Old school meets new school with ACX producer Luke Daniels. Beginning his narration career with Brilliance Audio in 2009, Luke kept his ear to the ground and rode the wave of home studio expansion to find success producing audiobooks for major publishers and ACX Rights Holders alike. Luke’s hard work has paid off with 13 Audiofile Magazine Earphones Awards and 7 Audie nominations, most recently for The Purloined Poodle, written by Kevin Hearne and produced via ACX. Luke joins us today to share his story.
Q: How did you become an audiobook narrator?
A: I was raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in an environment of storytelling. Both my parents were actors, directors, and taught theatre, so from the very beginning, the arts spoke to me. I loved movies, plays, music, and visual arts. But most of all I loved stories. Books, comics, 50s radio dramas…I absorbed it all. My undergrad years were spent exploring storytelling through film production/interpretation, literature, and theatre. I got my Master’s from the University of Connecticut in Performance. But it wasn’t until I recorded my first audiobook that I felt that old connection to a story told solely through words and voice. I knew I was taking part in a ritual as old as human beings themselves, and it electrified me.
I got the chance at my first book narration due to a lot of hard work, plus more than my share of luck. My older brother had narrated audiobooks for Brilliance Audio, based in Grand Haven, Michigan, back in the cassette tape days. He was kind enough to pass my name to their casting directors. After I auditioned, they offered me my first book, a backlist John Lescroart title called Sunburn. I was in. But now I had to actually record it…and what the heck did I know?
I jumped in with both feet and I read. But I also listened—to the directors, to the engineers, to other narrators that I met, to the text. I listened to what the authors told me. I listened to the TV with my eyes closed. What images did the voices I heard create in my mind? I listened to people on the street and I used their voices in the books I narrated. I relistened to my books after they were released and shuddered at the choices I’d made that fell flat. I felt exulted in the few moments that felt electric and tried to learn from it all. Listening to my own performances highlighted familiar rhythms and stress patterns I can slip into during narration. This is a clear sign that I’m just reading and not fully engaged with the text. Relistening also showed me times when I went too far with a character and other times when I wish I’d gone further.
In addition to all that listening, I read, and I read and I read some more. The more familiar I became with different genres and authors, the more I started to understand how their stories should be told. Before I knew it, I was recording two books a week for Brilliance.
Q: How did you grow your business from that point?
A: While Brilliance and their studio system were fantastic, I knew I needed to diversify to be a viable entity in this emerging industry. But I lived in Michigan. Hemmed in by the Great Lakes, Michigan is known for cherries, beer, and snow days, but it’s no major industry hub like New York or Los Angeles.
I’d heard that my fellow narrators were now able to record for other companies from their home studios and still be home in time for dinner —because they never had to leave home in the first place. From there I slowly began to build my stable by searching out producers at other studios. After working with Brilliance, I was comfortable asking their casting directors for other studio contacts that I could reach out to. Word of mouth through other narrators, directors, and engineers helped, too. I learned that having an easily accessible website where studio producers could listen to my samples was essential. I never made them click more than two buttons to listen to me. When introducing myself, I supplied producers with practicalities right off the bat. Saying “I have my own studio,” or “this is my availability,” gave them answers before they had to ask the questions.
Publishers and producers hired me to record from home. I also continued to record at Brilliance’s studios until they were comfortable letting me take over the reins from my own studio.
Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?
A: 1. “Think before you act.” I’ve always been so gung ho to make my mark that I’ve sometimes been overzealous or guilty of trying too hard. I have to remind myself to take a moment. Breathe. Slow down. Tell. The. Story.
2. “You are your greatest asset.” Trust yourself, but also push yourself out of your comfort zones. Take risks. Have a point of view. Make a choice and commit!
3. “Support other narrators and producers.” We’re all in this together. It’s not a competition. Stats are great. Good reviews are manna from heaven, but none of it is as important as people. From the proofers to the producers, everyone has an equal right to play the game and no one part is more important than the whole: a story well told.
Q: Do you have any other advice for those just getting their feet wet with audiobook production?
A: In addition to courting producers and casting directors, it’s important to develop relationships with your fans and authors. Social media is a boon to us performers, a free marketing tool for our product, audiobooks, but also ourselves. Listeners love a shout-out on Facebook. That small personal interaction can translate into a lifelong fan. Authors love Twitter, so use it to connect with them and promote your work. I use YouTube and Facebook Live as a way to give fans and authors a small glimpse behind the curtain. In an emerging industry like audiobook production, the sky’s the limit.
How can you find your niche and create your own brand? If you are writing to a current or prospective client, take the time to make your emails simple, clear, and to the point, but also find some small way to personalize it. I would say 90% of my interactions with producers/authors is through email. How can you show them you’re not an automaton? It’s difficult to build a strong business relationship with someone you’ve never met in person, but it’s not impossible.
Q: How do you define success in your creative career?
A: When producers, authors, or Rights Holders reach out to me and ask me to do a book without auditioning. Whether or not I take on the project, that is success. That’s someone saying we’ve heard your work, or at least heard of you, and we want you to tell this story. Success is when my previous work is good enough to pave the way for future work.
A: I lived and worked in Yosemite National Park for a while and was an avid climber and hiker. I still try to make it out to the mountains at least once a year.
Luke Daniels is the recipient of Audible’s 2012 Narrator of the Year Award. Daniels’ vast repertoire of work ranges from Kerouac to Updike, Nora Roberts to Stephen King, and Michael Crichton to Philip K. Dick. His background is in classical theatre and film. He can be found at http://www.luke-daniels.com/.