Narrator: Andrea Emmes
Voice Range: Mezzo Soprano
Accents: Southern, RP English, Cockney, New England
Genres: Young Adult: Paranormal, Thrillers, Clean Romance, Comedy; Adult Thrillers, Horror; Nonfiction
Fluent Languages: English
Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
Andrea Emmes started as an Equity Actor and has been performing for over 20 years on stage. 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, has versatility and charisma and is quite suited for YA. Andrea also enjoys other genres such as clean romance, thrillers/mysteries and non fiction.
Andrea has been a guest blogger for Happy Ever After’s Blog on usatoday.com, been in the Top 100 Downloaded audiobooks from ACX on Audible.com in 2014.
Andrea has two degrees: A.A. in Fine Arts and a B.S. in Game Art and Design and resides in Northern, California.
When not performing, Andrea loves to play video games and has every gaming system out there!
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
My husband and timing, really. I’ve been an actor for over 20 years, but then I had a really bad accident in 2006 that forced me to retire from performing on stage and I went back to college. (Pain disorder, RSD/CRPS). I was a game designer for a couple of years at Disney, which was awesome, but then was laid off. I decided it was time to go back to my first love which is performing and audiobooks allow me to do this in the comfort of my own home studio regardless of any disability. AND I LOVE IT! I’m a voracious reader and my husband loves audiobooks and said to me one day, “Hey, you could do this!” and I agreed, so I pulled out my audio equipment, got a fantastic narration coach and 27 books and counting later, I’m narrating full time.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
When not narrating, I’m producing an animation short, “Mila” (www.milafilm.com), playing video games and enjoying life with my husband and our cat. I also just started volunteering for Learning Ally (www.learningally.org) which is an amazing program for kids with learning and reading disabilities.
Many audiobook narrators do other voice over work, where else could we hear your work? Do you find there to any big hurdles to jump when going from audiobooks to something else or vise versa?
I have done some video game and commercial voice overs. I worked on some Disney Interactive games, Temple Run Oz and Disney Hidden Worlds, a couple of Barbie commercials. I love doing voice overs and would love the opportunity to do more, but it is a difficult jump between the two as there are different voice over techniques required for each. What’s great about audiobooks, is that I don’t need an agent. With voice over work, commercials, etc. it is harder to find auditions unless you have an agent.
Do you have the luxury of picking and choosing the projects that you work on or do you take as many as you have time for?
Yes and no. Through ACX, I pick the books that I would like to audition for and then it is up to the author or publisher to decide if my voice is the right one to bring their story alive. I’ve also just been placed on some amazing publishers narrator databases (Deyan Audio, Harper Audio, Harlequin Audio) and for them, it’s a waiting game for when they have a title that they feel I would be a good fit for. I try to always be recording, but I try not to overwork myself because I don’t want the quality of the audiobook to suffer.
For those of us that are unfamiliar with your work. How would you describe your narration style and voice? What would the one audiobook you would suggest for people to listen to your best work?
I have a younger sounding voice, so I’m really well suited to Young Adult books, which is also a genre that I love to read for pleasure. I try to give each character a unique voice so that they can be differentiated to the listener but also so that I can bring out the character’s souls that the author spent so much time developing. I try to immerse the listener into the world by diving completely into the storytelling of each book. As far as a recommendation of one of my books, great question, hard to decide. I’m really proud of Veiled: Book 1 of the Veiled Series by S.B. Niccum but I also truly loved every moment of recording Growl by Ashley Fontainne. I record a lot of her books. She’s a strong author who writes captivating characters and compelling stories with crazy twists that slap you in the face.
As a narrator, do you get compensated in a set amount or do you also receive royalties from the individual sales? Do you like one more than the other? Has there ever been an per finished hour book that you wish was a royalty deal, what book? Or vise versa?
Great question. I do a mix of royalty share books and pfh books. The great thing about pfh books is that you get paid for the hard work you put in right away, which is about 50-60 hours per audiobook whereas royalty share books is a risk because you are never sure if the book will truly sell to pay back your production costs. I have had some really great royalty successes so far, which has been amazing and one of them was featured by Audible in their Hidden Gems sale which we sold almost 2000 audiobooks within four days, so that was a huge win royalty wise. Then I have done some audiobooks that I thought would sell really well but sadly hasn’t at all. If I could get a steady stream of pfh books in a row, then that would be a great thing as it would be a known amount of income coming in whereas royalties, like I said, are an unknown factor and each month I never really know how much I’ll be bringing in which is quite scary sometimes. But sometimes you just have to take a chance on an author that you believe in and enjoy the process and the story and go for it.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
There is such a learning curve to be a narrator. One would think that as an actor it should have come quite naturally to me, and in some ways it did, but audiobook narration is an art form that really needs to be honed and studied and applied over and over again. Sometimes when I think back to my early books, which I’m still very proud of and loved doing, I cringe a little bit because I hear a lot of my early mistakes, or how some of my male voices weren’t as polished as they are now, or wished the sound quality was better. But that is the great thing about this. Each book I get better. I learn with each book I narrate and each book I listen to (I listen to a lot of audiobooks when I can). So for me, especially now that I have a professional sound booth and not recording out of my closet anymore, I feel like I finally understand the nuisances of how to approach and really successfully complete a solid narration. Not everyone will like my voice or my style, and that’s ok, but I absolutely love what I do and am blessed to be able to do this full time. That is a huge achievement for me. The most difficult times for me was really mastering the technical sides of things, getting my production sound quality at a professional level. The narration community are filled with some of the nicest and most gracious people I have ever had the pleasure to call my peers and friends and we really support one another to help each other in every way and it is through this community that I have been able to get to where I am right now.
Do you have a list of your own favorite narrators, who inspires you? Do you have a list of favorite audiobook that you have listened to?
I love listening to audiobooks. Anything by Khristine Hvam, Julia Whelen, Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Campbell, Suzanne Elise Freeman, Rebecca Frohock-Roberts, Paul Woodson, Jeffrey Kafer, Sean Pratt, Scarlet Chase…the list goes on and on. Here’s a few audiobooks that I have in my Audible library:
Sing Down the Stars by Laura Hatton
The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
Halfway Dead by Terry Maggert
Nerve by Jeanne Ryan
Raveled by Anne McAneny
The Starling Project by Jeffrey Deaver
Love Bites by Angela Knight
Burned by Karen Marie Moning
Priestess Dreaming by Yasmine Galenorn
What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
I am a huge geek and gamer. We pretty much have every gaming system there is at the house. I’m addicted to Disney Infinity at the moment but I play all kinds of games either on console, PC or board game.
Do you ever get specific notes or ideas from the writer about how something should be read? What is a helpful note, and what is, shall we say, less helpful?
Before I start each new book, I always like to speak with the author to ask them how they view each character and would like to book to sound like. Having a character sheet that details each main characters age, quirks, main personality points, etc., and other important notes of the book is really key to tapping into the truth of the story and characters so that I can portray them honestly. Pronunciation guides are extremely helpful especially when the author creates a new language or characters. Once we have discussed the direction of the book and characters, the rest is really up to me so any acting notes are really frustrating as any narrator will never be able to fully perform exactly as the author hears things in their head. Only if I have completely misread a section context wise or garbled a voice choice will I go back and re record. Many times, especially working from home, we are the director and producer besides just the narrator and it is important that the author trusts us to bring our expertise in narration and acting to make sound decisions in how to perform the book. Usually, the author would review the book after either a huge section of the book or the entire book was recorded, which can equate up to 50-60 man hours and to have to go back and redo sections because of acting notes can be time consuming and frustrating because that can become a dangerous game of micromanaging. That is why I really like to have a strong conversation before I start with the author so we can discuss everything under the sun so when I prep and then begin recording, we both feel confident in the outcome. If I was in the studio with a publisher, I would follow the direction given but still use my instincts and prep to bring all that I can to the performance.
Do you have an initial process or routine by which you get to know the book you’re going to be reading? Do you mark them up, for example?
As I mentioned before, I like to speak with the author in great detail. I’ll bring the book into my iPad and highlight or markup sections, start a spreadsheet for characters, especially when I have to keep track of the different voices that I’ll be doing or mark hard words that may cause me pronunciation issues. I’ll read the book completely through before I start and sometimes I’ll send questions to the author for further clarification.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
As I read the book, I’ll make notes that correlate with the author’s character sheet. I note the age and personality quirks of each character to decide what voice to use. I try not to go over the top with the voices, but for example, for a villainous character, I’ll use a deeper, throaty voice or for the main character, I usually use my own voice but will inflect personality quirks like, “snarky or cocky” into my inflection. I have about 20 go to voices that I can pull from and then deviate as I go. Usually, I come up with the voices as I record. For minor characters, I don’t worry so much as giving them a unique sound since we many only hear them for one or two lines.
Is your studio in your home? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? Do you have something that you would consider unique in your setup? What is it?
I have an outdoor, double walled Scott Peterson sound booth that is just heaven. It is not 100% sound proof so if a neighbor is leaf blowing or mowing their lawn, I’ll have to stop recording, which is frustrating, but I have full freedom as to my schedule so it doesn’t hold me up too much. I always come in on deadline. Having a professional sound booth at home is fantastic (and better than being in my closet). I have a more professional sound now and am more comfortable while recording. I can record at will and take breaks when needed. A disadvantage is that it’s quite lonely. It’s just me in that tiny box. Sometimes it’s just nice to go into a studio that has their own engineer and director, not only for the social aspect of things but also to glean from their insights and from the process itself.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
At my home studio, it’s just me. So it’s pretty chill but I’m am pretty OCD and work hard for perfection. When I get into my groove sometimes, I’ll record for hours before I realize I should really take a break. When recording with others, it really depends on who you are working with. I love people and to laugh, so I think some levity is really healthy, but I really believe that one should always be professional and polished. It’s a balance really.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
The longest I have sat recording is four hours straight. Usually, I’ll need short breaks after an hour or two, not just for my voice and to stretch but because of my disability, I may need to lay down for a short time. Sometimes though, I’ll get so engaged in the story that I just don’t want to stop. If there is a section that doesn’t have a lot of dialog, it’s much easier to just get through it faster. If there are a lot of hard words to pronounce, that can really slow me down. Even though I research these words ahead of time, sometimes I have to go back and listen to the pronunciation (medical terms, languages) and that can really slow things down.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
I absolutely love narrating Young Adult. The stories are really fun and varied, have a fast pace to them and the characters are pretty flawed and interesting. Besides the fact the my voice tends to lend itself best in YA, I feel like I can really get into the younger characters soul and pull out an honest performance.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
Wow. There are a couple. Tess from Veiled by S.B. Niccum. She has so many flaws, super strong female character who takes a while to find herself and fights against all odds not only for herself but for those that she loves. I also really loved Angie from Whispered Pain by Ashley Fontainne. She goes through so many emotions of happiness, sorrow, pain, anger and fury that was so much fun to portray.
The hardest character for me to perform was probably Tully from A Reaper Made by Liz Long. He’s Irish and I did the best I could with his accent and had to go back often to re-record it just to make sure it sounded ok. Loved his character but it took a little longer for me to connect with him than others.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I’ve come across this a lot, actually. I’ve already read the book before I start, so I know it’s coming, but when you’re in the moment, it’s hard not to get lost in the emotion. Sometimes, I just can’t help it and I’ll bust out laughing or crying, so I’ll have to let that emotion run it’s course and then delete that section and start again. Then try to hold onto the emotions but stay focused so that the read is solid. Sometimes, if the piece can really use it, I just let the laugh bubble out a bit, like a giggle (as long as it’s not over powering) because it can help the dialog and performance. There have been times where in an emotional scene, I’ll have tears streaming down my face as I record and I’ll leave it because there is a genuine truth to that dialog.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
Really? I don’t have a problem with it. I am honored and proud to say I’m a Narrator. I wonder if it is because some people feel that it takes away from them as an actor. For me, it’s just another facet of performing.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
A balance of both. Narration is definitely an art form and you really need to understand how to read the book so that you’re not over acting and sounding like a cartoon, but understanding that you can’t be monotonous and boring otherwise you’ll lose your listener. There is subtext behind each word I narrate. Especially with nonfiction, which was the first thing I studied when I first started. It’s the foundation and non fiction can very quickly become a boring performance if you’re not careful. You still have to infuse thought and emotion as you speak as the “authority” of that subject. As a science, especially if you’re producing and engineering the book yourself (editing, proofing, mastering), there is a technical learning curve to it that you need to master to match your narration quality with your production quality.
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
Every listener has their preferences. Many people will love what I do and many people will hate it. So, I try to not worry about that and just bring as honest a performance to each book that I narrate and honor the author who poured their soul into each word.
Do you have a preference for reading fiction or nonfiction for pleasure? And is what you read for pleasure what you’d prefer to read for audiobooks?
I read mostly fiction but I do love non-fiction. The Wild was incredible and inspiring. Mostly, when I read, I want to escape into some other place and get lost in the story and the characters.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Learn the craft of narration. Get a great coach, get on the Facebook forums and listen to others who came before you as they have a wealth of knowledge that will set you up for success. Get a really good home audio set up and learn how to get the best sound quality you can. Don’t get caught up in reviews, especially bad ones. Yes, you can learn from them but mostly they will only discourage you. Keep looking at each book you do as another learning experience and chance to get better. Understand what your voice sounds like and follow the genre that suits it best. If you really want to do erotica romance books but you sound like a 16 year old, you’ll have to learn to love doing Young Adult books because you won’t sound as believable in erotica. There’s nothing wrong with understanding your strengths and capitalizing on them. Never give up, have patience as rejection is part of the process and learn to market yourself without being obnoxious. Lastly, being a narrator can be tedious at times, so you must love it. If you don’t love it, do something else.
What has been your favorite project and why?
Veiled by S.B. Niccum was one of my favorite projects because the story is so unique and moving. I’ve never read a book series like it. I actually read the book for pleasure on my own and was so inspired by it that I contacted the author directly and asked her to work with me on it as an audiobook and she agreed. The characters go through so much turmoil and lessons that it really challenged me as a performer and narrator. I look forward to recording books 2 and 3.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
Yes, listening to audiobooks should be considered reading. Many people have learning/reading disabilities and audiobooks allow them to still enjoy books the way text only books provide. Many people will listen to an audiobook as they read along. My husband has Dyslexia and loves books and to learn but struggles to read text only books. Audiobooks has really allowed him to enjoy books now for pleasure or for learning without being frustrated by his Dyslexia.
Are you working on any special projects?
Outside of narration, I’m producing an amazing short animated film called, “Mila” (www.milafilm.com). Mila is the story of a girl and two women during Trento, Italy’s bombing during WWII in 1943. The film presents the most tragic collateral damage of War – civilians, as its theme. It is volunteer based with 250 artists from 25 countries around the world and I have been working on it since 2010 and we’re set up to complete it mid-2016. It’s inspiring, challenging and something I’m very proud of.
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?
Yes! Horrible, mean reviews that are shocking and painful to read. Getting reviews is really important and I seek out reviews, for instance from AudiobookReviewer.com often in order to get a real sense of how I’m doing and to help promote the book, but many times I’ll read reviews from Audible listeners. I’m learning that it is best not to read reviews as it can really break you down emotionally and discourage you. When I first started, I read them all the time, and if I found that I was getting the same comments, like “work on male voices”, I take that and use it to better myself. And they were right, when I first started, my male voices were horrible. So I was grateful for those reviews, even though they pinched. But now that I am feeling more confident in my abilities and as I continue to study the art and science of narration, I just let the poor reviews roll off of my back. I can’t please everyone and at least I made such an impression on them that they felt they needed to comment. When people leave hateful reviews for no reason than to just be mean, I don’t take those seriously. If someone has an honest critique and just doesn’t like what I’ve done, I respect that and move on.
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?
I’m all for it if they are as good at narration as they are writing. Not everyone can bring a book to life and hold listeners through narration so if there are authors who have that skill, such as Neil Gaiman, Mindy Kaling or Felicia Day, then I applaud them because they really are amazing and it enhances their work. If authors are just trying to save money by narrating themselves so they can reap all of the royalties, and aren’t providing a strong enough performance that matches the mastery in their writing, then they are doing themselves a disservice. Sometimes it’s best to leave narration to the professionals. It will serve the book and the author more with sales and grabbing new listeners.
This is for the question you wish I would have asked but didn’t.
These have been amazing questions…I think you covered everything, thanks so much.
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