My plane may have touched down in Atlanta, but I’m still flying high following my fantastic Sunday audiobook master class in Los Angeles with my incredible instructors Pat Fraley, Hillary Huber and Kimberly Breault. We had just the right mix of instruction and recording during our 8 hours together. The workshop was extremely well-organized, relaxed and loads of FUN!
The class actually started on 24 May, when Pat sent the participants an e-mail in which he outlined the top 8 categories for audiobooks. For each type of book, Pat indicated the skills (e.g., storytelling, dialogue with character separation, energy) necessary to be successful with that type of read. He also attached a 10-minute .mp3 to that message so that we could hear various styles of audiobook performance. He encouraged us to start thinking of our possibilities in the industry.
The following week, we received another e-mail from Pat with instructions about selecting excerpts for the demo that we would create during the workshop. We were to choose 4 pieces of copy tailored to our interests and talent with the knowledge that we would record 3 of them. He attached Hillary’s audiobook demo so we could listen to a finished product.Hillary’s demo was much shorter in length than I expected. I previously have had 2 separate demos for fiction and non-fiction audiobooks; each one ran longer than Hillary’s demo. I had prepared them based on information I had learned from audiobook publishers and producers at Audio Publisher Association (APA) conferences.
However, as Pat and Hillary discussed during our workshop, longer segments are no longer needed. The audiobook publishers and producers have developed such keen listening ears that they know within a few seconds whether your voice is right for their project. They also can keep your voice in mind for other things. As I have observed with other areas in voice-over, longer demos apparently are also now a thing of the past with the audiobook crowd.
I also appreciated Pat’s pre-workshop guidance about the choice in excerpts. Although I have facility with character voices, he specifically said to take a dialogue piece between only 2 characters. I found his other suggestions about copy selection very valuable because they forced me to examine the skills I wanted to highlight. Even with his advice about other selections, I couldn’t decide on 4 pieces of copy and ended up taking 5 excerpts.
When Sunday morning arrived, I left my lovely room at the wonderful Universal City Hilton and made my way by cab to the recording studio.
Nine other people joined me for the workshop, which was held at the super cool and spacious Buzzy’s Recording Studios on Melrose Avenue.
We initially gave our excerpts to Kimberly, who kindly made copies of all of them for the recording sessions. As we introduced ourselves, Kimberly, who also is a trained singer, carefully listened to our speaking voices and made notes about each person. While Pat and Hillary demonstrated and discussed the performance skills, preparation and research needed to record an audiobook, Kimberly selected the excerpts that each person would record that afternoon.
After lunch, we had the great fortune to have a Q&A session with Kathe Mazur, an established audiobook narrator who records bestsellers primarily with Books on Tape. She told us that audiobook narration is an intimate profession that starts with having an intimate knowledge and acceptance of yourself and your needs. ‘Treat yourself like a Stradivarius’, she said. She explained that she records for six hours a day. Therefore, producers depend on her to do whatever is necessary so the she is relaxed and can give her best performance.
I was interested to hear Kathe point out that audiobook narration can be a tremendous exercise in self-love. She related the instance of making character choice that you didn’t like or think was the best choice. ‘Don’t end a sentence and hate yourself for how you did it.’ Instead of being critical of her own performance, Kathe thinks positive thoughts such as ‘You made a choice that you didn’t like, but you just created a book with 30 characters that made someone in a car feel like they were read to.’
Kimberly returned our excerpts and told us which ones to read before we were divided into 3 groups for the afternoon demo recording sessions. This set-up was ideal for several reasons:
1. We were able to work in 3 different studios, using 3 different microphones. Each of our segments will naturally sound different.
2. We could listen and learn from our fellow classmates. Not only did we hear their styles and selections, but we could learn from the directors’ and fellow classmates’ comments to improve their performances. I was privileged to be in the group with three very talented folks ‘ Len Brenza, Joan Loven and Craig Powers (who prefers to be known only as Powers) ‘ and I can certainly imagine all of them reading commercial audiobooks in the near future.
3. Best of all, we had the opportunity to take direction from 3 directors. In my case, I could even tailor my copy for each director. I knew that I wanted Pat, Mr. Character Voice himself, to direct me on the story with character dialogue. Kimberly told me that she picked my segment about marketing because she wanted to hear it. During my introduction, I had explained why I brought a highly technical computer-related passage, and Kimberly had chosen it as my third selection. I was delighted that Hillary would direct me on that piece since Hillary and I have voices in the same pitch range. I felt she would be the perfect one to help me if my voice became gravely.
In between our recording sessions, we talked further about the business of audiobooks, especially about the process of obtaining work and bidding a job. I was very happy to have a workbook that contained all of this juicy information so that I wouldn’t need to busily scribble notes! The worksheet that outlines the costs for producing a book will be invaluable to me as I move forward in the audiobook industry.
Even paying travel costs from Atlanta to Los Angeles, this audiobook masterclass was worth every penny! I have been to APA meetings and job markets, studied Audiofile Magazine and taken numerous other actions to obtain work in audiobooks. I have produced 2 10-hour books for a small publisher from my studio, but getting firmly established in the industry has proven difficult. Pat’s class is the only one that ties everything together. I have looked through the workbook several times since I have been home and have found some very clever marketing tips liberally sprinkled through it like parmesan cheese on plate of heaping spaghetti. I already have done some research and have thought of a potential way to get my next helping in my audiobook career. Um, um, GOOD! 🙂
Many thanks to Pat, Hillary and Kimberly for creating such a spectacular event! Thanks also to Andy Morton, chief engineer at Buzzy’s, for all of your help during our recording sessions and to Len Brenza for the ride back to my hotel when the day was over.