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June Is Audiobook Month!

June Is Audiobook Month!

It’s hard to believe, but June is almost over again!  Summertime is a wonderful time to enjoy great listens, what with all the road trips and long flights going on.  Perhaps that’s why we celebrate audiobooks each June.

This year, I was delighted to participate in a wonderful project called “Going Public…In Shorts.”  The project, conceived and developed by the excellent audiobook narrator Xe Sands, and produced by Blackstone Audio, is a collection of public domain short stories across a variety of genres.  Best of all, proceeds from the sale of “Going Public…In Shorts” benefit a great cause, Reach Out and Read – a literacy advocacy group.
In addition to narrating a story for the project, I had the opportunity to partner with one of the many terrific audiobook blogs, Narrator Reviews and Audiobooks.  You can read Jennie’s thoughts about the project, and audiobooks in general, there at her blog.
For full information about the Going Public…In Shorts project, click here

APAC is back!

I’m preparing for my annual trip to New York for a great time at APAC and the Audie Awards presentation.  It’s been a great year and I’m excited to find out what everyone else has been up to!  It’s shaping up to be another busy summer of audiobooks.

June Is Audiobook Month is coming up, and narrator Xe Sands has spearheaded a really cool project called “Going Public” to celebrate.  It’s a collection of public domain short stories, selected by narrators in a variety of genres.  Look for updates, tweets, and blog posts as June Is Audiobook Month approaches!  

A funny thing happened on the way to the Audies

A funny thing happened on the way to the Audies

It was June 5th, 2012.  We were ready to go.  At long last, the wait was almost over.  I was attending my first Audie Awards Gala.  I was a Finalist for the first time.  I had treated myself to a snazzy new bow tie for my tuxedo.  Jan and I stood in our compact, Manhattan-sized hotel room and studied the mirror.  OK, let’s go.

A man in the elevator, noting my black tie and Jan’s glitter, asked, “Broadway?”  No, I said, not tonight.  Tonight, we are heading to the 17th Annual Audie Awards.  The night had started out with precision – all of our clothes had made it to New York in great shape, we didn’t forget anything, and my shoes were even shined.  And, as luck would have it, we walked out the front door just as an empty cab was rolling up – it was even an SUV, easier to climb in and out of in fancy duds.  A quick flick of the wrist, and we were on our way down 41st Street.
“Where to?” the cabbie mumbled, and I told him.  I was prepared to answer with the address, name of the venue, even the cross streets.  I love it when a plan comes together.  After a spirited jaunt through Manhattan traffic, the taxi slowed to a stop…the intense greenery of Central Park on the left, and a very grand building at the curb.  It was immense – white with massive columns, and a very impressive bronze statue standing watch in front.  I gazed at the total displayed on the meter, tipped generously (I’m in a tux, after all) and helped Jan out of the cab.  At last – we’re here.
The wide, library-style staircase was lined with friendly ushers, welcoming us to tonight’s event.  One of them even seemed to be especially impressed with our attire – unusually so.  As we entered the beautiful antique wooden doors, we merged into a huge chamber packed with people – each holding a drink and chatting.  Two dinosaur skeletons were displayed, towering over the sea of attendees.  Another usher greeted us, gave us an inquisitive look, and said that registration was to our left.
“We’re overdressed,” said Jan.  The Audies are “black tie optional,” though I was told that there would be many who would so opt.  But as she made this observation, I too noted that we seemed to be the only ones in the room in black tie.
Nevertheless, we made our way over to the registration table.  Another usher met us there, and pointed out the signage above; A thru G at this table, H thru N at that one, and so on.
And that’s when it all began to make sense.  Because posted prominently above the “H-N” was another, very stately sign that read, “WELCOME, CORNELL SCHOOL OF HOTEL MANAGEMENT.”  Oh, jeez.
No biggie.  Feeling like we were 20 years late for the prom, Jan and I slinked our way back toward the entrance.  We spied a couple a security guards off to the side (and mercifully out of view.)  After showing them the address on our invitations, they happily pointed out the correct building, just one block down.  Down the steps we went, laughing out loud as we strolled down to the REAL New York Historical Society building, where everything suddenly made a lot more sense.
We had a grand evening, met tons of great people, posed for dozens of photos, and laughed a lot.  By the way, we didn’t win the Audie.
But as we rode back to our hotel in a cab at almost 2am, bow tie dangling following an incredibly fun after-party, I felt like the biggest winner in the world.  I had my wife of 17 years by my side, beaming with pride all night long.  I do what I love, get paid for it, and I’m really good at it.
As exhausted as I was, it took me quite a while to get to sleep that night.

AudioFile: The Vow a “splendid interpretation…”


”Nat Turner Pt. 1″ is an Audie Award finalist!

I’m honored to be a finalist for the 2012 Audie Awards!  The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part 1: The Witnesses by Sharon Ewell Foster was nominated in the Inspirational / Faith-based Fiction category.  I’m excited for Sharon, and the wonderful team at Oasis Audio.  It’s an astounding story that even the author herself admits she didn’t expect to write.  

Now we have the long wait until June, when the winners in each category are announced at The Audie Awards and Gala in New York.  So many wonderful titles have been honored once again this year.  Plus, it will be fun to just get together with peers in the audiobook industry and celebrate!  This wonderful storytelling medium is growing leaps and bounds, and the future is bright indeed – for publishers, authors, listeners, and yes – narrators. 

New release!

New release!

I’m delighted to announce the release of my latest audiobook title – “The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part 2: The Testimony” by Sharon Ewell Foster!  Available now from Oasis Audio!


Re-priorities in the New Year

It’s everywhere this year, as it is every year.  New Years Resolutions.  Should we?  Will we?  How long will they last?  On and on.

Lots of folks will tend to shy away from making resolutions because they know, deep down, that they’ll fail to keep them for very long – and would rather not deal with the shame of failure.  That’s too bad, because I believe that anything that motivates us to think about making our lives better is a good thing that should be embraced, not run away from.
So if there’s something you need to change, call it something else.  Instead of using the R word, call it a life change, or shifting gears, or turning over a new leaf…whatever.  I choose to use a different R word: re-priorities.
Let’s face it – we all have the same 24 hours in each day to accomplish whatever we want.  Most people divide that time into thirds – 8 hours to sleep, 8 hours to work, and then 8 hours for everything else.  That’s the basic framework that many feel bound by.  But what if we thought of it differently?
Like the old adage says, anything that’s truly important enough to us will get done.  Why?  Because we’ll prioritize it that way.  Most people will watch their favorite TV program, come hell or high water.  For some, it’s watching the game.  Riding their bike.  Taking time to read to the kids.  I will dare to wager that most anything that “we just can’t seem to accomplish” is simply because we haven’t prioritized it highly enough within our own given 24 hours.  Fair?
I try to keep a list, usually on my phone or my whiteboard.  It looks like a task list, but really it’s a priority list.  The order of the items on the list is very important.  First things first.  I’ll happily admit that a lot of the minor stuff on the bottom of that list never sees the light of day.  And that’s just fine.  
So if I really, really want to drop those extra pounds this year, I put my exercise time near the top.  If I want to deepen my relationship with a family member or friend, I put spending that time up there.  There’s only room for a few at the top spots.  And that’s where the prioritization comes in.  Stephen Covey teaches the power of prioritizing our time by helping us imagine time as a finite container.  Any way you slice it, the 24 hours in a day are a constant.  But how we choose to use them is a variable, and it’s up to us. 
So for me, as 2012 approaches, I’m not looking at “resolutions.”  I’m taking a hard look at my priorities – and how I can seize the power of re-prioritizing my days to improve my life, inside and out.  I hope you’ll do the same, as we look forward to an exciting and fresh New Year!    

Instrument care – without the polish

Many moons ago, when I was in 6th grade, my folks went down and bought me a brand new, shiny saxophone.  I was finally old enough to take band in school.  I’ll never forget it – when I opened the case I was nearly blinded by its brilliance.  Polished brass, lacquered to a mirror shine.  The case was elegantly lined in a red velveteen fabric.  It even had that new-sax smell.  I took good care of that instrument; buffed all the fingerprints off after every practice, cleaned the mouthpiece as instructed, and always shrouded it in a soft cloth before putting it in its case.  It served me well, and, when I switched to trombone a year later, my folks got a nice trade in on it.

As a voice actor, though, I use a very different kind of instrument – my voice.  It’s not new…I started using it seconds after I was born!  It’s also not visible, at least not without special medical equipment.  And the kicker is, I only get one.  This is it.  As carefully as I pampered that saxophone, it was replaceable.  Not so with the pipes.

Caring for the vocal instrument is so vitally important for voice actors and singers, and yet so often it is neglected if not outright abused.  Sadly, this is often the result of simple ignorance.  This instrument is made of human tissue, which means it can suffer injury if not properly maintained.  It also means it can heal, though often slowly.  Some simple techniques and rules can help keep the vocal instrument as healthy as possible for a long life of quality service.

1) WARM-UP.  Warm-up exercises are so vitally important, and yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people just rip into singing or voicing – at full volume – with a totally cold voice.  Most people would never dare to lift weights without proper stretching, but for some reason, they just expect the voice to be ready all the time.  Neglecting to warm-up properly is playing with fire, and when your livelihood depends on your voice, you could really get burned.  There are dozens of easy and effective ways to properly warm-up for performance, and they are all available for free online.  Find a few that work for you and commit them to habit.

2) REST.  This means more than a good night sleep, which should be obvious.  Periodic rest for the voice during performance is critical as well.  This is especially true of long-form performers.  The body has a miraculous ability to heal itself, but a critical and inescapable ingredient is always rest.  Even 3 minutes of silence can do a world of good during a long performance.

3) WATER.  Or, as audiobook narrator extraordinaire Scott Brick says, “Hydrate or die!”  Many people walk around dehydrated most of the time and don’t even realize it.  When you use your voice, those tissues are constantly losing water.  64 ounces of drinking water is the daily minimum for most people.  I drink a good deal more.  Drink water before, during, and after performing.  Avoid cold water while performing.

4) DRINK SMART.  Water is always good, but anything with caffeine should be avoided if possible.  Same with alcohol.   Both are diuretics, which dry out your body.  Sugary drinks, carbonated beverages, and dairy can also adversely affect your instrument.  Some herbal “teas” are good.  I join many other performers in recommending this one.

5) EASY DOES IT.  We live in a loud world that gets louder by the day.  Be aware of your volume in everyday speech.  Use only the volume you need.  You’d be surprised how much a dinner conversation in a crowded restaurant can harm your voice.  Always be aware of how your instrument is being treated.  Recently I was at a rock concert, and about 15 minutes into it, realized with horror that I was shouting at the top of my lungs!  Not smart.

6) LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.  This is critical.  If at any time during a performance, you feel something “wrong,” STOP IMMEDIATELY.  It could be your body issuing a warning that a vocal injury is imminent.  Certainly if you become hoarse or experience tightness in your neck, stop!  Rest, hydrate, and play the quiet game for as long as you can.  NEVER be afraid to call it quits on a session if you are hurt.  It’s not worth it.  Take ownership of your instrument and insist on its care – remember, you only get one.

7) KNOW WHERE TO FIND HELP.  If you do experience a vocal injury that doesn’t seem to heal, get to a doctor right away.  Find a specialist.  It’s worth it.  There are some great clinics used by professional performers that can help you recover.  Some “extreme” performers, like touring musicians, will actually have their vocal instrument checked even if there isn’t evidence of a problem – just in case.  It’s smart insurance.

Finally, let me say with clarity that I am not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV.  I do have a lot of experience in this area, however – not all of it good.  I remember a time during my radio career when I was participating in an aggressive fund-raising event on the air that amounted to hours and hours of non-stop, amped-up talking.  In an effort to impress, I ignored my body as it screamed for rest, and the result was a total loss of vocal function.  I was terrified.  Was my career over?  What would I do if it was?  Thankfully, the doctor said it wasn’t serious but ordered 48 hours of complete silence as treatment.  The experience made a believer out of me.

I hope you, too, will take excellent care of your precious vocal instrument.  No polish needed.



Just a little patience

5:35pm on a Monday afternoon. I had just plucked my garment bag off the carousel at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, boarded the bus to the parking garage, and merged onto the busy on-ramp. I was heading 40 minutes north on I-17, to my comfy home in the foothills after a jam-packed and very successful weekend in Los Angeles. Home – where I would find my loving wife, my favorite chair, and my loyal and faithful dog – who always acts as if I’ve been gone for months when she greets me at the door.

I was tired; the good kind of tired that you feel when you know you’ve really done something worthwhile. I had gone to LA to study audiobook narration with the amazing Paul Ruben, who had flown in from his home in Brooklyn for what turned out to be a terrific workshop. I learned a lot, made some new friends, and reconnected with some old ones. It was a great trip. But in this day of tight schedules, and strip-search airports where bottles of water are considered potential weapons, but ballpoint pens aren’t, travel is pretty exhausting. Even short trips like this one. So I was ready to head to the house and melt into my chair with a cool one. Anxious, even.

As I merged into traffic, I suddenly realized that I had timed my trip perfectly to enjoy the afternoon rush. I’ve lived in cities where it’s much worse than Phoenix, but still, I suddenly felt my heart sink as I realized that my 40 minutes just turned into and hour or better. Having been here many times before, I began my inward journey to my happy place, plugged my iPod into the dash, and tried to enjoy the 15 mph trip.

As I did so, I noticed something almost immediately. Most of my co-commuters did not share my attitude. In fact, many seemed to grip their steering wheels as if wielding a medieval weapon, weaving in and out as if in the final lap of a Cup race. They weren’t anxious to get home, they were desperate to get there – and get there first.

This observation is anything but profound. But as the relaxing, folksy sounds of Ellis Paul kept me centered and mellow, I began to reflect on the break-neck speed of our culture today. Everything has to be now. Everyone wants to be first – even at great personal risk. And for me, as the owner of a one-man voiceover and narration business, it’s very seductive to get in a big hurry, too. Indeed, like the traffic example, running a business – particularly a young one – at a hell-bent-for-leather pace can be outright dangerous.

A very well known narrator friend of mine gave me some great advice recently. He said that if there was one critical skill that he could teach to audiobook narrators, it would be this one: patience. Patience with your training and skills. Patience to let healthy business relationships develop. And the biggie – patience to see the work start flowing in. Patience – rather than panic. Staying the course – instead of freaking out and going nuts.

And yes – even patience to wait for that long lane of traffic in front of you to unwind and begin moving forward.


The music of voice acting

One of my regular rituals as I start my day each morning is making music. I have one of my guitars next to my nightstand. My piano is just around the corner in the den. Making music is a big part of how I wake up. It’s my way of getting my creative juices flowing each day.

I learned to read music as a small child, but as I matured as a musician, I began to see that there’s more to music than playing or singing notes on a page. A lot more. The process of “making music” is immensely intimate and creative. It’s really about getting inside the head – or really the heart – of the composer. Trying to tune into his or her muse. Indeed, the notes themselves become almost secondary to me. Recreating emotion takes center stage.

One of my best friends in the world is Dr. Scott Ferrell. Scott is a gifted musician, conductor, and teacher in Texas. I studied choral music and theatrical performance with Scott and learned so much about this process. Scott is one of the most passionate and emotional men I have ever met. He’s willing to open himself to the art in front of him, drinking in all of the musical subtext that the composer injected straight from the heart. He taught me about “honoring the art first, rather than just banging out notes.” I saw his ability to strip away everything else around him – contaminants that would interfere with the performance – and be completely vulnerable to where the music would take him as a performer.

In voice acting, the same process applies. While I’ve never had a client deliver a script to me with actual musical notes on the page, I see them. They are there, underneath. Because when the writer sat down to the task of communicating their message in text, they also included emotion, color, mood, flow, tempo, and more. In the Bible, the Psalms were originally written to be sung.  When they are, they take on a whole new depth of meaning.  The work of William Shakespeare is undeniably musical.

We do the same thing without even knowing it when we communicate verbally. When I’m talking on the phone and someone says those often heard two words, “I’m fine,” it’s immediately obvious to me whether they really are or not.

When I approach the task of voice acting, my natural tendency is to find the music underneath. Tempo, crescendos and decrescendos, staccatos and legatos, swells and troughs, ebbs and flows. I’m not embarrassed to confess that sometimes I’ll actually stand there in the booth and sing it. How would I sing this script if it was a song? Because the truth is – it IS a song. This exercise can help you find the “juice” that the writer had when it was written. And that’s the goal of a truly great acting performance, voice or otherwise.

Allow yourself to go there. Regardless of your own musical background or ability, you have the music in you.