Continuing with my Audio Book journey, I asked my narrators to answer some questions. They’ve done this more than I have, and I thought it would be interesting to see things from their points of view. Kelley Hazen, who will be narrating my Pine Hills Police series, works with her husband, Bruce, to record and produce audio books. Pamela Almand, who’s going to narrate What’s in a Name? is a former international airline captain, works solo. Both have professional recording studios. This is going to take a few posts. Let’s get started.
What do you look for when choosing a book to audition for?
PA: I have to have a book I personally enjoy! I resonated with all the characters in What’s In A Name as I have with all the Terry Odell books I’ve read, starting with the Pine Hills Police series.
KH: We start with money. We have to on some level be paid for our work up front. And we have to like the book. For us, this is an artistic endeavor; this is storytelling, an intuitive interpretation of someone else’s hard work. If we are not feeling it, then it wouldn’t be right to do it. We read the description and audition material. If the writing is awkward or there’s any material we would rather not support, we leave the book behind at that point. If we like what we see, we record an audition. When I read a piece of audition material and I can ‘hear it’, I can hear myself doing it, I know just how I’d read that character or the tone of the narration, the pacing, then I know it’s a book for us.
How long does it take to narrate a book?
PA: You figure about 6 or more hours of work for every finished hour of audio if you’re producing the whole gig. This includes not only “reading” the book, but researching names, places, and pronunciations, editing and mastering the finished audio files, and for me, a final listen to the entire book to proof it.
KH: Research takes about a week prior to the reading – getting to know the material, exploring voices and background and settings, looking up foreign words, learning foreign languages and customs. Exploring marketing possibilities. When we work on stipend books we try to push the book as much as we possibly can. And we like to do that in a way that is unique and specific to each book. We used to think we could do 2 books a month. But then we realized we were eating and sleeping just audiobooks and the dogs hated us. Three weeks is not uncomfortable. But because we have to do other projects along with, that can even be tight.
How much time a day can you spend “talking”?
PA: It varies for me. I do always try to break up the work day into both recording and editing. I have to have a certain energy level and it does wane after 4 or 5 hours of talking, despite what my husband would say!
KH: I can record for about 2 hours each session. Depending on the demands of the day we can fit in a morning, afternoon and evening session, 3 sessions a day when projects/work permit.
How do you prepare? Do you talk with the author about the characters and the tone of the book? Do you read the entire book first? Do you try to ‘get inside’ the characters when you’re narrating? How do you deal with any highly emotional scenes?
PA: I read the book first, always! You’ve been a great help, Terry, in telling me more of what drives your characters and that really helps. I also “practice” various styles and voices for each character until I have an idea what voice works and what voice I can carry throughout the book. Of course, as I mentioned, I also do a lot of research. As a voracious reader myself, I’m familiar with many more words than I’ve ever actually heard spoken, so I do sometimes have to verify pronunciation.
KH: I read the whole book — sometimes twice. I make a list of the characters as I go with little notes of who they are, gender, age, other details so when I’m finished I can see how far I have to stretch with vocal choices in order to create specific, recognizable and differentiate-able identities. Basically any vocal interpreter has 3 aspects they can create with – pitch, rate and volume. The mic makes volume shifts uniquely challenging, but it can be done. Then you can add dialects or speech effects but those have to be very carefully & specifically applied. We love to get our authors involved. It’s their work we are interpreting and we want them to enjoy hearing it come alive. So the more background they give us the more we can mold our images to what we get as theirs.
Writers have a delete key when they make a mistake. How do you deal with flubbed lines, or anything else that might be ‘off’ when you’re recording?
PA: We have the magic eraser of “control-x” in audio file editing just like you do in word processing. There is also an editing technique called “punch and roll” in most audio editing software (I use Adobe Audition) that allows you to record over a flubbed line and saves some time in editing. And some narrators actually use a little hand-held clicker to mark points in the audio file where they mess up a line or if they would like to go back and re-do a certain spot. The sound puts a distinct spike in the wave form so it is easy to identify spots that need re-working.
KH: We just do it again. It’s funny when you hit a section – a group of words – that are absolutely beautiful as a thought on the page but are an absolute bitch to say out loud. Alliteration is not necessarily the narrator’s friend. We have some great outtakes. There are little tricks – breaking up the phrase, taking a breath. Basically we just keep doing it until we get it.
That’s it for this time. Kelley and Pamela will be back with more another day.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society