Did you ever play around with reading a story out loud, making different voices for the different characters? If so, you’ve experimented with being a narrator — which is half the job of an audiobook producer.
Unlike movies or television, where producers almost never star in the show, the producer of an audiobook is frequently also the narrator. It takes a multi-talented, artistic-plus-scientific person to be half narrator and half producer, and today I’m interviewing audiobook producer Jenny Hoops to find out how she came to be one of these paragons.
Interview with Jenny Hoops,
IRIS: Tell us who Jenny Hoops, the person, is in real life and what is unique about you that makes voiceover/production work just right for you.
JENNY: That’s funny, I don’t get asked that much! Let’s see, I’m a Canadian, and our family lives in rural Alberta in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Where we live, we get all the big wildlife in our yard: moose, bears, and cougars (or, should I call them “pumas” like Duby?). I have two teenage sons who are into sports (biathlon and soccer) and still need to be driven to all their practices and tournaments. Believe me, we spend a lot of time in the car listening to audio books! A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be the person reading all those books aloud, so I learned the technical side of narrating and jumped in with both feet. I record and edit in my studio here at home during the day when the boys are at school, so for me this is the perfect job.
IRIS: Imagine I’m someone who wants to know how to become an audiobook voice artist and producer. What sort of formal training would I need?
JENNY: Well, even before a person takes the training courses, what’s really important is to find out if they have the temperament to sit for long hours in a small windowless room, talking out loud and listening to voices in their headphones. Try reading a book aloud while sitting in your closet for six hours every day, for three or four days in a row, and if that feels great, then you’re cut out to be a narrator! For me, I needed to teach myself how to use recording and editing software (I love YouTube!), and then practice, practice, practice.
IRIS: Where did you get your training and early experience in voiceover? In production?
JENNY: Many years ago, I was a professional speaker giving motivational presentations across North America – I loved that, because everyone laughs at your jokes and claps when you’re done! After I had my children, I volunteered hundreds of hours with a group called VoicePrint, a news broadcast service for the blind, and then started reading fiction for LibriVox, a fantastic volunteer community that publishes public domain books on-line for free download. That’s what hooked me on voice work – you can really live in the characters of a book when you’re giving them a voice, it’s such a personal and intimate connection.
Several years ago I completed an on-line course offered by BeeAudio (a major audiobook producer) which taught me EVERYTHING I needed to know about recording in a home studio. Unfortunately, BeeAudio doesn’t offer the course any more (it was a lot of work for the two narrator coaches who ran it), so now newbie narrators have to search around for good training courses.
IRIS: What part of voiceover work is science, and what part is art? How does that differ for audio production work?
JENNY: Well, there’s definitely a technical side to voiceover – being able to control your voice and breathe so you’re within the recording parameters is a delicate combination of controlling echoes and sound waves, being aware of all the sounds you make, and watching the monitor off to the side to check the levels. Oh, and do all that while pronouncing words correctly, with the correct accent, in a “conversational tone” and not making any mistakes while reading! That’s the challenge I love about narrating.
But then, of course, you could be perfect at all that and still sound flat and dry, and no one would want to listen to you. That’s where the art of narrating comes in, and I learn more and more with every book I record. I don’t think I’ll ever be “finished” learning!
IRIS: How is voiceover work like acting for movies, television, or theater? What made you decide to pursue VO rather than traditional acting as a career?
JENNY: Voiceover work IS acting, really, and there’s a whole bunch of narrators who started in theatre and branched out into voiceover. But my decision to pursue VO was based on convenience, I’m a little ashamed to say – it was work I could do at home, while the kids were in school. And I don’t have to cancel a day’s recording if I get a pimple.
IRIS: Do you consider yourself a “techie” — comfortable or skilled with computerized and electronic devices? How important is it to be computer literate before undertaking VO/production work?
JENNY: Oh, no, I’m not at all a technical person! I need my son to explain the TV remote for me, for heaven’s sake! But knowing that was my skill level, I enrolled in an excellent on-line course that a major audiobook production company offered, and made sure that I understood and absorbed every single thing. I also consult pretty regularly with several audio engineers for help when I can’t figure out something (like, why do I hear an echo in my recording? How can I edit out that lovely nasal whistle? How do I remove the sound of my dog barking during the big emotional love scene?).
If you want to produce audiobooks, you must become competent at the software, otherwise you’ll spend all your hard-earned royalties paying an audio engineer – no easy way around it, I’m afraid.
IRIS: What is the trick to balancing your work with your roles as wife and mom (of two active boys!)?
JENNY: If there’s a trick, I haven’t figured it out yet! For me, it’s really important to keep studio time as just studio time, and family time as family time. I’m like most working moms, I think, in that I don’t waste even a minute. Everything is planned, and the wall calendar that has everyone’s schedule rules our household. Knowing exactly what I have to do and my deadline, gives me the flexibility to shift things around to deal with the unexpected. Like last week when my son accidentally scratched both his eyes (yup, doing 12-year-old boy stuff he probably shouldn’t have been doing) – I lost two full days of recording, but I could pre-read my next manuscript while sitting in waiting rooms. He’s fine now, by the way!
IRIS: What book has been the most fun for you to voice? (It’s okay if it wasn’t a book I wrote.)
JENNY: It sounds completely corny, but I have the most fun with whatever book I’m currently reading. I have been so fortunate to have won auditions for really great books, every day of recording is a good day for me. Duby’s Doctor was a blast to read, because of the delicious accents – I was born in Montreal, Quebec, and have the cadence of the French-Canadian voices in my earliest memory bank.
IRIS: Do you have a hero or mentor whom you admire and who has influenced your work? Which side of your work did they influence the most, and how?
JENNY: Oh, so many people have helped me along the way! My dear friend, Dan Willmott, is an actor and VO professional who convinced me to take his weekend course; and, certainly, women narrators like Dawn Harvey and Helen Lloyd, who inspire me to do better because they’re just so darned good. The audiobook community is so welcoming and willing to help, it’s a great profession to be in.
IRIS: What advice would you give an aspiring voice actor about voiceovers in general and audiobook production in particular?
JENNY: Keep at it! There are a lot of people who give up because maybe they don’t win an audition or they get a bad review – but don’t give up. There is a niche and the perfect genre for every voice, and if you work at improving your performance and skills, and you keep auditioning and putting out feelers, eventually you WILL find the people who love your voice. Oh, and don’t waste your money starting out with a super-expensive microphone – it will NOT make your voice sound any better, and you could have paid for a course or some coaching that will actually help.
IRIS: What is your most recent completed project? What will you undertake next?
JENNY: Duby’s Doctor is my latest completed audiobook! I have five projects lined up right now, including a chilling YA mystery I’m recording this week, and the rest of the Louise Pearlie Mystery series, a wonderful series of mysteries circa WW2, featuring a strong female protagonist. You can hear my “Southern-lite” accent!
Many, many thanks to Jenny Hoops for sharing so much of her time and experience with us today. Do you have what it takes to be an audiobook narrator/producer? Would you consider voicing a book you have written, someday?
You can keep up with Jenny at these places on the Web:
Get audiobooks produced by Jenny Hoops:
Black Beauty– the classic children’s tale of a wonderful horse
JENNY HOOPS is also the voice of The Washington Post weekend edition- news articles for when you’re busy, available on Audible Channels.
Look for The Mammoth Murders, The Minokee Mysteries Book Two, coming to ebook and paperback later this year. Book one in the series, Finding Miranda, is FREE to download from AMAZON and all major online book sellers. Get it before the sequel comes out!