Ever wondered what it’s like to narrate an audiobook?
Anyone who knows my audiobook-listening habits knows that I’m incredibly picky when it comes to narration styles. Maybe this comes from being a bookworm and hoping that the characters I picture in my head are voiced a particular way. Maybe it’s because I took theatre for six years and hope for a decent acting job no matter the outlet. I’m not entirely sure the reason, but I have always wondered what it actually takes to be a voice actor and audiobook narrator. It seems like such a unique and fun career!
A few months back, I tweeted about how I was listening to A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, and you can imagine my surprise when one of the narrators, A.J. Beckles, replied to my tweet (it turns out he narrated Early Departures as well). I was really excited because I loved how he narrated the book’s character. We got to chatting and I asked if he’d be willing to answer some of me and my fellow audiobook-listeners’ biggest questions about his profession. Now I get to share the inside scoop with all of you!
Here’s what I chatted about with voice actor, A.J. Beckles. It was so fun learning more about this career from his perspective.
Q: How did you get into voice acting?
A: The funny thing about voiceovers is everyone you ask this question will give you a different answer. So my brother one day (my junior year of high school) asked me if it was something I’d be interested in trying and I was going to say no because I had no clue what voiceover was but I was at a point in my life where college was coming up and I had nooo idea what I wanted to do with my life after I figured out I wasn’t going to be 6ft and in the NBA. I agreed to try after he explained that I could earn easy money and all I have to do is talk (I wish it was that easy lol). I then proceeded to fall in love. It was the first thing I ever tried where I started off feeling like I was really good, and to be honest it felt natural. I started researching like crazy and since I had no acting experience, YouTube was how I learned. From there I started auditioning on “behindthevoiceactors.com” and got cast a couple of times early on. I haven’t stopped and don’t plan on it any time soon
Q: How does audiobook narration differ from other styles of voice acting?
A: Cold reading is super important in general. Since voice actors usually get scripts only a bit ahead of time, it’s hard to make strong acting decisions like our live-action/theatre counterparts (not impossible of course but it’s harder for sure and you can only use your voice to convey emotion). More so with audiobooks actually. Luckily with audiobooks, you tend to get the scripts a month or so in advance of the actual recording so you can still prep it so you know what’s happening in the most important parts but audiobooks tend to be a big challenge in their own right. It is the same as most voice-overs in that you can prep slightly, BUT there’s a lot more text to go through. For a video game or anime, you have 60 lines MAYBE in a 4-hour session. In order to finish an audiobook in time, you have to read 25k words in the same time frame while making minimal mistakes. SO your cold reading skills have to be great, while also making sure your acting doesn’t dip in quality towards the last hour or so when you’re exhausted, your eyes are tired, and your focus begins to falter. It’s really tough work but great training for all other kinds of voice acting.
Q: Do you typically read the book before you dive into narration?
A: I don’t always have time to read the book completely but I do skim through important parts and write notes so I’m not completely lost while I’m reading because if I don’t that just makes a breeding ground for mistakes during recording sessions and people don’t really have the time to deal with that.
Q: What has been your favorite voice acting experience so far?
A: I did my first anime audition ever recently and it was for my favorite anime of all time so I was elated. Anime is my dream so I hope next year I get to audition more for that sort of thing.
Q: How long does it take for your voice to get tired? And along with that question, is there anything you do to prevent vocal exhaustion?
A: If I’m not screaming, it really does take a lot. For audiobooks usually around the 3-hour mark but it’s more-so me losing focus than losing my voice. I did, however, scream a couple of weeks ago because I got really excited about what I was doing and I still haven’t gotten it back fully -lesson absolutely learned. I’d say a tip for preventing vocal exhaustion is just to listen to your body. I knew my voice was spent but I just kept pushing it. DON’T DO THAT. Give yourself a break, drink plenty of fluids, sleep, and always tell someone if you can’t continue. You don’t want to risk your career to impress someone.
Q: Is there any advice you’d offer to someone wanting to pursue voice acting as a career?
A: This is my first time being asked this question. Surreal thinking that when I started I was asking the same question to the people I admired:
1) BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Is this something you want to do as a hobby or for fun? That’s completely fine, we all need outlets. But if you decide you want it to be your career then you have to have a professional mindset. The rejection ratios are very high for this kind of work/for acting in general. Steve Blum has said once that a good year for him is him booking 30% of his auditions and that’s auditioning only for things that are good for his voice. If you have the tenacity and the drive to succeed in this career then you WILL succeed, and the community will help you do it. Just don’t give up.
2) If you’re not booking ANYTHING, not just big stuff but fan projects or indie stuff, there’s probably something you could do better. Whether that be acting-wise or auditioning-wise, take classes if you have reached your limit learning by yourself. Think of it as an investment. That being said, do everything in your power to learn by yourself, because you won’t always have the money or the friends, in the beginning, to be able to help you. Record your voice and try to find out why your acting is more off than Tom Kenny’s, go and learn everything you can about voiceover from sources like VO Buzz Weekly, Voice Acting Mastery Podcast, and iwanttobeavoiceactor.com. Look up how to breathe from your diaphragm, the difference between emphasis and intonation. Literally, do everything in your power to improve, and THEN find a teacher/coach that you can trust. Also, join the Voice Acting Club Discord, it is THE BEST source on voiceover on the internet. Pros and new people alike are a part of the community.
Q: If you could narrate any character from any book, who would it be?
A: Brian Robeson from “Hatchet”! It was my first audiobook that I can remember from 5th grade and it’s my favorite book of all time! I love Hatchet.
Q: Anything you’re working on right now that you wanna hype up? (That you’re allowed to talk about)
A: Nothing that I can talk about right now! But I have 2 more audiobooks that will be coming out in the coming months that I’ll be announcing at some point on my Twitter: @ajbecklesvo
Q: And just for fun: favorite snack to get at the movies?
A: I LOVE CHEESE FRIES and the blue slushies are always wicked good.