Just a Sec! Gotta Pause My Book!
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Oh, hello there, friends! Is it blog time again already? Wow, time sure does fly, doesn’t it? Umm…ok…can you give me a quick moment while I scarf down breakfast, do my daughter’s hair, rinse the dishes, throw in a quick load of laundry, take a brief shower, walk my daughter to school, address a couple of e-mails for my day job, and pick up a couple of items from the store we desperately need to make it through the day? Yeah…sorry, I probably should’ve planned this out better. Life is just busy, y’know?
Instead of running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, I’d much rather have some space to sit down with a good book and a cup of tea and just read to my heart’s content. Reading is one of my favorite past-times, helping me unwind and sometimes escape from the craziness of day-to-day reality. Finding time to read may not be as easy as it once was (aside: my actual philosophy is that we all have the same 24 hours each day and we make time for what we value, but that doesn’t serve the point I’m going to make in a minute, so let’s just ignore that for a second), but I can still get my fix of literature through the nifty gift of audiobooks!
Aha! There it is! How do you like that segue? Were you beginning to wonder if I had lost my marbles and whether this rambling was ever going to bring us back to our VO journey? Sorry to hold you in suspense, but I promise there’s always a method to my madness. So, without further ado, let’s carry on.
Audiobooks. After animation and video games, I’ve found that audiobooks tend to be another area in which folks find the connections to the world of VO to be fairly evident. I mean, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than someone using their voice to read to you. Especially nowadays, with the popularity of audiobooks on the rise, this genre is becoming more and more common in a lot of people’s everyday lives. In 2019, Pew Research Center found that 20% of Americans now listen to audiobooks. Though print and ebooks were still more popular at the time the data was gathered, audiobooks was the only format of reading that had increased in popularity over that year.
And when we look at the way more and more people are living these days, it makes total sense why audiobooks (and other forms of audio-based information consumption—think podcasts) are gaining traction. People are busy. We want to do it all. How does anyone find time to read a book now? They listen to it on their commute, during their workout, or while they’re doing the dishes or mowing the lawn. In an age of multitasking, audiobooks are becoming increasingly relevant. And if you’re not convinced, let the $1.3 billion (yes, that billion, with a “B”) of revenue that audiobook sales generated in the US last year (2020) speak for itself. Not to mention the fact that 2020 saw over 71,000 new audiobook titles published, a 39% increase from 2019.
All that said, the audiobook industry has a lot to offer for voiceover artists. Back in 2010, Google found there were just shy of 130 million unique books in the world. Eleven years later, I’m sure that number has only increased. Divide that number by the number of new audiobooks produced in 2020, and it would take over 1800 years to produce audiobook versions of all those books. So, needless to say, there is a TON of opportunity for voiceover artists to get in on the audiobook narration game.
Audiobook narration isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though. Like any other VO genre, it has its own unique traits and quirks. For instance, it is one of, if not the most, long-form style of narration that exists. Depending on the length of the book, narrators spend hours upon hours recording the text, and that’s just the performance aspect. Many more hours go into the editing and mastering processes that make an audiobook fit for listening. It’s estimated that it takes an average of about 6 hours of work to produce 1 finished hour of audio in an audiobook. So, that 10-hour book you’re listening to probably took upwards of 60 hours to create. Some of those mammoth epic fantasy novels? HUNDREDS of hours to produce. (Brandon Sanderson’s latest entry to his Stormlight Archive series clocks in at 57 hours and 26 minutes, averaging 345 production hours at the 6:1 ratio!) Not every narrator does all their own proofing, editing, and mastering, but the point remains: audiobook creation requires a lot of time.
Due to the long-form (long-long-long-long-long-form) narration style that audiobooks necessitate, voiceover artists who pursue this kind of narration need to have a lot of stamina, patience, a good handle on what their voice can and cannot handle. It doesn’t pay to record for hours and hours in a given session, only to wake up the following day with no voice. Audiobook narrators need to know their limits, and they need to practice quality care of their voices. This likely includes having firm timeframes on how long they narrate each day, vocal warm-ups and cool-downs, and intentionality in the types of food and drink they ingest.
We also can’t discuss audiobook narration without making note of the fact that there are a lot of different genres of books. Even the simple distinction between fiction and nonfiction brings up a huge variety of stylistic and performance choices that a narrator has to make. In other words, you don’t narrate a sci-fi space opera the same way you would an in-depth historical overview of the Korean War. In fiction, narrators need to determine how they will create distinct voices for each character without being too over the top so that listeners aren’t distracted. Those voices need to be remembered and maintained to preserve consistency across the entire story. And, if the book is part of a series, that consistency needs to be carried throughout the entire collected narrative. In nonfiction, narrators generally need to project a vibe of knowledge and authority in their performance, while still being relatable and (increasingly) conversational. In both fiction and nonfiction, narrators need to be engaging so that listeners don’t lose interest.
There’s a lot more to be said about voiceover and audiobooks, but I think this overview helps put into perspective some of the basics of this genre. Audiobook narration can be extremely demanding, but it can also be very lucrative for narrators who find their niche and are able to deliver quality performances time and time again.
Tune in next week as we continue examining the various genres of the VO business. As always, thank you for spending some time with me. Until we meet again, keep telling stories!
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