Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
Darren Marlar is a professional voice over artist, actor, humorist, and ultra-plus-sized male underwear model. (Okay, maybe not that last one.) As a voice over professional, Darren has brought a wide variety of characters to life for radio, film, audio theater, and audiobooks. Darren is also a professional actor and can be seen in a numerous film and TV projects. View his growing body of work on IMDB.com or click on the resume & reels link on this website.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I’ve been doing voice work ever since I discovered broadcasting back in 1990, and before that I was most comfortable on the stage using my acting skills to entertain audiences. I’m also a fan of old time radio programs which combined the acting and audio. I have such a busy schedule as an actor/voice artist that I don’t really have time to read traditional books, but was fortunate enough to find audio books. My first book was “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie – and it’s still the best book I’ve yet to purchase when it comes to self-help. I was mesmerized by the voice of Andrew MacMillan and I kept thinking, “what a great job this guy has!” But it wasn’t until almost fifteen years later that someone introduced me to ACX. I cautiously stepped in to test the waters and fell in love with it.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
It’s hard to find a time during the day that I’m not narrating. If I’m not voicing an audio book, I’m still voicing something in my home studio through Marlar House Productions. When not using my voice behind a microphone, I’m typically on a film set using my voice in front of the camera as an actor, or I’m writing comedy material for radio stations.
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?
Narrating is one of my favorite things to do – but on the side I voice radio commercials, I am a morning radio host in Chicago, I do some voice acting, and I voice entertaining material for my personal YouTube channel’s “Daily Dose of Weird News” and “Weird Darkness” shows among other things. You can find that at YouTube.com/MarlarSheet. I also do some voice acting for fun, currently for the series “The Byron Chronicles” which is about to come to an end, and another series called “Cascade” – links to both can be found on my website. I’m also the host of the national program “Creation Moments Minute” which is heard on a few dozen radio stations, podcasts, and on YouTube. I also voice a couple of other YouTube channels, “Facts Verse” and “Dominant Media” – and I’m looking for more of that because it’s so much fun. I’ve not found any problems going from audiobooks to other mediums. I think because I started as an actor it makes me more versatile and I switch roles a bit easier than some others that may have started as announcers and have difficulty bringing different styles to their presentations. I’ve been blessed that my life has taken the direction it has, in the order it has.
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?
At first I took anything and everything that came my way – which I’m guessing is the case for most everyone as they pay their dues in the beginning of their careers. Nowadays I still try to do as much as I can for as many as I can, but I will turn down certain projects due to content. Most of the time though that’s not an issue. More than anything nowadays the issue is whether I have the time to do something. All it takes is my agent calling me out for a good paying gig – taking me away from my home studio – and it messes up my schedule for a couple of days and I have to use the weekend to catch up. Fortunately, I love what I do.
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?
Umm… why are you unfamiliar with my work? I’m hurt! Kidding, of course. Heck, I’m in this business and I don’t know a fraction of who is working in it. My style varies depending on the project. I’ve been hired to voice movie trailers with the deep gravely voice, I’ve done horror with a more soft, intense voice, I’ve done comedy with upbeat guy-next-door narration, and then there’s straight-forward corporate stuff that has its own flavor. If you want a good idea about my range though, I’d recommend checking out one of Jason Davis‘ novels – probably “Inside The Mirrors” as it required me to create a whole cast of characters for a single novel.
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?
So far it’s all been royalty through ACX. In fact, due to my schedule I may be pulling back from that. I don’t mind the royalty deal because I enjoy the process, but it’s difficult to rationalize the work without compensation when I could be working on a project elsewhere that does help pay the bills. I’ll likely continue to audition for titles and require a small PFH fee just to validate the value of what I offer.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
I don’t know that there would be a single greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator. I have to say every time I send a finished book to a rights holder I get that feeling of accomplishment – and it’s great. Whether the book is ten hours long or just 60 minutes long, clicking that “I’m Done” button is one of the best feelings in the world.
The most difficult moment is something that still crops up now and then – and I’m sure many other right-brained creative types will be able to relate to it. I suffer from depression and while I’m on medication now to keep it in check, there was a few months that made it almost impossible to work on anything – most of all audiobooks. Fortunately the author I was working with was extremely understanding and gave me a lot of grace.
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?
Honestly, I’ve not been listening much to audiobooks because I’ve been so busy narrating them! I did just recently listen to a book on screen acting, narrated by David H. Lawrence XVII and he did an amazing job. I would like to hear more from him in the future if I have an opportunity.
What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
Entertaining – that’s what I’m called by God to do in my life. Whether I’m narrating a book, voicing videos for my YouTube channel or podcasts, writing material for radio stations, or acting onscreen, I like to entertain people. I was even a standup comedian for a while. I am extremely fortunate in that my career is also my hobby. When I do finally take a break of entertaining others, I am typically shutting my mind off entirely and just vegging on the recliner watching Netflix. I’m so drained from the rest of my day/week that I just need to lay/sit and do absolutely nothing.
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?
I’m always a bit nervous when an author or rights holder sends me a script without notes, or just says “do your best with it”. I’m concerned that I won’t be delivering what they hear in their heads. But I have found that those are the least-picky authors/rights-holders, and they usually accept the characters and interpretations that I create. The projects that give me detailed notes about each character can sometimes be a red flag that this could be a very particular author and will come back for modifications. But so far I’ve not had issues past the first fifteen minutes of a project. If they like the first section I send for approval, I’ve never had to go back and change major characters later on.
I will say that the fantasy books are a challenge – the names of characters and places are almost always phonetic nightmares. There have been cases where I’ve had to go back to the narrator and ask not just for a phonetic spelling, but for an audio recording of them saying the names so I knew for sure I was saying them right. One novel in-particular had the name of a character that in my head did not sound the way the author pronounced it, and I was always second-guessing myself every time I had to say the character’s name.
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?
Usually I receive a PDF of the novel. I then convert that into a .DOC so I can make notes without having to print it out. I go through the chapters to see how long each one is, and determine if those chapters need to be divided into different files due to length (I try to keep chapters under 30 minutes for the listeners’ benefit). If the chapters do not have numbers, I will go in and number them myself to make it easier to keep track of where I am in the novel. I don’t do much more than that because I’ve discovered that my narration is more dynamic and fun if I’m discovering the story for the first time as I narrate it. Of course, that means stopping and re-recording sections where I began voicing the wrong character, or rereading sentences that I didn’t quite understand, but it’s worth it for the adrenaline rush and freshness of the presentation by discovering along with the listener how things are transpiring in the story.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
As an actor this is one of my favorite parts. Most of the time the author will do a great job of describing how a character looks – but not how they sound. Is the man large or thin, short or tall, young or old… that all comes into how the character sounds in my head. I’ll then play around with the sound until I think it fits the character – and make notes in a separate file about what I’ve created so I can bring that character back to life when I return to the novel or series later.
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 could never do this if my studio was not in my home. While I do work in radio, I would never be able to concentrate in that environment due to the constant interruptions, and the rooms aren’t quiet enough for audiobooks. I’ve set up my own home office specifically for voice work. I sit in the same chair all day working on other things and if I need to voice something I just pull the mic towards my mouth and get going. I’ve padded the room with blankets, foam mattress toppers, etc., to eliminate the bounce in the room. It’s not pretty, but it’s comfortable and allows for creativity.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
My studio is messy – papers everywhere, a giant 34oz mug of coffee or something else wet in front of me. Since it’s just me alone doing all of the recording, narration, editing, and producing, I can be as serious or non-serious as I wish depending on my mood or the project at hand. Having my own studio really gives me the flexibility to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want… I’d highly recommend all narrators have their own studios if at all possible. You won’t always be able to work from there for all projects as many clients want to rent expensive studios for their projects, but when you have the option to work from home it is so much more relaxing and enjoyable – at least for me.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
I’m typically voicing from 9am until about 5pm – sometimes later depending on the day’s needs. Of course you can’t do that non-stop without breaks. When narrating an audio book I’ll narrate a chapter, then stop to edit/produce it, which gives the voice time to rest, then go to the next chapter. After a couple of hours I’ll take a break for a meal or just to get a hug from my wife in the other room before getting back to work. Two hours straight seems to be my limit before I walk away for a few minutes to get refreshed.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
Oddly enough, I am not a fan of horror movies or novels, I never cared for them… but I love narrating them. The dark tones are fun to voice, bringing my voice lower in pitch, bringing some intensity to a scene, and playing the characters in so many over-the-top emotions like fear, screaming, crying, and even laughter. I’m a goody-two-shoes kind of guy… but it’s a lot of fun playing evil characters as well.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
My favorite character so far is easily Dez from the book “Game Alive” by Trip Ellington. While this is not a horror novel, but a young adult fantasy thriller, the character of Dez was amazingly fun to create. The author told me he was a jock and a large guy – but that was all. I took it from there, dumbed him down a bit, gave him what sounded like a cold, and it as I voiced the character it seemed to go so well with the lines written for him. I had to stop recording a few times because I was laughing at what I just said because it came out so perfectly in the narration.
The character that has given me the most grief would likely be every single character in “”Midnight Diet Club”” by Mark Newhouse. It was originally intended for a female narrator but the author really liked my audition and hired me for the project. The problem is that 90% of the characters were female – and as a man with a baritone voice, it’s difficult to come up with different voices for female characters. It’s an amazingly well-written book, but I’m not happy with the characters because they sound too similar thanks to my inability to create female characters that were different enough from each other to be distinct.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I don’t stop myself – why deny myself the thrill of the book? I’ll laugh, get it out of my system, then continue recording.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
I’m not picky. Narrator seems to fit when referring to audiobooks. Outside of the literary market I refer to myself as a number of things depending on the job I’m auditioning for or working on. Voice artist, voice actor, voice over artist, etc.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
I would never have considered this question until you asked it. Obviously the narration itself – the creating of characters, bringing them to life in the acting, is art. But the editing/production would have a bit of art and science to it. Get past the technical aspect of of editing/splicing and there’s still some subjective decisions that are made regarding where the edit takes place, which “take” to use if you have more than one to choose from, etc.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Please don’t get into the business – I don’t need the competition.
Okay, seriously, I have been asked this question hundreds of times and I’ll recommend the same here. Find a USB mic and some recording software and beginning recording whatever you can find around the house. Take old issues of Readers Digest or your Bible and begin voicing them. Listen back to your recording and be brutally honest with yourself about how you sound, what you could do to improve, etc. Find experienced narrators to critique your work and give you tips on how to improve. Finding others to hep is immensely helpful – they can give you tips on how to eliminate the noise in your room, now to produce the files to make them sound better, they can recommend your first professional microphone without putting you into bankruptcy, etc.
I would also highly recommend that you do some acting if you’re not already an actor. Audition for plays, get that experience. It’s invaluable as a narrator to have true acting skills. If there are improv groups/classes nearby, go to them – they’ll be helpful in giving you the skills to create new characters you may never have thought of.
What has been your favorite project and why?
My favorite audiobook project would probably be “Game Alive” by Trip Ellington – it really lent itself well to character development and also challenged me a bit in having a few characters with accents. The story itself was exciting all the way through and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
Whenever I tell someone, “I just read this book…” I’m typically referring to an audiobook because it’s all I have time for. If the content is the same I think saying “read” instead of “listen” is fine.
Are you working on any special projects?
I’m actually taking a short break from audiobooks at the moment as I work on my YouTube series “Weird Darkness”. But once I get accustomed to the schedule of voicing and producing that each week I’ll be jumping back into audiobooks because I miss it.
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?
We all get poor reviews every once in a while. But you can’t concentrate on them or they’ll pull you down. The project is finished and is in distribution so it’s not like you can change anything that the critic says should or should not have been done. If the author or rights-holder is happy with your work, and a majority of the listeners are giving you positive reviews, you should probably just ignore the negative comments.
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?
So far the books I’ve listened to that were narrated by the authors have been quite good. They know how the inflections are supposed to be, obviously, and they know where the energy grows or lessens in their own heads. If they have a voice that is not unattractive, I don’t blame them for voicing their own projects. In fact, many publishers prefer authors who can narrate their own projects – especially non-fiction authors.
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