Audible Best Selling Narrator, Andrea Emmes started her career performing in musical theater while growing up on the East Coast. This lead to a successful career as a stage performer working for Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Renaissance Cruises and eventually head lining on the Las Vegas Strip. Having worked in tv, film and video games, Andrea, a total bibliophile, now enjoys narrating audiobooks at her home studio in San Jose, California. Known as "The Girl with a Thousand Voices", her wide range of character voices and dynamic/emotionally invested performances has reviewers and listeners alike commenting on how she effortlessly pulls listeners in, and has versatility and charisma. Not only does she have a Bachelor of Science in Game Art and Design, but Andrea gets her inner gamer geek on playing games of all kinds with her husband and their cat, Lucy.
Here's a snippet of one of the Best Sellers on Audible, Little Women.
1) How many books have you narrated?
39 as Andrea Emmes (with several more in my queue) and 3 under my pseudonym.
2) Out of them, have you a specific genre you like best?
I really like doing Young Adult books, especially the paranormal or SCI FI books as that is what I also like to read for fun, plus most of them are in 1st Person POV and for me, it's just easy to connect to an angsty, snarky, coming of age teenager or young adult. It's a lot of fun to jump into their shoes or heads lol, but I'm also really enjoying narrating children's books.
3) How do you choose the books you want to narrate?
When I'm looking for a book to audition for, I look for books that I feel I can really bring the best out of them through my performance and that fit my voice; books/characters that I connect with; that I would have fun narrating. I also research that author, check out their website, Amazon page, read their reviews, good and bad to get a sense of the entire book(s). Often times, when not doing a book for a larger publisher - who fully vettes each book - you won't truly know if the book has been editing or is well written until you actually read it. You would be surprised at how many sample scripts are well written but then when you actually read the book to start the Prep stage, it's riddled with errors or just not written well. I've done a couple of books when I first started that it was obvious they either didn't hire an editor or should have hired a better one. Sadly, one author had no idea that the editor she had hired for her books did a terrible job until I started my book prep and gave her several pages of questions and errors that needed to be fixed. She was horrified and fired her editor and had to go back through all of her books. Needless to say, we had to cancel that contract but I was glad to help the author out and alert her to this issue. It was unfortunate because it was a great book under all of that and I would have loved working with her.
It's not a narrator's job to edit the author's book, although there will always be a typo or little grammatical error here and there that I might have to edit on the fly but I always let the author know and ask them what they want me to do.
4) Take us through a typical audition that you do? How do you prepare?
First, I'll take my time and read the sample script, book synopsis and any notes that the author offers (character descriptions, tone of scene or book). I'll also look on Audible to see if they have other audiobooks on there and listen to the audio samples to get a feel for pacing, voices they cast, especially if I'm auditioning for a book within a series. I won't mimic another narrator, but it's good to get a feel for the kind of narration they've hired before.
Second, I look up their book on Amazon and read a little bit more about the book especially if it's in a series. If I have any questions for the author, I'll send them a message, for instance, need pronunciation guide or questions about accents or whatever and then when I feel like I understand the essence of the characters and scene, I begin recording. Often times an author will "cast" a book and say, "I imagine the Main Character (MC) sounding like Reese Witherspoon or Casper the Friendly Ghost." So in that case, I'll go to YouTube and research how those references sound so I can get a feel of their voice, accent, pacing, etc. although I would never try to mimic or do an impression. For instance, if I'm perfect vocally for the narration and MC but another character needs to sound exactly like James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), I'll have a chat with the author about it because there's just no way I can create that iconic voice with my vocal cords. I also need to be able to maintain a voice for long periods of time that won't hurt my vocal cords so it's important to know your vocal limits. However, if they want the strong, menacing feel/tone that Darth Vader has when he speaks, I can do that and modulate my voice accordingly (naturally to my own voice) but it won't sound like Darth himself. Usually, the authors understand that and they know that the book won't sound 100% exactly as it does in their heads. That's what's so important for a narrator - is to be able to project when narrating is that we hit the tone of the book and the attitudes of the characters so that the book really comes alive and is just as entertaining as the written version. But there is a level of letting go that the author has to do, which I totally understand is hard to do. It's their baby, they've spent months, years on it and they want it just right. It's just as important to me that I honor the book and the author's work as well and give it my best as the audiobook is my baby and has my name on it, so it's very much a passion piece for me each time.
5) How do you keep track of the different character tones/voices?
Great question. There are many different approaches to this, but for me, I keep a spreadsheet and have columns that I fill in when each new character comes into play for the first time. Name, what chapter they are first introduced, the time stamp in the audio for that chapter so I can go back to it for reference and then notes as to what will remind me of what that voice sounds like. For instance, Sarah - breathy, snobby but sweet. or Mitchell - low voice, gravely, slow paced. Many times I'll cast my characters with preset voices that I've either pulled from my real life (family/friends) or actors. For instance, if I know I need a little girl voice that is slightly nasal, then in the notes, I'll just write "Ginger" and then I'll instantly know what that voice sounds like. Doing something like this is essential especially for book series. Now, there are books where there are a lot of characters. The most characters I've done in a book is 74, so it's important to not stress on the minor characters or those that only have a few lines, and to focus on the characters that the author finds are most important - main, secondary, etc., and give them unique voices. But for the others, I can just slightly alter a voice through pitch, pacing, lowering my voice, speaking softer, or reusing voices for characters that aren't crucial to the story. I always ask the author to provide me a character sheet of all the characters that are most important to them, what they feel they should sound like, quirks, age, characteristics, etc.
6) Do you read the book before starting the narration or fly by the seat of your pants?
I would NEVER fly by the seat of my pants lol. It's a crucial part of narration to be able to know every aspect of the book before I begin. I need to understand the tone of the book, the subtext behind things and what the characters are saying, what accents are necessary, etc. Often times you'll find at the end the Twist, where the MC is really the villain or that a character has an Irish accent but it isn't mentioned until many chapters later. If I didn't read the entire book first, I would be doing the book an injustice and have to do a lot more work fixing all of these performance errors later which would be awful. Audiobook Narration is an acting job and you must approach the book as you would a script. You need to dissect it, understand all of the characters, their background, how do they feel about other characters they interact with or with what's happening to them in the story. I make a lot of notes as I read the book too, not just about the characters but for certain sections, I'll add a descriptive note helping me remember the emotion I want to use when I'm recording. I'll also score the page as needed, like I would a script, if there are certain places that need pauses or emphasis, etc.
7) Best and worst thing about being a narrator?
I love being a narrator. I LOVE reading books. It was my first toy when I was a kid and I started reading when I was four. So being able to read for a living is amazing. I also love performing and I've been a professional actor for over 20 years, so being able to bring a book to life, breathe life into so many different characters is such a great challenge and really fulfilling. The worst thing about being a narrator is allowing yourself to let the really harsh reviews slide off you and dealing with rejection. Not everyone is going to love your voice or how you narrate. You're not going to get every audition you submit for. Even the legends in the industry get really horrible reviews. So it's important to not let that affect my self confidence and keep doing the best that I can. Sometimes if there is a trend that I'm seeing complaint wise, like I have a bad male voice or something, I try to listen and adjust, but often there are just people who either just couldn't connect with my performance or who enjoy tearing people down. I was so nervous when I narrated "Little Women" because it's such a classic, iconic book that has been made into several movies and expectations are really high for listeners and they have this "vision" for what the characters should sound like for them - which is really hard to accommodate and fulfill. I really wanted to give it justice because it was one of my favorite books as a child and though my narration for it has a really strong rating right now, there have been some people who were really disappointed, hated it, hated me, etc. and I just have to let that go because I can only do the best that I can do. I'm always striving to learn, grow and better myself and my narration techniques.
8) Who's your favourite narrator/s?
Wow, there are so many. I love Khristine Hvam, Cassandra Campbell, Julia Whelan, Kirby Heybourne, Neil Gaiman, Christa Lewis, Caitlin Kelly, Jim Dale, James Marsters, wow, too many to list.
9) Is there any narrator you'd love to work with?
That's a hard one to answer because you don't really work "with" another narrator in a cast book or dual POV. You record your part separately and then turn it in to the publisher and they put the pieces together. I would LOVE to do an audio/radio drama where there is a cast in the same room as I've done that once before many years ago on a project called EverNight: The Musical. I played Hollyhock, a River Pirate! One of my favorite roles to date :).
10) Any tips for aspiring narrators?
Coaching, coaching, coaching! Just because people tell you you have an amazing voice, doesn't mean you will be perfect for narration. At least not right away. It takes time and coaching. Find a really good acting/narration coach and learn the foundations and understand that narration is an art and a science. It's not just buy a microphone and then talk. This is an acting job, so you need to understand nuisances, subtext, not be monotone or sing song-y. NonFiction is actually still an acting job. Just because it's not fiction doesn't mean you don't PERFORM the book. You are the voice for the author and you need to make sure to bring their words, no matter what they are, to life.
Like I mentioned, I've been a professional actor for over 20 years but narration is a totally different acting technique for both fiction and nonfiction, so I needed train (and still do) so I could set myself up for success. Make sure you vette a potential coach(es) as there are many people who are trying to take advantage of aspiring actors or who aren't an expert and don't know what they don't know. There are so many amazing coaches out there. Sean Allen Pratt, Johnny Heller, Scott Brick, Pat Fraley, Carol Monda, Paul Alan Ruben, PJ Ochlan, Jeffrey Kafer...the list goes on and on. A great place to start is by watching Sean Pratt's videos on YouTube, especially this one So...You want to be an audiobook narrator?
Also, don't expect to just jump in with a big publisher right out of the gate. It takes time and you have to build up your skills to match their professional level. But that's ok, everyone starts somewhere. There are great places like www.acx.com where you can get started and audition for books. But remember, you will be doing yourself, your reputation and your authors a huge service the more you invest in your training and understanding of what goes into audiobook narration and hone your craft. Listeners can be brutal so try to start off on the right foot as best you can. There is also a technical learning curve to this as well because you will need to know how to use a recording program, how to Punch and Roll, edit, master, etc. At some point, you'll be able to outsource the proofing, editing and mastering to a professional engineer, but starting out, you'll have to do it all.
It's also important to understand that this isn't an "easy, get rich quick" kind of thing. It's going to involve some investment in setting up - buying your equipment, recording software, space to record (research this!), classes, etc. So if you're serious about doing this, please research it and make sure it's something you really see yourself doing. It's a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build relationships with authors and publishers, to build your library of titles, to get to a place where you feel confident and more secure in your skills as a narrator. But it's important to also have a thick skin as rejection is a big factor. Also, narration is a hustle, it's hard to find books sometimes as they don't just fall into your lap over and over again. You have to do a lot of auditions and might not get any for a while. It's a business, there's social media aspect of things, understanding how to market yourself, understanding your voice and what genre is best for you. If you really want to do Young Adult books but you have a really sultry, sexy voice, you're probably more suited for romance books.
Some get to know you questions:
What do you like to do when you're not narrating?
I'm a huge gamer so I like to play boardgames with my husband and our friends (every Wednesday night!) or games at home on our many gaming systems. PS4, Wii U, Steam. I also love watching movies either at home or in the theater.
What’s the best vacation you ever had?
That's easy, when I got married in Belize! It was so beautiful and we spent a month there.
What’s your favourite rainy day movie?
I have several movies that I could literally watch over and over again and never tire of them. The Princess Bride, Labyrinth, Fifth Element, Clue, Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, Love Actually, Notting Hill (yes, I like rom-coms), Star Wars, Lord of the Rings...
If you could have personally witnessed one event in history, what would it be?
The creation of the world. Just WOW.
What's you favourite place to read?
Curled up on the couch with a blanket, some food and a warm drink.
When you walk into a book store, where do you head first?
The Young Adult section and then the Sci Fi section. My Kindle and Nook libraries are so eclectic though. I'm currently reading Rick Gualtieri's "Bill the Vampire" series (very Dresden Files like, LOVE IT), Amanda Strong's "Monster" series, Steven King's "It" (for the 3rd time), Neil Gaiman, Katrina Kahler's "Julia Jones" series, anything by Jim Butcher, Michelle Madow, Terry Maggert, Jeffrey Deaver (especially his Lincoln Rhyme series)...omg there are just so many!!!!!
If you had a million dollars, what would be the first thing you would buy?
A trip around the world. I love to travel but haven't had the chance to go out of the United States much. :)
Thank you so much for stopping by Andrea!! You really need to checkout her work :) Here's some of my reviews from books narrated by her.
Whispered Pain: http://www.audible.com/listener/Natalie-BookLoversLife/A3OBJGGKN1KREP/ref=a_listener__cco_1_1_rvwTtl?asin=B016P4040K
The Lie: http://www.audible.com/listener/Natalie-BookLoversLife/A3OBJGGKN1KREP/ref=a_listener__cco_1_1_rvwTtl?asin=B00N42H9RI
Witch Hearts: http://www.audible.com/listener/Natalie-BookLoversLife/A3OBJGGKN1KREP/ref=a_listener__cco_1_1_rvwTtl?asin=B00OZ7Y7LC
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