Some people go to fantasy sports camps where they learn from their favorite All Star players. Last week, I did something similar….except the members of my fantasy All Star team are all award-winning audiobook narrators!
On 26 May 2015, the day before the annual Audio Publishers Association Conference, veteran narrator Johnny Heller hosted a Narrator Workshop in NYC. In addition to Johnny, the All Star presenters were Scott Brick, Simon Vance, Karen White, Jeffrey Kafer, Robert Fass, PJ Ochlan, Carol Monda, and Peter Berkrot. The NY Mets and Yankees could only dream about fielding 9 such talented people at the same time!
Each presenter first shared some thoughts about their work in audiobooks. We then heard terrific discussions on these topics:
- Web sites and social media (panel with Scott Brick, Jeffrey Kafer, and Karen White)
- ACX (Mike Stover from ACX and Jeffrey Kafer)
- Accents and dialects (PJ Ochlan)
- Romance (perfectly planned topic following lunch! panel with Karen White, Carol Monda, and Jeffrey Kafer)
- Non-ficion (panel with Robert Fass, Simon Vance, Scott Brick, and Peter Berkrot)
- Young adult (Carol Monda and Peter Berkrot)
The day ended with a number of personal coaching sessions observed by the entire audience.
I couldn’t possibly do justice to the entire event in this post. Also, in all honesty, I felt that the presenters shared some things that were intended only for the people who were in the room. In fact, Jeffrey Kafer said one particular thing that made the cost of my trip worthwhile. It wouldn’t be fair or right to repeat everything I heard that day. Instead, I will offer 10 of my takeaways from the workshop.
1) From Scott Brick: “In every line of text that I read, I’m looking for the teachable moment. The teachable moment is when you can reach the one who is disconnected, the one who isn’t paying attention. There’s going to be somebody in the audience who doesn’t care about audiobooks. They’ve never heard one, and they think it’s weird that someone is reading them a story. There will come a moment, somewhere in the text, where you’re going to be able to reach them. For somebody, it’s going to be their very first listen. Unless you do the very best job you possibly can…they may not come back for a second listen. ” Scott doesn’t pay attention to the genre as it tells him nothing. He approaches fiction and non-fiction the same way.
2) From Robert Fass: “You’re there to serve the text. Being aware of the difference between serving yourself or something in your spirit other than the text is something that needs to be cultivated. Cultivate your intelligence because you don’t know what kind of book you’re going to get. Every character in even the worst book has to have a full life. Go to museums. Read outside of your assigned book. Do something totally different to expose yourself to different facets [of life]. When you get in there, you’ll say you know what this is about.”
3) From Carol Monda: “I’ve been taught that good is the enemy of great. I could spend 15 hours doing an hour of recorded time! I’ve learned you can’t; you have to let it go. If you are mindful, if you are in the moment, if you are connected — that’s the most you can do. [You can make characters more interesting sounding and other technical improvements.] Ultimately, is your gut in it? Your heart in it? Are you earnest about it? That’s the work.”
4) From Scott Brick: Every successful actor creates work for themselves. Have something that you can sell through your web site, and use affiliate links.
5) From PJ Ochlan: When doing accents and dialects, phonetics only make up 50% of the language. Placement is everything. Practice mimicry and notice how your vocal placement moves.
6) From Peter Berkrot: “The inexplicable moment of truth and beauty comes from spontaneity…Sometimes the material isn’t good and you have to find a way to enter that imaginary world and bring it to life….There’s a legacy. The gifts that you receive come through the gifts you give.”
7) From Karen White: If you don’t take romance seriously, don’t do it. Let go of the judgment. To play the opposite gender, some adjective can describe the character. Think of that adjective when that character speaks.
8) From Simon Vance: Check in with yourself before you start to see how you are feeling. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and let it go because you have to be with the book when you start recording.
9) From Michael Stover: ACX has published over 35,000 audiobooks, and around 1000 auditions are uploaded every week. Audible is showing 30% growth each year and now has about 700 employees.
10) From Johnny Heller: You need to see who you’re talking to in order to pull out the emotion. We can’t speak through a horrible moment. We must live it.
The Johnny Heller All Star Narrator Workshop was a grand slam! I extend my deep gratitude to Johnny for organizing the event (complete with a wonderful catered lunch), the fabulous presenters who were simultaneously entertaining and informative, the narrators with me in the audience who asked such useful and interesting questions, and the narrators who courageously had a coaching session in front of their peers.
If Johnny or someone else organizes a similar event next year in Chicago, I hope to be there!
Do you have any questions or comments about my takeaways from the workshop? Please leave a response on my blog.
Photos: Sincere thanks go to Graeme Spicer, voice talent and managing director of Edge Studios, for graciously sharing his fantastic pictures taken throughout the workshop.