The Great ACX California Adventure

We’ve just returned from Tinseltown, meeting producers and actors at That’s Voiceover, the one-day voiceover acting career expo, at the beautiful Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood. Over the course of a whirlwind day, guests attended panels on how to work the mic, presenting from the red carpet, and making a living with audiobooks, hosted by ACX.

Audible VP and head of ACX Jason Ojalvo moderated narrators Scott Brick and Shelby Lewis as they gave their best tips for breaking into the audiobook business and succeeding. If you couldn’t attend, here are a few of our favorite insights.

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Photo credit: Jeff Fasano

Breaking into the Industry

Shelby’s and Scott’s paths to success in the audiobook industry were very different. For Scott, “it [was] all about getting the audition.” The right contact lead to the right book that helped him get his next gig, but he added, “14 years later, it’s so much easier. You make a demo, you put it on ACX, and you can get a job the same day.”

“Once you get your foot in the door, you tend to stay in the room,” agreed Jason.

Shelby was discovered by Audible in 2011 by submitting her wild and crazy audition for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland during that year’s That’s Voiceover audition contest. Her first audition led to more projects through both traditional audiobook publishers and ACX. “It’s truly a 9-to-5 job whether you’re in a closet or a studio,” she said.

On Acting Versus Storytelling

Scott and Shelby also discussed two approaches to their narration technique. For Shelby, she likened it to choosing between performing sitcoms and Shakespeare. “It’s not that one’s better than the other. They’re just different.”

Scott added: “It’s all storytelling. Doing an audiobook is like shaking hands. Two people do the work. What I’m doing when narrating the book is asking the listener to take me by the hand and work with me. If you’re authentic, that’s what matters.” When asked if he ever performs character voices, he recommended bowing to the context and genre, and if it’s called for, meeting the challenge enthusiastically.

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Photo credit: Jeff Fasano

Preparation and Recording Advice

In the booth, Shelby shared a tip she’d been taught by Scott on good hydration: “Take a sip of water after each page, even if you’re not thirsty,” reminding that dehydration can take hours to overcome.

Scott also recommended using printed manuscript pages in the booth to perform because that helps keep track of how far he’s read and reminds him to take breaks. On an iPad, he can scroll for long periods before realizing how much time has gone by. He also recommended no more than two pages on your mic stand to prevent your voice from straying too far from the mic as you read the first and third pages.

Jason’s advice on preparation was to read the text before beginning your record: “You don’t want to find out on the last page that your English detective was actually Scottish.”

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Photo Credit: Hannah Wall

We truly enjoyed meeting so many of you at That’s Voiceover and hearing your success stories! We’ll leave you with one last photo: no trip to California would be complete without a requisite stop at world-famous In-N-Out Burger.

What’s your best tip for those just breaking into audiobooks? Tell us in the comments!

14 responses to “The Great ACX California Adventure

  1. Preparation is very important. Read the whole book before recording for many various reasons. One is that a character may have a secret that you don’t discover until the end but it could be a significant factor in how you portray that character and how they relate to other characters in the story. To add to Scott’s suggestion of breaks. If using an iPad. Choose how many pages you plan to read and set a bookmark on the last of those pages. When you reach the bookmark, stop recording, set your next bookmark and take your break. Make sure you get up and walk around during your break too. Keep the blood flowing in your legs. Deep vein thrombosis is not nice! Eat well, drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest. Tired eyes help you make many, many unnecessary mistakes.

  2. This was great. I always love the advice these guys give. Really wish I could have been there. BTW, just a tip from a medical guy…if you feel like you are tucked in to that perfect position and don’t want to get up, even pumping your feet up and down for a bit will keep the juices flowing in your legs and help keep the nasty DVT’s Pearl was talking about away. :) [though it won’t help avoid butt-numbage. lol]

  3. Pingback: Best Tips for Breaking into Audiobook Narration...

  4. The highlight of the weekend’s symposium was the entertaining Scott, Shelby and Jason’s hour on-stage. Their discussion engaged the interested audience, made up of a mix of professionals and inquiring minds. Scott spoke of his start 14 years ago, and how much simpler it is now.Unlike the seminar’s on promo’s and trailers, for example, the Audiobook panel spoke to the “hear and now” (mind the pun) as thru ACX, we are encouraged to learn while we work. This may be the only part of the VO world where this is possible. With promo, commercial and animations – again- the “work” spoken to the audience by the talented successful veterans consists of “taking classes”, “doing demos”, and finding representation. Audiobook Narrators certainly benefit from all that, but we are working while we do so. Thanks to ACX for making it possible, the only thing we risk is our time, which most likely will be well spent. Here’s to the next 14 years, by then I want to be in my mobile studio – an RV with solar panels, a whisper room and a satellite feed. Thanks to our friends at Audible, ACX and That’s VO.
    Great show! Alex Hyde-White

  5. Good to hear that somebody besides me prefers paper.

    I’ve discovered that my voice is best first thing on the morning. (And the leaf blowers and lawn mowers aren’t a factor.) It takes about 2 hours for my voice to “wake up”. Once I get started, I aim to get 2 hours done each day. Then I start making pick-ups. There’s a limit to how long I can work because my voice changes and won’t match when I do pick-ups.

  6. Yes James… I struggle with that as well. My studio is well set-up, but my voice changes throughout the day and making one session match with another is always a challenge. Especially for pick-ups and revisions. I guess this just comes with practice and maturity…. until then it’s a struggle.

  7. Great advice from everyone! Sounds like it was an outstanding session. I started using the iPad about 6 months ago, and it DOES allow you to silently change pages (one of the things I couldn’t seem to do silently with physical pages)…in fact, too MANY pages before you realize you’ve been at it WAY too long! I really like the page I do a full read through and mark up (with color) for all characters first. My voice coach told me to create a character(s) table, where you write down everything you learn about a character as you read through the first time. Could be simple things like hair color, physique, or anything that gives you a little insight into that personality. I’m compelled to do the voice changes for some reason…and accents if I can. Like James, my voice has a shelf life before the batteries need recharging. So, I’ve found that I need to carefully determine exactly how many hours the book is going to take because it’s too easy to put off the recording until you don’t have enough days of good voice left…

  8. It’s simple. Spend $120k voicing and producing twelve audio books locally while constantly knocking on distributors doors to no avail.Then spend a buttload of money building a new studio high atop your favorite mountain. Finally, work the social media like your life depends on it. In short if you don’t live in NYC and they won’t raise the draw bridge, just build your own castle.

  9. (Psssst. Alice in Wonderland is not by C.S. Lewis, but Lewis Carroll.)

  10. I tell authors if they want an extremely fast turnaround I’m probably not the narrator they want. I work slowly, but methodically. I’ll do one or two chapters a morning (depending upon lengths), and edit and process them that afternoon. Like others, my voice only lasts so long, so I don’t overwork it for fear I can’t deliver reasonable pickups while editing.

  11. Very helpful discussion. But I can’t help pointing out that C.S. Lewis did not write Alice in Wonderland. You are thinking of Lewis Carroll, quite a different person!

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  13. Pingback: ACX Guest Post: Andi Ackerman | Audiobook Creation Exchange Blog (ACX)

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