Body Language

I love doing character voices, and one of my favorite compliments when someone hears a sample of my work is “That’s all you?  ALL of it?”.  Obviously, having a lot of range to your voice is the starting place for creating different sounding characters, and a lifetime spent singing various harmony parts has certainly come in handy. What is a little more unexpected is how physical character creation is.  You might picture someone recording as simply standing still and calmly speaking into the mic before her…but the reality for me is far more athletic.  Every significant character has his/her/its own posture, head tilt, and mannerisms.  For a large man, you will see me actually stand taller (no small feat considering I’m only 5’2″) – my stance will be “manlier” and I’ll throw my shoulders back.  For a geriatric character, I will automatically shrink into myself…  But one of my absolute favorites is what happens when I voice a “sexy” character.  Perfect example?  The sexy and savvy thief and con-artist Pepper Melange, who appears in the Starship Grifters novels and stars in her own novella The Yanthus Prime Job.  

In this sample, you hear three “voices”. Pepper, her skeevy fence Blemmis, and the narrator voice.  I let shades of Pepper color my narrator voice for this one, since it is her story, but there are slight differences in tone.  The body stance for Pepper is a little slinky and slouchy, but with a saucy tilt to my head.  I will actually toss my hair quite a bit and lick my lips when I’m being her…and I often wonder what would happen if I “wore Pepper” out in public.  To do Blemmis (and who would want to? Dude is CREEPY), I have a mental picture of someone rather unappealing…. he faces more center than Pepper and my body is kinda caved in on itself. A little wrinkle to the nose and a dropped jaw help give Blemmis his distinctive sound.

Con Artist

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I went to SuperCon in Raleigh a week or so ago with my second son.  I had an absolute blast, cosplaying as a girlie Newt Scamander and talking to all sorts of wonderful artists, authors, and geeks of all ages. I discussed my work as an audiobook narrator with several people…and was absolutely chagrined to have to sheepishly answer “Um…no…not yet” whenever I was asked if I had a business card.  But I am heading to DragonCon at the end of the month and THIS TIME I will be ready! I designed and ordered my business cards last night.  This morning, since I was immobilized by a sleeping kitten in my lap, I designed this nifty collage on my phone of all my current work.  I’m ordering a shirt, travel mug, and tote bag off of Redbubble (I freakin’ love Redbubble) so I can wear myself out in more ways than one!

Becoming a Pod Person

In addition to the overall jump-in-the-deep-end adventure of embarking on this whole audiobook career thing, I’ve been working at doing more things that scare me.  Although I am not exactly shy and retiring, I am remarkably reticent (or I was) about self-promotion, and I had never been on a podcast or been interviewed before.  But I was hanging out on Twitter and saw someone looking for audiobook narrators to interview for her book-related podcast.  I felt deeply unworthy…after all, I only had three audiobooks to my name and was a complete unknown.  But the worst she could say was “No.” right?  So I asked the interviewer how experienced a narrator she was looking for… One thing led to another and the incredibly fun and gracious Tamara interviewed me in early Spring. In this podcast, you can hear me demo many of my voices…and talk about the fun of having one of my sons loudly doing Gollum in the Target checkout line when he was very small…  It’s a rambling and rather hilarious listen, I do believe. Plus you will hear all about the second book I did for Robert Kroese in the Starship Grifters series – Out of the Soylent Planet.

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Adventures in Sound Proofing

In my current home, my recording “booth” is a large walk-in closet with a vaulted ceiling located off my sons’ “Jam Room”. All of my boys play one or more musical instruments and that room is FULL of music making gear. I hung out-of-season clothes in the closet and then covered the high wooden shelves and clothes with moving blankets.  (the movers heard me saying I coveted them for soundproofing and very kindly “forgot” some for me!) The ceiling and side and back walls are covered with acoustic foam tiles, and the floor is carpeted.  The microphone and tablet stand are nestled in the moving blankets creating a cozy place for me to either stand or sit to work.  IMG_9992  Overall, I have an excellent “noise floor” (the sound of the room when there is no extra noise – no movement, breath, speech – just the room’s silence)…however, I also have four sons, three dogs, and three cats.

When I first got the booth set up, I conducted extensive tests to determine what the boys could and could not do while I was working. I set myself up in the room with all my gear and my cell phone. My oldest son herded his brothers around and followed my texted instructions as I sent them from room to room, telling them to talk loudly or quietly, to laugh, or even to go outside and bounce a basketball.  Next we had to test the television.  Because of the wood floors throughout the downstairs, we have found that the ONLY place to speak AT ALL while I am recording is the den.  And even there they must murmur.  They can watch television if it’s quiet and they use subtitles. Plus I must be careful what shows I allow.  Nothing that incites hysterical giggling is permitted, of course. On the whole, they have been marvelous during my work times.  The animals, however, get up to their own mischief.  I have had cats hiding in the booth and scratching at the door of it while I’m recording…and of course the dogs have had their moments of “GOOD GOD WOMAN THERE IS A SQUIRREL OUTSIDE!!!”.

On top of all of that, I of course need to be concerned about excessive rain and thunderstorms – too noisy on the roof – and lawn mowers and helicopters.  We live near a military base, so military aircraft and the occasional round of artillery can be a factor.  I’m just glad we live in a very quiet neighborhood!

My next goal for my booth is to acquire some sort of small desk where I can have my workstation directly in front of me while I’m recording so I can improve my “punch and roll” technique for a more streamlined approach to editing while recording.

 

A Very Good Place To Start

“How did you get started in audiobooks?” It’s a very common question, and I have a slightly backwards answer.  I have been acting since I was a small child, and I was reading books aloud to my brother’s 3rd grade class when I was only 4 years old. (I was visiting with my mom). But I had never really thought much about audiobooks beyond a passing “Man that would be fun. I wonder how you get into that…” and then the thought was gone in the next passing household chore or sibling squabble that needed my attention.  I had, however, done a few commercials for a tiny production company in Albany, GA.  I just stumbled into those, as I tend to do.  One of the producers saw me in a church production and called me up.

Fast forward to February of last year.  I spend entirely too much time on Twitter…some life events had rendered me something of a hermit, and social media was filling the void of my social life.  Robert Kroese was a friend of a friend and I thought his tweets were hilariously snarky.  He and I began to chat and I listened to some of his podcasts.  Well. Fair is fair, I thought. I know what his voice sounds like but he doesn’t know mine. So I sent him a link to one of my commercials.  “That’s you?!”  “Yep” “Wanna narrate my new book?”  It was a simple and serendipitous as that.

Now.  The pros will tell you DO NOT DO what I did.  I had no freaking idea what I was doing.  I didn’t even listen to audiobooks that much. I had never done my own recording. But I jumped in at the deep end, dropped several thousand on gear and editing software after reading one or two blog posts and talking to one local voiceover dude.  (oh wait – and I also have a few friends in audio tech who gave me some purchasing advice). I hurled myself in my new homemade booth and got right to it.  And the kicker?  The book, Aye Robot, was the sequel to Starship Grifters which was narrated by the highly lauded narrator Kate Rudd.  Kinda like being a walk-on nobody asked to take over a role from Meryl Streep. NO PRESSURE THERE. 😉

Aye Robot is an absolute romp of a book by the way.  Space pirates and con artists, robots and cultists and creepy old people…even a parrot!  All in all, I voiced 37 distinct characters in that one.  I’m still proud of it, although I have definitely come a long way since then.  Plus it gave me the wonderful experience of my first glowing reviews aaaaand my first scathing ones.  Some people loved me….some kinda wanted me dead. 😉 But being able to handle praise and criticism is crucial for any kind of performance industry, so I was grateful for the immediate practice.

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You can check out Aye Robot here.

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