It happened again.
On the Working Voice Actor LinkdIn Group, the discussion had turned to ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange.
Of course we all want to know whether or not people are booking jobs and if it’s worth their time and effort. The answer to the first question is YES and to the second one: MAYBE.
It’s a fact that most best-selling authors don’t have to go to ACX to get their books published in audio format. Celebs will do their own narration, and a league of ten to fifteen distinguished gentlemen and women will read the rest, skillfully assisted by an audio engineer and a director, hired by Harper Collins or Hachette.
Mike Harrison says
Another trove of truth.
We try on the tux or evening gown in the store because we wouldn’t want to be caught dead in something that didn’t show ourselves in the best possible light.
In hopes of attracting some work, a friend years ago wanted to demonstrate on his website the rotating globe he created while learning 3D modeling software. I suggested he wait until he learned how to finish the globe by getting rid of the seam that was quite obvious as the globe rotated.
“Why should I wait? I want to show the globe now.”
“Then you’ll be showing potential clients that you’re not quite ready yet.”
Frank Eriksen says
Great post, as usual, Paul!
Pierre Maubouche says
Interesting piece as always Paul… Sadly I think that you’re preaching to the choir. People who have the ‘experience’ reflex are the same people who say that the word ‘professional’ is loaded, the same people who advocate VO as a hobby, the same people who defend lowballing, the same… I think you get my point.
These people will never be convinced. They will get the clients they deserve, and their clients will get the talent (or lack of) they deserve. And they will keep haunting forums and cattle calls, boasting publicly about the crappy gigs they get and wondering privately why they can’t make a living out of VO. C’est la vie as we say in Frogland!
Paul Strikwerda says
Mike, thank you for the global metaphor. You manage to convey in a few lines what I wanted to get across and needed an entire blog post for. Pierre, those who are ready to hear the message, will receive it -in part thanks to retweets from people like you. I never set out to convince anyone of anything (did that sound convincing?). Some folks will take the long road and others take a shortcut to arrive at the same destination.
Jeff Jorgensen says
Thank you, Paul for another even-handed article about an issue that challenges many of us. As a newbie, I know how tempting it is to throw your hat in the ring when opportunities presented by ACX are available. But if I am honest with myself, I know that I’m not ready to produce the perfect final audio product that the client would deserve. For me, the editing is a far greater challenge than the reading, and it is the area in which I am weakest.
You have strengthened my resolve to continue to practice and take a class specific to audio books before I try to record one professionally.
Paul Strikwerda says
Jeff, here’s the good news: if editing is the challenging part, I know a few people who are happy to help you out. When I recorded my one-and-still-only ACX title, I decided to outsource the mastering to a master. I’m glad I did and I’m proud of the product.
Paul, in just these five minutes that it took me to read your new blog post, as a young voice over professional, I am now confident in expressing out loud what I always knew to be true in my heart.
The ACX post in the Working Voice Actor’s Group was an EYE OPENER!
Thank you for succinctly taking varied points of view, on the same subject, and creating a lesson as a teaching tool for your fellow colleagues who are finding their way.
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Fentriss, thanks for letting Pierre know that I am not preaching to the choir! We all have many lessons to learn, and in my career I have made every mistake I now write about.
Silvia McClure says
“Or do you wish to drown in your own misery for a stupid stipend?” made me laugh out loud! I’ve heard from several friends who just finished an audiobook that way and vowed to never, ever do it again. And they are experienced VO artists.
But the bigger issue is the quality of our work and what we put out there, and I completely agree with you. Great article, thanks Paul!
Nice post, Paul. I’m always appreciative of your comments. We all need to relentlessly market ourselves in this business. but – spreading yourself thin for some crumbs…not good.
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Jack, I agree with you. Producing an audio book -especially for the first time- is very time-consuming and for most narrators it is a labor of love.
Andy Boyns says
And I prefer to visit a doctor who is practicing, rather than practising…
Thanks Paul 🙂
Paul Strikwerda says
Andy… Only Doctors will tell you that practising makes perfect. Voice-overs are in the business of sonic surgery.
Roy, editing audio sounds like a boxing match: punch and roll… and roll with the punches. I do all my own editing, and I happily use a ShuttlePRO v2 to make my life easier. Now I need to get that second monitor to give me the big picture. Enjoy your new eyesight!
'Uncle Roy' Yokelson says
Nice post Paul. This is what I try to tell many of my students or wanna be students on our first meeting. Eager young (and older than young) people get all excited because they hear that audio books is all the rage right now (it IS, but that doesn’t mean that they should enter the arena). The amount of time invested in recording, many without using ‘punch-in’ technique – then even MORE TIME in editing, and then attempt ‘mastering’ or hire someone to master – there’s just not enough money to make it worth someone’s while if they have a misconception regarding the audio book business, and what it takes to be a good audio book narrator (if they even have that ‘skill’). I will continue coaching these people if they insist on putting in the time to learn first and ‘go for it’ when they’re ready – IF they’re ready. One note on Mike Harrison’s ‘Globe’ story. I seem to remember that the final version came out, and Mike pointed out to this person that the globe was rotating in the wrong direction. His comment: “I don’t think anyone will notice – you’re too much of a perfectionist!” – Sorry if I got this wrong Mike, but that’s how I remember it. Happy Weekend, Kids!
Lance DeBock says
Hey Paul excellent post again, and as usual your writing cracks me up!
Clint Eastwood as ‘Dirty Harry’ once said “a man’s got to know his limitations”…
John Lano says
Excellent post, Paul!
Before I set sail into the murky waters of voice over, I made sure I had all my tools honed and secure. I am still constantly learning, but I make sure not to bite off more than I can chew. Hmm… what other metaphors are there?
Anyway, great post and keep it up! Thanks for reading my blog, by the way. 🙂
Andi Arndt says
Thanks, Paul – did you watch the SAG-AFTRA foundation forum about audiobooks? (http://youtu.be/GIgk7O8l4g0) I was intrigued by the comment from Audible’s Jason Ojalvo that those titles which come with a stipend are titles that audible has determined should be recorded asap. If they are important enough to get Audible’s emphasis and funding, they are not throwaway practice titles. I’m lucky enough to have an editor willing to split the stipend and royalties with me so that nobody loses money in the process, so it works for us.
Sariann Monaco says
Brilliant ! You have made me a believer- I am swayed to your side! I found the writers to be a bit wishy washy as well…I was asked to voice a whole series, then heard crickets.
Cliff Zellman says
Excellent, clear and direct, Paul. Well done. One of your main points is to continue your education with a reputable teacher. Again, excellent advise.
I’d like to address that VO “limbo” phase. The place where the voice actor finds him/her self having good skills, able to record/edit and deliver, but with little to no “real world” experience. Where can they go? Not to earn back some of the money they spent on coaching and gear, but to see and be seen, or should I say hear and be heard… a place to gain some confidence, take some direction, learn some studio & microphone etiquette and generally get used to playing well with others.
May I suggest and highly recommend that this person contact their community Reading for the Blind program. Most cities have them.
The benefits: 1) VOLUNTEERING for a wonderful cause. 2) Start off light and work your way up. 3) Weekly sessions. 4) A GREAT way to cut your teeth in a “studio” environment. 5) They are VERY happy to have you there, so you feel special (which you are). 6) A win/win with everyone involved. 7) Less pressure than an audition or paying job. 8) I could give you a few dozen more…
Even if you are a seasoned pro, please consider contacting your local Reading for the Blind. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks, Paul.
Ted Mcaleer says
As an audiobook consumer, I sometimes search the reader as opposed to the author. A 277 page novel, even superbly written, is not a 5 minute narration script written for the spoken word.
As Cliff above noted, a good test to see if you want to get into this is at Librivox.org as well. If you can do a short story (35 mins) and you get a month to record and edit it, that will give you small taste of what you can expect for a 14 hour audio book. Personally, I can say I don’t have that skill set quite developed yet. A 7 page story brought me to my knees 🙂 I’ll stick with a good narration any day! Great article as always Paul
Ted Mcaleer says
Also mumbling something under my breath to my wife just out of earshot…”Going to have to be upgrading this mouse here pretty soon. Oh Look! just what I need, a Contour Design, ShuttlePro 2!” My accountant will mutter, an imported 130 dollar mouse? Now on the secrets list!
Dave Courvoisier says
I read this blog with great interest, and it drove me back to the original LI thread, which I also read in its entirety.
“As a voice-over professional, you will mature and get more refined, but you don’t get hired so you can learn on the job. Ever. You’re supposed to know your job.”
I agree with that whole-heartedly, yet I would not be finding the higher-levels of audiobook narration right now if I had not trained on the job. That training came with low-paying work, and those hiring me more-or-less understood that was why they were paying me a low rate. They also know that after a few books I’d be gone. But without those dismal-paying jobs, I couldn’t have picked myself up by my bootstraps to become better. I did the best I could at the time and they got what they wanted (a narrator at a low rate, who was not too good), and I got what I wanted (on-the-job training…more like a glorified internship).
You stated: “You owe it to the author, to the audience and to yourself, to deliver the finest product possible.”
I only and always deliver my finest product. It’s just that my product then is not as fine as my product now…and it’s only gotten finer because of on-the-job training.
Paul Strikwerda says
Living is learning, and with every job we have an opportunity to fine-tune and refine our skills. But not every experience is good experience. People can develop bad habits and not even notice them. They can get stuck in doing the same thing over and over again. Without quality feedback and coaching, it’s not easy to improve and grow.
Reading for the blind and doing other charitable voice work is commendable and important. It will certainly make us more familiar with the process of recording. But without proper coaching, it’s easy to stay at a certain level… just as a music student cannot progress if he or she stops taking lessons.
To me, there is a qualitative difference between training and gaining experience. As the saying goes: “Experience is the slowest teacher.” Good training is usually a shortcut. Ultimately, we need both training and experience to do well in this competitive, creative business. Training gives us the basic skills, but technique can only take us to a certain level. Experience provides us with depth and the comfort level we need to do our best work.
What makes recording audio books so fascinating, is that it all comes together in one challenging but hugely rewarding package. If I were a voice-over novice, it would be the last field I’d choose to get my feet wet.
Helen Lloyd says
Paul … you are my hero!!! There was such a buzz of excitement when ACX started, it sounded like such a great idea .. some time on, and although there are some very good reads and some well produced projects, and some interesting books on there, there is also a huge amount of dross …. and some truly dreadful performances.
If ACX would raise the bar as far as their requirements (both artistic and technical) for readers, and if the levels of pay were more attractive, it would be transformed into something much more interesting and worthwhile I think.
Dave Roberts says
Great Article Paul. Let me share as well.
I’ve been in the VO biz since 1996 and my specialty is Promo VO’s for The Cartoon Network, and TNT. Both gigs are “network gigs” and the pay is very good. About a year ago I was contacted by our Atlanta audio book recording company (remains nameless to protect the innocent!) to audition for a couple of books. The audition was a massive eye opener with the casting director!
The gorgeous, beefy Neumann Mike loomed 12 inches above my head. The chair to sit in was made of ‘soundless’ sturdy steel complete with ‘silent’ cushion. The sound-proofed booth was like climbing into a pressure chamber. And as we started to test and adjust gain, compression, and everything else that goes into the mix…I realized as a 30 year pro that I just might be out of my realm!
I had to take my shirt off…it was making to much noise! I had to eat an apple because my mouth was to dry! I had to digest something solid to eat because my stomach was growling! I had to find my center note/pitch and pacing for the book otherwise the narration would be all over the place. THEN: having done all this thinking I might be in smooth sailing waters, the casting director said, “this book Dave, is a book about a trained terrorist, and is delivered in the “first person.” Can you do a middle eastern dialect?” Being brought up in Beirut, Lebanon all my life, (much like Kasey Kasem/American Top 40 Days…some will know this name, some will not) I thought, “Are you kidding?” So, yes, I embarked on the first chapter with aEuropean/well educated/middle eastern accent.
I was hired on the spot. I was told I would be paid $75.00 to $125.00 and hour. Good money by any standards. I was so excited! My first audio book! I prepared; I downloaded the book from the studio…made massive notes in the margins and color coded certain sentences for emphasis…went on the internet for proper pronunciations of particular, names, places and things…I WAS READY!
I entered the sound booth a week later for an all day Saturday/Sunday session, 8-9 hours each session. Man oh man, after the sessions, I was very tired…and so was my voice. You gotta be in shape to do this stuff…and the staff and talent here call it the “Marathon of all Voice Overs!”
In closing, I had a wonderful time…but, and there’s a big “but” here. It has to do with the pay scale. For some reason I never heard the phrase, “FINISHED HOUR” in the monetary negotiations up front. In short, I was paid not for the time I spent in the booth, nor for my preparation; I was paid for the amount of hours of the “finished book.” The book came in at 4 hours and 23 minutes. Therefore, I was paid (at $100.00 per hour) a total of $450.00. That’s a full week worth of work! For $450.00? Excuse me, that’s not gonna work!
So, in closing, let me say it was a great experience, and I still like doing it and even though the pay scale is in the basement, I’ll sign up for a book that I like and enjoy the fact that I’m 62 and still learning. Thank God for the other work I get through my agent…but the audio book thing is an anomaly. You won’t make any “real” money at it, unless you’re in the top 1% percent of agents/publishers that require your vocal brilliance! Such is life.
By the way, the last book I did totally imploded! One hour in to the recording session, my engineer and director realized that the author had no idea what a “period” was in his book. There was nowhere to take a breath…his sentences went on and on and on…whole paragraphs were a single thought! Two hours into the read I was dying a terrible death, sweating, stomach growling, even a little anger became part of my delivery! I hated this author!
You never want to hear the words, “…this isn’t working…” from your sound engineer or your director but by hour number 3 it was obvious. THIS SESSION IS DEAD. I tucked my tail between my legs, apologized profusely, and as the director walked me out of the studio, she said, “Dave…it’s not your fault. The book, I now realize, sucks. I’m sorry we had to go through this…you did your best.
With my best smile, I looked at her and said, “This was not my cup of tea, dear, but I tried. Please don’t let this be my swansong.” Then she reached into my left shirt pocket, took out a cigarette, and said, “…smoke with me…I’ve got a better book you’ll really like…it’s about romance, love, the pheromone scent…you catch my drift… you might like it? I mean with your low pitch and wry delivery, it might be right up your alley?” We’ll see. “Wow.”
All my best, Dave.
PS. For those of you who are familiar with the film, “Pritzi’s Honor” you may remember the Godfather delivering the line to a very healthy young woman who just happens to have a career of being a “hit woman.” He says, “Have another cookie my dear…” (It’s on you-tube) which is quite poignant pertaining to sexy books!
Again great article Paul. Thanks for being there, Dave.Great Article Paul. Let me share as well.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you so much for sharing your audio book adventure, Dave. I hope newbies will learn from your experience.
Recording a spoken book is a marathon, and people should prepare for such an endurance race. Personally, I don’t think that $75 to $125 per hour is “good money by any standards.” Most audio book clients I have worked with will pay per finished hour. I recommend multiplying the number of hours it takes to narrate the book by at least four, to include preparation, editing and mastering.