I’m afraid, my friends, listening to a good story is in our very genes. Through history man past his time entertaining himself and those around him with stories. These stories could be of past ancestors who were brave or a brave moment in a hunter’s life when he was able to kill his prey and bring food to his people. They very well were to educate and teach children the way to be a better part of the community.
As man progressed, so did the art of storytelling. It merged with music and acting giving it a three-dimensional feel. Through ancient civilizations to Shakespearean plays to opera we have enjoyed listening to a good story.
As the masses learned to read, they could entertain themselves with a story. Storytelling keeps on evolving particularly as devices to listen to storytelling does. Before the invention of television, the radio provided the means to listen to a good story. It would be a family form of entertainment. The media of television and film producing sparked another avenue of storytelling. It brought storytelling through acting into American homes in the early 1950’s. I was growing up then. Listening and watching a good story didn’t keep me from reading. I read all the time, but I would also enjoy watching a good story.
We also listened to stories on phonographs. As a child, I would listen to stories for hours while singing to songs that were provided with the telling. From phonographs, to audio cassettes, to CDs to digital listening, listening to stories has only gotten easier. We can carry books and audiobooks on our cell phones.
And with the marvelous invention of the Bluetooth we can listen to an audiobook playing on the computer, iPad, Kindle, or cell phone while we dust the furniture, make and clean up after dinner, work in the garden, wash or drive the car, etc.
Last month you may remember author Danelle Harmon joined me several times on my blog. She was busy working on audiobooks for her two series. I approached her asking if I might interview one of her narrators and with greatest pleasure I present you David Stifel who is narrating the de Montforte Brothers series for Danelle. Make sure you click on the link I provide to the first audiobook of the series. It’ll give you a sample of David’s narration. I remember this scene in the book. It was hilarious and I must admit David’s narration of it had my husband, son and me laughing.
Thank you David for coming. I am so privileged to be able to spend some time with you. A good narrator takes a good story and makes it even better. I am sure this has been said many a time, but it is truth. Before we get started I want to share with our audience a little of your bio data.
David Stifel was born and raised in Denver and its suburbs, and studied acting at the Yale School of Drama, where among his classmates were Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Durang. He has appeared in numerous films and TV shows, working for such distinguished directors as Steven Spielberg (Minority Report), Danny Boyle (A Life Less Ordinary), and Joel Schumacher (The Number 23). Seen regularly on LA stages, some of his favorite roles have been Claudius in Hamlet, Rev. Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath, and Marat in Marat/Sade.
He has completed 36 audiobooks as of this interview.
Do let’s get to the interview, shall we?
This is a very unique career path and probably wasn’t what you thought you would be doing, but perhaps I’m wrong. How did you get started? What opportunity came your way that you snatched up?
First of all, I would like to thank Danelle and you for giving me the platform to talk a little about myself and my chosen career.
Actually, this was a very deliberate career choice for me. I came to LA to be an actor almost 40 years ago. Life got in the way and I found a lucrative “day job” as a computer programmer. That job evaporated four years ago and it became clear very quickly that I’d hit the end of that road – too old, too opinionated and too expensive.
I had kept my oar in show business and built up a nice resume of film and tv credits — now it was clear that I would have to make my entire living as an actor. Too old for steady film / tv work. Stage work in LA not ever steady enough to pay the mortgage. I chose very deliberately that I had a fighting chance as a narrator — it’s not age discriminatory, and entirely self-driven (as opposed to arenas where you must work through an agent). So I made a very conscious business decision to go after narrating work.
I started out podcasting my narrative work – lots of Public Domain novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (www.burroughsguy.com). That’s where I learned the basics and started building a resume.
In other words, I deliberately targeted this medium and made my own opportunities to get started.
Wow, you blew my whole theory how someone gets into narrating books. So my question would be this. As every writer begins writing a novel differently, what do you do to prepare your read? It would be obvious that you read the book through at least once, marking the margin perhaps with comments. Am I close?
Yeah, you’re close. Oddly enough, where every other stage of narrating is on a computer device, for preparation, I work with hard copy. I read the book carefully, once. As I go I note every character who speaks, noting which ones are throwaways (they only appear once) and which are return characters whose voices I will have to match across chapters. I do keep track on my character list any vocal characteristics the author gives me, and as I get to know the characters, I’ll note who they might sound like, what person I might cast as that character. I also note any names or words that are likely to be pronunciation problems.
Other than that, I don’t really make notes as I go at all – (I don’t have the software to annotate pdf files, which are the ones I read from in the booth). I don’t try to color code the characters. Somehow if I can’t “get” that while I’m narrating in the booth, I’m not paying attention properly – it’s always a sign to me that I have to stop, go back and pay bloody attention! I get the sense of the book and its narrative shape from pre-reading it. I don’t try to plan out how I’m going to narrate it, except for knowing the narrative shape – we build the story here, we have a payoff here, we have a red herring here. If it doesn’t stick in my memory from the pre-read, it ain’t worth making a note. (I’m probably atypical here — I know many respected narrators make detailed notes before heading into the booth.)
Do you work through one chapter or scene at a time during a session of recording?
I prorate how many recording sessions I will need to complete the book – I aim for 1.5 hours of completed material per session / day. So I divide the total estimated hours for the book by 1.5 to see how many sessions I’ll need, then divide the book by that number to get the number of average pages per session needed for completion. I don’t stop narrating in mid-chapter ever, so each session aims for x pages, but the closest number of pages that are discrete chapters is where a session starts and stops. (1.5 hours per session is an andante pace for me. If I have a high priority time rush job, I can go presto at 2-2.5 completed hours per session for a limited time. Also note that these numbers are for “full production” in which I am doing not only narration, but editing, proofing, mastering, etc.)
What are the most ‘voices’ you’ve had to do in one novel?
I’ve lost count! LOL! One book had over 10 major recurring characters, and over 30 recurring characters.
Singers vocalize, warming up their voices before they perform. What voice prep do you do and how long do you read without pausing the recording?
I have a home-made recording booth – which is pretty good at sound damping, but not 100% sound proof. Street traffic and air traffic noises disrupt recording, so I record at night when the disruptions are less frequent. Because I record at night, I’ve used my voice during the day and it’s very well warmed up. I do have a vibrating unit that I use to loosen the throat, neck, head, sinuses before I start each recording session.
I read non-stop until I make a mistake, an airplane passes over, a car goes by, a motorcycle blasts by 3 blocks away, or I say a sentence and immediately think “That sucks.” Usually if I can go 2 minutes non-stop, that’s excellent! I stay in the booth until I’ve completed my daily quota; 3-5 hours of booth time usually.
Do you do your own tech work, too? That is, splice sections together if necessary? So I guess I’m asking who else is involved in the making of an audiobook?
For ACX, (that is, the Audiobook Creation Exchange, a subsidiary of audible.com, where independent authors find independent narrator/producers to create audiobooks for them) I do all the production work — narrating, proofing, (I do an accuracy check, but always rely on the author for a final check for textual accuracy), editing out mouth noises, sinus clicks, all extraneous noise. And I do the final mastering which involves tweaking the sound to sound best, even out the dynamics, boost volume levels so everything could be heard in a car, for example. This is a moving target. Narrators traditionally in the past only had to go to someone else’s studio where they would sit and narrate and then go home. Technology is changing and it’s much less expensive to have the home-based narrator take on all production tasks. Many narrators hire out the tech work to third parties. I do it all myself.
How long does it take to complete a romance novel of approximately 100,000 words?
Very, very general ballpark number would be:
@ 9,300 words per hour, the final book will be about 11 hours long. If I go with an easy pace of 1.5 finished hours per session, 5 sessions per week, this will take 1 1/2 work weeks to complete just the narration (and tech work). Add a few days for preparation. A few more days for back and forth with the author as misreads, or mispronunciations are found and corrected. It comes to say, 2, 2 and a half weeks to complete that romance novel. Numbers will vary. Very dense material will need more time. If it’s short fast words, it may be shorter.
Do you ever have “off” days when what you read doesn’t feel right and need to record again?
No! This is a time intensive business — in that there is SO much material to be created, there is simply no time for second thoughts (if I want to stay in business.) Audiobooks are very much like soap opera production – image having to create an hour A DAY, five days a week, of film! There is simply no time for “do it better.”
Narrating is a marathon activity, and you cannot obsess on a word, a phrase, or even a chapter. You have to get it right the first time through. That’s why preparation is so very important – you can’t be second guessing yourself in the recording booth. There is simply too much material to be created.
David thank you for stopping by telling us your story. You certainly gave me appreciation of the work involved in narrating a book. I’m sure our readers will agree. I wish you much success in your chosen career path and am eager to hear you narrate all of this series, but hope to see you narrating other romance novel audiobooks, too.