Narrator: Fred Wolinsky
How to Contact
Voice Range: Baritone, but I have a wide range for character voices
Accents: Standard American (Midwest), New York, Long Island, New England, American Southern, Texas, Appalachian, British, Irish, Cockney, Indian, Scottish, Spanish, French, German, Eastern European, Japanese, Chinese, Jewish, speech impediments, and can easily pick up other accents
Genres: All fiction genres, specializing in fantasy, paranormal, horror, mystery, action, melodrama, pulp fiction, and children’s stories
Fluent Languages: English, plus conversational in French
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have been involved in performing practically all my life. As a child, I put on puppet shows in my backyard (creating different characters, accents, and voices), and started making extra money performing magic and ventriloquism shows for parties and organizations. I also got involved as an actor in school plays and community theatre. From a young age, I was inspired by ventriloquist Paul Winchell and his many characters, as well as Mel Blanc and all of the different voices he created.
I graduated college with a degree in Theatre Arts, trained in New York City in voice, acting and dance, acted in Summer Stock, Off-Off-Broadway plays, regional theatre, and touring shows, and eventually joined the actors unions. I later started working full-time as a puppeteer, which led to the founding of my own puppet theatre company, Pegasus Productions, presenting shows with life-sized puppets and magic, which grew into a nationally touring company with 2 full-time troupes, and I continued to run that through 1988. The success of Pegasus lead me to found Encore Performing Arts, a not-for-profit agency which offered touring shows for children and family audiences of all kinds. The fast growing company became a leader in the children’s theatre field.
All the while, I still continued acting, directing, and choreographing in local theatre productions. In 1994, I was named “Best Actor of the Hudson Valley” by the Times Herald Record for my performance as Alan Turing in “Breaking the Code.” Since leaving my position at Encore in 2006, I have also been teaching Speech and Theatre on the college level, became a nationally certified American Sign Language Interpreter, and of course became a voice over artist and audiobook narrator/producer.
In just one year as an audiobook narrator, I have produced 20 titles available for sale on Audible in a wide range of genres, and continue working on more. I love bringing books to life and portraying all the different characters.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
Since I was a child, inspired by Mel Blanc and Paul Winchell, I dreamed of becoming a voice-over artist, but I took the long route to get here. However, everything that I have done up until this time all contributed to my skills and abilities as a narrator/producer. As a puppeteer and ventriloquist, I learned to create many different voices in conversation with each other. As an actor, I learned to bring characters to life with an emotional sincerity. As a director, I learned how to analyze scripts, interpret the work of the author, find the emotional core of the production, and develop a sense of pacing. My ear for languages, helped me create characters with different accents — regional as well as international. While operating my puppet company, I made voice tracks for all the shows, so I learned how to edit and produce sound tracks. Running two businesses taught me how to manage my time, have integrity in my work, and live up to my commitments.
After retiring from Encore, my other work has been part-time, and I was looking for something more to do to fill my day. A talented actress friend of mine began doing a lot of voice over work, so I used the opportunity to pick her brain. She introduced me to ACX and taught me a lot about the business. I purchased some equipment and started submitting audition files. Then I started getting hired to narrate and produce books, and continued learning and growing on the job.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
In addition to book narration, I teach speech and theatre at a community college. I am also a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter, and interpret between Deaf and hearing people in a wide range of settings.
For leisure, I love attending theatre performances, travelling, socializing with friends, and reading.
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 been acting all my life, and have done voice work in the distant past for puppets (stage, film and TV), but currently my voice-over work has just been focused on audiobooks. I hope to explore other venues for my voice-over work in the future.
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?
While I don’t always have the luxury of picking my projects, I am always selective of the work that I accept. I want to make sure it is the right match for me and the author.
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?
Trying to describe my voice is like trying to describe the color of a chameleon. My strength is my versatility. I can morph my voice for a wide range of characters, real or fantasy, male or female, young or old. I have an ear for language, and can portray many different accents and dialects from the US, the UK, and around the world. I use my acting skills to embody the character and give each a unique personality as well as a recognizable voice. My straight narration voice is a pleasant baritone, with a lot of expression.
What I excel at, and enjoy the most, is doing books with many different characters and many different accents. I love bringing each character to life vocally, making them jump off the page and come to life for the listener. I also treat the narrator as a character, even when it is third person narration, reading it with a passion and emotion, as if really telling the story, not just reading it. Each book has a personality and point of view, and that personality comes out in the narration.
Of the books I have recorded so far, the book that best shows off my work would be “Doorways: A Book of Vampires, Werewolves, and Black Magic,” the first book in “The Doorways Trilogy” by best-selling author Tim O’Rourke. It can be found at http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Doorways-Audiobook/B00M1XKTXC
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?
I have worked in both methods. I prefer being compensated a set amount per finished hour. But under the right circumstances, I will accept a royalty share arrangement.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
When I finished recording “Doorways,” the author, Tim O’Rourke’s reaction was, “It was amazing…. It’s perfect….You really have knocked the ball out of the park. The book really comes to life and even though I wrote it I got caught up in the story as if coming across it for the first time.” He also said “I got gooseflesh listening to it. You somehow manage to bring the characters to life and bring out their personalities….Neither of my teenage sons read what I write, but my son Thomas is listening to your narration of ‘Doorways’ and is hooked!”
I have received similar reactions from other authors. That is my crowning achievement — to truly bring the author’s characters, world, story, and sensibility to life!
Every book has its challenges, and creating dozens of unique characters for each book is a challenge that I always enjoy. Perhaps my most challenging project so far — and one of my greatest achievements — was “London Warriors” by Paul Rudd. There were scenes with numerous characters in conversation with a wide range of voice types and accents, including Scottish, Irish, British, Cockney, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Black urban American, and Texas. Going back and forth between accents and voices required a lot of concentration (and a lot of retakes and editing). However, I was thrilled with the results, and the publisher, Thorstruck Press, said it was “by far the best narration we have had.”
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 am inspired by and attempt to emulate those narrators who can create a different voice and personality for each character, making it sound like there is a whole cast performing the book. Some of the famous narrators that I have heard do this successfully are Jim Dale and David Suchet.
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?
For the most part, writers have selected me to narrate their book because they like my style and trust my interpretation. I usually ask them for a brief character description of the main characters, and if they envision any specific vocal traits. I also will ask them some questions about pronunciation. Although it would be welcome, I tend to get very little explicit direction from the author. When I ask, they usually tell me to use my own judgment and expertise — they trust me on that.
Occasionally, authors will direct me to certain films or actors on which to base the style of the book or certain characters. That kind of information is very helpful. I really have not received any unhelpful comments from authors.
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?
I print out a working copy of the script in a font size that is easily readable. Then I read through the entire book before I start any recording. During the initial read, I color-code the different characters and underline their dialog in the appropriate color. I also make a separate list of the characters (with their colors) and some notes about their personality or any written descriptions in the book about their voice. I may also write some reading notes in the margin about specific moods or intentions in the narration or dialog. I notate any pronunciation questions, then look up as many of those as I can online, and ask the author about the rest. I also study any accents that my be required. I have several books and internet resources that are very helpful with accents. If there are any other questions for the author, I make note of them. Then I either email the author with all the questions or arrange a telephone meeting. Only after all of that, do I start any actual recording.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
Creating the different character voices is one of the most fun things for me about narrating a book. There are often a lot of clues in the book about the character’s voice. The author may describe the sound of the voice or it’s feeling. The author usually provides some detailed character description in the book — either directly or through the character’s actions and dialog. I take all of those clues and put it into my actor’s brain and then see what comes out of my mouth. By embodying the character in my head and body, the voice will often just evolve on it own. I do, however, then do some tweaking of each voice so that different characters do not sound too much alike. I try to make sure each of the major characters is immediately recognizable by their voice.
After recording many books, I have developed a stable of voices, like a stock company of actors. I will cast those same actors (voices) in different roles in different books. But then there are always some new voices developed for each book — rather like jobbing in an actor for that specific production instead of using someone from the repertory company.
Also, occasionally, I will “recast” an actor that doesn’t work out. Sometimes after recording a few pages with a specific voice, I decide it was the wrong choice. Usually, the “right” voice suddenly comes to me and I know that I have to replace it. When that happens, I go back and dub in the new voice for the sections already recorded, and then use the “right” voice for the rest of the book. With my acting and directing experience, my gut will tell me if the voice is right or not.
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, my studio is in my home. The advantages are that I can record around my schedule at any time. I can record for any length of time, and take breaks to do other things as needed. I do not have any commuting time or expense. My home office has a beautiful view and is very comfortable. I can also be home for any service people or deliveries.
The disadvantages are that it is easy to get distracted and go off to do other things. Also, while the room is treated for proper acoustics, it is not sound proof. I need to pause or stop for a while if there are noises in the house from other activities, or if there is an airplane or truck going by, or if a neighbor mows their lawn.
My home office has a high ceiling and hard walls, so without treatment the sound has much too much resonance. I resolved this with 3 things. I purchased a professional sound shield for behind the microphone that attaches on the mic stand. I also built a lean-to out of PVC pipe and cover it with a comforter, so that I have sound baffling on my sides, top and back. I also have a carpet piece on which I place my mic stand and reading stand.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
The atmosphere is very focused when I am working. At the same time, it is free and comfortable so that I can be creative.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
It varies depending on my schedule. I do other freelance work in addition to audio narration. But I try to find chunks of time somewhere between 2-4 hours at a time. I rarely record more than 4 hours in a day, so as not to exhaust my voice. The length of time depends more on my schedule and my energy than anything specific about the book.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
While I like narrating a wide range of genres, my favorite (and I think my biggest strength) is the fantasy genre. This allows me to use the full range of my talents, creating real, mythological, and fantasy creatures of all kinds. The narrator’s voice in that genre is also generally full of emotion and drama, tapping into what I do best.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
I have done literally hundreds of characters so this is a very difficult question. It may sound cliche, but I generally enjoy whatever characters I am working with at the moment. Villains tend to be the most colorful, and therefore the most fun to play. Van Deamon and The Delf in “The Doorways Trilogy” by Tim O’Rourke, are definitely among the most fun. The characters that give me the most grief are characters with accents that I am not totally fluent in. It takes extra work and more retakes to keep the voice and the accent consistent and natural. I have to do a Japanese accent and an Indian accent in one of the current books that I am working on — “Freedom Club” by Saul Garnell. Those characters are among the most challenging for me.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
Like a doctor with a patient, I approach it as a professional.
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
Basically, the book should come to life. The narration should sound natural and effortless, while the story and images should be clear. The characters should be real (even when they are fantasy characters) and recognizable. The listener should easily create a motion picture in his/her mind of all the characters and what is happening. The experience ends up being a bit more concrete than reading. While the reader has the luxury to stop, look back, and/or think about what they have read before moving on, that is much more cumbersome to do with an audiobook. In an audiobook, the words are going by real-time, so they have to be read with proper expression and clarity so that the listener can understand and picture everything as they hear it.
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 mainly read fiction for pleasure. And yes, in the perfect world, the styles and genres that I read for pleasure are the styles and genres that I prefer to read for audiobooks. But, I am also a performer, and will work with whatever material I am given and make it the best it can be.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
There are a lot of talented people in this field, so competition can be fierce. Listen to other narrators to hear the wide range of styles. Each book has a different requirement, and not every voice is right for every book. Practice recording and listening to yourself with different styles of books and find your forte. Then focus on that area, and keep perfecting your craft. Keep in mind that you never really know what the author is seeking, so don’t try to second guess that. Offer your best interpretation of the material, and when your interpretation matches the author’s vision, you will get the job. Sometimes (as in my case with “Doorways”), the author will be inspired by your rendition and change his or her concept. Be prepared for a lot of rejection, but do not take it personally. Treat each as a learning experience and a chance to do better the next time.
What has been your favorite project and why?
As I narrate more books, the answer to this question keeps changing. It is also very difficult to pick, as I enjoy most of my projects. When I answered this question a year ago, it was “The Doorways Saga” books by Tim O’Rourke. I really connected with the story and characters in this book, and it seemed to perfectly fit my style and skills. I felt the book was well written and the words easily flowed out of my mouth. Since he is British, and part of the book takes place in England, he originally wanted a British narrator. However, when he heard my audition, he felt it was perfect, and did not want me to change a thing. More recently, however, I have thoroughly enjoyed narrating the “Island of Fog” series by Keith Robinson. I have narrated Books 1-3 of the series, and found it very creative, a perfect fit for my talents and diversity of voices, and overall an enjoyable story to be involve with. As time goes on, I am sure my “favorites” will keep changing.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
While it is not technically “reading” it is still literacy. The listener is experiencing the words and ideas of the author the same as reading; the listener still has the opportunity to analyze, ponder, and be inspired by the writing the same as reading; and the listener is still personally involved in the book the same as reading. The process uses a different channel of communication, but should be considered the same in value and end result.
Are you working on any special projects?
Besides the third book in “The Doorways Trilogy” which I expect to do sometime early in 2015, I currently have 2 other projects I am working on. I am in production for “To Light the Dragon’s Fire: Dragons, Griffons, and Centaurs, Oh My!”, the first book in a planned 8 book paranormal fantasy romance series by Margaret Taylor. I am also in production for “Freedom Club,” a science fiction book with deep philosophical questions by Saul Garnell.
This is for the question you wish I would have asked but didn’t.
Well, you covered just about everything. The only thing that I would like to add is that it generally takes me an average of 10 hours of work to complete 1 hour of finished audio, when you factor in the prep, the recording, the editing and all the post production.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
While it really has some of each, it is primarily and Art. The performer must interpret the author’s words and imbue them with life, just as an actor interprets the playwright’s words, or a musician interprets the composer’s notes. Although the editing involves some science, there is still a lot of artistry in fine tuning the timing, the length of each pause, when and how much to diminish a breath sound, and the decision to apply any effects.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
Narrator is the industry standard word, so I just accept that. But, actually I see myself as a book performer. I do not just narrate the story. I bring it to life. I perform the narration AND the dialogue. But I don’t get too hung up on semantics. A rose by any other name….
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?
Art is about a diversity of opinion. No matter how many people love a work of art, there will always be people who hate it. Receiving some poor reviews is inevitable. While it is never pleasant to read an unfavorable opinion of your work, I take solace in the fact that the vast majority of my reviews are very positive, and some superlative. The authors have always been extremely pleased with my work, and it is their vision that I seek to fulfill. However, if a negative review points to something specific that they did not like, I take a close look at that point to see if I might be able to learn something and improve in the future. There is always room for growth and learning.
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?
Writing and performing (narrating) are two different art forms. A talented author may not be the best performer; just as a talented narrator may not be the best writer. If an author has experience as an actor or as a public speaker, then he or she may do an excellent job at narrating his or her own books. However, if the author is not a trained actor (or even if they are, but want an outside perspective), usually the book can benefit more from an experienced narrator who will bring an additional dimension to the story and the characters, perhaps adding levels that the author did not even foresee. There is also the technical end. The narrator, whether it be the author or not, must have the proper equipment, acoustics, and editing software, and experience and skills to create a professional sounding product.
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