This week at Writerly Wednesday I’d like to welcome my very first narrator guest. Welcome Becky Parker, narrator of I Left My Brains in Francisco by Karina Fabian. There are two Zombie Quizes included in this Interview – when you click on them you will be taken to youTube. Other links will take you to the Amazon Audible Pages.
Becky Parker Geist (performance name: Becky Parker)
Becky Parker Geist is the founder and owner of Pro Audio Voices, serving clients internationally as a go-to place for exceptional voiceover for audiobooks, advertising and animation.
After receiving her M.F.A. in Acting in 1981, Becky began narrating Talking Books for the Blind through the Library of Congress, narrating over 70 titles in two years, and quickly became one of their most popular narrators. As a professional stage actress, she has toured internationally (England and U.S.) and on the east and west U.S. coasts. She performs a wide range of voiceover
work, but has a particular love for creating audiobooks with sound effects – the more theatrical the better! Becky brings her broad range of theatre skills –acting, directing, producing, marketing – to bear in all her voiceover and production work.
Committed to leadership and building strong, long-term relationships, Becky serves as President
of BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publishers Association) and is a member of IBPA
(Independent Book Publishers Assn), APA (Audio Publishers Assn), and TBA (Theatre Bay
Becky is married to classical composer John Geist and has 3 adult daughters: Elise, Jes and
Jerrilee. As of 2015, Becky can truly say she is bi-coastal, going back and forth between New
York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been having a blast working Off Broadway
in NY for the past few years and has been a professional stage actor in the Bay Area since 1985.
- You are the Voice of the Neeta Lyfee Series. You are also my first interview with a narrator, voice over artist. Your signature file says – Pro Audio Voices is a San Francisco Bay Area based company serving clients internationally as a go-to place for exceptional voiceover services for Audiobooks, Animation, and Advertising, with an emphasis on those with uplifting and inspiring stories and messages. Can you tell us some of the steps involved in bringing the Neeta Lyffe Series to life?
In terms of the production process, first I read the manuscript – at least far enough to get a solid feel for the characters and story. Then I start recording. During the recording process, there are things I’ll check with Karina about, such as pronunciations of unusual names, words for which there could be multiple ways of pronouncing them, or words/names for which my online research comes up empty. I typically record a chapter then edit it, then send it on to Karina and Kim for corrections or final approval.
Audio editing involves listening to my recording with my director/editor ‘ears’ on. I’m listening for things like slurring, external sounds, content emphases that might be off, mis-reads or inverted word orders. I’m a believer in reading every word as written – word perfect – because I assume the writer and the text editor have already worked through the process to find the best expression.
Mixing – getting the right balance of sound levels between the narrative voice and the sounds/music – is really important to get right or else the sounds become a distraction instead of an enhancement. It’s all about the story and bringing it to life in the imagination of the listener. That is always my primary goal. Give the listener the most engaging, enjoyable audiobook experience possible.
I also then master the audio file, which is the technical and creative act of balancing, equalizing and enhancing, the digital files so that the finished product will have attained the maximum quality and competitiveness in the open market, and will produce the highest quality master files for duplication on CDs, etc. With the Neeta Lyffe books, it takes longer to edit since I’m designing the soundscape and sourcing or creating sound effects and/or music and mixing those elements in – making sure the balance seems right – all before I send it for approval.
Initially, we had made no plans for adding sound effects into the mix in Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator. Sound effects, I believe, should only be added when they truly enhance the listening experience. There were moments in this first book in the series, when music was playing in Neeta’s mind, and when the characters were on a radio show and the story just started calling out to me for sound effects. I checked in with Kim at Damnation Books and with Karina to see how they felt about adding sound effects. They were both really excited about my proposal and that decision has made a big difference in the audiobook series. Only a very small percentage of audiobooks are fully produced with sound effects – and certainly sound effects are not appropriate for every book – but I think they really add to the fun of the Neeta Lyffe series.
In Book 2, I Left my Brains in San Francisco, Karina had several references to a fictional song that is important to the plot – I won’t reveal how or why – no spoilers here! There’s a scene in which the song is playing, and I realized, “I need that song.” So I created it. It took a lot of time and work but it was fun and the team was really happy with it. In the audiobook you never get to hear the whole thing, so we’re giving it as a bonus download from my site in the audiobook (free code is in the closing credits).
Sometimes there are corrections that come back such as a pronunciation or the emotional tone of a line of dialogue. I make those corrections and send them back to be checked again. Then, once all the audio files are given the thumbs up, I upload them to ACX and we submit them for approval. Once it’s approved, the audiobook is launched! The primary distribution channels are Audible and iTunes.
- You have also put together other promotional items for the newest Audio Book in the series, I Left My Brains in San Francisco. Can you tell us a bit about what goes into making Zombie Quizes?
One of the voiceover products I offer through Pro Audio Voices is the creation of whiteboard animations. I use VideoScribe software package to make them (or work with other video professionals depending on the project needs). As with any kind of presentation or performance, producing a video first means thinking through the whole piece, what the intent is, how it will be used, how we want it to feel, and what response we hope for. Next is figuring out the text – and I turned to Karina for some of what I used, but also wrote some of my own questions that I thought fit the books. Then I gather the images. In this case Karina sent me the zombie hand – which was perfect! After that I record the audio, and this requires a bit of tricky timing to make it all work out right, because of the limitations of the software. Then I adjust the timings of the writing and between slides and such.
What we hope for with the animation videos is to get folks to play with us. We ultimately want people to know about the audiobooks, obviously, and hope they’ll decide to listen to the series. There’s a free audiobook offer on my website (proaudiovoices.com) when you subscribe to Audible and it’s great when folks use that freebie to get the Neeta Lyffe books. Again, the videos are a fun way to get our potential audience to play with us.
- What does your work area include? We know a writer has her software, her notebooks, pens, white boards, ocean side view, what does an Audio Artist have in her creative space?
My studio includes my microphone with pop screen (to cut the pop of air as in plosives like ‘p’), an audio interface (I use a Steinberg UR44) that connects my mic to my computer software, my Mac laptop with the Digital Performer DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, which is the audio software), and my iPad (to read from, so there are no noisy page turns as in a print book). I have a booth with soundproofing foam both to keep out external noise and to cut that ‘empty room’ rebound sound you get in a typical room. I have a notebook that I make notes about things like length of each audio track, settings from mastering the audio files, character and voice notes, pronunciations, etc. I also use my Mac for research for pronunciations, sending audio files, working on my website, etc. In and out of the studio, I use a small digital audio recorder to collect sound effects.
Many of the clips in my ever-growing collection of sound effects I created myself. Sometimes I’ll hear a sound and think I might be able to use that, so I’ll pull out my audio recorder that I carry around with me everywhere. These can be common sounds or really unusual ones, but sound collecting (this is also called “foley”) provides me with options when I’m looking for the perfect sound for an audiobook. For other sound effects that I don’t have easy access to, I’ll often find what I need on freesound.org, a crowd sourced sound effects database. I’m very grateful to my fellow foley artists around the world.
- What other things do you do that writers should know about?
I am really committing to helping authors succeed and do ongoing marketing of the completed audiobooks. That’s rare for audiobook producers. Most producers just produce the audio and move on. I consider the relationship I have with each author and title one that deserves ongoing attention. And I have very committed to helping authors succeed, as evidenced by my service as President of Bay Area Independent Publishers Assn.
The other big thing I’d like writers to know is that as an actor, my job is to bring these characters and this story to life in the mind of the listener. There’s a fine balance of narrative and dialogue that a lot of narrators miss, in my opinion. If the narrator is not feeling the character’s emotions on some level, and/or does not know how to effectively express them, then I think they are missing the boat and causing the listener to miss it as well. Narrating a story is a bit like weaving a tapestry, balancing the dialogue and the scene enactment with the narrative voice.
When I add in sound effects, it’s like adding another color to the woof (the thread weaving in and out of the warp) and how it enters and exits and shows up in the tapestry all should feel organic. The editing and mixing is with the ear of director-producer – a very different role from that of the actor. When I’m editing, I’m also directing, and sometimes find sentences or segments I choose to re-record because I know I can do them better. It’s WAY more than just saying the right words in a ‘nice’ voice. It’s more like producing and performing a one-woman show for an audience of listeners who will each experience it as a private performance.
- When did you know Audio work was what you wanted to do?
That’s an interesting question and makes me look back to my very first recording work. When I was in third grade my best friend and I used a reel-to-reel recorder to make our own “radio show.” We spent several weeks (maybe months) on it, and it was great fun. So I was primed from an early age. But as an adult I knew after I graduated for U of Illinois with my MFA in Acting and got my first job: recording audio books for Talking Books for the Blind through Library of Congress. Loved it! And I became one of the listeners’ most popular readers, which led to being hired full time as one of only 2 full-time staff narrators.
- For anyone thinking about having their work converted to Audio, what is the first thing they should do?
Well, I think the simplest thing is to contact me at Pro Audio Voices to talk it over and get their questions answered. If they have not yet been selling many books in their other formats (print, ebook), then I’d recommend focus on marketing and start building a following first. An audiobook edition will certainly help with sales of all editions, but marketing has to happen if an author is to sell any editions. There are other advantages, though, to jumping right in. One of the things I do in that first conversation is ask about the author’s goals. Are they hoping to: create another income stream from the same content (always a good idea), increase cross-sales of other editions (that works), build another business or speaking career (for example, a book about financial planning to serve and draw in clients; or demonstrating expertise for a speaker on multiple marriages), or what else do they want to achieve? This helps me give better advice to help them meet those goals.
They could also go to ACX.com and try to sort through the labyrinth to figure it out themselves. But there is no real guide available there, so most authors I’ve talked to find that just overwhelming and confusing.
Authors should also know there are some genres that don’t get as much action in audiobooks. Fiction dominates, and within that highest selling genres are romances then mystery/thriller, so if you have one of those, get it into audio. But all genres are represented, so if you’re writing in a different genre or non-fiction, don’t be discouraged. Think about who your target market is and are they likely to be listening to audiobooks. I can help you sort through these questions. And I have occasionally recommended to an author not produce an audiobook when I thought her/his book was not ready for that step. There are a lot of factors to consider.
- Tell us about how you handle scenes with many different characters talking.
Dialogue is some of my favorite stuff. I consider it very important to differentiate the voices so the listener can tell who is speaking without getting confused. When they get confused, you’ve lost them, at least for a while. I use a wide range of voices and several techniques to alter my voice to create different sounds. For example, I can focus it more into my nose for a more nasal sound, drop it into my chest for those big heavy guys, add raspiness or breathiness, raise or lower the register. Sometimes I’ll talk more out of one side of my mouth or the other, or open the back of my throat more. Even just changing my face into a squint or scrunch can change the voice. It’s really fun.
But one of the challenges in a book with lots of characters is remembering who sounds like what and how I made that voice. Consistency. The toughest is when a minor character goes away and later suddenly turns up again. Occasionally I have to go back to listen to what I did before. I really appreciate it when authors provide me with a list of characters (those that speak) and a few key characteristics for each to help me give them each an appropriate voice. Characteristics might include things like size, age, distinct vocal sound, life attitude, where the character is from geographically.
I do want to emphasize again, though, that the most important thing that is happening in the dialogue is the scene and characters coming to life through great acting. The vocal differentiations are a part of the craft of acting – finding each character’s voice – and the art is in truthfully playing those characters. As a listener I am often disappointed with the limited range of narrators in scenes with multiple characters. I consider dressing each character in appropriate vocal ‘clothes’ an important and delightful part of creating an exceptional listening experience.
Thank You Becky and Thank You Karina for being my guest on Writerly Wednesday.