I would like to give a warm welcome to Pearl Hewitt as the second featured "Mentor" to my blog. Pearl is an ACX approved narrator and has since developed a successful, full-time career as voice actor/narrator and has experience in all genres of voiceovers and narration, ranging from voicemail to videogame characters and everything in-between. I asked Pearl to share some helpful advice for new audiobook narrators. What follows is insightful guidance for new and experienced narrators, I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.
#1. If you could go back in time, what is the one piece of advice you would give yourself as a beginning audiobook narrator?
I would most definitely take some classes before recording my first book. I think it’s important to have at least a basic knowledge of narration technique to help with pacing, breath control and overall performance but also to help me decide which genre of audiobook narration I’m best suited to. I’ve discovered, over time, that I am definitely at my best narrating a fictional story instead of non-fiction. If I’d known that in the beginning I could have saved myself a lot of time auditioning for the wrong titles.
#2. Are there any books that you've done that you are especially proud of? If so, which ones?
I’m particularly proud of ‘Hild’ by Nicola Griffith. It was a very challenging, epic-length audiobook of almost 24 hours but was commissioned on a very tight deadline. There was so much work to do in a very short time. It’s based in 7th century England, centered around the life of Hild, the king’s seer who was thought to have special powers. I needed to do a lot of preparation and in-depth research on ancient languages and their pronunciations before I could start recording and I wanted to also have a working knowledge of the history of the time. Although the story was an historical fiction the names, places and people all actually existed during that time period and I had to create a catalogue of pronunciations to constantly refer to while I was working on it. Hild actually became known as St Hilda of Whitby.
#3. What professional organizations do you belong to?
I am a member of the APA (Audio Publisher’s Association) as well as the international voiceover trade association known as WoVo (World-Voices.com). I have a profile on the Audiofile Magazine website and I’m also a volunteer for Houston Sight Into Sound Radio. I used to be a weekly regular but now my time is limited but I try to record for them as often as I can.
#4. How do you decide which books to audition for? What criteria does a book need to have?
I tend to stick to books that I know my voice is suited for. There’s nothing worse than listening to a narrator whose voice doesn’t fit with the genre or style of the writing. I mostly stick to fiction (although not exclusively) especially if character voices are needed. As I am UK born and grew up in north east England I tend to exclusively record in my native British accent so I limit my choice of titles to that. I can do an American accent in short bursts but even though I’ve lived Stateside for 15 years I still can’t sustain an authentic American sound for very long. If I can’t sound authentic then I won’t do it. It would distract the listener too much. As actors we have to be as believable as we can. Many of the titles I’ve recorded are British Regency Romances and the majority of them contain ‘mildly-heated’ love scenes. However, I don’t like to record anything that contains pornographic or offensive material. I’m hoping to branch out and record a lot more children’s literature. If my voice was recognized for steamy love scenes it just wouldn’t seem appropriate to be reading to children too. I would prefer to narrate a book with limited male characters in it. I’m not one of those female narrators with a husky, gravelly voice that can easily lower it to sound manly. My very ladylike, high voice joins forces with my acting chops to lower my tone and create some decent male characters but it would be a big challenge to create more than 6 or 7 in one story. To be honest if a story contains predominantly male characters then I believe it should be narrated by a man.
#5. Can you briefly describe your typical day?
I almost always work from home and I like to start between 8 and 9am after a long drink of lemon-water to hydrate me and a good breakfast. I catch up on emails then interact with voiceover-related blog-posts and articles via Facebook, Linked-In, Goodreads, Twitter, basically using social media as a marketing-tool and also take this time to listen to training webinars. I start narrating around 10am. By then my voice has warmed up nicely and is ready for recording. I’ll work on whatever project is most pressing at the time be it a corporate narration or an audiobook. I record until about noon then have lunch. While lunch is digesting (often making noisy tummy gurgles preventing working at the microphone) I use this time for marketing, editing the audio I recorded that morning or prep-reading a new audiobook then I start recording again at about 1:30pm until about 4:30pm (intermittently taking brief leg-stretching breaks with a walk around the room or 100 spins of the hula hoop to keep my blood flowing). Then I walk the dog round the block and around 5pm edit what I recorded earlier followed by either business-related paperwork, marketing or prep-reading a new audiobook. If I’m working on an audiobook that is being edited by someone else I use that ‘editing’ time to do some marketing. My day ends around 6pm.
#6. How much time do you spend marketing/promotion?
It depends how busy my narrating schedule is. As a business it’s important that I devote as much and often more time to marketing than sitting in front of the microphone. I don’t think I have the balance quite right yet but I’m working on it. I probably spend an average of 3 hours per day marketing. That includes researching the web for potential clients, surfing through social media sites and using them to promote my work as well as build relationships and network with other media or entertainment-related professionals.
#7. Are there any books, webinars, classes, or conventions you have found particularly helpful and informative?
Ooh, so many to mention. These are just a few that I have personally experienced:
Books : The Art of VoiceActing by James Alburger, Making Money In Your PJs by Paul Strikwerda, More Than just A Voice by Dave Courvoisier, Voiceover Legal by Robert Sciglimpaglia, How To Start And Build A 6 Figure Voiceover Business by Bill DeWees, Sound Advice by Dan Friedman.
Webinars: Basic audio engineering techniques and tips for using specific recording softwares by both Dan Friedman and George Whittam; Learning how to develop character voices and numerous audiobook narration techniques by Patrick Fraley; Audiobook narration webinar with Paul Alan Ruben; Using Social Media as a marketing tool with VOPeeps’ Anne Ganguzza; How To Make It With Big Publishers with Deyan Audio, Penguin Random House and Blackstone Audio.
Classes: The Business Of Voiceover (for beginners) with Bettye Zoller; The Six Figure Success Voiceover RoadMap with Susan Berkley; Billion Dollar Read and Developing Character Voices with Patrick Fraley; Winning Auditions with David Goldberg (Edge Studio CEO); Audiobook Narration Technique with Johnny Heller.
Conferences: The VOICE (VoiceOver International Creative Experience) Conventions every couple of years hosted by Penny Abshire and James Alburger in the L.A area; The annual APAC (Audiobook Publisher’s Association Conference) in New York City; Faffcamp 2015 was the MOST useful of all to me. It was a fantastic blend of education, relationship-building and networking for both general voiceover and audiobook narration.
#8. Is there anything I didn't ask that you would like to share?
Nope I don’t think so
#9. A brief profile of your statistics like how long you have been doing this, how many books you've recorded, what software/hardware do you use, etc.
I’ve been doing voiceovers since 2008 starting out in the bedroom closet (where I would still be if I didn’t live in a noisy suburban neighborhood. The acoustics were great in there but the outside noise leeched in. I started recording audiobooks, professionally, in 2012 with 44 now available at Audible and 3 more due by the end of June. However, I had narrated at least 40 books voluntarily for Houston Sight Into Sound Radio before then. Recording audiobooks means a need for absolute quiet for long periods of time so I invested in a StudioBricks One soundbooth to help with that. I record using an Audio Technica 4033 microphone via a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface into Twisted Wave on a Macbook Pro.
#10. What is your favorite part of being a voice actor? Least favorite?
My favorite part is being a storyteller and bringing someone else’s words to life. Audiobook narration is my most preferred genre of voice work. It’s very hard work but there’s something magical to it. My least favorite part is the solitude. Recording from home means recording alone and being responsible for directing myself. I’m a very social being and I really miss interacting with others in a workplace. That’s why the conferences are so fantastic. 300 like-minded individuals who all ‘get’ what you do! There’s nothing like it!