Charm vs. Content
In the midst of directing a commercial actor new to audiobooks, I often have
to stop them mid-sentence and ask, “How do you feel about that?” They will read a line of text and infuse it with
charm (the "aren’t I sexy" read or suave tone of voice) that makes me think, “oohh, he's really good at flirting”
but leaves me completely in the dark about the significance of the tidbit just narrated. I often tell my students that I place
myself at a small table in an Irish pub, telling the story over a Bass ale. But I’m not trying to sexually seduce my
listener; I draw their attention to the story details, not gratuitously to myself. Goodness, save that for your private life.
At the very least you should know whether the info or action you are narrating is a good thing or bad thing. Or, whether
you are setting a scene, or dropping a hint of something to come. Do you have date anchors, giving the text a chronological
feel? Once you know what direction you are heading in, then you can get even more specific as the text demands.
Hearing the Forest Through the Trees
There are a couple of pitfalls worth mentioning here, lest you fall into one
of them. First, if you have one of those voices that just soothes the ear, and people say they just love listening to you,
beware, beware, and beware! With that kind of voice, it is easy to fall in love with your own sound. When that happens,
the storytelling ends, and as if on autopilot, you get trapped in a mud puddle of mood, splashing around in
emotional self-indulgence, which makes you feel great, but frankly, leaves the rest of us navel gazing.
If you think you might fall prey to this trap, try recording without headphones
on. Use the monitor for talk-back with your engineer and/or director instead. Headphones can sometimes be too intense a
listening experience, distracting you from communicating with your listener. Instead of being a storyteller, the
headphones can transform you into a critic.
Finally, accept that this is a different medium from commercial VO, even though
we use the same method of capture (the microphone). The length of text, its written structure, and its purpose completely
differ. As almost everyone who comes to my class says, “God, there’s
so much more to this than I thought.” Absolutely. Give yourself time to adjust
to this new medium. Think of it like a sport, you don't get good at playing tennis just by watching it on TV. Sure, sit
back, relax and enjoy spectating. But put in equal time hitting the ball around. See you on the courts!