Do you, as an author, wish to narrate your own audio book, but aren’t sure how to go about it? This is the first in a series of blogs that will give you guidelines on how to narrate your own audio book, what to look for in a recording studio and the basics of setting up your own studio, featuring advice from experts in these fields.
In our last blog, Audio Books—Cracking The Marketing Code, we discussed the general guidelines, a Code, if you will, for successful marketing of both books and audio books.
Authors sometimes wish to narrate their own audio books, as this may assist in successfully marketing them..…But how do you know whether you have the right voice to narrate your audio book?
Today, I am pleased to share a recent interview with CC Hogan. CC has over 35 years’ experience in sound engineering and producing/directing for both music and dry voice with internationally known musical and voice talent. He has worked in the top music and commercial studios in Soho, London. He has trained many sound engineers, who themselves work in high end recording studios both in the U.K. and internationally. In addition, he has coached many experienced actors in the art of voicing acting, using some of the same techniques he will share with us in this blog. CC is also an author and narrates his own audio books. You can find out more about his work by going to his website at www.cchogan.com
CC, what is a sound engineer, and how is that different from a producer/director?
“A sound engineer’s job is to record the voice cleanly and accurately, using various techniques like equalization and compression to bring out the qualities of the voice. A producer/director directs the performance, ensuring that the actor has brought out the meaning and emotion of the words for the eventual listener.”
CC, how can someone know that they have the right voice to narrate?
“No voice is the wrong voice. It’s all in how you use your voice. Think of Woody Allen or Jim Henson. (Kermit the frog is not completely an act; that was pretty much Jim’s voice.) They did not have great voices, but they knew how to use them.”
CC, you seem to be saying that anyone can narrate. But how can someone sure of that?
“Well, you must have self-confidence and still be self-critical : If you have self-confidence in speaking aloud, and yet are prepared to be self-critical, there is a good chance you can do this.”
“You must not be afraid to speak into the mic in a clear, consistent manner. You must be able to listen to your self critically in order to determine what you need to change and how you need to improve. Here are some suggestions:”
- Narrate a section of your book into your smart phone or computer mic and then listen to yourself. What do you hear that you like? That you don’t like? Most people are very uncomfortable hearing their own voice at first. Do this several times until you get comfortable. Don’t give up after the first time that you record. After you have got comfortable, then ask yourself: What can be changed? What cannot? Are you speaking too softly? You can learn to speak more loudly. Do you have a lisp or do you have difficulty speaking the language in which you are narrating? These can be overcome but may take a while or you may need assistance to do so.
- Find an actor or narrator on YouTube who sounds like you, with your accent and tone of voice. Listen to their pitch, tone, speed and cadence. Record yourself, play back your recording and compare it to the actor or narrator’s recording. Analyze using “comparative emphasis”. How do you narrate “It was a red car. It was a blue car”? A professional will emphasize the color, not the car
- Listen to commercials or audio books for ideas on emphasis, breathing and pace.
- Above all, Be Yourself. Don’t try to emulate an actor who does not sound like you sound. Don’t try to speak in an accent that you don’t normally use. Your audience wants to hear you. Let them do so.
- At the end of these exercises, re-evaluate. Do you dislike narrating? Do you simply not like the sound of your voice? Are you dreading this project, even though you know it is necessary to do? Then you may need to hire a professional narrator to do it for you.
CC, previously, you said “No voice is the wrong voice. It’s all in how you use your voice.” How does one do that?
“First, be aware that you are performing when you are narrating. This is true whether you are narrating fiction or non-fiction. You are speaking to an audience that you cannot see and who can’t see you.”
“Second, you need to be “a character” (especially if subject is dry) to whom your audience can relate. Think of one person who represents your target audience. Visualize that person. And speak directly to them. DON’T speak to yourself. And DON’T visualize yourself speaking to a big audience. Big audiences tend to be impersonal. Speak as though just one person is in the same room with you, sitting in front of you, and you can see their eyes and watch their movements.”
“Third, remember that you are, through your narration, trying to sell your audience on something, whether it is an idea, a widget, or a plan. You have to visualize your audience and be in character to do that.”
“Fourth, be fun, not boring. Speak evenly and consistently, not too fast or too slow. Don’t read the text. Act the text! Using your hands to gesture while you narrate will help you bring emotion into your narration (as long as you don’t get off balance or too far from the mic while doing so).”
“Fifth, know when, what and how to emphasize a word. When you want to emphasize a word or a phrase that is important, speak more slowly. You may need to speak more loudly or softly if the text calls for that, but don’t rely on volume to communicate emphasis. If you need to sound louder, back away from the mic as you raise your voice. If you need to sound softer, lean into the mic while your voice is lowered. But remember that emphasis must come from the speed, not the volume, of your speech.”
“Sixth, know when and how to breathe. Your breaths add emotion and color to your narration if done properly. They should never be removed entirely. Speak and breathe clearly, projecting from your chest, not your head or nose or the back of your throat. Avoid very harsh intakes of breaths or gasps. But do make sure you take an adequate breath at the beginning of a sentence. These can always be reduced or even shortened by an engineer later, and that is better than attempting a sentence with too little breath and the end of the sentence being weaker than the start.”
“Seventh, keep a relaxed, but upright posture, at all times. If you narrate while standing up or leaning against stool, it will be easier to breathe and enunciate. Don’t slump.”
“Eighth, stay hydrated at all times. Drink a large (8-16 oz) glass of water about an hour before you start narrating. This will keep your voice from getting raspy and will help minimize mouth noise. Avoid caffeine while narrating, as it tends to dry your mouth and sinuses. Some people must avoid dairy products an hour or so before narrating to avoid tummy rumbles and excess mucus production in the mouth. If your tummy does rumble, just have a small biscuit. It will be enough to stop your tummy but not set it off into a big digestive cycle. Probably best to avoid chocolate biscuits as they are addictive and you will just want more!”
“Ninth, don’t get tired. Narrating is hard work. You should take a break at least once an hour and preferably more frequently. And you should not try to narrate for more than three or four hours each day. When your voice tires, it will not sound at the end as it did in the beginning. Even professionals who have worked to strengthen their voice must still take regular rests.”
Any other thoughts, CC?
“One last thing: Know How to Mark up your Script and DO IT.
Knowing how to mark up the script that you are going to read from will help you greatly when you get in front of the mic, even if you wrote the book to begin with. This is your road map, your music sheet. It will tell you what to do and where to go so that you don’t have to guess.
When writing the book to begin with, read it out loud to yourself. How does it sound when you read? Will it translate well to an audio book version? If not, change it so it does.”
- Every story has a setup, story line, and punchline, not jokes only. Note where these are in your script.
- Underline words to emphasize
- Put a Slash at places where you need to breathe
- Put in a Double Slash for pauses.
Can you give us an example?
Yes! Click here for a video version of me, narrating a paragraph from “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, complete with the marked-up script from which I narrated. Notice my hand gestures and where & how I take breaths. This will help you to see how important it is to use the script to help bring across the right emphasis.
This is great information, CC! Now, if a person feels that they can narrate their own book, how do they go about recording themselves?
The next post will give you guidelines on what to look for in a recording studio and will help you to decide whether to use a professional recording studio or to set up a studio in your home, in Audio Book Recording Basics: What to Look for in a Studio
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