I am so excited to bring you Going Public...In Shorts for Audiobook Month. Audiobooks are one of my favorite ways to squeeze in some extra reading, and I have a particular affinity for narrators. Which is why I was just tickled when Xe Sands asked me to be a a part of this boldly ambitious project.
Details of the project:
June is Audiobook month (JIAM 2013). The audiobook community is giving back by teaming with the Going Public Project by offering a serialized audio story collection. All proceeds will go to Reach Out and Read literacy advocacy organization. Throughout June, 1-2 stories will be released each day on the Going Public blog and on author/book blogs. The story will be free (online only – no downloads) for one week. In collaboration with Blackstone Audio, all the stories will be available for download via Downpour. The full compilation will be ready June 30th.
The full schedule of the story release dates and narrators are at Going Public. Engineering and Mastering are provided by Jeffrey Kafer and SpringBrook Audio. Graphic design provided by f power design and published by Blackstone Audio. Project coordination and executive production by Xe Sands.
Today I have Kyle Munley, who has graciously done an interview on the ins and outs of audiobook production.
Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce
Kyle Munley is an audiobook narrator and voiceover artist currently recording and residing in the
foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Greenville, SC.
What do you do to prepare before narrating an audiobook. Do you read the book? Speak with the author?
No matter if it's a work of fiction or nonfiction, I always read the book before I begin to narrate. I'm not sure I could be effective otherwise. As a storyteller I have responsibilities to both the author(s) and the audience when I sit down to narrate. To the author, among other things, I have to ensure that I do my very best to bring their story to the audience as they intended it to be presented and to do that, I have to know how the story ends and map the roads and avenues that it took to get to that ending. To sum up one of my past audiobook coaches: In a whodunit, you need to know who done it. The audience should be surprised by the revelation at the end, the narrator should not. And that's true, you have to know where the twists and turns and hints and deadens are in advance (or, at least, I do) so that you don't accidentally mislead the audience (and yourself) by misplaying the text.
Also, pre-reading gives you an opportunity to assess the character traits of all the characters, like their backgrounds, accents, and vocal characteristics. You'd be surprised how often a character appears on page 5, but the quality of their voice isn't described until page 205. And I think it's written in Murphy's Law somewhere that that character to whom you've bestowed a deep, rich timbre on page 5 will be revealed to have a thin, reedy, high-pitched lilt on page 205.
And finally, pre-reading gives you the benefit of researching pronunciations of all manner of things, from foreign languages to place names to regional pronunciations and colloquialisms.
I haven't yet had the opportunity to work directly with an author of one of my titles, but I'd welcome the chance to collaborate.
Audio is theater without the visual. What techniques do you use to engage the listener and ensure you keep their attention?
I've been an audiobook listener for nearly my entire life—I grew up listening to children's stories on vinyl and I had to sit very still when I listened so that the needle wouldn't jump—and I know what I like as a listener, so I try to bring some of that in to the books that I narrate. I want to be emotionally invested in the scene, so if it feels right to use a softer voice, then I'll narrate softer, if a character is surprised, then I'll add just a touch more energy to the narration to reflect what they're feeling internally. But I have to be careful not to overdo it. And I'm here to tell you, I have on occasion, in the confines of my booth and away from the outside world, overdone it and have then had to go back and re-take the scene with "a little less mustard," so to speak. I just don't want to be disconnected.
Also, I want my characters (oops, I mean, the author's characters. See, I'm internalizing them already!) to sound like real people when they speak. That doesn't mean individual character voices for them all (my tendency is to individualize the main and semi-main characters), but, like the above, I want the right amount of emotion to be present when they speak.
In fact, most of my time prepping a book is spent in trying to get the characters set. I'm terrified of screwing up the characters: their accents, inflections, motivations…everything! I honestly believe that, at least for books with enough dialogue, the characters are the key to the whole performance. Get the characters right, and you stand a good chance at keeping your audience along for the ride; but get them wrong and you're likely to pull the audience out of the story…and that's the kiss of death.
How long does an audiobook narration take? (Average being 7-9 hour narration) How often do you have to take breaks?
Generally speaking, I average about two hours for every hour of finished audio. But it can vary greatly depending on the book that I'm doing. For instance, I narrated a book concerning the beach landings on and around D-Day during World War II and, despite all the research that was done on that title prior to my recording it, it was a slow book to record because I often had to slow down or stop to double-check place names and pronunciations. It took a little longer, but the end result was, I hope, better for it. However, some of the pulp novels that I've been able to narrate—and which are a lot of fun, by the way—probably shave my time down to 1.5 hours for every finished hour of audio.
As to breaks, I do take one for lunch and I try to stop for quick 5-minute water-and-stretching breaks here and there (and as my mouth and throat require it) a few times throughout the day as well. But I really prefer to stay seated and recording for as long as possible. I always end up getting so wrapped up in the story I'm telling, that I lose track of time.
When you're creating character voices, is it a conscious effort or do you just vocalize what they sound like in your head?
It's a conscious effort for me. I often fill out character worksheets on main characters (for fiction, any way) to get a sense of who they are. I think it's the activity of writing stuff down that slows my brain a bit and focuses me at the beginning of the process. Then I can blend those "hard facts" about them with the emotional truths I find during my first read-through of the book and marry the two together to (hopefully) bring that character to life.
Does any of that work? That's ultimately up to the reader to decide, but I always hope that I'm doing good by those characters (and by proxy, the listener. It's always for you, dear listener.).
Check out Kyle's wonderful narration of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce below or at the Going Public blog!
Also, don't forget to visit The Oddiophile's blog today for Xe Sands' narration of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman.
Yesterday, Amy Rubinate was at Miss Susie’s Reading & Observations and tomorrow, John McLain will be at Narrator Reviews.