Author: J R Santana, Producer and Award-winning Screenplay writer
Audiobook voices: Accenting the accent
Developing a solid audiobook strategy
‘Just read the words out loud and don’t trip over any of them’ Oh, that it would be so simple a note to give a voice artist when recording your first audiobook.
The truth is, that the process, as most people are aware, is a little more complicated than that. Recording the audio version of Perpetual Gloom was no exception.
Perpetual Gloom Audio Journey
When Shelah and I sat down to discuss what we wanted, it became evident that there were so many paths we could go. This wasn’t a conflict of ideas between us, but really a reflection of the process which offers up so many variables in the execution and delivery of a spoken word novel.
The procedure for getting across the line is relatively straightforward; audition a voice artist, engage the talent, record the content in bite-size chunks, review, re-record, sign off and upload to your chosen commerce platform. That’s pretty much it, but in reality, the journey travelled is so much more complicated and filled with bear-traps and dead falls, that it would snare even the most diligent audio producer.
Perpetual Gloom is a book that predominantly takes place at the tail end of the great American depression and is set amongst a tightly knitted community of farmers and country folk, who are forced to prioritise their next meal over the American dream.
This sectional slice of Americana still holds close to a unique way of living; whether it be vocabulary, sayings, mannerisms, or social customs. It is natural to assume that finding someone from that world to record the audiobook would be the obvious way to go. Right? Wrong.
I should qualify, ‘wrong-ish’. The decision facing us, was to either play it completely straight and give just a nod to a regional accent at the appropriate moment, or fully embrace it and cast someone who would be able to accurately reproduce the voice of the characters. There were pros and cons with both options – both alienating and attracting sections of our intended audience in whichever way we went. Ultimately, we decided to push all our chips forward, and go all in with the latter option.
In 1878, Thomas Edison hit upon an idea and recited the words: “Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow.” As he created the first ever audio of the spoken word, Edison dreamed that the technology might one day allow a whole novel to be recorded.
Once committed, what became extremely important to us in the casting process, was finding a skilled voice artist who had real-world roots in that culture – and therefore the ability to drop into an authentic local accent in one moment, but in the next, be able to pull back to a more standard delivery that would keep a listener engaged and following the story, rather than reaching for the pause button every few sentences to grab a thesaurus (or in some instances, a ‘profanasaurus’!).
The route chosen is by no means a catch-all way for any given audio performance, in cases where regional dialects occur in the original text. Many adapted books choose a flattering style for delivery that does not require a voice artist to inject personality into a character by means of a prescribed accent, but rather by the use of pace, intonation, and word stress. We could have easily chosen this route, but as we felt that the way the characters in Perpetual Gloom speak informs us more about who they are, and not just what they say, it was obvious we needed a more ‘performance-based approach to the read.
Ultimately, we lucked out after a few auditions and found the very capable Anthony Santora, who hit all the right notes (quite literally in some passages) and was able to deliver a fine performance, that not only captured the emotion of the book but did it in such a way as to retain the authenticity of the characters through the wide repertoire of his vocal performance and interpretation.
Next Phase in Audio Books
While we faced many production decisions, there was never a question of whether we should produce an audiobook. While audiobooks are in the baby stage of the publishing world they are in the midst of a boom. Deloitte predicts that the global market will grow by 25 percent in 2020 to US$3.5 billion (£2.6 billion).
This growth will also drive changes in how audiobooks will be produced, for example, we will begin to see audiobooks become more experiential, giving the listeners the feeling they are actually “in” the story. To get an idea of that what this would sound like, just imagine audio books being read similar to the old radio drama like 1938, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre in their inventive production of War of the Worlds, or how about the unforgettable episodes of The Adventures of Superman (1940–1951).
Internally, we are very keen to bring this dynamism to The Boloney Trail trilogy and will definitely be experimenting with it when we drop the second installment.
Keep your ears to the ground….