Can you walk us through your prep work for a narration project? Do you prepare any notes to help decide the tone and voice to give a character when there’s not a clear description of their voice in the novel (when they do not have a distinct accent)?
I start by lighting a few candles and pouring a tall glass of Bourbon. Then I pull a few logs from the pile of firewood that I chop by hand in the early hours when the leaves are still wet with dew and you can almost, almost, see your breath in the dawn greyness. I set a roaring fire in the fireplace. I sit down on my bearskin rug, put on my wirerim glasses, and take off my shirt. I trace my fingertips across the screen of my ipad, bringing it to life. I plunge into the PDF file provided me by a Mission Director, or as some call it a Casting Coordinator. I start doing targeted word searches to uncover potential stumbling blocks (speech patterns, accents, etc.) Most characters will fulfill a certain archetype and like many narrators I have certain reliable mouth positions for certain categories of character. Some voices are informed by where I place my tongue, where I push my breath against my teeth. Some voices are informed by where they are generated, from deep in my stomach or scratching out of my throat. The limitations and capabilities of my voice are pretty well known to me at this point through experience, but I always like to push the boundaries. When I’m done for the night, I sit back, pick up my guitar, plunk out an irish lullaby, finish my bourbon or pour another drop if I’ve finished already, and I crawl into the cool sheets of my bed to rest up for the ensuing performance.
You narrate a wide variety of novels. How do you decide which books to perform?
I try to do every title I can possibly fit into my schedule. There’s virtually no variability or nuance in the pay rates for working narrators regardless of the title being produced and hardly any existing structure for royalties or residuals on the back end. So the only way to increase your earnings is volume. You could start your own studio I suppose which many narrators are moving toward, and eventually I may need to do, but that is a business model altogether seperate from the matter of giving the best performance you can. It’s unfortunate because as Audible and a few other distributors find ways to distribute more and more titles, to more and more people, faster, raising their profits, there is a hard ceiling on the amount of work a narrator can do. A book takes as long as a book takes to record, end of story, and there’s no way for narrators to increase the efficiency of that process. If volume is the only way to earn, well, your volume and earnings are limited to the number of hours of the day you can conceivably be in front of that microphone. And I spend a lot of time in front of that microphone. The entire industry is fairly obsessed with volume, with little room at the moment for a more nuanced system of valuing performance. I speak at such length because it seems there may be a misconception that popular, experienced narrators hold some degree of control or power in the industry. While that makes intuitive sense, that is not the case. I remembered the first book I ever recorded I learned that the award-winning veteran narrator who was directing me would have been paid the same as me (a first time reader) had he been the one behind the microphone. I was happy to have the job and there’s some small degree of poetic solidarity in that, but at that moment so early on, I started asking myself, what is a narrator actually able to aspire to in this industry as a business? The short answer is: I would love to be able to decide.
You’ve done some dual narration projects. Do you get to work in the studio with the other narrator or do you record your parts of the novel separately?
Usually we record seperately. Most dual narrations are split up by chapter as that’s the way most authors will divide differing points of view. On rare occasions you will get to record in the same room together. This is the case in many of Catherine Coulter’s books. The fantastic Renee Raudman does many of these and we recently recorded one together called Power Play. We sit in the booth together and when the POV switches from male to female, even mid-paragraph, so do we. We get rid of most of the “he said” “she said” attribution and I will read all of the male dialogue, she the female. It’s a unique format, but it’s lots of fun and hopefully it translates to a more engaging and dynamic listening experience. I had the opportunity recently for another rare and exhilerating multi-narrator project at Random House. The new Dave Eggers title Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is all dialogue, no attribution, no narrative prose. We performed that one almost like a radio play. I was literally on my feet, script in hand the entire time working off of the other actor. I could do that all day. My only regret is that it’s over and we had to work on a typical audiobook timetable without rehearsal.
I first experienced your narration work when I listened to Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. That is one dark and gritty book! As a reader/listener it drove me a little crazy that the novel was not broken up into chapters. Did that throw you off any as the narrator?
Not really. Though it does make it hard to decide when to take lunch.
Since you spend so much of your time reading novels for work, do you enjoy pleasure reading in your spare time? If so, what types of books do you enjoy? And, do you find yourself thinking how you would narrate those books while you’re reading them?
I do, I mostly read non-fiction, though I’m aching to find time to read The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. I don’t know that I think about how I’d narrate them, but sure, I’ll absent mindedly find myself swishing lines of text around in my mouth. Being an actor by natural temperament I often devote my personal time to more collaborative endeavors, and it’s hard for me to push enough of the outside world away to focus on a good book. But god do I love it when I can. I also listen to audiobooks in the car…It’s LA so there’s plenty of time for that.
Name one book/series/character that you’ve read that you wish you could narrate?
I wish I could do audio dramas. So pick a play, any play. Shakespeare would do, Normal Heart has incredible passion and amazing monologues, Glengarry Glen Ross, Pillowman, One Flea Spare, Howard Barker stuff…I’d love to do audio versions of the plays that my theater company Rising Phoenix Rep does or that Rattlestick Playwrights Theater does.
What narration job are you currently working on?
I’m about to record the prequel to the Project Rho Series for Brilliance Audio. I just finished the Novelization of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. There’s another Sandman Slim Novel: The Getaway God waiting in the wings…
About MacLeod Andrews
MacLeod Andrews is an actor and voice actor in Los Angeles. He is a Company Member of Rising Phoenix Rep theater company in NYC AEA, SAG-AFTRA
Audie Nominations for Welcome to Bordertown and We Are America
Earphones Award for Suspect by Robert Crais
-2011 Audie nomination- Best Young Adult Narration, Will Grayson/Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
-2011 Yalsa Odyssey Honor for excellence in audiobooks Will Grayson/Will Grayson
-Best Voices of 2010 (Audiofile Magazine) for Monsters of Men: Chaos Walking Book 3 by Patrick Ness
-Earphones Award for Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan (specially featured in January’s Audiofile Magazine)
-Best Audiobooks of 2010 (Audiofile Magazine) Will Grayson, Will Grayson
-Best Voices of 2010 (Audiofile Magazine) for Will Grayson, Will Grayson
-Earphones Award for The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
-YALSA Amazing Audiobooks Award 2010 for The Spectacular Now
-YALSA Amazing Audiobooks Award 2009 for Crows and Cards by Joseph Helgerson