– BY SCOTT THOMAS
An Avid Audiobook Listener
The Big Shift: Becoming an Audiobook Narrator
A Narrator’s Legacy
– BY SCOTT THOMAS
– BY SCOTT THOMAS
We’ve all seen them. We’ve heard them, too. The local radio, cable or tv commercial that would make a corpse cringe. Bad audio, poorly written, horribly read. Sometimes, they’re so bad, they are memorable – but for the wrong reasons! That’s why I’d like to discuss the importance of a professional narrator for your project.
There’s a reason you hire the pros, especially when it reflects on your business. You don’t want to seem like you’re cutting corners and sacrificing quality, right? Hiring a professional narrator is no exception.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had well-read, successful individuals (who are NOT voice artists) in my studio to record a script. Every now and then, I’d find someone who was a natural…but more times than not, they tended to sound like robots. Reading. From. A. Script.
It’s not as easy as it may seem. Truly. Now, if you have something like an acting background or experience in public speaking, that might give you a nice head start. However, speaking on stage as opposed to speaking into a studio mic, for instance – those are two different animals altogether. To be successful in the world of voice over, it takes practice, coaching, proper technique, professional-grade equipment, more coaching, more practice and lots of experience pulling it all together. That doesn’t even touch on the technical requirements of a professional-sounding recording.
Like most professions, there are a lot of rungs on the voice over ladder. Someone just starting out in a small town home studio is not going to command the same rates as the twenty year VO rock star who works in downtown Los Angeles. The comparison of the finished work is also likely to be quite different.
The project you’re working on deserves to have a professional touch. If any facet lacks in quality, the entire finished product is at risk of coming across as amateurish.
It’s true. And like most things in life, if you skimp and cut corners on something, someone is going to notice. So, Uncle Carl recording on his tape recorder at the kitchen table probably isn’t your best option.
Every now and then, you find a good bargain, though. I’d like to think that this is one of them. Business narration, explainer videos, commercials, audiobooks. You get a 20+ year VO veteran, at a small market price.
Check out my demos, ScottThomasVoiceovers.com/demos/ and if you like what you hear, shoot me a text or an email and let’s talk.
– BY SCOTT THOMAS
Have you ever run a marathon? To narrators and voice actors, audiobook narration IS the marathon of voice overs. On average, we’re talking around five hours of continuous recording every day – day after day, possibly week after week…and that’s just to complete one project.
Finish one, start another.
Audiobook narration is not for everyone. For one thing – narrating a book is definitely not a case of someone just going through the motions and spitting out words from a page.
In the history of the world, how important is storytelling to human beings? I mean, who doesn’t love a good story, well told?? I think I read somewhere that the earliest form of entertainment for us humans was sitting around in a group with someone telling tales of hunting and gathering and barely escaping saber toothed tigers and what not. Ya’ know…storytelling!
Obviously, audiobook narration is storytelling, but more specifically, it’s reading the words on a page.
Know the words, tell the story…
Even non-fiction titles have elements of storytelling. All good narrators engage the listener by truly connecting with the script. Even if it’s a non-fiction account of the history of paint drying, your job as a narrator is to speak the author’s truth, and make it compelling. However, I’ve heard it said that there’s a fine line between truly connecting with the story, and overacting – so beware. Gotta’ find the sweet spot.
More on that down the road…
Generally, there are two categories of books: fiction and non-fiction. Bear in mind, most audiobooks are read cover-to-cover by one narrator. Yes, that means performing all the characters in fiction stories. You could be looking at a 100,000 word story containing dialogue with several dozen diverse characters, possibly with many different accents and dialect…plus, opposite gender characters, young or old characters, human and superhuman beings – you perform them all.
If you think you can handle that, then fiction might be in your wheelhouse.
If you lean less towards acting, and more towards narrating, you may be more comfortable with non-fiction. Either way, though, one thing you have to have is stamina. Not just with your voice, but with staying connected to the script. Can you endure recording for five or six hours in one session, all while being focused and engaged with the script? Yes? Then, read on…
First, you should know upfront that audiobook narrating is not the highest paying form of voice over. At least not starting out. Making $500 per finished hour is a good rate, but it’s rare to hit that mark early on in the game.
Next, I highly recommend finding a reputable voice acting coach who specializes in your category of narration. She or he will be able to guide you in the finer details of audiobook narrating (and there are many). Having multiple coaches and mentors is likely to happen as you navigate these waters. This is good. It’s what’s supposed to happen.
Finally, check into ACX, which is the author-to-narrator “match-maker” owned by Amazon. There are others that you’ll soon discover during your search, but ACX is a good place to start.
Unlike other forms of voice over, narrating audiobooks is a labor of love that endures through the ages for all to see and hear. I think it’s pretty cool to imagine that one day, my great-great-grandkids will be able to hear the stories I brought to life.
Makes those long hours acting like a marathon runner seem kinda’ worth it.
– BY SCOTT THOMAS
Your mic. It’s the tool of your trade as a voice over artist. The heart and soul of your vo business. Choosing the right mic for voice over can be tricky, so if you’re in the market for a studio mic – that one piece of equipment that’ll make or break you more than any other – continue doing what you’re doing – reading about mics. Research. And then research some more.
As with most things, price is a good starting point if you’re searching for a good studio microphone. You can spend anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars when investing in a professional microphone. If you’re just starting out and price matters, I would recommend looking in the $200 – $400 range.
There are a lot of terms you’re going to come across when searching for a studio microphone: large diaphragms, cardioid patterns, condenser mics, dynamic mics, phantom power, XLR, USB, pop screens, booms, stands, shock mounts and spit cups just to name a few. Okay, I made that last one up.
You don’t need to know everything about every type of mic, so here are the basics: typically, if you stick with a large diaphragm condenser mic with a cardioid pattern, you’ll be in good shape for studio voice overs.
If you decide to go with a USB mic, you won’t need an audio converter – however, an XLR mic is considered the professional-grade industry standard, so you should take that into consideration. These days, you can purchase a good USB microphone for around two hundred bucks. Now, “good” is a relative term, and keep in mind that USB mics are not meant for every form or level of voice over. However, their quality has really come a long way in the last few years, and the higher-end USB mics are really good starter units for aspiring voice over artists.
A good option to consider is the Blue Yeti Pro which comes with both XLR and USB connectivity. It’s a well-respected, solid choice, and runs below $250 – so a definite possibility to look into.
Any time you have an opportunity to test a microphone you’ve never used before, take it! The mic that works best for you may still be out there, undiscovered…waiting to be found! Where I live, we have a Guitar Center that will set up microphones for you to test. Call ahead, find out if they’re even offering this service during the pandemic. If they are, ask what mics they have available to put in the lineup, schedule a time and bring your own headphones and a mask or two.
Every voice is different, so remember, one mic may sound amazing for one person, but may sound only “okay” for someone else. Or worse. For instance, if you’re someone who has a higher than average amount of mouth noise during your reads, some mics may accentuate that even more. Of course, you can always sweeten, and even repair audio in post (iZotope RX audio repair is amazeballs), but the goal is always to have the best, cleanest sound going in.
The ideal mics for voice over are all about discovering what works for you. Find your sweet spot, balance quality with price and before you know it, you’ll have mastered the art of reading aloud in a padded room.
Musings at the Mic
– BY SCOTT THOMAS
“Can I build a home studio for under $300?”
Recently, I was discussing home studio tips and that question was posed to me. True, there was a time when a home studio was rare in the world of voice overs. Back in the day, the idea of a $300 home studio would’ve sent most casting directors into a fit of laughter. But in light of all the advances over the years, the answer to the question today is a resounding yes.
Now, don’t get your hopes up about how cheap and easy it is to create a home studio, and off you go making six figures. I’m referring to a “starter kit” here, if you will.
If you’re serious about voice over work as a career, you have to come to terms with the fact that this is a business, and like all businesses, you will have to spend money to make money. Understand that you will be investing in your career for your entire career.
That said…you have to start somewhere, so let’s get this ball rollin’ and dive into some home studio tips.
Having a “clean” recording is not an option – it’s rule one. When you send your recording off to another professional, any and all audio issues could very well become glaring indictments on your level of professionalism and experience. The last thing you want is some sort of buzz, hiss or hum under your read (and God help you if there’s a lawn mower or dog barking in the background).
One of the first things to determine in your home studio is your noise floor. In layman’s terms, the noise floor is a measurement of how much background noise your studio puts out. To determine your studio’s noise floor, simply record your room for thirty seconds (without you in it). Your noise floor should be -60dB or better (quieter).
When creating a home studio, you gotta’ know the difference. Sound treating deals with reducing sound reflections within the recording space – or putting it simply, reducing that echo effect you get in an empty room. Sound proofing is reducing levels of exterior sound from getting inside your recording space. The former is much easier and much cheaper, so let’s go there first.
If you have a carpeted closet with plenty of clothes and space for you to record, that could work nicely (until you get the itch to go to Home Studio Phase Two. But I digress). Other cheap forms of sound treating a recording space include moving blankets, drapes, carpet & even egg cartons. If you have a flexible budget and care about aesthetics, acoustic tiles can be found at a decent price, depending on the size of your area.
Sound proofing a recording space is much more involved than sound treating. You’ll never block 100% of exterior sounds from entering your studio, but if you achieve that -60dB level with your noise floor, you’re on the right track. If, however, you have to deal with planes, trains & automobiles, lawn mowers and barking dogs on a regular basis, you’ll have to do your research on sound proofing fundamentals. One of the best forms of sound-proofing is mass, so consider lining walls with mass loaded vinyl before adding acoustic tiles. There is no such thing as a completely sound-proof room, but the MLV blocks out 80 to 90 percent of the exterior noise, so it works for my studio.
Just remember that upgrades will be a constant part of your voice over journey. So get yourself that mic, plug it in and start recording your voice. Find a good coach, and practice, practice, practice. Listen to the critiques, and then practice some more. Lather, rinse, repeat. Before you know it, you’ll be writing blogs about how you did it.
– BY SCOTT THOMAS
There are a lot of factors that come into play when considering what genre (or genres) you’re going to pursue on your voice over journey. One of the first questions to ask yourself is: What makes me stand out? Sometimes, an accent or vocal trait does the trick – like a melodic Irish accent, or a deep baritone voice. Maybe long-form narration comes easy to you. Perhaps you’re fluent in multiple languages. There are any number of traits, talents and abilities that might separate you from the pack. Knowing your strengths and playing to them is what finding your voice in voice over is all about.
Make no mistake: there’s a lot of competition in voice over – and it’s not just local, not just national – you will be competing with voice actors across the entire planet! – so it’s best to have something that sets you apart. It’s also crucial to know what to do with it.
Let’s say for a moment that Charles is a budding voice actor. He’s really good at character voices, impersonations, and he also has a knack for performing a host of accents and dialects. To do all this, Charles has to alter his voice in one way or another, which is a skill not all voice actors possess. This of course, sets Charles apart. If he’s really good at it, this could be his ticket.
If this happens to be your wheelhouse too, the next thing to identify is what voice over genre plays to these strengths? In Charles’ scenario, being versatile with his voice could put him on a path to narrating audiobooks. He might also consider pursuing roles as characters in video games or animation. Of course, each path has its own unique challenges, so it’s best to learn as much as possible as you find your voice in voice over.
A good, reputable voice over coach working with you one-on-one is not cheap. It’s also one of the most important career investments you can make. Keep in mind that most seasoned voice actors continue to work with coaches throughout their careers – to stay sharp and be the best they can be – so the sooner you embrace the idea of coaching, the better.
A good voice over coach will give you direction right out of the gate. Of course, giving feedback on your reads is job one, but they’ll also be able to gauge your strengths, and guide you toward genres that play to those strengths. As you start out, having someone in your corner who’s been there, done that in the world of voice over, and has your best interests at heart, can really be a difference-maker in finding your voice in voice over. If you think you know what avenue of voice over you want to pursue, that’s great…but have a professional confirm it, because in the world of voice over, there is no substitute for a good ear, or for good advice.
Okay, so you’ve confirmed what it is that sets you apart. In finding your voice, you now know what genre(s) of voice over you want to pursue. When the time is right, you’ll need to do some research and identify who the buyers are. For some voice over genres, you’ll go directly to the buyer. For others, it’s best to have a voice over agent who has the connections to land auditions for you. There are also times when you’ll be contacting content creators, such as video producers and eLearning developers. The list is vast and varied.
Researching online is all part of the discovery process…and just one of the skills in which you’ll need to be proficient. After all, this is a business…so you have to approach it like one. The actual speaking into a microphone part is the icing on the cake. The fun part. GETTING the job is a whole nuther matter.
Musings at the Mic
– BY SCOTT THOMAS
There was a time back in the day when those two words were pretty rare in the voice over world. Home studios for voice overs required a lot of expensive gear, which had to be installed and maintained by expensive engineers…who were sometimes difficult to come by. Not exactly the best combination for someone trying to break into the biz.
But times have changed. Damn, have they ever changed.
Working from home has now become a necessity for most voice actors, especially if you’re not in a major market – but fear not!
Most of the initial investment for home studios goes towards a decent microphone in the $200 – $300 price range, and an audio interface. Believe it or not, another factor that is just as, if not more important than your microphone – is your recording space. It has to be quiet, and it has to be void of hard surfaces – such as bare walls. Even if you could spend thousands on a high-end microphone, if you record from your kitchen table, it’s going to sound like amateur hour. It’s true. You can create your first home studio for cheap. A closet full of clothes might just be your best bet for now.
So basically, what you need to create your first home studio is a decent mic and a dead room.
Recording, editing and creating files of your voice are all done on downloadable programs called DAWs (digital audio workstations). There are free DAWs out there that are perfectly fine for your first home studio, so if you’re pinching da’ pennies, try Audacity or Pro Tools First. If you have a Mac, Twisted Wave may be the way to go. So there you have it. A mic with a cable plugs into an audio converter (unless you have a USB mic), which then plugs into your computer. Learn how to use your DAW, and you’ll be ready to start recording.
You’ll certainly run into some snags along the way, ‘cause, ya know – Murphy’s Law…but don’t worry, help is out there. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, Google and YouTube will become your best friend in creating your first recording space/studio. If you’re not up to taking on these tasks yourself, there are engineers who offer their services – everything from expert advice, to full studio build-outs.
Most of us in the voiceover world look back on our first studio and cringe. You learn a lot along the way, and invest in upgrades when you can. That includes upgrades to your equipment, your recording space, your talent & ability…and eventually, upgrades to your rates.
Even before the pandemic came along, home studios were becoming more and more popular, and cheaper and cheaper to build. It’s a good news, bad news scenario: The good news is, more people are easily able to dive into the voiceover pool. The bad news is, more people are easily able to dive into the voiceover pool. Yep, there’s a lot of competition – but if you:
…you can make a very comfortable living speaking aloud in a little padded room.
Musings at the Mic
– BY SCOTT THOMAS
So…you’ve been told you have a great voice. Yep…as far back as you can remember, people have dropped that line on you – at the checkout line…at restaurants…on the phone – you hear it all the time: “Wow! Has anyone ever told you what a great voice you have? You should totally have a career in voice over!” Maybe that’s how the idea blossomed about starting a career in voice over.
Being told you have a great voice is nice, but beware: making a career with your voice is not easy. It’s kinda like someone suggesting you should become a long-distance runner simply because you have feet.
Seriously, having a naturally-gifted voice is a good start – but if you peek into the voice over rabbit hole, you’ll quickly realize there’s a lot more to it than simply having a good voice.
For one thing, how is your storytelling?
But wait. I’m getting way ahead of myself.
First – Ask yourself two very simple, and very important questions:
Be specific, because you may be surprised by how many genres of voiceover there are. Would it be voicing commercials? How about animation or cartoon voices? Do you have the stamina and versatility for audiobook narration? Maybe it’s the specific challenge of narrating eLearning modules, or the ever-growing world of corporate narration. These are only a few of the many avenues of VO you might pursue, and if you examine each one, you’ll notice they all require a different set of skills. More importantly to note, each one has a completely different world of buyers (the folks paying you to speak).
These days, a home studio is a must. It could be as simple as a corner in a room, or a closet full of clothes…or, you could spend thousands on a professional vocal booth. Point is – all you really need is a quiet space with deadened walls. That’s it. Comfort and upgrades can come later – maybe after you confirm you have the chops for this. If cost is a concern, just know that these days, you can spend under $300 to create professional sounding reads. Let’s assume you already have a computer, so you can record, edit and convert your reads on software known as a DAW (digital audio workstation) – many of which are free. A decent microphone with the USB interface is where you’ll put your money. As you progress through this journey, upgrades will come – to your recording space, your equipment…and your talent.
As they say, there’s only one way to find out. I’m just giving you a little food for thought so you can get past the paralysis by analysis. If you’ve been standing at the edge of the voice over pool, debating whether or not you should test the waters, remember the two questions. If your answers give you confidence – then go ahead, take the plunge…and decide for yourself if the water is fine.