Q&A with Drumline Audiobook Narrator
How did you wind up narrating audiobooks?
When I was in my last semester at my acting conservatory, an Audible producer came along with a veteran narrator and did a workshop and talked about the differences between types of narration (audiobook vs commercial vs animation) and we did practice runs while they gave us feedback. I volunteered as much as I could while they were there and when it was over I got his card and asked to audition in the future. I got in touch with him and was given some sides to record and a background profile to fill out. Within 2 or 3 weeks, I had my first business nonfiction title to narrate. It was a great learning experience to start with because there weren’t multiple characters, it was just straight narration to start with. And it felt so natural and I loved it.
2. Does a background in theater help?
I don’t think it’s essential, although I personally have that background and it helps you train your voice – from when you had to perform 8x a week out loud without a microphone and still make it sound natural. It’s an incredible gift to have that training and it helps, but voice classes are another way people can get into this. And practice, practice, practice. You need to have the tools to honor the author’s vision, whether it’s an audiobook for an author or theater for a playwright.
3. What is your training?
I did a 3 year dramatic arts conservatory in NYC and every single year I had classes on voice and speech, acting a song, the language project where you utilize everything you’ve learned to perform using only your vocals, a poetry project, then Shakespeare and full plays. I’ve done theater, TV, film, and audiobooks since then.
4. Why did I audition for this title as a narrator? How do you avoid burnout?
I mix it up. I’ve gotten lucky to have gotten a lot of romance novels, but they can get repetitive regarding the general formula, so when I’m presented with a chance to do something really different, like this one with a band and a fun accent, it’s challenging and great training and it’s great because then I have a new skill and with this – I learned a lot about this world of band and desire and romance and the internal conflicts that go on. It’s interesting to see those things articulated brilliantly in print. I look for constant creative stimulation, and this project looked different and it was.
5. How closely do you like to work with authors?
I like to work very closely, it’s their baby and they put so much work into writing and publishing and they’re gracious enough to trust me to give voices to these characters so I want to know as much as they’re willing to tell me, how they hear them, about their personalities and relationships with the other characters. Some authors give a lot of feedback, some say it’s up to me. I reach out to the author and/or the co-narrator to make sure we’re all on the same page. Then I either go into the studio or do it at my home studio.
6. How did you decide how each character should sound?
In Drumline, in talking with the author and Tracy and then just reading the book, I started to get a picture of the character and their traits, and I start to speak in his voice and then add the accent which adds a certain attitude to it. Like in Drumline, he started out gruff and there’s an evolution and a journey, so then I got softer, or during the intimate scenes your voice obviously changes. You just let the character inform you how he sounds.
7. Have there been any characters you really connected with?
In every book I’ve narrated, I feel like there has to be – just like in acting, and I don’t necessarily distinguish between the two. In either case you’re telling the story and you have to find some common ground to connect to. With every character, I try as best I can to see where they’re coming from—to see their objectives and their motivations.
8. Who are your dream authors?
Oh, Stacy Kestwick. It begins and ends with her. But in addition to her, I really, really love Jules Verne, HG Wells, Roald Dahl, Chuck Palahniuk, Franz Kafka, JD Salinger. Twisted sci-fi stuff where imagination and risks are really taken and great three-dimensional characters. I’d also love to do a biography, American history, social issues – I’m always hungry for knowledge and to explore things intellectually.
9. What would you say to those who say listening to audiobooks is cheating or inferior to real reading?
Fuck. You... No. I understand that a little bit, I’m a used book fiend, the look and smell of the yellowing pages, and the tangible book in my hands, but I’ve listened to several other audiobooks that I’ve loved and I think it’s the same as watching a movie or a TV show, it’s just a different medium and you’re translating it into something else and it might be better or worse. It’s a very individual thing. Like the whole book vs. movie debate. Yes, you’re reading it verbatim, but maybe the narrator makes it come alive in a new way that you didn’t get just from reading the book in your own head.
10. What’s next for you?
As far as audiobooks go, I’m recording Blood Slave by Izzy Shows, book 2 in the Ruled by Blood series. She’s Anne Rice with armor on, very powerful female driven characters and stories. It’s a very star-crossed lovers type of story. Then after that is Marriage of Inconvenience by Penny Reid where I get to do a South Boston accent, which I’m really excited about. Can’t wait to get started on that one.
11. Any funny anecdotes from inside the recording studio?
Yes. It’s hard to pin just one, I think when you deal for the most part with romance novels and you’re narrating a lot of scenes of physical intimacy, some more graphic than others, I think it makes it a lot of fun and I have had to stop to either shake my head or laugh or go call my mother and tell her to never listen to this book, because of the euphemisms of the different sexual acts and how creative authors can be in those scenes. To read the male perspective written by a woman is very, very interesting, especially when it comes to sex. To see, wow, this is how women think men think and sometimes it’s spot on and other times it’s just really… funny, and educational in itself.
Q&A with Drumline Audiobook Narrator
How did you wind up narrating audiobooks? Was it always your goal or was it something you stumbled into by chance?
I didn't always want to be a narrator, but once I found narration I knew that I'd pretty much found my dream job! I have a pretty extensive background in theatre -- I did my first play when I was twelve and never stopped. I studied theatre in my undergrad, and even went back to get my MFA in acting. It was after grad school that I was having drinks with a friend of mine who lived in New York, and she told me that she'd been doing audiobook narration at Audible Studios. We talked about it for a bit, and that night I went home with a new goal -- to become an audiobook narrator. That was 4 years ago, and almost two years ago I went full-time with narration.
It truly is the most amazing job in the world, or I guess more importantly, the perfect fit for me! I don't mind spending hours a day in a little tiny box talking to myself. :) And even though I have a theatre background, I've always found myself drawn to little tiny 20 seat theatres or on-camera work, because I like intimate storytelling. Well, nothing is more intimate than telling a story directly into someone's ear!
2. A lot of narrators seem to have a background in theatre. Is that something you think is essential to a successful narration career?
It probably isn't essential (there's always someone out there that's the exception to the rule!) but I think it helps so much. I've spent years as a theatre actor developing and deepening my understanding of story arc, character development, subtext, action/objective, voice and vocal health, accents and dialects, and on and on. And every single one of those skills has helped me as a narrator. There are a lot of skills that are specific to narration -- acting your heart out without moving around too much so the mic doesn't pick up a bunch of rustling noises, for one! -- but a lot of what I learned as a theatre actor translates directly over to narration. Telling a good story is an art, and the best narrators i know keep pushing themselves to be better, and they stay curious and excited about the craft of narration!
3. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of narrating an audiobook?
Oooh this is a tough one to answer! I'll do a list of favorite and then least favorite parts.
The prep -- reading a book and knowing I'm going to narrate it, my mind starts working overtime with ideas for character voices, making note of character arcs, tracking how the story unfolds. At that stage, the narration exists in pure potential, and I love that!
Getting to play all the characters -- onstage or on screen, actors are limited somewhat by 'type.' But in audio, I get to play eeeeverybody! It's a huge acting challenge, and one I love.
Working from home -- some people would probably go insane working from home, but it works for me! My puppy is my home office mascot, and he spends the day with me, waking up from naps when I take breaks from the booth.
My "co-workers" -- the narrator and author communities are both full of some of the best, funniest, most kind-hearted and generous people in the world. Not to mention the listeners, who amaze me with their passion for audio and support of the authors and narrators they love!
Least favorite parts:
4. What about this title compelled you to audition as narrator?
I had read other books by Stacy Kestwick previously, and absolutely adore her writing! So when she told me she had a new book coming out soon called Drumline and wanted me to narrate, I said "Yes, absolutely!" before I even read the book. And I'm so glad I did. Drumline is this magical combination of so many things I love -- it's funny, it's super hot, it's got so much heart, and all the characters seem like they're people you know in real life. I always get emotionally invested in whatever book I'm currently narrating, but I know it was a really special one when the characters stick in my brain and my heart long after I've left the booth. That was definitely the case with Drumline.
5. How closely do you prefer to work with authors?
This is probably my theatre background showing, but I really like collaborating with authors (and my co-narrator if it's a dual POV book!). There will always be a bit of a leap of faith on the author's part, because at the end of the day it's just me alone in a booth bringing their baby to life in audio. But I spend a lot of time in my prep talking with the author, asking them questions about the characters, accents, name pronunciations, etc. I do everything I can to make sure I'm as tuned in as possible to their vision for the book before I start narrating.
6. Who are your “accent inspirations”?
I don't think I have accent inspirations, exactly... but I do work with a dialect coach whenever I have an accent that's new to me pop up in a book. Then I spend weeks and weeks talking to my boyfriend in whatever the accent is, until I feel like I've got it settled into my body. In a play, I'd work with a coach, and then learn my lines in the accent, and fine-tune the accent throughout rehearsals. But in a book, I have to know the accent well enough to read in dialect right off the page. So it takes a lot of work to prepare!
One thing I do have, instead of accent inspirations, is touchstone phrases that help me plug into an accent quickly -- something that I can always say with that accent. For Scottish, my phrase is "I don't know!" For Russian, it's, "Stir the oatmeal." For Irish, it's, "What're you talking about?"
7. If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
Um, yes!! I would go to the future. I have an extremely bad habit of skipping to the ends of books first, and my choice probably stems from that. I just want to see how it all turns out! :) Plus, I tend to stress out about little stuff sometimes, and if I was able to jump forward into the very distant future I think it would help me keep perspective that very few of my day-to-day worries are actually worth the weight I give them.
8. Do you read reviews for your audiobooks?
Yes. Sometimes I have to gird myself first, but I do. I think it matters what listeners think! Not that I'm going to please everyone all the time, but if there are a lot of comments that seem to have a common theme, I'll take that seriously as I continue to grow and improve as a narrator.
9. If so, which ones stand out to you most, positive or negative?
The negative, which kinda sucks, and I'm trying to change that. I've always been kind of bad at taking compliments, so when I get good reviews I don't quite know how to absorb them into my brain -- whereas the negative ones lodge right in there, set up camp, and stick around for a while, lol!
10. What’s next for you?
I have a lot of really exciting stuff on the horizon for 2018! I'll be working with Lauren Landish, Sosie Frost, and LA Fiore in January, and I'm also under final consideration for a play that would start rehearsals in the new year. That's really exciting, because I've cut back on theatre work as narration has started to keep me busier and busier. But in my ideal world, I'd do a play or two a year alongside my narration work. I think narration has made me a better actor, and continuing to do theatre and be challenged by other actors will make me a better narrator.