The Making of an Audio Book

I have loved audio books ever since I was a kid, so when I heard my first book Heart of a Shepherd would be brought out in audio I was elated. When the audio book producer from Listening Library, Dan Musselman, called me to ask if I’d read the author note for the audio book of Second Fiddle, I was over the moon, although I had no idea what to expect.

Because I did speech and debate in high school, I did know enough to print out my pages double spaced in 20 point font, so I could read without losing my place. I practiced the whole author note aloud several times and then took out a pencil and marked each place where I should take a breath. Then I went back through and underlined where the emphasis should fall in each sentence. And then, because I know I tend to mumble, I highlighted words where I needed to be attentive to articulation. A dozen more practice runs through the 5 page author note, and I felt ready.
I got in touch with Mary MacDonald Lewis here in Portland who is a very well known voice artist. If you have On Star, that is her calm and reassuring voice telling you what to do. She’s also a director, a dialect coach, and a great teacher. Taking a voice class from her before I did my first book events was one of the best investments I’ve made. Mary Mac has a recording studio in her home, so we got together and she taught me how to use a studio microphone. Mary asked me to speak standing up with my mouth only an inch or so from the screen, which felt very awkward at first. And she insisted the most important thing was to smile, because people can hear it when you’re not smiling. I was sure she was making it up, so we recorded a few sentences, smiling and not, and guess what? I could hear it!

Then we got down to the work of the reading. I read as carefully as I could, but I still needed to stop a dozen times and back up when I misspoke or made a funny mouth sound or shuffled my feet. Also, dropping the page on the floor is a lot louder than you think it is! Maybe the biggest surprise of all was that it took me more than an hour to read 5 pages out loud. I was so relieved that the entire book was someone else’s responsibility.
When I thought about writing this post I know my experience was just a tiny piece of the whole audio book experience, so I was delighted when my voice artist Bri Knickerbocker agreed to be interviewed.

Bri Knickerbocker grew up in Pittsburgh, PA speaking in silly voices and singing, creating and performing plays and writing countless books about black cats. Now she lives in LA, acts on camera, voice acts and writes novels. To learn more, visit her here for writing: http://briknickerbocker.blogspot.com/ and here for voice over: http://brisoundslike.com/ You can follow Bri on twitter @briannanoellek.

How did you get interested in voice acting?


I was originally attracted to voice acting because I love animation and anime; I’m a kid at heart and anytime I get to sound like a 6 year old girl I can’t help but smile and giggle.
I’ve got some anime fans in my house, and those voices do sound so young—even younger than the animation looks. How did you get started?


I booked the first voice over job I ever applied for, which was some goofy animated commercials and it took off from there. Voicing book trailers, video games and audio books– all appeal to my love for dramatic story telling, getting emotionally involved and bringing characters to life through my voice.

Did you take specific training for voice work?


I actually haven’t. As cliché as it may sound, voice acting has always felt natural to me. In that sense, I’m self-taught. But earlier this year I did start taking on camera improvisation and film classes and both of those have only helped me grow and open up emotionally to be a better, fuller voice actress.

Wonderful! I love it when I can squeeze in classes. I took a poetry slam workshop this summer that was a blast! I always come back to the page with fresh ideas when I do something a outside my comfort zone. Can you describe how you got the part for Second Fiddle?

Really funny story, I found an ad on craigslist that stated an audio book company was looking for a voice actress with a British accent. As instructed on the ad, I called the number posted and left a voicemail in a British accent. When Janet Stark (from Random House) called me, I kept up the faux accent, totally unsure if I should let her know I’m not really British. I came in to audition for the project and met Dan Musselman, immediately confessing that I’m just an all American girl from Pittsburgh, PA and he decided to have me audition in my natural voice. I didn’t book that particular project. But a few months later Dan emailed me telling me they’d like me to voice Second Fiddle. It was my first audiobook and a dream come true for me!
That’s so exciting! When Dan called me to ask if I’d read the author note he told me how delighted he was to find just the right book for a promising young voice actor. ☺
What is the process for recording an audio book?


Dan mailed me the hardcopy manuscript straight from LA (I was in Pittsburgh for the holidays at the time) and I read the novel over and over again. First, simply reading and enjoying the story. Second, I put together a journal of all the dialogue and words in foreign languages and dialects, then looked them all up online, except the French, which thankfully I remembered from high school! I flew back to LA and recorded at Random House with Tony Hudz as my director and foreign language consultant/specialist.
I was wondering if you got help with the foreign languages. Dan was kidding me about that.
“Did you really have to put in all those languages?”
“What!? They live in Europe!”
“But Estonian? Really!?”
“Sorry!”
He was kidding. But it’s true that made it a more challenging than a book in just one language. How long did it take to make the recording? Because I was a total slow poke!

It took two days to complete and one more trip to the studio for just a few pick ups.

What happens if you make a mistake?

When I made a mistake, Tony or I heard it right away. Then, I’d simply restart voicing from the last sentence.

Did you have a favorite part of the process?

My favorite part was reading your story, and emotionally involving myself in it as I voiced it, hopefully bringing it to life and doing it justice! Losing myself in the story to be Jody and travel through her suspenseful adventure was magical and exciting and so rewarding.

Gosh, thanks! You’re a writer yourself. Can you tell us something about your work-in-progress or your favorite genre to write?


I’m currently writing an edgy young adult paranormal romance about ghosts and dark ones (demons) and my most recently finished work is a contemporary young adult novel with magical realism. Writing is related to voice acting for me, because they’re both complex storytelling, with three dimensional characters that I have the power and responsibility to bring to life. I get very involved with the story and characters in both mediums; I don’t want to let any of the characters down! It’s up to me to give them their voices so other people can hear what they have to say.
Do you remember a favorite middle-grade book book you’ve read recently?

I recently read a middle-grade novel called Sea, by Heidi R. Kling and The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall—I recommend both!
Wonderful! Thanks so much for spending a little time here at the mixed up files.
Readers, do you have any questions about audio book making process? Have you read a good audio book lately? Let us know what you think in the comments.

At the end of the day I’ll have a drawing from everyone joining the conversation for an audio book of Second Fiddle and you can hear Bri’s voice work for yourself.

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