Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
Michelle Sparks is originally from Garland, Texas. After receiving a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, she packed up her Mitsubishi Mirage and headed west. Michelle then spent seven years working in post-production on major motion pictures and TV shows, only to discover that she had no real passion for it. She quite her job, signed up for a voice over class and never looked back. That was six years ago. In that time, she has worked on countless Commercials and Promos for radio and TV, several Video Games and, most recently, Audiobooks. Michelle’s never met a VO project she didn’t want to tackle and looks forward to all the amazing projects to come!
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
Well, to be honest, I kind of fell into audiobooks by accident. My initial training in Voice Over was for commercials and promos. A friend of mine asked me to participate in a reading of a short story he had written and I discovered I really enjoyed that format. I decided to pursue it further and studied Audiobook narration with some of the best in the industry, including Pat Fraley and Scott Brick.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
Editing mostly! I’ve edited the audio for all the books I’ve narrated. I also do voice over for commercials, promos and video games. I also LOVE to cook! I make a mean chicken fried steak.
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?
Yes, I definitely do other voice over work. Commercials for radio and TV as well as video games. Video Games are probably the most fun outside of Audiobooks. I love having the opportunity to develop a good character. Most recently, I was the voice of Red Riding Hood in “”Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries,”” a post modern take on the classic fairytale.
Narration for Audiobooks definitely requires a different skill set. It can be challenging to switch to and from commercials or promos. Audiobooks require total immersion in story and character for a significant amount of time. Whereas with commercials, you’re in an out quickly. It takes some practice.
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 generally take on as many projects as I can handle. But I never take work, especially audiobook work, that I’m not genuinely interested in or excited about. Ultimately, I am always in service of the book and the author’s vision. If I don’t connect with the story, it wouldn’t be a good fit for either of us.
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 suppose I would describe my style very simply as real. Almost all the books I’ve narrated are set in fantastical worlds (fairies, demons, magic, pirates etc.) and so I try to infuse my narration with some sense of groundedness. A realism that invites the listener into the story seamlessly.
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’ve been compensated both ways, lump sum and royalties. There are advantages to both. As actors and narrators, getting a lump sum upon completion is very satisfying and helps us pay the rent! But royalties are an endless stream of revenue that can really pay off if a book is successful.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
My greatest achievement so far was the moment when I was narrating “Darkness of Light” by Stacey Marie Brown and I realized that the main character, Ember, had literally become a part of me. During the recording process, there were times when I did’t know where I ended and she began. That was very satisfying. Every book presents it’s own set of challenges. I find books with multiple characters particularly challenging, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge, so I simply do my research and dive in.
What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
When I’m not working, I do yoga. Lots and lots of yoga! I find it very centering and it helps get out all those kinks you build up in front of the computer.
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?
Yes, of course. I always welcome notes and ideas from the author. This is their baby and I want them to be proud of the final product. It’s a true collaboration with me. That’s not to say that every note is helpful. Sometimes I do think the narrator has a little better sense of what will work in the audio version versus what’s on the page. But in the end it is the authors work and I do my very best to respect that.
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?
First, I just like to read the book with no mind towards the narration. I want to absorb it the way a typical reader would. Once I’ve done that, then I go a little deeper and start to analyze the book further. Breaking it down into it’s essential parts. Plot point, character arcs. It’s different for every book.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
Well, personally, I don’t an enormous range of character voices. I know this about myself, so I try to use it to my advantage. I develop the character’s voice through their attitude more so than the tone of their voice. Are they shy, pushy, brave, sarcastic? The way the character sounds comes from how they behave, not necessarily what they sound like.
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?
Yep, I’ve got a pretty nice set-up here at home. A sound proof booth that my husband and I built. I record and edit with Logic Pro. Certainly, it’s convenient to be able to work from home. I can just throw my hair up in a ponytail and leave my pajamas on as long as I want! On the down side, there are more distractions. Like three cats who crave attention 🙂
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
I find my studio very relaxing. It’s where I love to be. I’ve made every effort to make it comfortable and organized. I’m a pretty silly person, so it never gets too serious around here. I laugh at myself constantly when I flub lines. I’ll say something silly to myself when I’m recording that usually cracks me up later when I’m editing the material.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
I find I can record comfortably in about one hour chunks. Then I try and take a break, stretch, rehydrate. Some days, depending on the content I can record up to 3 or four hours. Other days are difficult, if there is vocally stressful or particular challenging material.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
Right now, I’m on book two of a series that would be classified as mature young adult. I like this genre quite a bit!
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
Ember, the main character in “Darkness of Light” is by far my favorite character. I see a lot of her in me. But she has also given me the most grief. Because I connect with her so deeply, I have to pull back sometimes and be true to HER instead of me.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I can’t! I laugh out loud all the time, settle myself and then pick back up. And I’ve definitely cried while narrating scenes. Sometimes it’s actually appropriate for the character. Sometimes not. But I would never try and block my emotions from coming through. It makes it human.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
Both, for sure. You’ve got to craft your plan of attack with near scientific precision. Do all the research. Really prepare. Then once you’re in the booth, you’ve got to let that all go and trust your instincts.
What has been your favorite project and why?
“Darkness of Light” by Stacey Marie Brown is my favorite so far. It’s where I fell in love with Ember, the main character.
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