On The Voice they compete by singing, with the chairs turned around so the judges can’t see contestants. And no doubt you’ve heard the phrase, “he has a face for radio.” It’s true that if you are going to be heard on iTunes, whether in song or podcast or audiobook, the voice is what matters most. On Youtube it is different; it’s like the Instagram of video—a wild west dominated song and dance, gaming, political opinion, sports, flat Earth nonsense, makeup tutorials, and very little reading of books (although lots of talk about books.) The free for all gamut of quality is wide. You take the bad with the good. The videos on this post (below) are from professional narrators I’ve interviewed, showing how to narrate, in case anyone wants to try (for fun or professionally.) Recording books is different than narrating movie or gaming trailers, or doing voiceover for commercials. The idea is not to insert your personality into it, but rather to disappear into the author’s intent. “Disappearing” is not what diva culture understands, but drama should depend on the character speaking, and should be natural, not imposed. In some ways, it’s like the pianist who, if they are really good, becomes an instrument or conduit of the composer. When reading to yourself, alone, you are moved by the words, the characters, the story. Do that, and you rarely go wrong. Now, if you prefer to try narrating a movie trailer or gaming trailer based on a book (like Blade Runner, Game of Thrones, Tom Clancy or Nicholas Sparks), add drama and send us the link to your Youtube or Soundcloud post. You may win free download codes or CD format audiobooks, along with posting at Tower Review.
Lorna Raver is a film and stage actress who also has a career as an audiobook narrator. She records for many publishers, her next to be about the public school system titled “These Schools Belong to You and Me.” Her longtime companion was the late great Yuri Rasovsky, the Grammy winning radio drama icon. Lorna starred in a horror movie DRAG ME TO HELL, directed by Sam Raimi (very much out of character for her…she’s a sweet lady, whom I met at the Audie awards in LA.)
JONATHAN LOWE: Which came first for you–stage acting or voice acting?
LORNA RAVER: I started as a stage actor and stage acting will always be closest to my heart. I love inhabiting another life. I love the discipline of stage work, the challenge of re-creating night after night while keeping it fresh, the interaction with other actors – and with the audience, the exercise of all your skills – mental, spiritual and physical. My first experience with voice acting came about when I was hired to do a play for Yuri Rasovsky’s prestigious National Radio Theatre in Chicago. As is the case with most stage actors who do audio drama, I had a ball! Learning how to convey vocally what one might express physically on stage was very exciting, and there’s no better teacher for that than Yuri.
Q: What are the difficulties and similarities involved?
A: Discovering the emotional resonance of your character and the play as a whole is not significantly different from stage acting, but the techniques required of the actor are different. For example, you may have an emotionally intense scene with another actor but because of a necessary mic set-up, you may not be able to make eye contact with that actor – you must convey all the interaction with your voice. You really learn how to listen! And you really learn how to mean what you say and say what you mean! Of course, voice acting broadens your casting opportunities, too. If you can realistically sound like an old person or a child, you can be hired to play one, even though you may be neither.
Q: I can’t think of any narrators who haven’t acted on stage or on TV at the very least, although I’m sure there must be some. What must a TV or film actor learn in order to make the transition to voice acting, given that he or she can’t be seen?
A: Audiobook narration, to me, is not as closely related to stage acting as is audio drama. Fiction narration certainly requires the ability to “act” the characters in the book and to honor the arc of the narrative, but audiobooks present other challenges different from stage, TV or film acting. Technically, there is the simple fact that you are restricted in movement for long stretches of time. You’re sitting in a booth and you need to be always aware of mic position. Audiobook narration can be grueling and requires mental and vocal stamina. It is incredibly focused work. I am blessed with vocal stamina so that after hours of recording, it is rarely my voice that goes, it is my brain!
Q: What about creating multiple character voices?
A: When it comes to creating different voices for different characters, I don’t feel that I have a good vocabulary for describing that process technically. It’s related to the same process one would use creating a character for stage, film or TV, except that an audiobook may require a dozen different characters not of the narrator’s age, gender or race, all of which need to be distinct, identifiable and consistent. Listening to and practicing voices and accents are useful, but you also need to apply them appropriately. If you really want a tutorial on how to broaden your “voice library,” go out for an evening with Barbara Rosenblat. She studies the sound of everyone she encounters from the cab driver to the waiter to the lady eating at the next table!
Q: What a great suggestion! Have interviewed her. She’s fantastic. Now, was it easier for you to transition to film acting than it might be for someone doing the reverse, do you think?
A: I didn’t really transition from audio to film since, while I had done audio drama before I worked in film, it was only after I had done a substantial amount of stage and TV and some film work that I began narrating audio books. However, the difficulty of audiobook narration is often underrated by those who haven’t done it. On more than one occasion while working on a film or TV show, I’ve had other actors tell me that they tried narrating audiobooks and it was just too hard! Episodic TV requires stamina, but the work flow is so different. You shoot a scene then break then shoot again then break and so on rather than spend an hour or more at a time in the booth recording.
Q: What types of audiobooks do you most enjoy narrating?
A: All types. I like the diversity of narrating both fiction and non-fiction. I think fiction is much more demanding and having the occasional non-fiction break is refreshing to me.
Q: Full cast must be a lot of fun, working with Yuri. I only met him once, after he produced my novel Fame Island. Radio drama is the only acting I’ve tried myself, as solo narration is beyond me. As a medium, it is very time consuming and therefore rare. Any favorites there?
A: The kick you get from acting in audio drama is closest to the kick from working on stage! Yuri is such a skilled audio director, and always gets wonderful actors for his productions, so I’m ready to go whenever he has something he thinks I’m right for. I had a chance to do some “audio noir” or channel my inner Barbara Stanwyck! in his Hollywood Theatre of the Ear production of BLACK MASK AUDIO MAGAZINE for Blackstone Audio, and also had a good time playing a Brit in his Audie Award winning production of THE SHERLOCK HOLMES THEATRE, also for Blackstone Audio.
Q: In non-fiction, I see you’ve recently narrated CHEAP–The High Cost of Discount Culture. What was the research like?
A: My main goals in non-fiction narration are clarity and conveying the “mood” of the book. The research involved in preparing for a non-fiction read is often much more extensive and time-consuming than for fiction. For example, I read two books on ancient Egypt for Tantor: TEMPLES, TOMBS & HIEROGLYPHS and RED LAND, BLACK LAND both by Barbara Mertz, and which involved major research. It is of invaluable assistance when the author is available for consultation, as was the case with those two books, but you don’t always have an author contact. One thing I really like about non-fiction narration is that I learn so much – especially about topics I would not necessarily be drawn to otherwise.
Most communication is nonverbal. We want to look at the faces of those testifying in Congress and detect lies or deceit. They try to keep their faces blank in order not to telegraph this, but subtle clues or reactions are there in their voices and tone, too. Their pauses, gestures. Alan Alda talks about how the face is judged, not for just beauty or ugliness, but for believability. Why paying attention to people’s reactions or expressions when they talk is most important in understanding WHAT THEY MEAN. Mostly we misunderstand what people say or mean, but by truly listening and observing we have a better chance of connecting (and resolving conflicts too.) Instead of waiting for people to stop speaking so we can make another point, Alda’s point is to LISTEN with all our senses with the objective to UNDERSTAND. Not to “win” an argument by demeaning or defeating anyone (or everyone) seen as an opponent. Great new audiobook upcoming June 6. Preorder at Tower Review. As James Garner once put it: “I don’t act. I react. Give me a reactor over an actor any time. It puts you there in the moment, and you’re less likely to flub the way you read your lines, too.” Alda was in the movies Bridge of Spies, The Aviator, Everyone Says I Love You, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Crimes & Misdemeanors. On TV’s MASH, and Scientific American Frontiers. He has won 7 Emmys, and is a big fan of science. “At first I think they just wanted a famous face do the introduction, and then narrate off camera, but I wanted to be there and interview the scientists.” He’s read Scientific American magazine since a kid.
Science has created what is known as “the impossible burger.” It is meatless, yet tastes like meat. It even “bleeds.” There is resistance from the meat industry, which doesn’t like fake blood. Yet they are okay with fake news. Like the propaganda that red meat is healthy. (Excess iron causes Alzheimer’s, among other things: listen to The Mind Span Diet.) Such meat threatens to disrupt their profits in the same way that meat production disrupts the environment.
From the extra pounds and bullies that left her eating lunch alone at school to the low self-esteem that left her both physically and emotionally vulnerable to abuse, Jasmin Singer’s weight defined her life. Even after she embraced a vegan lifestyle and a passion for animal rights advocacy, she defied any skinny vegan stereotypes by getting heavier. It was only after she committed to juice fasts and a diet of whole foods that she lost almost a hundred pounds and realized what it means to be truly full. ALWAYS TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH is told with humble humor and heartbreaking honesty. It is Jasmin’s story of how she went from finding solace in a box of cheese crackers to finding peace within herself.
How is that possible? Well, it’s possible, but not easy. You’d need connections, experience, and/or proof of concept. The money is just an advance on sales, based on what they think the book may do. They may lose part of it, or they may win big. The publisher is the biggest in the United States, so they are willing and able to take the risk. After all, the author is a screenwriter with a hit under his belt…and so movie possibilities are a “shoe-in.” Since we live in an age of video and movies, with fewer people reading, it makes sense to have as much potential as possible. In fact, Paramount has already bought film rights, and he is writing the screenplay. He also narrates his book, with experience in radio in the past at a university station. If you’d like to support literacy (animals is my other charity) see the About page at this blog, and contribute a short video of you reading by sending me the link to your video. The cover of ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS reminded me of the Leonardo diCaprio movie Inception. The novel on audio can be ordered at TowerReview.com.
There’s no such thing as the life you’re “supposed” to have… You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s world, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary. Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our world, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland. It’s an intriguing plot with pathos, anecdotes about love and happiness, science, and the possibility of eight new novels by Kurt Vonnegut. Elan Mastai is a screenwriter who co-wrote the movie FURY, starring Samuel L. Jackson. He also wrote THE F WORD, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan.
Jonathan Lowe) What is your experience related to narration or public speaking, and how was the recording process?
Elan Mastai) I used to host a radio show back in university, so I’m fairly comfortable sitting in a soundproof booth talking into a microphone for hours at a time. Hopefully that background served me well when recording the audio book.
JL) Regarding the physics of your alternate reality, I’ve heard it postulated that other parallel worlds may have physics different than ours. Is that part of what gave you the idea? Cat’s Cradle defied physics too.
EM) In terms of the physics of alternate realities, a subject handled with great verve and imagination in Neal Stephenson’s novel ANATHEM, I chose to focus primarily on how technological innovation altered the history and society of my parallel world. But of course I also opened the door to potential discrepancies, like a form of radiation that was discovered in the alternate world that we don’t have here, what I call “tau radiation”—so the suggests differences do exist.
JL) Writing a novel requires a different skill set than screenplays. Have you written fiction before, like short stories?
EM) You’re absolutely correct that writing a novel requires a different skill set than a screenplay. Screenplays, as you know, are written in the third person present tense, in a visually expressive but lean and laconic style. Of course a terrific novel can be written in that way too, but I chose to write All Our Wrong Todays in the first person, as a kind of faux memoir, because I wanted the protagonist’s point of view to explicitly frame the way the story was told. Drawing off my experience writing dialogue for actors, I wrote the novel in a deliberately casual tone, which was a big help when narrating the audio book. I haven’t published any short stories, All Our Wrong Todays is both my first novel and my first foray into literary fiction. But I’ve been writing movies for over a decade and, although a very different form, that experience greatly informed my novel-writing.
Sometimes they go together, as in satire. The good thing about the imagination is that it can connect things that otherwise seem unconnected. In our Filter Bubble culture on the internet that is sometimes difficult to see, since we are tracked and analyzed, then fed back more of the same things we clicked on previously. (Read The Filter Bubble and Future Crimes.) For a look of what it was like to have a father with a very active imagination, doing things on television no one had tried before, read the memoir of Anne Serling, whose father Rod Serling developed The Twilight Zone, a groundbreaking series that riveted viewers first in black and white, then in color. My interview with Anne is HERE.