FOR THE HELL OF IT VOL. 8 NO. 6
ON LEARNING THE CRAFT
By Johnny Heller Dec. 18, 2016
Since my last blog was a less than loving goodbye to the year 2016, I thought it in the best interest of my reading public to return to a blog that is more voice-over centric.
The acting world is nearly exploding with opportunities. The audiobook industry is growing so fast I’ve seen actors with as many as 10 books to their credit offer to give classes. And oh! What one can learn in a class like that!
It’s important to understand that while opportunities do exist, they are – like most opportunities — dependent on two things – one: that you grab them with gusto. Two: that you don’t suck to start with. Or, to put it in a sweeter way – you need talent, skill and a willingness to study the craft to start and maintain a career in this industry.
As I have said in the past, simply having an interesting voice is not enough. It’s nice and it might make sales clerks and baristas think: ‘Hmmm. Nice voice. Cash or credit?” It will not in and of itself get you work. What will get you work in the audiobook industry is being an excellent story teller.
First – here are some issues you want to avoid. Be on the lookout for these problems and if you find that you have them – fix them.
- VOCAL FRIAR
This is when your voice sounds like a ’62 Rambler that’s just been plowed out of a 3-month Chicago blizzard trying to turn over. It’s a very dry “rrrrrrrrrrr” sound at the end of every sentence. Many teenagers today have this sound due to lazy tongues and a need to be annoying. In this business, it is ok to employ as a character voice choice but it can do damage to your vocal chords…like drinking acid.
Vocal fry has been identified as a key reason for children being sent to military school and for parents taking on 2nd, 3rd and 4th jobs and drinking heavily – all in a vain attempt to get away from that godawful noise.
If you have this sound, lose it. Lose it now. Really. Don’t read on – just go fix it. Catch up after. You’ll thank me. …hell, everyone will thank me.
- VALLEY GIRL/BOY
This is when you pitch the last word in every sentence a little higher than the rest of the words so that everything you say sounds like a question even when it isn’t. I assume this nauseating sound started in the Valley – the LA valley. Somehow it has made its way across the continent so that almost every young lady and gent can sound exactly alike. Not pleasant, of course. Just alike. The sound is like a noise one would only expect from to come from the hideous Adam Sandler but it comes from so many it’s hard to believe Putin wasn’t involved.
To rid yourself of this awful sound, first, blow your nose before speaking. Second, remember that the only time you go up in pitch in speech is when you are actually asking a question. If everything you say sounds like a question, then don’t say anything.
If you can’t rid yourself of this loathsome sound, just learn to be a mime. They are hated too, but not as much.
- THE MUMBLER/SILENT SPEAKER
Anytime you aren’t sure if you should speak at all, so you sort of say a little something so people know you are there and may, perhaps, be interesting – you likely mumble. Don’t. Sing out Louise! Authors do not write words to be garbled like a Dick Tracy villain. You must speak the words on the page and let them come trippingly off the tongue. I find that this usually only happens to the shy or those who lack confidence. Acting is not the best place for wall flowers.
- THE AUSTRALIAN
The single loudest noise you will ever hear is two Australians having a casual chat. Fact: Australians do not use cell phones to chat with neighbors within 100 miles. They can be heard by every living thing within a 3000-mile radius so there is really no need. Members of heavy metal bands frequently complain of ear pain due to crowd noise at their Australian concerts.
The thing is that Australia is a large country with a relatively small population. The men are all named Barry and most of their women are quite beautiful – like Tess Masters. What happens is that the Barrys wander about yelling to attract the lovely ladies before they leave the country to go live with Scott Brick. Barrys think the best way to attract a woman is to be loud and all the women must speak even louder so they can be heard over the plaintive wailing of the Barrys. It’s all very sad. But the take away here is: don’t yell. It isn’t necessary because we use microphones. It can only hurt you – unless it gets you a date with an attractive Australian.
- THE NON-NATIVE SPEAKER
Contrary to what you may have heard from the Trump administration, you don’t have to be an American to work in Voice Over. Americans favor British accents over all others – which is why Simon Vance gets earphones for his answering machine messages.
Let’s say you are French or Venezuelan or Madagascarian (?) – you can certainly do V.O.s in your native language. But you can do work in English IF the work is written for a French, Venezuelan or Madagascarian protagonist. IF it isn’t, then you will have to become fairly fluent in English – so fluent that there is little to no trace of your native accent OR you will need to make your accent work for you – much like Sophia Vergara or Antonio Banderas.
If you are British, Australian, Scottish, New Zealander, Scotch, Irish or Welsh – you will likely be able to land a gig as a lead playing an American on almost any network TV show so you don’t need to worry about VO work.
There are many other vocal issues that I could bring up but we have to go to a Christmas party so I need to move on.
All my students will tell you that I define the task of audiobook narration as connecting the listener to the authors truth. That’s it. It’s that simple. Except it isn’t. In an audiobook production, there can be a total of zero moments that are not fully realized. There are zero shortcuts. There are zero seconds allowed where your mind can wander from the story.
In my recent Rhode Island Splendiferous Narrator Retreat co-hosted by Steven Jay Cohen and Jo Anna Perrin, I mused about thoughts that may enter one’s mind while recording. I said that if you are narrating and suddenly you somehow think – “tuna melt. I could really go for a tuna melt about now,” you are – in that thought – no longer connected to the author and neither is the listener. Your audience may not know that you are thinking about tuna melts but they will know that they are no longer hearing a story well told. (Of course, all the attendees refer to it as the Tuna Melt Affect) but the point is, you must not wander from the story.
How do you stay connected? How do you manage your workload so that you can use the studio time to its fullest? How do you connect to the authors’ truth? How do you manage your character choices? How do you know your choices work? How do you move through the narrative? Is 1st person different than 2nd or 3rd? How do you know what the author wants?
These are just some of the questions that may come up. That they do is a major reason why you need to learn the craft of audiobook narration before you decide that you are one, want to be one or have what it takes to work successfully as one.
Scott Brick says that he finds that he must change his approach to the text and to his storytelling when the story moves from 1st to 2nd to 3rd person. Recognizing the change in the text and recognizing that such changes require a change in the storyteller is what one can do instinctively and intuitively when one learns the craft.
There is no question that some actors are “naturals” but even naturals have something to learn. Even Roy Hobbs had to go to spring training. Those who are drawn to this business generally have a talent for it. No one decides to be a singer when they can’t hold a note, a writer when they have no imagination, a dancer when they cannot shuffle off to Buffalo or a magician for any reason because magicians are just plain creepy. So, if you are considering this gig, you probably have some ability.
Let me suggest, implore, entreat and beg you – take some workshops. There are so many coaches that are worth working with that it makes zero sense not to work with someone and get some training in the craft. You can join a weekend workshop like the one Scott Brick and I offered recently in LA or the one PJ Ochlan and I did in NYC earlier in the year. Sean Pratt and I will be doing some work in the Midwest in 2017 and Scott Brick and I will be working with Jeffrey Kafer and other pros in 2017 on a west coast workshop on the business of audiobooks.
What? The business? Yep. This is a business based on an acting craft and if you want to be successful, they sooner you realize that it is a business and that you are running a business as an independent contractor, the sooner you will enjoy that success. Again, this is all predicating on you not sucking to start with.
You don’t have to study with me – I work very much on the acting part of the craft. Jeffrey Kafer and Steven Jay Cohen and Tom Dheere are more into the business and technical elements of the craft. You can study with so many wonderful teachers. I suggest that you research the coaches you are considering working with. Google them. Check out their websites. See what your colleagues have to say about them.
I am not going to be able to list all the people I think you should study with because I will inadvertently leave some names out. So, instead, I will mention some names in a moment when I tell you about opportunities to grow in your craft coming up in 2017.
You want to do audiobook narration? It is so much more than just reading a book out loud. It requires an understanding of organic acting, scene study, character choices, moment to moment changes, subtexts, inner monologues. It requires that you have at least a rudimentary understanding of Mic technique, sound studio equipment, audio software, vocal technique, vocal health. You need to invoice, negotiate, market, develop a brand and socialize with the right people at the right places and you may need some luck. Having a well-respected coach in your corner can only help. So, by all means get one!
I have cautioned you in the past not to work with a coach who doesn’t have the experience to teach you. Having recorded 10-20 books does not make someone a coach – it makes them a newcomer to the audiobook industry and while they may have an interesting anecdote or two to share, they simply lack the experience to be a coach.
Here’s are some events coming up in 2017 that I suggest you consider attending if you really want to up your game:
VO ATLANTA – MARCH 9-12, 2017. HOSTED BY GERALD GRIFFITH.
This is an excellent weekend. This year the audiobook coaches will include me, Scott Brick, Jeffrey Kafer, Amy Rubinate, Andi Arndt and Carol Monda. Plus, a fine cast of agents, producers and VO talents from across the VO Universe.
JOHNNY HELLER SPLENDIFEROUS NARRATOR WORKSHOP – MAY 30, 2017
AT BARUCH COLLEGE – ENGLEMAN HALL
This shindig takes place the day before APAC. It’s a full day that ends at the APA mixer that evening. Hundreds of audiobook actors participate in this event and it promises to be another wonderful time this year! A panel of top flight Audiobook Narrators and Coaches participate in panel discussions, take questions and discuss topics of concerns to narrators at every level – from brand new talents to seasoned pros. Actors participate via lottery with coaches in directed reading in front of the assembly and it’s an amazing learning experience. I even throw in breakfast and lunch. So far, I can tell you that Patrick Fraley, Scott Brick, Sean Pratt and Paul Alan Ruben are on board and more news will be coming along soon! FOLLOW ME ON FACEBOOK TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS!
APAC MAY 31 JAVITS CENTER NYC
I keep reading posts – should I go to APAC? Yes! You must. The Audio Producers Association (https://www.audiopub.org/) is the only professional organization for the narrators and producers and even though it’s a producers’ association, it still offers actors mixers, educational webinars and a chance to grow your business.
This conference is in NYC because it follows Book Expo America – which is normally in NYC. So, you have to come to NYC. Plan on coming the day before for my workshop. Then come to this and participate in every panel you can. Register early and try to get in Directors Diagnostics and Speed Dating and meet everyone you can. Producers are there in force and anxious to meet you. If you join the APA, the cost for the event is discounted. The night before APAC (after my workshop) is the APA Mixer and you must attend!
Go to my website and look for the For the Hell of It on APAC – the information is still relevant. Don’t hand out demos, hand out and collect business cards and be professional. This is an excellent chance to meet fellow actors – who can help you (I get lots of work from my fellow actors who cast or recommend me) It’s a fantastic chance to meet producers/publishers who you need to know. Even Paul Gagne – who is a shy little flower of a fella – is there to meet and greet! Debra Deyan – who I happen to know can be wooed with very expensive gifts – will be there and Peter Berkrot too! But come anyway!
Seriously – go book an illegal AirBnB and come to this. Come to my workshop, the APA Mixer, do APAC and then come to whatever place I find for us to hang out after APAC, then go to the AUDIES! If you don’t want to come to the Audies, come to the NAUDIES – the event for those not attending the Audies for some reason and the after party for the Audies attendees. I am reasonably sure that we can go to Connelly’s on 45th this year. Again, follow me and I will give you a heads up on where we will be.
And try to see if you can plan on going to BEA at Javits – a great place to meet publishers and authors and that means work!
HEAR NOW JUNE 8-11, 2017
Later in the year is Sue Zizza’s event in Kansas City – HEAR NOW which is the audio equivalent of a film festival for story telling in all its forms.
Here are some events coming up that I don’t have schedules for just yet but you should be on the lookout:
- Sean Allen Pratt and I will be in the Midwest doing some audiobook workshops in the spring of 2017.
- Scott Brick, Jeffery Kafer and I will be joined by industry specialists for a west coast workshop on the Business of Audiobooks. This is not an acting class so much as a workshop to discuss the work and developing your business. Details have not been hashed out yet so stay tuned.
- Steven Jay Cohen, Jo Anna Perrin and I will be hosting our 2nd Annual Splendiferous New England Narrator Workshop/Relaxathon. We are thinking about going to Stockton, MA this year as there are lots of restaurants and wonderful things to do when we aren’t in session. Bill Lord has called this workshop “life changing” … in a good way!
AND NOW FOR THE NEWS…
COPS RESCUE MANNEQUIN…HUDSON, NY:
Police were alerted to an elderly woman freezing to death in a parked car in frosty Hudson, NY on Dec. 16th. Officers on the scene said they saw a woman wearing an oxygen mask on the front passenger seat and she was not moving. They broke the window and discovered she was a mannequin used by her owner in his job as a medical training aids salesman.
“I gotta tell ya,” said an unnamed officer, “now that I know, I’m actually glad that she wasn’t moving. That would’ve been weird.”
“I still think she’s real, “said another officer. “Just in case, I …you know…left my number. You never know, ya know?”
“My mannequin has been through a very traumatic time and we’d like our privacy please,” said the salesman. “And who’s going to pay for the window?”
HEROIN FOUND IN CAR BOUGHT AT AUCTION…CINNCINNATI, OH:
Two weeks of listening to a rattling noise in the Volkswagen Jetta he bought at an Ohio auction sent a man on a search that revealed 2 pounds of heroin under the front seat.
“Well I knew it was a good buy but now it’s a fantastic buy!” said the man. “I can’t decide if I should sell the heroin or just start using it myself!”
Police confiscated the drugs leaving the owner with just a shitty used Jetta.
“I maybe shouldna’ told them about it.” Said the chastened owner.
Ohio Highway Patrol Police claimed that they had searched the vehicle thoroughly before the auction and had removed 6 ½ pounds of heroin from the car – leading suspected criminals to request that they only be searched from now on by the Ohio Highway Patrol and leading drug addicted car buyers to consider Ohio as a good place to buy cars.
LET BROWN DELIVER YOUR HOLIDAY SNIPER RIFLE…OCEANSIDE, NY:
UPS delivered the wrong package to an Oceanside couple who had ordered a model airplane toy and, instead, got a lovely automatic rifle with a scope, ammo, an Arizona man’s driver’s license and a concealed weapons permit.
“We were gonna give our friend’s son a toy airplane,” said the gift recipient but UPS brought us this gun instead. “I guess he can use it to get whatever kind of toy he wants. I mean, it’s loaded and ready to shoot so…”
The Arizona man who had expected the gun was not pleased. “I needed that gun in case Hilary got elected and they tried to take it away from me. Now all I got is this stupid airplane and Hilary didn’t win anyway and nobody likely wants to come and take my airplane or any of my other guns or even have anything to do with me anyhow. You think UPS would send me a tank? Is there a concealed tank permit that comes with that or do I just let folks know that I got a tank and see what happens?…”
INFLATABLE SEX DOLL CAUSES UPROAR IN CHILE:
It is customary for Asexma – the Chilean group of exporters to give unusual gifts at their year-end dinner but the head of the group, Roberto Fantuzzi may have gone too far when he presented the Chilean Economy Minister Luis Cespedes with an inflatable sex doll with a sign on her mouth reading: “to stimulate the economy.”
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet condemned the gift saying “it shows that in Chile, there is still machismo, sexism and misogyny.”
Minister Cespedes apologized and added: “At least, and this is the important thing, we aren’t as bad as Donald Trump. That guy! You see him with his daughter? They guy said he’d date her if she wasn’t his daughter! All time creepiest thing for a parent to say about his kid. Listen all I did was get a gag gift that was in bad taste and I said I was sorry. This Trump guy – he is a complete disgrace the way he treats women. I don’t know how a guy like that gets to be President unless his followers are pretty much idiots.
Oh! It’s just been explained to me. Yes. His followers are idiots. Okay. Now it makes some sense. Maybe I will send him the sex doll.”
HELL FREEZES OVER. EVERY PRESIDENT SAVE BUCHANAN TURNS OVER IN HIS GRAVE. TRUMP IS PRESIDENT ELECT…USA
No story here. Just OMG and WTF. Thanks to all of you Americans who had the right to vote and instead blew it off to watch Two Broke Girls or some other mind-numbing program. You didn’t believe that something kind of big was going on? That there was a chance that a pathological liar, scam artist, racist, bigoted two-bit bag of puss might win the Presidency?
I guess you were too busy. Well let’s see how things fare for you because this man doesn’t care about you or your future or your security. He is a narcissist. Go look that up. I’m not holding your hand anymore. He cares about money and money and, maybe money. His. His money. His future. His. Not yours. You are meaningless to him.
You didn’t like Hilary. You were mad Bernie wasn’t the nominee. Too bad. No excuse makes up for you not showing up. Not the FBI leader influencing the vote, not Putin plotting for a Trump Presidency. Nope. All that had to happen to make things different was you. You showing up. You doing your duty as an American. This travesty is on you.