So, you finally bit the bullet and want to get in on the action. That’s great! The audiobook industry is one of the fastest-growing out there. In fact, it’s growing about 25% year-over-year! If that doesn’t want to make you learn how to become an audiobook narrator, nothing will.
If you already ply your trade in the voiceover business, even better! You probably already have a growing portfolio and pool of skills to draw back on. Business casual, serious, ominous, fun, easygoing — there’s a whole bag of tricks to choose from!
But, the audiobook realm has some particularities you’d be better off knowing before jumping in. Diving into the unknown unprepared can be fun, but I’d rather you did your best work right outta the gate. I’ll even let you in on some personal experiences I had while learning how to be an audiobook narrator.
You can thank me later! For now, just put on your learning glasses, fire up the coffeemaker, and come along!
But if you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:
This post was updated on March 2021
Audio what, now?
Boy, you’ve probably been living under a rock! Are you still reading those old, dusty tomes you found in that creaky library upstairs? It’s not like I blame you, actually. Books have a certain old-time allure, an immersion like no other medium. A dog-eared tome with its evocative, worn smell and yellowed-out pages; summer afternoons quietly reading on the porch, no-one in sight; a whole world in ink and paper. Not even e-readers like the Amazon Kindle can live up to that experience, convenient as they are.
But, then, the demands of a world with constant multitasking — even with the pandemic — changed our cultural landscape. Enter the audiobook.
Audiobooks are recordings of books read aloud. They are, in essence, a form of audio narration. The voice pro receives the book and reads it word-for-word, conveying emotion and nuance as if reading from a script. Some audiobooks entail affecting the voice of an omniscient narrator throughout, even when reading statements and dialogue by characters. Others require the voice of one character throughout, maintaining their narrative perspective.
Some, though, necessitates an even more involved approach, bridging the voice between narration and voice acting. This is when voice pros need to voice different characters. Whilst they don’t really have to be chameleons, there needs to be enough nuance and detail to tell characters apart.
Who uses audiobooks anyway?
Well, everyone! People have been trying to make audiobooks happen since the first recordings, but the medium didn’t come into its own until the 70s. With the advent of the cassette, people could finally start channeling the true power of the audiobook.
Content was no longer kept stationary, or limited to the times people could sit down and read a book. They could try learning or following a story during commutes to work, for example. They could lie in bed with their eyes closed trying to picture the characters and landscapes in a story.
In today’s omnipresent digital milieu, we’re surrounded by computerized devices. Our phones, laptops, TVs, and smart devices are de-facto multimedia centers. Everything is fighting for our attention at once. When faced with the prospect of sitting down for a minute, away from our busy lives, it’s not that we don’t want to. Sometimes we just can’t!
This article on Inc.com explains why Millennials (among others) are choosing to listen to audiobooks while multitasking. The main reasons given are:
- The ubiquity of digital formats
- Doing things on their own terms
- Audiobooks can be fit into flexible schedules.
- The fact that they can be “carried” anywhere.
- Improved information retention. More on this later.
- They can be listened to (and absorbed) at higher speeds.
- Some books work even better as audiobooks, like biographies and stories.
- They provide a more compelling sensory experience.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! No wonder so many want to learn how to become an audiobook narrator! It’s even been shown that listening to audiobooks is not “cheating”.
Right. Time to diffuse a common misconception. According to the University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham, reading and listening comprehension are related. This is why you can learn just fine while listening to an audiobook. You’re not leaving anything out, nor compromising your information intake. The decoding process for syntax and meaning works in much the same ways.
How to become an audiobook narrator – Getting started
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re not a voice pro, you’re going to need to become one. The good thing is that most of the rules for doing so are universal. That means, first of all, choosing the adequate tools. Our guide on mics is probably going to come in handy; the TL;DR version, if you’re looking to get set up quickly, is as follows:
You’re going to need to choose between condenser and dynamic microphones. The first is more apt at picking subtler sounds, voices, and working in the studio; the latter is great for powerful, booming voices and loud sounds, which makes them ideal for live venues.
You also need to pay attention to the type of mic you’re purchasing. Always go with a vocal mic. Always. I generally recommend aspiring narrators to go with the Blue Yeti USB. It sounds great, it’s affordable, it’s easy to set up, and widely used. Get a pop filter (it’ll save you a lot of trouble, trust me), a laptop, some headphones, and you’re almost there!
My advice is: don’t go through a lot of hassle. Find what works, set up, move on.
And try to set up well, by the way! Have a dedicated room for performing, and get it soundproofed. Perform with minimal outside noise and get acquainted with recording software — don’t incur the wrath of the audio gods!
Maybe you’ve heard people singing praises about your voice ever since you hit puberty. Sure, inasmuch as that is a vital part of the voice-over trade, that’s great. But if you want to learn how to become an audiobook narrator, that’s just like having four wheels, but no car. You’re going to need to cultivate a more diverse skillset.
First, get acquainted with proper breathing. Try the techniques in this video. It’s vital that you learn the basics of diaphragmatic breathing instead of the “high” chest breathing we’re used to. It won’t just make your voice prettier and make you exert yourself less, it doubles as a natural anxiolytic! That’s a free wellness tip for you!
Read. Read using the above techniques until you can keep going for a long time without wearing out your voice. Try to make it sound committed but natural. Maintain a proper focus and cadence throughout. It’s been estimated that the ideal information rate is around 75-90 words per minute. Try not to exceed that, nor go below. You don’t want to sound like you’re over-caffeinated, or just out of bed.
Try to familiarize yourself with the terminology of what you’re reading. Everything needs to sound effortless like it’s not the first time you’re gazing upon these pages. Character names, weird words, strange passages — it all needs to flow with the confidence of a seasoned pro.
And it’s not just about the tone, either. Many clients are going to want you to at least affect different character’s voices. Yeah, you don’t have to be Mel Blanc to do audiobooks. But it’s expected to at least be able to give some nuance to the different personalities and styles. People have just your voice to go on!
Feeling confident in your abilities is not all you need to learn how to become an audiobook narrator. I would advise that you record yourself and listen to your performances. Send them to others, expecting constructive critiques. Find someone more established than you to mentor you and give you tips on your cadence, rhythm, accent, and performance.
Try to work within frameworks that are possible for you. There’ll be time to try on weirder and more difficult assignments, but color within the lines at first. If anything, save yourself those late nights where you feel like you’re in over your head. If you feel like you need to take vocal or acting lessons, they can’t hurt.
Once you’ve got some practice time under your belt and have gotten good reviews, it’s time to test your mettle!
The best place to work as an audiobook narrator
This is where it all comes to a head. Fortunately, the audiobook industry is teeming with work opportunities right now. It goes without saying that I recommend you start out the same way as everybody: as a freelancer. If you ever get hired by an agency or an on-demand platform, great. But I recommend you work your way up and get decent reviews first. Build your portfolio!
Of course, when you’ve established yourself and are ready for the prime-time, I’d recommend Bunny Studio over everyone else. We’ve already built a second-to-none roster of over 100,000 experienced voice artists and growing.
Freelancing platforms like Upwork, PeoplePerHour, Workana, and Fiverr are all the rage now. I’ve also taken the liberty of organizing them in my personal order of preference; for what it’s worth, I think you’ll generally find better-organized, better-paying work on Upwork. Just type “audiobook” in the job search bar and marvel!
You’ll need samples to get started. No one’s going to hire you if you’ve got nada to show. If they do, you bet it’ll be for projects with dirt-cheap rates that won’t necessarily grow your skills. If somebody pays too low, that means that they generally don’t know how to direct, nor what quality looks like. You may end up with completed work, but not one you can proudly display.
Once you’ve cut your teeth, you may be ready to move on to more specialized marketplaces like ACX.com, where they specialize in audiobooks and ebooks. Then, when you’ve accrued experience, it’s on to specialized work in places like Bunny Studio.
Remember: start out slow. Build up. Do work that’s within your bounds and you’re confident in. Try to work with knowledgeable clients. Get second opinions. Get coached. When learning how to become an audiobook narrator, slow and steady wins the race!
A few closing remarks
All right, I’ve laid out the basics for you. Learning how to become an audiobook narrator is a career move with high chances of success. If you’ve got the goods (a good voice), have purchased the goods (gear) and deliver the goods (quality), you cannot fail. It’s as easy as providing good, diligent work that’s well-recorded and produced.
Sure, yeah, not everyone’s perfect, and you may run into troublesome spots and bad clients once in a while. But the perfect is often the enemy of the good. Aim to produce great-quality work, and forget the rest!
You’ll be glad you took the plunge, trust me. You can send me an Instagram story when you’re working as an audiobook narrator from Hawaii!