Tag Archives: independent producer

Work-Life Balance for Freelancers

“Work-life balance.” “Self-care.” “Unplugging.” “Boundaries.”

These buzzwords have been popping up more than ever the last couple years. Working from home, modified schedules, and career transitions have blurred the lines between work and not-work, and you’ve probably seen more than a handful of articles on leaving time for yourself and not letting your job absorb your personal life.

But if you work for yourself, this concept of work-life balance can be a good deal trickier. For independent creators, the work you do for yourself may be exactly what recharges you or gives your life meaning, so it can be easier to justify working overtime on your passion projects, and harder to put them down. It’s likely too that if you’re self-employed (and especially if you’re trying to get an independent career up and running), any time away from that work is accompanied by guilt—that you’re not pushing yourself hard enough or that you won’t “make it” if you don’t devote every spare second to your craft.

And while it’s true that when you’re your own boss, no one is going to keep you on track if you don’t, it’s equally true that all work and no play makes you a burned-out author, or actor, or publisher, who starts to resent your passion projects and doesn’t have the energy to give them your best work anyway (as someone who spent nearly a decade as a freelance producer, ask me how I know).

Since I’ve always found that balance pretty tough to strike, I thought I’d turn it over to someone who’s always struck me as being really good at this to give you some tips on how to care for yourself, maintain your work-life balance, and still feel like you’re the kickass boss of your own creative destiny.

Khristine Hvam is a narrator, producer, director, voice coach, and the co-creator of the pLAy and play NYCe workshops for creatives with fellow multi-hyphenate voice actor PJ Ochlan. She’s won multiple awards for her many different audio projects and continues to balance an impressive self-made career in vocal production and performance with a full life outside her work.

Here are her tips for finding your own balance and making your creative work, work for you:

  1. Set a “work schedule” that works for you and your life…and then ditch it when a really great opportunity comes up. And then go back to it. It’s fine. I promise. Figure out how much finished time you can realistically record in any given week and don’t over extend yourself. For a long time during the pandemic, I worked in two-hour chunks. Morning, late afternoon, and after the kids went to bed. I hated it, but I reminded myself often, “as are all things, this too is temporary.” Now that the kids are back in school, I have a new work schedule that I feel much more comfortable with. We’ve got to be flexible, otherwise we’re just frustrated.
  1. Give yourself a routine. Mine: wake up, make coffee, feed cat, drink coffee, wake children, feed children, drop off children, work…you see where I’m going with this. Humans need a bit of routine. It helps our ancestral brains function better.
  1. Break the routine once a week and do something different. Different coffee shop, different route to drop off the kids, different workout, trip to Vegas…shake things up. It’s GREAT for the creative brain.
  1. Make a list of your priorities. Balance is about compromise. This list will help you see what you want to give your attention to—OH, and it will change, so re-do this list every few months and check back in with yourself.
  1. Celebrate the little things. Whether it’s with a night out, or an expensive coffee, or a leisurely walk—celebrate your accomplishments. “Hey I made my bed today! Whoot whoot!”
  1. Don’t be afraid to say no. No one is keeping score on how many times you say yes and no. “Booked” is booked, and that’s ok. If you want to take an action, add into those “no” emails when you’ve got avails coming up. That’s helpful. And don’t overbook yourself. Saying no to a project is much better than saying you’re late with it.
  1. Choose “work-free days.” I don’t work on the weekend, BUT there are times when I need to break that rule for the bigger picture. Like, “I need to work over the weekend because the kids have off this Monday from school and I need to be with them.”
  1. Plan vacations well in advance—like a year in advance—so that you’re able to plan projects (and pickups) and finances around them. And plan long vacations. Give yourself a proper vacation. Plan for it. Save for it. And then enjoy the heck out of it.
  1. Put your phone away! Like WAY away. Scrolling is a time suck and social media just makes you think people are doing more/better than you. They’re not. Do what you need to do on there, then kick rocks. 
  1. Take a long hard look at your financial situation. What do you need? What do you want? Talk to a financial expert, get some help and some good advice. Sacrifices will have to be made, but future you will thank you for it. Knowing what you need to earn in order to reach your financial goals will help you choose when to say yes and when to say no to projects.
  1. Set attainable goals. Think big, then work backward to what you can do today.
  1. Find a good therapist, and lean on your support people when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It makes other people feel good and it helps form stronger bonds.
  1. Find ways to PLAY. What brings you joy? Do more of that. Make a list of what you liked to do when you were in Elementary school and find the adult equivalent. Then go do it. Not every day, or every week, but when you can. When it fits.
  1. Be nice to you and don’t “should on yourself.”
  1. Balance isn’t a day-by-day endeavor. Think of it over the long term. In one-year chunks instead of one-day. It’s life balance, not day balance. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Work-life balance is a fairly new concept to be embraced by the mainstream workforce, and many of us weren’t conditioned to think it’s important, much less trained to structure our own lives to prioritize it. So, give it a shot, and don’t beat yourself up if it takes you a little while to figure out a balance that works for you. Self-forgiveness is great for morale and makes it a whole lot easier to get back on track when you get derailed.

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Producer Joe Hempel

The true story of ACX’s 10th anniversary is told in the journeys of the impressive indie creators who have written their own career narratives via ACX. Read the latest entry from Audible Approved Producer Joe Hempel, below, then catch up on the rest of the series here.

Where have you taken your career since we last spoke?

My career has taken so many different twists and turns. It’s really been a wild ride! When we last spoke, I was working mainly on ACX, with one or maybe two publishers at the time. Now, I do a lot of work for a lot of different publishers, and I’ve even started my own publishing company, Fireside Horror. I barely have time for myself these days, but I tell you what, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I enjoy the pace of this, I enjoy being a workhorse, and I enjoy the grind required to stay at the top of my game.

These days, I’m always paying attention to new trends, not just looking at old ones and staying the course. I want to be at the forefront of anything that comes up—be it with technology, or with new ideas, or what new listeners are wanting to hear.

What important connections have you made on ACX?

I work with so many wonderful people on ACX, I want to say they’re all important! If I were to choose one – and this is no slight to anyone else—I’d have to say author Ambrose Ibsen. We teamed up and we created one heck of a little horror empire. After listening to some of the samples I have on ACX, he approached me to narrate his book, Whispering Corridors, in 2017, and it just took off. From there we’ve sold well over 25,000 audiobooks together. We do Royalty Share because that allows us both to make more money than we would with major publishing companies. I’m not sure what’s next, but you can bet it’ll be a hit.

What was your big “I made it” moment?

I think for me, the biggest thing was being able to move to Texas and buy my own house strictly from being an audiobook narrator. That was something I never dreamed would happen, and when I signed on that dotted line and walked into it, and realized “wow, this is mine, I did this” it was the greatest feeling of all time.

How do you define success in your career? 

This is a tricky one. Success can be many things to different people. I define success as continuously working, continuously grinding, and having the ability to take some time off when I want to without feeling stressed financially.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started?

Relationships are EVERYTHING. This community is so small, though it may seem big, and everyone knows everyone, and everyone talks to each other—be it indie publishers, authors, or other narrators. Solid relationships built on trust and mutual respect are indispensable in this industry.

Who was most instrumental in getting your career going (besides you)?

Hands down my coaches. Johnny Heller, Sean Pratt, Jayme Matler, Scott Brick, and many more that I have had the pleasure of learning with. I wish I could name them all because they all deserve so much recognition. Even all the new people that are coming up, I learn from them too. I think you can get to a point in your career when you begin to miss certain trends, and those that are newer to the industry keep me on my toes and help me look at things differently. And I think that’s instrumental in staying relevant.

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent narrator/producer?

Networking with authors and narrators. Now that I’ve stepped into publishing as well, I’m connecting with more narrators that are just dipping their toes in the water, and let me tell you, there is an amazing pool of talent out there. It makes me want to continuously keep my eyes up and well coached and trained.

What does being an independent creator allow you to do that you couldn’t otherwise?

Without a doubt, I’d say “being able to make my own schedule and set my own working hours.” If something happens and this career goes belly up, I don’t think I’d be a good employee anymore!

What would you say ACX means to you?

Everything. ACX means everything to me. I would not have a career without ACX. ACX was on the forefront of directly connecting authors and narrators. So many people get to have such great careers and really turn their life around because of ACX. I haven’t lost sight of that, and I continue to use ACX to this day and will into the future.

Now that I’m a publisher, I use ACX to distribute to Audible, and it makes me incredibly happy to bring some really great horror to the Audible shelves that maybe they otherwise wouldn’t have. While there are other distributors out there, I wouldn’t dream of using anyone else.

What’s your most essential piece of studio gear?

I can’t really say one thing is more important than the other one. Obviously, the booth is what keeps things quiet so that I can work during the day, so I guess having that quiet space is the most important thing of all. Everything just works in synergy to create the audio—from the space, to the mic and interface, to the PC and Reaper, the DAW that I use.

If you could narrate any book ever, what would it be?

Anything by Stephen King. That’s the brass ring for me. I want it so bad, I even went out and bought the audio rights to The Science of Stephen King just so I could narrate in his world! HA!

What do you aspire to next?

I would like my publishing company to become known as THE place to get horror audiobooks into the world. It’s a grind, and things get a little behind because I’m a one man band. But it’s growing, and I’m hoping that, in the next 2 years, Audible will have a lot more horror out there—enough to classify it as its own genre, rather than a sub-genre under “Mysteries and Thrillers.”

You can find Joe Hempel at his publishing company, Fireside Horror, check out his titles on Audible, or learn more about how he got started in narration in his first ACX blog appearance.

Stay tuned for more stories from ACX’s best and brightest!

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Narrator James Romick

It’s ACX’s 10th anniversary this spring, and we’re celebrating by sharing career journeys from some of the impressive indie creators who have used ACX to share their stories with the world over the last decade. Read this blog series from the beginning, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller—narrator and producer, James Romick.

How did you become a professional audiobook narrator/producer?

The first project that I auditioned for and won on ACX was in 2014. Before that, I had never considered narrating audiobooks. I’d listened to them for years—all of them non-fiction—read by narrators whom I have come to know personally. But I never thought about becoming an audiobook narrator myself.

After I left the Broadway show that I had been with for quite some time, I was finding it difficult to land another who needed a “gentleman of a certain age,” so I sought out (well, needed) another creative outlet. The on-camera commercial career wasn’t gaining any traction, and voiceover was my next trial balloon. I had some limited success at first, but when I focused my efforts on audiobook recording and production, I found that creative acting niche I had been looking for.

How did you find ACX?

Kind of by accident. I started pursuing a voiceover career in 2013. That was also when the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Voiceover Lab (EIF VO Lab) in New York City came into being. I think I first heard about ACX from some of the other attendees and instructors who encouraged me to look into it. I was nearly finished with constructing my first, very tiny home studio, and collecting some professional quality recording equipment. Once that was done, I started auditioning for projects on ACX, and landed a pretty good one right away.

Book one in bestselling author Brandan Zenner’s After War series, for which James has provided all the narration

What was your big “I made it” moment?

The first telephone conversation with the Rights Holder and the first sale of my very first audiobook production—and the faith that Rights Holder (who had been in the audiobook business for over 25 years) had in me to deliver a quality narration of their work.

How has your career grown since first coming to ACX?

The world of audiobooks and narration was a completely foreign world to me, coming from a live theatre performing background of some 35+ years. I attempted to immerse myself in it as much as I could—learning the terms, nomenclature, jargon and such of the business. Attending a couple of the live ACX events at Audible Studios in Newark, NJ and meeting a lot of people who were also in the beginning stages of their audiobook careers opened up this whole new world for me.

I consider voiceover the 4th or 5th phase of my 40+ year acting career. But never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that I would be recording and producing audiobooks at home in my den from a vocal booth I designed and built myself. I have now recorded and produced some 100+ fiction and non-fiction audiobooks.

Why is continual, ongoing education so important to your career, and how has ACX University played a role in that? 

As with fashion and music and other forms of art, the trends change rapidly. Whereas a few years or months ago it might have been fiction or non-fiction books about zombies and spaghetti monsters, now it might be YA (young adult) or alien romance or pandemics. You have to keep up or be left in the dust. I am not the best businessman and I’m self-aware enough to know that about myself—ongoing education that helps you stay current on industry trends, offers suggestions on how to attack that end of the business or how to communicate with authors and convince them to take a chance on you as the narrator of their baby (or take a chance on audiobook narration at all)—that only serves to support the narration community. And hopefully it puts money in your bank account. That, and I was promised a nice, new ACX University t-shirt to replace the ratty old one I got at the last live ACX event in Newark some years ago.

What important connections have you made on ACX?

I got to meet RC Bray and talk with him at the last live event, in 2015, which was great because I am a super fan of his work. And I’ve made some personal connections with other narrators with whom I share information all the time. I also have very good relationships with the authors with whom I have collaborated—many have kept me on for one series or another and multiple standalone books. One of my authors even wrote my wife and I into the story as supporting characters for one book of a murder mystery series.

How do you define success in your career?

When people buy, listen to, and appreciate my work (although I really don’t pay much, if any, attention to reviews).

Book one in C.J. Park’s Park trilogy—another series James narrated in its entirety

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started?

There are “industry standards” and “best practices” that need to be understood and met. That, and until you have some experience and a body of work behind you that you are proud of, take the advice of other seasoned and respected professionals, and don’t try to be a maverick or re-invent the wheel. You really might do so at your own peril. Study. Study. Study. Not only coaching for your narration, but also in understanding the tech side with whichever DAW and equipment you choose to use.

Who was most instrumental in getting your career going (besides you)?

Although I never took his course, David H. Lawrence XVII, because he provided the impetus for me to pursue audiobooks in the first place, Jayme Mattler, for encouraging me to go beyond narrating only non-fiction, and Johnny Heller, well, for being Johnny Heller.

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent narrator/producer?

People think that I’m crazy. But I actually like editing and mastering my (and other people’s) work. In between acting gigs in the 80s, I went to audio engineering school—that’s when editing analog tape with a block, razor blades, and adhesive tape was still the norm—so the tech challenges appeal to that side of my brain. Digital recording, editing and mastering is so much easier.

What does being an independent narrator allow you to do that you couldn’t otherwise?

To more or less go at my own pace in my own space with some really good equipment. And to do projects that I (and my pseudonym) choose to do for my (his) own reasons. I do not accept any old thing just to have a narration credit.

What do you aspire to next?

I have been coaching fellow voice artists and narrators on using and configuring REAPER as their DAW of choice for recording their work. Everybody and their relative likes to make videos on one topic or another, but I think I’d like to create a video series on REAPER, specifically geared toward audiobook narration. Of the 8 or 9 DAWs I have installed and played with, REAPER is by far my favorite.

You can find James Romick on his website, check out his numerous titles on Audible, or you might just catch him answering questions and welcoming newcomers to the community at the next ACX University premiere or industry conference.

Keep an eye on the blog for more stories from ACX’s finest!

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Narrator Janina Edwards

This spring marks ACX’s 10th anniversary as a hub for self-driven authors, actors, and publishers to make connections, produce compelling stories, and distribute their art to a world of listeners. We’re proud to have made it ten years, but ACX would be nothing without the creators who use it to pursue their dreams. So we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary by celebrating you! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing stories from ten years worth of creators that have made ACX special. First up, narrator/producer Janina Edwards.

How did you become a narrator? 

My career has a Part One and Part Deux. In Part One, I recorded my first audiobook around 1989 in New York City for the American Foundation for the Blind. I was and am pretty shy, and although my undergrad degree is in acting, I couldn’t handle the theatrical audition process. AFB was mentioned in a voice over class I took. I inquired, and was hired to do about 5 books. Then life happened. Part Deux began around 2010, after my daughter graduated college. I always wanted to get back to voiceovers, specifically audiobooks. I got some coaching (Paul Armbruster and Diane Cardea), took some classes in audio recording and basic editing, met a demo producer (Eileen Kimble), and she mentioned ACX as something to investigate. I also went to APAC (the Audio Publishers Association Conference) and networked with narrators and publishers I met there. When I returned from the conference I started auditioning on ACX, and pay2play sites. Started getting experience. It took about a year before the traditional publishers started hiring me.

Are you a full-time narrator?

Yes. But I didn’t go full-time until 2019. There were a couple of years when I worked full time as a grant proposal writer, and then recorded in the evening and on weekends. I went full-time when I had enough publishers hiring me regularly, and paying me a livable rate (I had joined the SAG-AFTRA by then), and I’d paid off all my credit card debt.

You’ve been with ACX since the beginning! How did the platform help you build your career in narration and where have you gone since?

ACX was instrumental in creating the initial body of work that launched Part Deux of my career. While there are publishers on ACX, at that time the traditional publishers didn’t know me and weren’t yet ready to take a chance on me. Further, ACX allowed me to try different genres and styles, from romance and mystery, to how-to and academic history, to memoirs.  Working directly with authors on ACX, I learned how to develop a relationship with the writer, understand their goals for the project, support them, and be responsive to their needs.

When did you know this was what you wanted to do? When did it click for you?

Janina notably contributed narration for the 2021 title, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev.

1989. The booth is my stage. It just took a while for the dream to fully manifest.

Who was most instrumental in getting your career going (besides you)? 

Other narrators who introduced me to their contacts. Narrators and engineers who allowed me to pester them with questions about equipment, software, and everything I didn’t know. Producers who gave me a chance.

What was your big “I made it” moment? 

It’s exhilarating when I see my name placed with the same prominence as some of my idols and peers. The other week I realized that Andre DeShields (the original Wiz in the stage production of The Wiz, and part of the original Ain’t Misbehavin cast) was a co-narrator for The Final Revival of Opal and Nev. I was floored. The first time I ran into January LaVoy at a recording studio I was like “Ms. LaVoy, so glad to meet you…” And she was like “Oh, you’re Janina, right? I couldn’t believe she knew my name.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started? 

It’s all about relationships. I recently heard the wisdom “don’t be a jerk.” Though a lot of folks are joining our ranks, in the upper echelon, all the narrators know each other. There’s about two degrees of separation between folks. If you’re a jerk, it’ll boomerang eventually.

Any particular habits you have while you’re recording? 

I try to limit myself to 4-5 hours of recording a day. Usually from 11-5, with a break in the day somewhere.  Beyond that, my productivity is compromised. Sometimes I have to go longer, but I really try to respect those limits. My goal is to do great work. That means I have to allow time for rest (vocal and body), creativity, life and play.

What’s your most essential piece of studio gear? What do you have to have around when you’re recording? 

A big glass of water (room temperature), and a hot cup of ginger tea (Yogi brand: Mango Ginger, Lemon Ginger, or plain ol’ Ginger), or warm lemon and honey or agave.

Elaine Raco Chase is the author of one of the first ACX titles Janina narrated, and the two recently reconnected to release two new titles in 2019 & 2020.

How do you define success in your career? 

I want to do projects about things that interest and excite me and do great performances. I want every project I do to be great. When authors/producers see your great work, then great(er) work is offered to you. I think that’s also a lesson from ACX. Do the work that allows you to shine, and make every project great.

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent narrator? 

Re: Independent—I love working for myself. It’s a lot, but I don’t have to answer to anyone but my own conscience. Re: Narrator—I love that I get to do all the characters (in a traditional 1-person narration). It’s just fun. Independent means I can take on whatever projects I want that showcase my abilities. I can take a vacation or break when I want (though you have to be very deliberate and set that time aside as sacrosanct).

What’s your favorite listen?

I’m a longtime Nora Roberts fan. I love Julia Whelan’s and January LaVoy’s performances of her books. I really enjoy Amanda Ronconi’s performance of Molly Harper’s books—vampire, werewolf, human fantasy romance stuff. (I am so ashamed. Not.) Kim Staunton’s performance of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances—the perfect blend of black history, romance, and mystery. And Karen Chilton’s performance of Alyssa Cole’s books—multicultural, inclusive romances and mysteries. 

If you could narrate any book ever, what would it be? 

I would be lying if I said a specific book. When I agree to narrate a book, I’m the most excited about narrating that book (and if I’m not, I shouldn’t be accepting the project). I feel like the Cookie Monster in a roomful of cookies when I’m offered a project. I want to say yes to them all and just wolf them down.

What do you aspire to next?

I made my living as a professional grant proposal writer for about 13 years. I am now writing fiction and essays on things that interest me. I’m particularly interested in creating audio specific content. Who’d a thunk it?

You can find Janina on her website, and you can find her many award-winning and nominated audiobooks on Audible. Stay tuned for another story from a celebrated creator in our next installment of this special anniversary series!