Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Audiobooks - A Narrator's Job ( Part One)

When I tell people that I'm an Audiobook Narrator, I often get the response, 'Oh, so you just read books then?'.  There's just a teensy bit more to it than that!

I thought I'd share with you the steps I take in producing an Audiobook, beginning with the all important Preparation.

My prep work begins with downloading the manuscript onto iAnnotate on my iPad, whilst I make a cup of tea (I'm British through and through). iAnnotate is a fantastic App that enables you to read, mark up and add comments to PDF's and other Word documents. It even has the function to record your own voice, and leave the recording over a particular word for you to listen to later on. It has streamlined my prep processes, and leaves everything in one place. I haven't worked off a paper  copy of an actual book in a long time. Utilizing my iPad means that when I come to record, there are no pages to turn, and if you are careful, little sound from scrolling the page.

Before I get stuck in reading the book, I'll try to find out as much as I can about the Author, and any other books in the series if they exist. This gives me an insight into their common readerships, which may inform my interpretation of the book. I'll most often reach out to the Rights Holder or Author to find out if there are any preferences for pronunciation, and to build a rapport (which really helps when it comes to marketing and promotion).

Then I get settled comfortably, and begin to read. As I read, I mark up any words I am unfamiliar with, and I can access a dictionary, thesaurus and even a sound file of pronunciation, right from iAnnotate (although these are not 100% accurate). I then check for further info on, and If I'm working on a US title, I use, and if I am working on a British book, I use the Oxford English Dictionary online. More info about these can be found in my guest blog for Voiceover Herald.

I'll mark up my findings on the iAnnotate file, usually by spelling them out phonetically, and leaving a comment about where I heard the word said. Occasionally with place names, I have to do a real dig around on Google, and YouTube to find exactly what you need. I have been known to call a local tourist office for advice on how to correctly say a town or little known village in some far off place in the world.

I keep beside me an A4 pad, where I list every character that I come across, and any characteristic
details I can find about them throughout the story. I can't stress enough how important it is to read the whole book. In one of the first books I ever worked on, the author revealed in the final chapter, that one of three female first person narrators in the book had a 'light Russian accent!'  I get all the characters down in my list, and when I have pieced together all the clues left by the writer, I then look at who appears when and with whom throughout the story. I try to work out which accents or speech rhythms or intonations would suit who, and how to balance these out so that they are all distinct. In many ways it is like creating a score of music - what sits where and when. I give a lot of consideration to where the 'narrator' of the book will sit in my vocal range, to try to ensure that it is fairly close to my usual speaking voice, as this is the voice that will be with me for many hours in the booth, and I want to ensure I minimise any potential vocal strain.

Sometimes it is necessary to employ a researcher if I am short on prep time, or if the book contains technical, medical or religious jargon that I am unfamiliar with. I will get them to do all the leg work on finding out about place names and pronunciations, and add them to the file for me. I will always do the character work though.

Once I'm done reading the whole book, I give myself time to think and absorb the story and characters before I dive in, if my schedule allows. Often I'll prep a book in the evenings, whilst I am focusing on recording another during the day. I think about what the author is trying to say, and to whom. I give thought to the sub text of the conversations, and on how to create the emotional mood of the story from one scene or chapter to the next.

Once I've completed my read, I sometimes need to reconnect with the Rights Holder or Author to check in with any queries I have. I have been known to have Skype sessions when jargon or names have been particularly unusual. Once or twice I have asked them to record themselves saying the names, so that I have something concrete to remind me when I begin in the booth.

In an ideal world, I would have time for a second read, but being booked out so much already this year, I am going to have to make sure I am extra through first time round.

Before I begin the whole book I might have a play around with recording some of the character voice ideas, and saving the files for reference. This can be particularly useful if I narrate a book which later becomes a series- I can return quickly and easily to the character audio file and delve straight back in to how they sounded in Book One.

And then I'm ready to get recording.

I'll post more on the Narrator's Job in (Part Two)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Performing Monkeys: Say No to Peanuts

In the past week alone, I have turned down several clients. This is not always an easy thing to do, (and especially not as we approach Christmas) but sometimes it is most definitely the right one. I am a firm believer in knowing your worth, and in researching the prospective clients. If you are sure they could pay a reasonable rate, based on the size of their company and the usage of the audio content they are expecting you to produce for them, then why accept peanuts?

For those starting out in Voice over work, it can be hard to have a concept about 'knowing your worth'. After all, it is pretty exciting that somebody wants you! Somebody has chosen your dulcet tones to represent their brand or product or company. The prospect of building your list of clients is an exciting one. However, what happens to the industry over time if many VO's continue to accept a low-to-miniscule rate of pay for the bigger jobs like the TV commercial spots? What happens is that there is an expectation that we will all accept those rates and they become the norm. And eventually the upshot of that is that many of us will not be able to afford to be in business as full time professional VO's, we won't be able to support our voice careers, and most importantly we won't have the funds to provide for our families.

I know my worth. I have invested time working out how much I must earn to reach my targets. I have evaluated the cost of all my equipment, my expertise, my knowledge and my skill. And I have worked out for how that translates into my fees, for corporates, television, radio, elearning, IVR and phone lines. I have my rates to hand per project, per minute, per word,  per hour and per session. I have a solid understanding of what I charge extra for and what I don't. For example- is there a fee for live direction via Skype, ipDTL, ISDN? Is there a localisation fee if I am expected to make the poorly translated script flow in 'proper' English? Am I expected to export to many separate files? What are the circumstances under which I provide free re-records? And when are they chargeable? Am I being asked to fit speech to visuals?  I keep my list on view prominently in my studio, and I keep a list in my handbag, so that where ever I am I can access this vital info in a jiffy, without missing a beat if a client requests an approximate quote. I can do this with confidence now because I know my worth.

We, the Voiceover Artists, are not performing monkeys. To do what we do takes, skill, ability, timing and talent. And that deserves to be rewarded in a reasonable rate of pay. There is wiggle room, ofcourse, when I negotiate with a prospective client, I am running a business after all, but there are bottom lines.  I refuse any longer to jump for peanuts. I urge you to spend some hours investigating your own financial worth and translate this into a rate card. It'll be some of the most useful time you ever spend on your career.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Keeping up to date

For many months now I have known that I was in need of an update. Not just demos but headshots and all the promotional material. Website overhauls and all that palaver. The trouble is, I had so little time in my schedule to actually make it happen! So I took all of October to work on it, as I knew it was important to represent myself in a way that I am happy with online.

I had loved my commercial demo a few years ago which I recorded with the lovely Gary Terzza, and I had refreshed it from time to time with completed real audio when contracts and clients allowed. I had been so chuffed with my website and publicity headshots and branding about four years ago when they were done. But times change, and so has my style, both vocally and visually. For a long while I knew that the image I was 'putting out there' no longer fit like a glove.  Also my focus has changed. I have established myself as not only a British female Voice over, but also as an Audiobook Narrator, and I have returned to my acting roots when time allows. So it certainly was high time I sorted my demo's out.

One of the things that held me back in terms of updating my reels was deciding whom I should ask to produce my reel. It is a very different beast creating new material once you have established yourself as a busy VO, to the experience of being a newbie entering a studio for the first time to have a stab in the dark at being behind the mic, or even refreshing after a few years in the game. And I decided that I wanted to go with someone that I hadn't worked with before who could give a fresh approach to how my voice can sound.

Time and again I had heard recommendations for JP at The Showreel from not only Voices but producers, so I decided to give him a go! The waiting list procedure itself speaks volumes about his credibility. He managed to squeeze me in to a cancellation slot thankfully.

I had a fantastic few hours in JP's new studio in Soho. He  really knows his stuff, and worked uber efficiently yet pickily (is that a word?) on getting the content of my reel to his high standard.

You can hear the fruits of our labours here:

When was the last time you created a new demo? Make sure you aren't letting the team down by sounding rusty (after all as a VO you are pretty much a team of one right?!). Styles and preferences change with time, and thought they might be subtle, it's important you try and stay on top of them. So go on, go and get it refreshed. It's given me a whole new lease of life!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Speaking with Respect for the Writer

I've been thinking a lot about words. Not just the ones I speak into the microphone, but you know, the ones actually written on paper (or more often that not on the screen these days.) My summer was bonkers-ly busy with narration, holidays and time spent with my three kids. In addition, the results of a long labour of theatre-love came to fruition, when I performed in production of Paper Dolls that  I co-devised and co-wrote at Camden Fringe Festival this year and gained FIVE STAR reviews!

Scriptwriting, together with my ongoing blog, made me stop and think about all those Voice scripts that land in my inbox for me to put a voice too. Often I am so focused on getting the words right in terms of production (finding the nuances, rhythm, clarity, pitch, pace, intonation and characterisation), that I forget to pay homage to the person who wrote the words in the first place.

Every script is someone's creation. Every script, from an epic novel to a Radio Commercial to  even those less-exciting telephone system Voicemail recordings,  has come into being through a writer. And every writer has considered for whom they are writing, and perhaps most importantly why.

So if the writer has thought about who they want to appeal to, it follows that as the Voice of the piece has to also. How often do you reel off a script without thinking about for the message is intended? Well, it's time to put a stop to that! What is the purpose behind the script you are reading? Suss that out first and foremost and your work will improve dramatically. The purpose and intention of the script is so fundamental to every recording, and indeed every audition demo, that you can't afford to overlook it.

Likewise, the writer will have used specific words, phrasing and even grammar for a reason. And if they wrote it, don't be tempted to suggest you know better (even if you do!). The client is always (well, mostly) right. If you are working in a studio or via ISDN with a client present, it is imperative that you do not offend or comment on the quality of the writing. It is somebody else's baby. If you absolutely must comment on the sense of a sentence, make sure you do so respectfully and sensitively, or you may find that you aren't asked back for a repeat performance. This can be tricky, especially when it is obvious that whoever wrote the piece may not have English as a first language, but with tact you can usually work out if it is appropriate or not to offer feedback.

No matter what the script, it is our job to flesh out what is on the page, exactly as it is.  So bite your tongue, until you need to speak the text!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Putting a Face to the Voice

Working in Voice is generally a solitary experience, working away inside a booth. Having just returned from an excellent networking opportunity at the Audio Publishers Association conference in New York, which gave me incredible opportunities to speak to and connect with the major players in the Audiobook industry, I am full of the joys of networking. And believe me, this is not something that I find easy. But I did it. I attended an Voice conference and Audies Awards Gala on my tod, and I am reaping the benefits aplenty from putting myself outside my comfort zone. So I thought I'd share with you other opportunities for Voice Actors to mix and mingle, to learn, connect, share and grow.
This Friday, June 20th 2014,  I shall be attending The VoiceOver Network's Summer Party in central
London organised by my pal and incredible VO lady, Rachael Naylor. This is the first big event for the network, which has been meeting monthly in London since late 2013. I think it looks set to be a great evening for networking with both my fellow VO's and with producers and agents. There may be a few tickets left, so why not join us? Email

I can also highly recommend VOX, the UK's Voice conference. Last year I was a proud sponsor of the event which provides a forum for debate on the current state of affairs in the UK Voice Industry, with Actor's Union Equity joining the discussion alongside top radio station directors. In addition talks regarding Radio commercials, Video Games and VO Equipment took place, entwined with many opportunities to meet other Voiceover Artists, established and new. The same team, led by fellow Voxy Lady, Posy Brewer are responsible for VOXMAS (which as yet has clashed with my birthday weekend, and so I haven't made it to this!) I look forward to hearing about the plans for VOX2015.

Sound Women is a great opportunity to network with other ladies working in sound and audio, although many work in a Radio presenting or producing capacity, there is something for everyone.  They run some fantastic training and mentoring schemes though, so keep an eye out for their excellent events.

In the US, there is more choice. There is the big one, VOICE 2014, held in Anaheim (actually at Disneyland!), and there is the popular, limited ticket Faffcon, held in Tuscan, Arizona. And I'm sure there are more, but I've run out of time, and my mind has gone blank! If I've missed any obvious ones, please link in the comments section below.

Go on, get out there and network. It is great to be able to put a face to a voice you have heard online, on TV and on the Radio.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Conference Conundrums

As I write this I am supposed to be packing my suitcase. I'm off to New York City  for a week of networking (and just a little partying too...). I'm attending APAC, the Audio Publishers Association's Conference which in on Wed 28th May. To be frank, the idea of 'networking' brings me out in a cold sweat, and sends me into a spin about what to wear. In my more rational moments, I look forward to networking with my peers as an opportunity to learn, grow and connect. I know that this is the perfect time in my Voice acting career for me to embark on a trip to the US, and to absorb the costs involved in that as a crucial business expense. I am a great believer that to win it, you've got to be in it.

I've been lucky enough to be selected for the Director Diagnostics which runs prior to the conference, which allows Narrators to be directed in a safe environment, to receive supportive critical feedback and to point out room for improvement. Increasingly in Audiobook production, and especially with the creation of the ACX system (Audible's Audiobook Creation Exchange), narrators (or Producers as they are termed by Audible) work independently in their own studios. Opportunities to learn and improve like this are vital, and as a relatively new Audiobook Narrator (albeit a very well established Voiceover Artist),  I am willing to be open to that process. The rest of the conference looks set to be full of interesting topics, including Home Studio Work Flow and Self-Promotion for Narrators. With both business and performance tracks to choose between, I'm hoping to take aware as much knowledge as I can fit into my teeny, tiny brain! I'm a huge fan of working on Children's and Young Adult Audio, so I'm planning to attend the session on that too.

What I am most looking forward to are the opportunities to interact in real live life (as opposed to Facebook!), with other narrators. The Pre-APAC Mixer is a perfect way to get started, if my flight gets in on time! Then, as an established narrator for Bee Audio in both their UK and US divisions, I've been invited along by our Casting Director for a pre-conference mingle, so I'll  be hopping across the city to be in two places at once. These sociable moments make all the difference in feeling at ease such a long way from home; or at least I'm hoping everyone is as friendly and open as they seem to be online!

I've been invited by Audible to attend their private Narrator Knowledge Exchange on Thursday 29th May (only a small amount of the conference attendees get the hoped-for email, so I was teensy bit pleased), and additionally, to audition for the studio themselves whilst I'm there.  I was the first to beta-test ACX for Audible just before it launched in the UK, so I shall be thrilled to meet the team I've been working with.

It doesn't stop there, oh no! Time to head home, put on my glad-rags and attend the Audie's. I've become very passionate about this industry in a short space of time. My specialist section is the Teens nominations, and whilst I can but dream at present about a future nomination in the category in years to come,  I have swotted up on the 2014 contenders, and I know who is my pick as winner of the Audie award. Fingers crossed for them. I shall no doubt be found afterwards at the alternative after party the Naudies..... (this runs at the same time as the Audies Gala, and is attended by narrators who chose not to fork out for the Gala but are still in town).

So this week, I have some editing to finish up, and a narration to complete. Oh, and some shoes and handbags to decide upon. Here's hoping my jet lag is mild!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Getting Out of the Booth

This post comes after a stint away from the Vocal Booth. I've been performing with a professional theatre company that specialises in immersive theatre, in a fabulous project which celebrates the role played by the Codebreakers at Bletchley Park in winning WW2. (Photo by Simon Raynor) Performing for up to six hours a day (of course with breaks) took its toll on me physically, mentally guessed it, vocally. However, it gave me a real opportunity to evaluate in the extreme how physicality can affect our voices. I think it brought home some lessons to me, which I am now taking back to the booth. And you're lucky, cos I'm sharing them with you.

As a performer, you need to warm up. If you don't stretch out and prepare yourself, not only can you hurt yourself, but you leave your performance work weaker and disconnected. Good vocal practice, both on stage and in front of the mic, requires effort, commitment and connection. It is highly unlikely that without taking time to complete a warm up routine that your voice will be at its best, and a good representation of you and your emotional being. It is also unlikely that your built-in equipment for enunciating properly will be ready to do its best work without some help - so utilise the muscles in your mouth, tongue and face that aide your consonants. Lesson number one: always warm up to the extent that you feel you need it. We are all different, so know your own voice and look after it.

And lesson number two: it is all about relationship. Whether you are on stage communicating to another character and/or actor or to the audience for that matter, or whether you are connecting with someone listening to a radio commercial in their car, or with an avid audiobook listener, it is all about how you communicate your material.  Think about the who, what, where and when in regards to the person or people, and your job is so much easier. The voice can be rich and varied, but it is the reason behind the communication that is interesting, not just how pretty you can sound. Consider who and what you are supposed to be communicating  in every Voiceover job, and you are streets ahead of the rest.

Lesson Number Three: GET OUT OF THE BOOTH! I love my Voice work, and it is a borderline obsession for me. However, at times it can be an isolating experience. There is so much value in making new performance connections outside of the studio, and a great way to put into context with the rest of the acting industry where our voice work sits. So go on, open the door & get out and about (it's spring out there and the sun is shining - well maybe not in the UK, but you get my point!)

And on that note, I'm going to finish up my backlog of Voice jobs that I'm still ploughing through since my return to recording. I'm going in the booth, and I could be some time.