My narrator for RIBBONS AND RAINBOWS, Natalie Gray, gives readers, authors and narrators a comprehensive view of her profession. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed learning about it.
Here is Natalie Gray.
Tell us a little about your background: Where are you from?
I'm from Wisconsin. Born in Green Bay and raised in a small farming community of 863 people located about 15 miles from Green Bay. It was an excellent environment to grow up in because we learned about the land and where food came from. How I live now was deeply influenced by growing up so close to the land.
What was your schooling?
I must have loved school, because I got two masters Degrees, both in Theatre. :) One was in theory and Criticism and one was for Acting and Directing.
How do you train to become a narrator?
The obvious way is through school or workshops or classes. I think it's important to have a basic understanding of acting techniques. It's imperative that you listen to other audiobook narrators (something I need to do more of myself.) The other way I think it's important to train is to simply read, read, read. If you don't love reading, then why bother narrating? There's such joy in immersing oneself in the worlds created by all these amazing authors. Reading, reading, reading gives such exposure to the many different styles of books out there.
What's been your experience with narrating so far?
I simply love it. It's my dream job. I've been very fortunate that work comes my way regularly. I love being able to bring different authors texts to life. It's been a wonderful experience.
What genre do you like to narrate the best?
I"m not sure, yet. I really like romance novels, but I also adore a good fiction story and non--fiction also captivates my attention. And truly, I love doing children's books!
Did you read a lot as a kid? As an adult?
Yes, to both. I'm an avid reader.
Why did you decide to begin narrating audiobooks?
It was what some people call a "godshot." I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I'd been an actor for 20 years, and then taken a break to find a hubby and really make some money (I had loans to pay off from all the schooling.) I knew I didn't want to work for anyone else and I knew I didn't want to go back to acting. Then one day, I was looking at presenter work on the Internet, and saw an ad that invited people to become a voice-over actor. As soon as I saw the ad, I knew that's where I was headed. And then when someone mentioned audiobooks, I was hooked.
How do you know what voice to use for each character?
When I read a book, whether I'm going to narrate it or not, I always imagine how the characters look and sound. When I narrate a book, I try to replicate the sound and the feel of how I hear each characters' voice. There's more than just the sound of the voice, there's also how fast or slow the character speaks, whether they speak clearly or garble their words, where they place there voice (like is it more nasal or is it more back in the throat,) do they have an accent. All these things go into trying to voice a character.
How do you keep them straight?
Since I see and hear each character very clearly, it's not hard to "keep them straight." Although, if it's been awhile since I've voiced a certain character, I do sometimes go back and listen to a part of the book I've already recorded that has that character's lines in it. This way I can remind myself of exactly how I tried to capture the voice and feel of that character.
Do you feel as if you become the characters as you narrate?
To some extent, yes, I think I do, otherwise it would be hard to get their point of view across. No matter what kind of character I voice, I need to see the world of the story from that character's point of view.
Do you read the book before you start or narrate scene by scene?
I read the book at least once before I start. It saves having to re-record earlier chapters because of things you might find out about characters that occur later on in the book.
What is the toughest part of narrating?
The length of time it actually takes to record a book. If a book is 10 hours long, it means that a narrator probably has about 15-20 hours of actual speaking time. This is because it's impossible to record everything perfectly, so there's a lot of re-takes and re-recording that happens.
How do you protect your voice?
It is very important to make sure I've warmed up my voice before recording. I also don't give major characters voices that are too far off my own natural speaking voice, because that's very taxing. For example, I can do a very deep-voiced or gravelly voiced man, but I'd only use something like that for a character that spoke less often.
What's involved in the process from setting up a home studio, to editing, to putting the book for sale? How long does it take?
That's quite a question. Setting up a home studio is something you do once, and then that's it. It's an expensive proposition, so it's important to research it before hand, by reading industry books (the one I used to get started was "Voice Actors Guide to Recording at Home...and on the Road" by Harlan Hogan and Jeffrey P. Fisher.) There are also online teleclasses and seminars on the subject, and just talking to other voice-over actors can be really helpful. It took me about two weeks of really studying things and figuring out how I could make my space work to get it all together. I wanted as professional a sound as I could get, so I spent a fair amount of money on my equipment, but definitely not as much as I COULD have spent. It can get crazy, and there's no need to do that when you're first starting out. For myself, the cost to get up and running was about $1500. I know voice-over actors who have done it for a lot less.
Once you have set up a home studio, then you're ready to start looking for work. There are many places nowadays to find work. If you're a narrator, then ACX.com is one of the best places to be registered. That's where I get most of my audiobook work. It's important to have a professionally done audiobook demo. If your sound quality is bad, I don't care how good you are as a narrator, it will be hard for you to sell yourself.
(Note from Karen--I listened to many, many, many auditions. Sometimes I really liked the voice for my hero or heroine. But if the sound quality had any problems--like the machine going on and off, thumping noises in the background, echoes, I went on to another audition. Those problems can be time consuming for both the narrator and author and sometimes they simply can't be fixed. Natalie's sound quality was top-notch.)
On ACX you have a profile, which authors can find you through, and I often get offers to narrate books just from my profile. But, you can also search for authors looking for narrators, and that process involved submitting an audition. Once you submit your audition, it can take anywhere from 1 day to a couple of weeks to hear if you got the job or not.
Once you get a narrating job, how quickly a book is recorded, edited mastered and delivered is up to the schedule agreed upon by the narrator and the author. On ACX, the average length of time is 30-60 days to get the book recorded, mastered and approved, and then it can be another 2-3 weeks before it gets listed for sale. So, the process can be about 2-4 months (and often it can be longer.)
What do you look for in an author's history to sway you toward narrating their book?
I look for an author who has some success already with prior books, but mostly, I choose whether or not to narrate a book based on whether or not I like the story. I only want to narrate audiobooks that I'd like to read. Since I like to read a lot of different types of material, that gives me a wide range to choose from, fortunately.
What do you like to do most when you're not narrating?
I'm super interested in the eat-local, sustainable and organic food movement. I'm involved marginally int he politics of it, but mostly I'm involved in it through living it, which means I grow some of my own food. I make my own kombucha (tea), I make my own sauerkraut, do a lot of freezing and preserving of fresh foods. There's nothing on earth like the taste of a tomato right off the vine.
I also spend time with my hubby and my cat. It's a pretty simple life, and very satisfying.
Natalie Gray's email addy: firstname.lastname@example.org