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Posts tagged ‘audiobooks’


Slump? Here are my 5 tips for getting out

Ever found yourself in a slump?  Like a baseball player, only in life?  It can be professional, relational, spiritual, or some other aspect of life.  The one common thing is this: at one time or another, we all will endure them.  

On a very personal note, I’m coming out of one now.  Without turning this into an Oprah episode, I’ve had a rough, year-long stretch professionally.  After an insanely busy 2013, I became a bit complacent.  Work wasn’t coming in as it had in the past.  On top of that, I developed an eye disorder that I’ve had to learn to work around.  So of course, like a lot of people, I looked the stress square in the eye and began medicating it with food.  So I put on a lot of weight, which helped a ton.  (Pun intended to enhance sarcasm.)  So I’ve had recent experience with the reality that, sometimes, I will have trouble with the curve ball that I was scorching into the upper deck just two years ago.

Over the years, I’ve taken note of a few things I’ve learned about how to get out of a slump.  Also (and perhaps mainly) I’ve observed how others successfully claw their way out.  I was thinking on this recently, and felt compelled to share what I think are five great disciplines that might help you start swinging the bat effectively again.  For the scope of this article, I’ll frame my thoughts around the actor – and specifically, the audiobook narrator.  I truly believe, however, that these practices are healthy for everyone in every walk of life.
DISCLAIMER: Since our national discourse today seems to be controlled by lawyers, I must say for the record that I am NOT a counselor, doctor, therapist, or guru.  I make no guarantees, claims, or predictions in anything I say or write.  I’m just a fella who cares about people, and want to help when I can.  Your mileage may vary, some restrictions apply.  OK…play ball.
1) Know who you are.  This sounds so easy, but there is a real tendency for us to begin defining our identity by what we do, rather than who we are.  Actors do this a lot, especially men.  Self-employed folks are also susceptible.  Self-employed actors…well, you get it.  I think it’s a wonderful practice to take a piece of paper and really spend some time.  Who are you?  I made a list of 7 “I am” statements that define who John is.  I review them frequently.  When you have a firm grasp on your true identity, you’re in a much better position to weather the storm.  This is especially true when your business hits a rough patch, as mine has.  If you fall into the trap of defining yourself around what you do for a living, professional slumps can be very deep and damaging.  
2) Embrace gratitude.  I narrated a wonderful book in 2014 about this that really stuck with me.  Gratitude is one of those things that is so often taken for granted today.  Take a moment to consider what exactly you are grateful for, and to whom.  If you’re like me, you’ll have a list as long as your arm rather quickly.  That’s all well and good – but when was the last time you expressed that gratitude?  And I’m not talking about sending expensive gifts or sending your favorite client on a cruise.  I’m referring to the simple things.  A hand written note, a fast phone call, even a text are all great ways to say Thank You.  And the great thing about gratitude is that it is mutually beneficial.  Both ends of the relationship are enriched.  One last thought – if you’re a parent or grandparent, you know it feels great when a child comes up and thanks you for a gift you’ve given them.  But how much better does it feel when that child comes up and thanks you for just being you?  Think about how that idea might translate to your professional life.
3) Invest in a prayer life.  I’ve always thought of a person being a three-legged stool: physical, mental (emotional), and spiritual.  If we take good care of all three legs, our lives will stand with good sturdiness.  But if one leg weakens too much, the stool can wobble and fall.  Of course, we all have different beliefs in this area.  Substitute the word “prayer” with “meditation” if you’d like.  Either way, a healthy spiritual life is a good thing to have when you find yourself striking out constantly.  I think this one is tied closely to item 1 above.  It is for me, anyway, because I believe that my identity is determined by God and what He thinks about me, not by my career, bank balance, or popularity.  My prayer life helps connect me with my true identity, and shores up my ability to push through the tough seasons in life.
4) Get some exercise.  Those of you that know me personally can see that I’m not great at this one – I’m trying.  But I have noticed that when I do “get out there,” I feel better – inside and out.  Narrators are often stuck inside, usually in a very small space, and required to move as little as possible (at least when we’re working!)  Next time you feel that “slump funk,” go for a brisk walk.  Go hit a bucket of golf balls.  Get your juice moving.  At the least you’ll feel better physically.  Sometimes, though, this simple practice can have a very positive impact on your entire perspective.
5) Get up an hour earlier.  I’ve heard this one from several very successful and inspiring people over the years.  I’m not totally  sure why this works, but it does for me.  I spent many years doing morning radio, when meant the alarm went off at the charming hour of 4am.  It also meant that bedtime was around 9.  So when that all ended, I was very excited.  I began to stay up late, and sleep until 7:30.  But fairly recently, I took the advice above and began going to bed at 10pm, and rising at 6am.  It’s amazing the difference it makes in my day.  Again, I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s just a psychological jolt that makes me feel more aggressive, productive, or like I’m getting a head start on the day.  Whatever it is, it makes me feel better personally and professionally.  Plus – and you can take this for what it’s worth – I believe that nothing good ever happens after midnight.  Discuss.
I hope these things help you like they are helping me.  Slumps are real (I’m a Brewers fan, so I know!)  But by consciously placing new disciplines into your routine, maybe you can emerge more quickly and start hitting again.  I sincerely hope you do.

The exercise of listening

If you’re a “remote narrator” like me, it’s very likely that you work much of the time without a director.  Indeed, aside from my demos, I’ve never worked with a director.  It’s the trade-off for the privilege of working at home all the time, and never having to deal with traffic or burning your gas.

But there are options.  The great teacher Patrick Fraley developed an entire course of study on “self-directing.”  It’s a skill that more and more narrators need as the home studio grows in popularity.  Recently, I stumbled onto a simple (though time consuming) exercise that was very informative for me as an audiobook performer.  I’ll call it the exercise of listening, and I thought I’d share it here.
New or innovative?  No.  As narrators we’ve been told for years that listening to audiobooks is an important and worthwhile discipline.  But I’m going to be honest here – I don’t listen.  Not much anyway.  I just don’t have time to plug into a 10+ hour recording and do some serious, engaged listening.
I know what you’re thinking.  Just grab some snippets!  There are great lessons there!  True.  But honestly, I was seeking more of a long-haul lesson.  Something that spoke to duration, maintaining the mojo over the course of a week’s worth of sessions.  And for me, anyway, I needed to hear it in one sitting.  As luck would have it, a road trip was on my calendar.
Phoenix to Ft. Worth was just about the perfect trip for nearly any work of fiction.  But what title to select?  I wanted to hear a great story, sure – but I mostly wanted to learn something.  Hopefully a lot of somethings.  So I made a short list of narrators who met the following criteria:
* specialize in the same genres I do
* widely recognized today as a top talent
* are a fairly close match to my personal style as a narrator
I found my narrator, and a title that was also widely recognized as excellent.  I bought and downloaded the audiobook.  But for the experiment to be as informative as possible, I needed something to compare it to.  So I grabbed a book of mine that I recorded last year; one that I believed was pretty good but was received with less than, um, enthusiastic praise.  The final piece of my mobile laboratory was my lovely wife.  She’s an honest soul, and would provide great feedback.
To be clear: this was not an exercise in “just do everything he does exactly as he does it.”  I was listening for enjoyment first, and wondering if I could recognize clues in the performance that could make me better.  Perhaps, I might identify little techniques that I could apply to my world somehow.  I decided I’d listen to his book on the trip out, and mine on the return trip home.
As I write this, I’ve been home three days and I am still jotting down nuggets.  My wife Jan had an amazing list of observations from a consumer standpoint.    The vast majority of these lessons (and this is the point of all this) were old, bad habits that I’ve very slowly fallen back into.  We all have them, and our coaches and teachers have made us aware of them.  But in the course of a busy recording season, these seemingly harmless little habits can creep back into the booth, and potentially wreck a performance.
So I’m going to do two things.  First, once complete, I’m going to post my “craptacular habits list” right in the booth.  And before I open the mic each and every session, I’m going to review it.  Be aware of it.  It will make my performance better.  DEMONS OUT!
And secondly, and unfortunately much less practically, I’m going to do some more comparative listening exercises.  Which means I need to plan more road trips, I suppose.

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.

”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!


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.


“The Resurrection of Nat Turner” is here!

It’s now available everywhere audiobooks are sold – both in-store and online!

Oasis Audio

Barnes & Noble



The question I get the most about audiobooks

Here it is: “Hey John, do you have to pre-read a book before you go into the booth to record it?”

A: YES!  If I were cast in a play, I would never go rehearse a scene by cold-reading the script!  In kind, I always* pre-study the book, several times in fact, with a different focus each time.  I make notes about plot, characters, setting, culture, linguistics, etc.  Also, I always try and see if I can answer an important question for myself: Why did the author write this book?  If I can zero-in on that, it makes it much easier to get inside the author’s head as I perform their work.
* ‘Always,’ in this case, means “if at all possible.”  I mean, let’s face it – there are times when the project deadline is so tight (a matter of days) that several pre-reads are not possible or practical.  So, as everyone does in the real world, we do what we can.  But without a doubt, the best, most professional policy is study, study, study – THEN record!