Five Skills You Need for Audiobook Narration
An audiobook is a narrated recording of a book, often produced as a downloadable sound file. They are typically purchased from audiobook sites or subscription services and streamed from portable devices, like phones. If you’re in any way tuned in to the internet, that probably isn’t news to you.
You might, however, be surprised to hear that audiobooks can be traced back as far as 1932. First conceived to help visually impaired people access and enjoy great storytelling, The American Association of the Blind released 15-minute versions of popular tales.
In more recent times, the invention of new listening modes like cassette tapes, CDs, and portable media players allowed audiobooks to hit the mainstream — you might even remember a time when listening to books on tape in the car was all the rage! In the late 2000s, the advent of digital downloading caused a mass migration away from physical books to sound files, as phones became a means to access various media, including audiobooks.
This involves enunciating words and phrases correctly, clearly, and cleanly. There should be no over- or under-articulation (unless it’s a character); no sibilance or whistling (most commonly heard on the letter S or soft C) or lisping, and little to no mouth noise.
You must have enough breath so you don’t run out of air at the end of sentences or gasp for breath between or inside sentences. There should be no fading, swallowing, or gulping. Breath control also involves controlling plosives (popping P’s or hard consonants), keeping your volume consistent, and projecting appropriately. It involves managing mouth noise and throat clearing. Too much will require a lot of editing and, subsequently, audiobook companies will not hire talent who require a lot of post-production attention.
This requires understanding the story arc and the characters (in fiction), discerning your listening audience, and employing the appropriate delivery. It involves understanding concepts and making them understandable to the listener.
Bringing life to your characters is a must. They must be distinct from each other and consistent in their tone, attitude, age, and accent. Their voices must match their given character descriptions (if there are any).
An audiobook narrator spends approximately four to six hours behind a microphone, per day. This requires unflagging energy and the ability to sound as strong at the end of the day as the beginning. Narrators who are physically fit and emotionally stable will be able to muster the stamina necessary to sustain a professional narration. Performing a 30-second spot is like running a 50-yard dash; a 60-second spot is like a running 100-yard dash; an audiobook is like running a marathon.
Once you’ve polished off your narration skills, gathered the tools you need for a home studio, mastered audio editing, and have a few voice-over and narration jobs under your belt, you can send demos to major audiobook publishers and audition for the opportunity to narrate traditionally published audiobooks. Most major audiobook publishers have a section on their website where potential narrators can submit demos. You might not get your first choice of genre or book when starting out, but this is a career that requires patience, determination, hard work, and lots of stamina.
Thank you for your reading. Good Luck!