Simple Rules for Audiobook Success

Johnny Heller

Simple Rules for Audiobook Success … That You Already Know and Ignore

by Johnny Heller

There is a crowd in front of an elevator door – clearly waiting for its arrival so they can step in and be whisked away. They stand about looking at the elevator floor lights to see where it is and when it might arrive so they can stop feeling so uncomfortable with all of these strangers, no one interacting, no one looking at anyone else – even though they are about to stand even closer to these strangers in a much more confined space in mere moments.

Invariably a newcomer will join the crowd, move through it and push the already lit elevator button.  A button that has obviously been pushed at least 5 times already. A button that is clearly lit because it has been pushed by now. And the strangers will, as one, think: “what a tool.” And they are right to think that. Yet every single one of us has, at times, been that elevator button pushing boor – doing something that doesn’t need to be done; that has already clearly been done; that we don’t have to do and that we shouldn’t do and that is so totally foolish to do that only an idiot would do it.

We are, oftentimes, that idiot.

Such is the case for the aspiring audiobook actor. We know in our hearts what we need to do and yet we do a thousand other things in our mind-boggling attempts to reinvent the wheel – or, in this case, to find a way to tell a story.

Here are four simple rules for audiobook success … that you already know and ignore:

  • LET THE AUTHOR TELL THE STORY

In the world of audiobooks, actors will frequently push buttons that the author has already pushed. They will inject their personality and individual stamp on a story that is already perfectly well told. It is not just important to leave the heavy lifting to the author; it is imperative. It is not your story to tell. It is only yours to share.

  • STOP PROCLAIMING

Actors – new and experienced – almost always feel a need to do weird vocal things when they begin their audiobook careers. Usually, they raise their voices both in pitch and volume as though they have become the local town crier. When one speaks into a microphone, one needn’t shout from the proscenium to the cheap seats. In this, as in all things audiobook, less is more.

  • CHARACTERS ARE MORE THAN VOICES

Many actors try to differentiate between characters by modulating their voice. They change their pitch, volume, pace, tone… And that’s fine if there is a reason to do so. To change your voice just to sound different is the same as changing your shirt and expecting me to think you are someone else all of a sudden. It’s best, and I know you know this, to find the character in the text and then the voice will follow.
You need to find the clues to who a character is and to cast that character from your own frame of reference. Your job isn’t to fool me with a fake mustache and a silly costume. Your job is to play a character in a scene. Your job is to act.

  • YOU CAN’T A TELL A STORY YOU DON’T KNOW

I am often asked: “Do you have to read the book before recording it?” I want to respond, “No. That way I can make stuff up when the boring bits come along.” Sadly, I am much too nice a fellow to respond with sarcasm – far be it from me to wisecrack as you may know. But as you must surely know or at least suspect, OF COURSE YOU HAVE TO READ THE BOOK FIRST! How can I tell a story when I have no idea who is in it? What they want? Who they are? Or, and this is really important – what happens? Also, what if I give the hero a fine New Zealand accent only to find in the end – as he lays dying from being run over by a speeding Yugo that he is from Scranton, PA?

And these are just 4 things that you already know about audiobook acting that you will pay zero attention to and wonder why things aren’t working out for you. My advice? – get thee to an Edge Studio Private Coaching Session! Even if you are just told what you already suspect to be the case, it can help cement it in your brain and in your performance. Coaching isn’t always sharing new ideas; it’s often reinforcing knowledge you already have and validating simple truths about honest acting. And that is a great thing! So, go get some training so you can get a leg up on your competition with these and other simple rules for audiobook success. We are here waiting for your call!

We at Edge would like to congratulate our coach, Johnny Heller, on his recent Grammy Award nomination for his exceptional vocal work on Charlotte’s Web alongside Meryl Streep and the rest of the cast in the category of Best Spoken Word Album (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling).