Voice Range: Young to old adult
Accents: Oxford English; West Country English; Cockney; North Country English; Scottish; Irish; Welsh; German; French; Russian; South African; Australian; Indian.
Genres: Fantasy/Science fiction; History; Mystery/Thriller; Biography/Memoir; Romance; Religion/Spirituality; Business; Non-Fiction; Fiction
Fluent Languages: English
Awards: Audie winner in 2016 (Romance). Nominee in 2015 (Non-Fiction); AudioFile magazine Best Voice – 2016 Biography & History and Romance; 2015 Biography & History; 2014 Biography & History. Society of Voice Arts and Sciences nominee 2016 Best Narrator, Fantasy; 2015 Best Voice, Fantasy and Short Story Anthology; 2014 Best Voice, Fantasy. Multiple AudioFile Earphones Award winner.
A native of the United Kingdom, Derek Perkins has narrated over 260 titles in a wide range of fiction and nonfiction genres. His audiobook narration skills are augmented by knowledge of three foreign languages (Russian, French and Welsh), a facility with accents and a lifelong love of the spoken word.
He works from a professionally equipped WhisperRoom™ home studio running Pro Tools and is the author of ‘Audiobook Narration Manual’. He is a member of the Audio Publishers Association and SAG-AFTRA.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
Getting laid off in 2004 galvanized me to pay attention to the small voice I had been hearing for years telling me to find a better match between my passions and talents and what I was doing to earn money. After a period of reflection and exploration, I found my way towards work based on the spoken word and performance via a brief stint as a background actor (Shutter Island), voiceover work and Toastmasters that led me, ultimately, into audiobook narration.
Following a serendipitous reference to ACX on one of Bill deWeiss’s You Tube videos, I began to record audiobooks, learning much about the technical side performance side of the work and drawing on my substantive business experience to smooth the path to self-employment.
In the right place at the right time (around 2012) I began to be approached by publishers. From then on coaching, developing my skills and continuing to make contacts with potential clients at key events such as APAC, has helped me to continue to improve my performance and grow my client base.
What do you do when you are not narrating?:
Read of course, what else is there to do?! I do also make time to travel, kayak, run, weight train and sing in a men’s chorus. Oh, and I wrote a book, ‘Audiobook Narration Manual’ for the many people who are keen to learn more about how to become an audiobook narrator.
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’ve mainly done corporate voiceover work – website promotions, internal training and product information videos for clients such as Fidelity, Johnson & Johnson, John Hancock and Tauck Cruises.
Pick your metaphor for the differences between voiceover and narration work – chalk and cheese, sprint and marathon, sentences and paragraphs., selling and story-telling So much is different in voiceover work – the way you emphasize words, the speed with which you narrate, the energy you bring to the text – to the more measured, deliberative, careful enunciation of narration. Perhaps the most fundamental difference between the two is that voiceovers are, by and large, intended to sell something, whereas narration is intended to educate, inform, entertain or all three.
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?:
I take on as many projects as I have time for. I want to gain as much experience as I can doing what I love doing, trying to improve all the time. I hold back only to assure the quality of my work for my client and the people who will listen to it.
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 narration style is measured, calm, expository, professional and delivered in a rich baritone voice (or so AudioFile reviewers like to say!).
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?:
Both. I learned the ropes of this business on the initial ACX royalty-share projects I worked on and these continue to provide a (modest but still very welcome) stream of income. Now I only work on a PFH basis, although if J.K. Rowling came groveling to me to narrate her latest book for a share of the royalties, I’d barge the septuagenarian Jim Dale out of the way quicker than you can shout ‘Expeliarmo’!
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?:
I think my clients and the people who listen to the audiobooks I have narrated are the best judges of that. I do feel very pleased and proud of the progress I have made in how I deliver the performances of both fiction and non-fiction material in the past couple of years or so. Reaching the point where narration became my full-time occupation has been a defining point in my whole work career. And receiving an Audie this year was an incredible honor and pleasure – especially for a man (gasp!) reading a romance novel….My most difficult moment was really deciding when to cut my remaining consulting work outside of narration and hoping that I could make it my full-time position.
If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?:
It would be my superhero(ine), my wife.
If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?:
Never tap on the window of my booth when I’m reading.
Care to share an awkward fanboy/fangirl moment, either one where someone was gushing over your narration/acting…..or one where you were gushing over another narrator/actor’s work?:
I asked Johnny Heller a question at this year’s (2016) APAC and made it sound like I was accusing him of not having been a very good narrator at the beginning of his career! His name on my list of favorite narrators is all I need say about the awkwardness of the moment. He took it in good stead and the threatening letters from him have now stopped.
What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?:
Anything related to technology, so in my case, this has always been a very short discussion.
If you were to create a narrating playlist, what artists and songs would be on it?
The sound of silence.
You are hosting a dinner party and must invite 3 famous people (real or fictional). Who would you choose and why?
Christopher Hitchens, Barack Obama and any of the ‘ordinary’ people doing truly heroic deeds who appear in Nicholas Kristof’s columns. I’d have Donald Trump and Bill Maher serving the food, for light relief.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another narrator?
What is the first book you remember reading on your own? What do you remember most about the experience?:
Not the first, but one that gave me goosebumps from the excellence of the writing: Titus Groan, the first book in the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. I was blown away by the whole new world he created, the brilliance of the characters and the credibility and power of the plot.
You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?:
Any professional rugby player, which means the obstacle course would be made easy and there would be beer at the end of 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?:
Not really and I don’t actively seek them, either. In the same way that the author forms the characters using their own creative process, I want to form them using mine. I will certainly use the text to help me understand the POV, form the basis of the characterizations, read etc.
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?:
Reading/scanning in advance. For non-fiction books in particular, researching personal and place names in particular. I create a spreadsheet of transliterated terms and upload it to my computer for easy reference when needed.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?:
Understanding their role in the plot, their physical and mental characteristics and by avoiding unnecessary similarities to characters already voiced.
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?:
Yes. I have a professionally equipped WhisperRoom running Pro Tools. I see only advantages to it.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?:
Calm and dark! The mood depends to a large extent on the book I’m reading and if the chipmunks are chirping too loudly outside my basement door (summer only).
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?:
I record for about 1.5 hours at a time, then take a break. Difficult pronunciations will significantly lengthen the overall time I take to record a book, but I still limit each session to around 1.5 hours to stay as fresh as possible.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?:
I really don’t have a favorite genre per se. I most enjoy books that are well written.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?:
Favorite: John Lyden, aka Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame. He’s real, but his life reads like fiction. Most grief – female characters in my early days narrating.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?:
Hit the stop recording button! I take it as a positive measure of my immersion in the book when I have to stop to laugh or cry at what is written.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?:
I don’t care what I’m called as long as my clients keep writing checks payable to Derek Perkins.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?:
Narration = art; production = complete mystery. Seriously, I think of production up to mastering as technical; mastering is where it becomes a dark art!
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?:
Respect the fact that an author has bled through his or her fingertips to get this content on paper; understand the plot/POV/context as best you can; be true to the script as well as yourself in delivering the narration.
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 mainly non-fiction, which I’m very happy to read for audiobooks.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?:
Learn enough about the technical side of our business to be able to deliver good quality, clean files, then concentrate all your time and money on becoming the best narrator you can be. Volunteer to gain experience to begin with and listen to as many audiobooks by the best narrators as you can. Oh and learn how to market yourself.
What has been your favorite project and why?:
I have narrated around 260 audiobooks now and have enjoyed too many to have one favorite, though Sapiens stands out as a thoroughly refreshingly challenging, well-written book.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?:
I don’t think it makes a scrap of difference how the content is consumed.
Are you working on any special projects?:
I have worked on a few multi-cast audiobooks but recently worked on one with just one other narrator: Mercury, a Random House production, with the lovely and talented Nicol Zanzarella, which was interesting, enjoyable and rewarding. I hope the listening audience feels the same!
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?:
Oh yes – I refer you to Audible.com! I try to read them dispassionately and learn from any valid points made in them.
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?:
I suspect that there are many reasons why authors read the audiobook versions of their own works. I’ll tiptoe through this minefield by saying that I’m just happy there are enough other books to go round!
This is for the question you wish I would have asked but didn’t.:
Where do I send the money?
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