Being an audiobook narrator takes skill and practice. You have to bear in mind many factors to keep the listeners engaged – such as how your voice should sound, the pace at which you are reading the story and how many character voices you should put on – if any.
Whether you are new to the audiobook narration industry and want to dabble in reading more long form narration, or a seasoned audiobook narrator, these tips can help you establish and maintain yourself as a well-sought after audiobook narrator.
How Audiobook Narrators Found Their Character Voices
When looking to perfect the art of becoming a successful audiobook narrator, it often helps to be an avid audiobook listener yourself. Listening to the ways that other audiobook narrators tell a story, can help inspire you and teach you what to listen for when trying your hand at narration.
Let’s take a look at one of the world’s most beloved narrators – Jim Dale. Jim Dale, the famous audiobook narrator of the Harry Potter series, has voiced over 300 characters, giving a fully-voiced style of narration. His biggest tip to creating original character voices is to listen to others around you. If you pay attention to the sounds of people’s voices, whether that be a stranger’s voice or the voice of someone you know, you will begin to pick up intonations and inflections of others and they may be the source of inspiration for your next character.
Watch as Jim Dale discusses his role as the narrator in the Harry Potter series and how he picked up the voices for Dobby and Professor McGonagall:
In his mind, every character that speaks needs a distinctive voice that sets them apart from one another in order for the listener to be able to keep track of all of the different characters.
Allyson Briggs, a voice actor who has recently voiced a multi-character audiobook called “The Chameleon” has a similar stance on audiobooks that feature multiple characters (she voiced all 16 characters!). These types of audiobooks are meant to be fun and engaging, but it can be a challenge keeping track of all those characters so you have to have a surefire way to keep all of the characters in order.
“I had to really stay on my toes while recording to ensure I knew whose line was coming up,” Allyson says. “I went a chapter at a time. The first few days I spent nailing down the characters, reviewing their descriptions and images from the author, and reading some of their dialogue to see how they spoke and behaved,” she continues.
For Allyson, finding the appropriate character voice for each persona in the audiobook, meant studying their motivations and really understanding the personality traits of the characters – it is with that understanding, that comes the insight to give the character the correct voice that will resonate with the listeners – this often involves a lot of trial and error. “I played around and tried to find the right balance of age, gender, quirks etc. for each animal and then created a little personality for each one,” she says.
Once you have the voices nailed down and have decided what each character should sound like, there are three key skills that you should work on perfecting to secure more audiobook narrator gigs.
3 Skills of a Successful Audiobook Narrator
Becoming a skilled and captivating audiobook narrator (like Allyson Briggs or Jim Dale) requires a lot of practice and attention to detail. It is one thing to be able to voice pieces that take 30 seconds to read, but to voice a form of long-narration, there are certain skills you will need to perfect. Being an audiobook narrator means finding your voice and the style of narration that suits you.
- Storytelling / Performance Ability
Becoming a good audiobook narrator is not just about having a great voice. It is also about being able to carry a story. Audiobooks can range in length from 1 hour to several hours so the narrator of the audiobook must be one that is captivating.
The distinction here should be made between acting ability and performance ability. Acting, by definition, implies that the actor is putting on a character temporarily, whereas a performance should be more about realistically portraying the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the character you are narrating and to create an engaging listening experience. The most successful audiobook narrators are invested in perfecting their performance and are able to bring the characters to life for the listener.
As an audiobook narrator you have to be prepared to keep up and maintain the same accents/dialects, voices and energy throughout hours of reading. You can maintain consistency – especially if you are voicing more than one character in a story – by taking extensive notes on the characters and their qualities / sound of voice and also recording a snippet of you speaking as that character so that you can always go back and give yourself a quick reminder of their vocal qualities. This is a pertinent part of long-form narration, making sure that you are able to pick up right where you left off in between takes. For more tips on recording, see what a few experts have to say on their recording methods.
- Be Articulate and Give Yourself Time
It is important to keep your audience in mind as you are recording. Be sure to take your time and pace yourself appropriately (a serious audiobook may require a slower pace, a children’s novel may require a bit more speed). “For me is was beneficial to take the time to work through a chapter of two, tweak and edit it, and then be prepared to start over completely,” Allyson says. “Sometimes, when I think I am done with the first chapter and ready to move on, I can start from the beginning and improve and keep moving quickly through the rest of the project.”
Takeaway Tips for Audiobook Narrators
Whether you are a pro narrator or a novice, they key to giving a successful read of any type of long-form narration, lies in the ability to engage listeners. This engagement most often comes in the forms of creating interesting sounding voices for each unique character and maintaining an entertaining tone of voice throughout the entire audiobook. As Allyson says, “we are beginning to reinvent books on tape and bring great stories to ears new and old.” So don’t be discouraged if you don’t land an audiobook gig right away, just keep listening to those around you and the sounds of their voice to garner inspiration and keep practicing!
About Allyson Briggs
Allyson Briggs is a voice artist and singer. Allyson grew up singing and loving music performing from a very young age, and as she acquired more lingual prowess at NYU, she expanded her scope of repertoire to include music in 7 languages, with plans for more!
You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @fleurseule and on Facebook.