap? I believe Ira’s answer is pretty clear. Love.
Many thanks to Karen Commins for surfacing this video.
Happy Birthday, ACX. Can’t wait for the next chapter.
I’m an old radio guy and also an actor like many narrators. I cut my teeth editing magnetic tape. But I left performing and media many years ago when my daughter was born. Now, after 3 decades away from the microphone, I’m acting again and narrating audiobooks. ACX made it all possible. I had to relearn everything about production in general as well as all the new tools as I built my home studio and my learning platform was ACX. My 6th audiobook was just released this week and is doing well. Thank you, ACX, for all the knowledge, resources, opportunities, and assistance. Your help desk is awesome too. Happy birthday from a happy camper.
Way back in 2011, Audible launched ACX with a threefold vision: to help Rights Holders get their books into audio; to provide work for talented audiobook Producers; and to get more audiobooks into the ears of Audible’s listeners. Here in 2016, we’re thrilled to celebrate five fantastic years of fulfilling those promises made possible by you, the authors, actors, studios, and publishers that have created over 60,000 audiobooks through ACX.
Watch as ACX team members, past and present, take a trip down memory lane. Then head on over to ACX.com to see what we got ourselves for our birthday.
Share your favorite ACX stories in the comments below.
I’ve always played with accents and impersonations. They came naturally and quite frankly, they made me crack myself up. Not a lot of accents, but a few. Some fit my mouth quite nicely; the Middle Eastern sound was not one of them. But I’m in the ballpark.
One of the fun/challenging aspects of Omari and the People was that, in addition to the characters, the narrator also sounds Middle Eastern- ish, which makes him a character too in a sense. Something different from that normative sort of inside-your-head type voice. I like the added dimension and how it seems to enhance the storytelling somehow and make you wonder who he is. He’s the tribal historian. Like that wonderful Aussie narrator in the movie Road Warrior. I can never escape that image of the unseen storyteller doing “the tell” around the big tribal fire somewhere lost in the desert. I love romantic fantasy.
If you’re a listener, I’d be interested in hearing about what you need from the narrative voice.