It’s standard when an audiobook is about to go into production for the author to provide a list of pronunciations for words and names the narrator may not be clear on. This is especially true of fantasy & science fiction, where even the title can be something likeThe Gloffnokkrz of Grlfnib 9 (whothehell wants to be seen on the bus reading this, I don’t want to know). I turned in my list for ARIEL & ELEGY BEACH and then spoke to the audiobook’s director, Bob Deyan, owner of Deyan Audio. They’ve been in this business a long time and have produced more Grammy winners than Joe & Katherine Jackson (check out this roster!).
Bob was professional, diplomatic, and very enthused about the project. We had a discussion about narrators and tone for both books, and he auditioned several voice artists he uses often and let me listen to their recordings and select the one I thought most appropriate. When he found out I live about 20 minutes from his studio he immediately invited me to come down to record my brief Author’s Intro to the book and listen to a recording session. Since this kind of opportunity is about as rare as final-cut rights on a director’s contract, I jumped at the chance.
Deyan Audio is a repurposed two-story house in Tarzana (yes, it’s named after Tarzan; Edgar Rice Burroughs used to live here), California. The Deyans have kept the house’s homey and inviting feel while putting a great deal of effort and expense into creating a modern, top-flight recording studio. You can walk into the spacious kitchen and munch out to your heart’s content, then head upstairs to one of the three studios (Tarzan, Jane, and Boy) that use Pro Tools and Genelec monitors (this was hardcore porn for DJ & Composer Steve), and wonderful anechoic little vocal booths that made me want to go home and kick my ghetto-ass home studio. (I’m just kidding, little ghetto studio. I wuv you. Don’t be mad.)
Bob introduced me to his wife Deb and the three of us became instant old friends. That happens rarely and I cherish it when it does. Bob gave me a studio tour and then took me upstairs, where Ramon de Ocampo, ARIEL’s narrator, was in session, and I listened in for a while.
Let me backtrack a little here and mention that for a while it wasn’t certain that my publisher was going to pick up the audiobook option on ARIEL. I had actually begun recording it myself in my little home studio. Having been a podcaster for the last 3-1/2 years and a DJ for the last 10, I’m fairly well set up for it, and have learned enough postproduction skills to make a perfectly acceptable recording, at least in a technical sense. I’d recorded the first two chapters, but I found it extremely difficult for a couple of reasons.
First of all, even after three or four hundred podcasts, I remain quite mic conscious. You can put me in a room with a thousand people and I will have no trouble at all talking to them and being fast and funny and aphoristic and all like that, but give me an empty room with a mic and I just choke. I can’t pretend the damned thing is a person. I ain’t no actor.
The second reason is somewhat paradoxical: I’m too close to the material and too far away from it. I have no doubt I have read ARIEL at least 50 times. I revised and proofed it as I wrote it, after it was written, for publication, for e-book publication, and for reprint. I know vast stretches of it by heart and it’s so familiar to me that I ain’t sure what the words mean anymore. But by the same token, ARIEL was written nearly 30 years ago and I’m not only not the same writer I was then, I’m not the same person. And this different person had just completed a sequel that was markedly different in style, tone, and depth. I simply didn’t know how to approach an ARIEL narration.
So Ramon De Ocampo’s voice comes from a pair of dreamywonderfulkewl Genelec speakers in a little studio in Tarzana, California, and his voice isn’t my voice, and his take isn’t mine but is the take of a professional storyteller who isn’t overly familiar with the material, and by god he sounds like my protagonist to me.
It was an odd and wonderful moment.
Ramon came out of the booth and was enthusiastic as a puppy. The guy practically is Pete: we talked martial arts and movies and books and such, and we hit it off so well that Bob threw us into the tiny booth together and hit “record” and Ramon interviewed me for 20 minutes. (It’s included on the ARIEL audiobook; here’s a sample:
Bob’s all, I dunno why you say you’re mic-conscious, you’re fine, you’re too hard on youself. I tell him Just wait.
Then voice artist JD Jackson shows up to audition for ELEGY BEACH. Bob had suggested him and I immediately took to his voice and his style. Bob, Ramon, and JD asked me questions authors can only dream of when it comes time to adapt their work to audio: tone, voices, accents, delivery, rhythm. Good lord, I was in control freak heaven. I gave them suggestions (and later even recorded scratch vocal for JD, because ELEGY BEACH’s often-quirky style and even narrative layout presents spoken-word problems not present in ARIEL). I had opinions, of course, but the fun for me was in telling them I really wanted to be open to interpretations, that my take isn’t by any means the only one or even an authoritative one. I certainly didn’t want to try to direct over Bob’s shoulder, and it’s a credit to his confidence in his own work that he was so open to ideas. (On ELEGY BEACH we later mutually agreed to chuck several of my brilliant, artsy, and totally unworkable suggestions.)
Ramon and JD (who, I should mention, are also offensively good-looking men) took off, and Bob went into the studio with me to record the Intro. Take 1: you choked on that one a little, Steve. Take two: Just relax. Take three: Stop moving around so much, okay? Take four: wow, you really suck major hose at this, don’t you, Boyett? (Bob never actually said any of those; he’s way too nice. )
To anyone who thinks that voiceover work is just someone talking to a mic, I highly recommend reading up on plosives, sibilants, mic dynamics, diaphragm projection, pop screens, flat space, and about a thousand other details. I know all this and I still suck. These people have trained to use their voices as instruments with every bit the effort, technique, and
professionalism of a studio sax player. And audiobook recording is a highly competitive industry struggling with a limping economy, transforming business models in the face of New Media, and working very hard (and for significant material investment) in a field in which even their major successes are mostly unrecognized (what, you think Bob actually brought home any of those Grammys and Audies his productions won? Think again). I came away with an enormous appreciation for what they do at Deyan Audio, and for the efforts they took to include me as a collaborator in the translation of one medium to another.
My day at Deyan Audio was simply terrific, and I left excited about the audiobooks for both novels and delighted at having made new friends.
Here are three chapters from the ARIEL audiobook: