Narrator: Daniel Thomas May

Posted October 28, 2015 by Paul (Audiobook Reviewer) in Interview / 0 Comments

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Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
An Atlanta native and one-time student of engineering at Georgia Tech before diving into the world of acting, Daniel built a career in theatre which has led to TV, film, and now audiobook narration.

How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
Someone at ListenUp Audiobooks reached out to me as a fan of my acting work and suggested I had a good voice for narration. I was invited to do a test read and I’ve been recording audiobooks ever since.

What do you do when you are not narrating?
Film and TV work keeps me very busy, and I’ve come to enjoy narrating as performance in it’s own right.

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 don’t do nearly as much commercial VO as audiobook narration. I’ve co-hosted a podcast at thewalkerstalkers.com, as well as performed their intros and stingers. I would say the biggest hurdles can be the market you’re in, though the internet has radically changed things where location is concerned, and understanding the discipline required for recording audiobooks.

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?
As with most kinds of performance, my relationship to the material and it’s author is very important. For the most part, I’ll tackle whatever work comes my way, but there are times when I’ve determined mine is not the best voice to serve a particular book. Sometimes the author or producer will make a case for why I might reconsider, and sometimes they’re right, but at other times we’re all in agreement and I let that title go in favor of the next. I’m game for most anything though, so those projects that I have to turn down are rare.

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?
My voice is inviting and my style is focused on distinct and varied characterization. I’ve worked for many years on a long-running sci-fi series by CJ Cherryh titled Foreigner, of which I’m very proud. We’re up to 16 books in that series now, with hundreds of characters and several major story arcs (she writes 3 books cycles for the series). In non-fiction, the title Hatching Twitter is a good one. And for a single title with lots of fun characters, and which I personally find hilarious in a darkly comic way, the book The Good Life Elsewhere is one I recommend.

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?
I’m compensated per finished hour. Royalty agreements can be great if a title becomes hugely popular, not so much if they don’t, and sadly it can have nothing to do with the quality of the title.

What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
I’ve managed to remain quite versatile in my narration work, serving material across many genres and writing styles, and I’m quite proud of that. Being able to go from characters in a board room in India, to a survivalist in Montana, to having to completely invent an accent for a dragon or some alien race is a day to day challenge I love about this work. One of the strangest and most challenging characterizations came with CJ Cherryh’s introduction of a new alien race in her Foreigner series. She describes their speech as “like rocks clashing”. You tell me what that sounds like and how the unassisted human voice is supposed to replicate it.

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?
All the time. Many authors have very clear ideas about how they hear their characters. Helpful notes are those that actually speak to the needs of performance, that demonstrate an understanding of what has to happen in order to speak the words aloud as opposed to hearing them in ones head. Less helpful are vague suggestions of exotic accents or blends of accents along with the dreaded “I don’t know how it should sound, but I’ll know it when I hear it”.

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?
Turnaround for audiobooks has become increasingly quick in the digital age. In order to smooth the recording process I read ahead and make as many notes about character as I can. Along with that are pronunciations I’m unfamiliar with. That gives me a road map for the recording session and keeps things moving as we tackle any other challenges on the fly.

How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
I start with the basics, age, gender, regional accent. Then I start to play with the real characterization, the attitude, the point of view. Some characters can be more extreme, they might need to be because of their role in the story, or they simply can be because they appear very briefly and it’s just fun for me to throw something quirky into the mix. Fun is another big part of it for me. Really my characterizations are all about me having fun with the material and I figure if I’m doing that, so will the audience be.

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 don’t record at home.

What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
A serious atmosphere comes with a radical deadline, and that happens occasionally. When there’s no time for play and certainly none for mistakes, it tends to set everyone on edge. A more typical session though is much lighter. No less serious in our approach to the work, but, as I mentioned before, I have to have fun with the material. We have to laugh when things are funny or awkward or ridiculous. We have to laugh about some over-the-top choice I’ve made that we then have to dial back a bit. Audiobooks are entertainment. What’s fun for us in the studio is ultimately going to be fun for the listener.

How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
Average for me is about 6 hours. I’ve recorded as many as 10 hours in a day before, but that’s not sustainable in the long term. The length of a recording session has everything to do with vocal fatigue, which again comes back to character. If I’m juggling dozens of characters, some of them are bound to push to the edges of my vocal range. That can really quickly tire my voice and when that happens it’s sometimes best to just call the day early so I know I can record another strong session the next day.

What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
High Fantasy and Science Fiction. I like any titles that suggest a bit of theatricality. That means lot of fun for me. Fantasy and Sci-Fi require more play, give more leeway for inventiveness in playing with characterization.

What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
Oh, there are so many. I’m going to go with Foreigner again here, simply because it’s a series that I’ve spent a great deal of time with. In that series, the grandmother of the alien leader is named Illisidi. She’s a shrewd old school battle axe, a matriarch, and a master political manipulator. I never tire of playing with her dialog scenes. Hurm…character who has given me the most grief…remember the character whose voice sounds “like rocks clashing”? Um…yeah…that one. The character is named Prakuyo an Tep.

How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I don’t. All of that ends up on the cutting room floor. We laugh ourselves silly a lot of the time. When I’m moved to some emotional extreme that’s when I can share something really special with the listener. When the narrator becomes a conduit from the author to the listener.

I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
Meh, doesn’t bother me.

How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
It’s craft. Art comes into it when I get to invent, when I get to play with the material. And to facilitate, to communicate that artistry, takes discipline.

Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
My philosophy is there is no formula other than hard work. Stay open to the material and let it dictate the performance. Let the characters speak through you. And have fun.

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’ll always prefer fiction, but I read both. Interestingly, if I listen to audiobooks it’s most often nonfiction. But I prefer to read fiction.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Listen for characters in film, tv, radio, in restaurants, wherever. Train yourself quickly how to maintain your stamina for an audiobook record. Figure out what you can/can’t eat/drink, figure out what sitting/standing position best supports your voice. Talking for 6, 8, 10 hours is a lot more work than one might assume.

Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
I don’t. Listening is listening. Reading is reading.

When reading, you are the sole interpreter of the material. You get to decide the tone, the character voices, the pacing, all of it. Audiobooks are always going to be “”as interpreted by””, the same as film and television.

Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?
Oh sure. Not much to be done with them. I don’t expect everyone will always love my choices…I hope they do…but I don’t expect it.

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About Paul (Audiobook Reviewer)

Paul is a quiet man who shares his passion of books through reviews assisting others select books through honest and professional reviews. Having built a team of professional reviewers, Audiobookreviewer (ABR) is the result of his passion of reading/listening of books. His family consists of a wife, 2 cats, and 2 African Grey parrots (https://www.facebook.com/tuckertheafricangrey). More frequently than not, you will see Paul plugged into the audio of his technology listening to books while riding his bike 100+ miles, tending to a huge fruit and vegetable garden, growing bonsai trees and operating his own largest online bonsai magazine (http://ofbonsai.org).

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