I have to be honest with you. There’s a tie between the #2 challenge and the #1 challenge so I had to make a choice. Because performance anxiety feeds self-doubt, I decided to place it in the number two position.
Performance anxiety feeds self-doubt and increases your stress and frustration. Therefore I think it’s important to 1) acknowledge it and 2) name it. It does happen to everyone. And even when you think you’ve got it nailed down and things are great… One flub, one criticize can derail your good mood and toss you back into the fires of performance anxiety.
So what can we do?
Step away. Breathe. Drink a cup of tea and try to look at the problem itself. The real problem. Have you ever done root cause analysis? I did this a lot in my corporate life when I was doing business continuity and disaster recovery. It’s not enough to think you know what the problem is – you really need to know what THE problem (root cause) is so you can truly address it. Here’s some root cause statements that emerged from my survey:
Do I need to change my performance by the genre I am narrating in?
I’m going to say, “Yes, but…” Here’s the yes. In general children’s books (not young adult) can be voiced in a more upbeat tone and pace. But not always. In general inspirational books can be voiced in a more smooth, soft tone (closer to the mic) and flowing pace. But not always.
Are you getting the idea? Your performance must always be guided by the material itself. This is why reading the entire manuscript is important. And why having a collaborative dialogue with the author is… well, priceless.
I don’t always know the right way to voice what was written, so what can I do?
Have you ever played the 7-word sentence game? It’s one sentence with 7 different meanings depending on which word you stress in the sentence.
“I never said he/she stole my money.”
Try it! Say it 7 times putting stress on a different word each time.
The same thing applies to your reading. My advice is to put different emphasis or stress on different words. Think about what happened right before this character came on scene? What is their base personality? What is their mood right now? Try softening a word you want to emphasize by speaking it more quietly. Record all of these. Try them out and see what feels right. If you get it narrowed down and can’t decide, ask the author.
How can I manage breath, clicks and mouth noises?
Oh boy. Can I be honest? Sometimes you can’t. There are lots of tips and tricks to try and I’ll tell you about them. But I’m going to be honest and tell you that sometime, you just need to walk away and come back to it later. My routine is to record in the morning, editing in the afternoon. But sometimes I wake up with monkey mouth. I don’t know what happened during the night but no amount of brushing my teeth, getting hydrated, etc., will get rid of the gasping breath, clicks or mouth noise. That’s when I give up (temporarily) and go outside and dig in the dirt. Gardening (or more accurately weeding) is my go to for getting out of my head. Then I come back to it fresh. Here are some tips to try:
Breath Control, Clicks, and Mouth Noise
- Stay hydrated. Don’t start recording until two hours after you’ve woken up and started drinking. (Water, flavored water – not coffee or soda. They can actually dehydrate you.)
- Don’t close your lips at the end of sentences. Leaving your mouth slightly parted diminishing gasps and mouth noise.
- Dress comfortably. No lie. I discovered that I can’t wear hip-hugger jeans in the studio. It puts too much pressure on the wrong places and I find myself gasping.
- Practice breathing. Deep breath in through the mouth filling the diaphragm and then a slow, long exhale through the nose. Do this as an early morning exercise before you even get out of bed. This will also help build your endurance for those long sentences that never seem to end.
- Make sure you use a pop filter and are staying 8-10” away from your microphone.
- Breath, then pause when you record. It feels funny at first, but it’s great at spacing your breaths so you can delete or diminish them in editing and it helps avoid mouth noise at the beginning on sentences. Breath in… pause (with lips slightly open) for 1 second… then speak.
How do I slow down? I tend to speed up or talk too fast.
Ditto. Here we have a tell tale trait of a new Narrator. I’ll admit. Been there. Done that. I’m so sorry. We all do it at some time or another. In our excitement we rush. I’ve found two things help me avoid this. Maybe they’ll help you too.
- Read the material first. In your head, for pleasure. This helps set the pace and tone in your mind and will help guide your pace when you record.
- Second, read to your best friend. Not literally. I know my best friend wouldn’t want to be tethered to my studio while I record. Oh gawd, she’d kill me. She hates non-fiction and I love it! She’s a horror gal herself, and that just makes me giggle. No, imagine that you are reading to your best friend. Unless something really exciting is going on, you don’t rush when you’re talking to your best friend. And if it is exciting – go ahead and rush. You do not need to keep one, steady, droning rhythmic pace. That is not natural. And natural is what we’re going for.
How can I differentiate between the characters?
- Know what the manuscript says about the character. Suppose the manuscript says,
“Gramps was a grouch. He never said anything without a snarl that twisted his southern drawl into something reminiscent of a snake about to bite.”
In this one line you can build a voice character for Gramps that is:
Gender – male
Type – snarls
Accent – southern
Delivery – drawl, sharp
Motivation – predatory, defensive, poised to pounce
- Keep it simple. Your changes don’t have to go far from each other to sound different. Dropping your pitch just one step on the scale can indicate male v female. Raising your pitch and speeding up the pace just a touch can indicate youth.
If you are an author who is considering having your work published as an audiobook, please check out the Audiobook Production Tour video on the homepage of my website. And checkout my portfolio to see if I’m the right voice for your story.
And, if you’ve got your heart set on recording your own audiobook but would like a guiding hand, check out The Writers Audiobook Clinic.
I’ll be back next week with the #1 Challenge in Learning Audiobook Narration.