Narrator: Mikael Naramore

Posted January 21, 2016 by Paul (Audiobook Reviewer) in Interview / 2 Comments

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Voice Range: A fairly flexible baritone, I am best known for portraying a wide variety of characters in epic fantasy and sci fi.
Accents: Most regional US and UK dialects, many continental European accents. I constantly try to pick up on more and refine my existing toolbox. I’ve been fortunate to have a good ear for accents and languages, and have worked with performance coaches who’ve given me invaluable guidance.
Genres: Mainly Sci Fi , Fantasy, Romance and Erotica. I’m always very excited to be cast for non-fiction titles as well, though those don’t come nearly as often.
Fluent Languages: English, naturally. I took three years of Spanish in college, as well, but am unpracticed. Also minimal French, German and Swedish thanks to a large extended “family” in those countries.
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Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
Naramore has worked in the audiobook industry since 2001 when, fresh out of college, he was hired as a recording engineer for publisher Brilliance Audio (now Brilliance Publishing, subsidiary of Amazon.com). Over time, he transitioned to Director, all the while absorbing technique and nuance from the best actors in the business. To date, Mikael has narrated well over 100 titles, under his own and assumed names. Authors range from best-sellers Nora Roberts, Lisa Gardner, Edward Klein and Clive Barker to sci-fi rising stars Wesley Chu, Ramez Naam and Mark E. Cooper.

He was recently chosen to narrate prolific playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robert Ardrey’s seminal Nature of Man series which includes the international best-sellers African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative, titles which reportedly had a very heavy influence on Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick in their development of 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

Mikael is also an active writer, musician and recording artist, having scored the soundtrack to an independent short film, produced and engineered critically acclaimed rock records, and written, performed and recorded several “”silly little lo-fi rock songs”” of his own. He currently resides in the wild and scenic Columbia River Gorge outside of Portland, Oregon with his wife, two small boys and their beloved Golden Retriever.

How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I started out university thinking I wanted to be a lawyer. But I joined a rock band and dropped out for a few years. Tired of being a starving artist with designs on starting a family I ended up going back to be a recording engineer and record producer, and needed an internship in a studio in order to fulfill my graduation requirements, and that studio ended up being Brilliance Audio in Grand Haven, Michigan, (now owned by Amazon and a sister company to Audible) near where I grew up. I started out transferring reel-to-reel tape masters into the digital realm and creating cassette masters for duplication, but quickly moved into a recording engineer role. After a few years and some intense tutelage from the best directors and talent in the business I was fortunate to become a director myself. Eventually I opened my own studio in Portland, OR and in Muskegon, Michigan and contracted for Brilliance and other publishers as a producer and director. When ACX began I was very lucky be a beta tester, and soon thereafter the floodgates opened. I couldn’t find enough talent to keep up with demand and eventually my wife (who was also narrating at the time) convinced me to narrate a few titles. I guess it came naturally after engineering and directing hundreds of titles by that time. I picked up on a lot of technique from some of the best voices in the business, from prep to characterizations and accents to vocal health.

What do you do when you are not narrating?
I have two small kids, so parenting and family time are huge for me. We live in an incredible part of the country, in the Columbia River Gorge just East of Portland, so we’re outside a lot. I’m also an avid aquarist and I try to garden a bit — would love to be a gentleman farmer someday. I’ll just need to work on the “gentleman” part a bit more.

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 done oodles of local radio commercials, and have a few larger things in the works. My mailing list will know what those things are soon enough! 😀 I’ve also been contributing to a number of sci-fi podcasts like Starship Sofa and Pseudopod. These guys are doing a tremendous service to the sci fi and horror communities and I’m just thrilled to be able to be a part of what they’re doing.

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 have the luxury of pretty much working as much as I want at the moment, and almost everything I do is something I am very excited about. I’ve worked hard to get to this point and am very fortunate that there are so many great titles coming out all the time.

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 tend to deliver on the animated side of things without overdoing it. For me, the best narrators deliver narrative with a heavy dose of subtext, subtly altering the delivery for each scene and each character, all the while keeping awareness of the overall direction of the story. That’s my own approach. The titles where this approach is necessary are ones in which the character development is key to the plot, so I’d point listeners to Wesley Chu’s “Tao” series, beginning with Lives of Tao.

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 have done both, and it depends on the client. Publishers never share royalties in my experience. And now that Amazon has changed the author’s cut to 40% on ACX, most authors are opting to pay my rate. There are quite a few best sellers where I’d love to have gotten residuals, but that’s not how the industry is set up at the moment.

What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
I was honored to have been chosen to narrate Robert Ardrey’s “Nature of Man” series this past summer. For those who don’t know, Ardrey was a famous playwright and Oscar nominated screenwriter (Khartoum, 1966) who returned to his roots as an anthropologist in the early 60’s to write an international best-selling series about the origins of man. It was cutting edge stuff at the time, and supposedly the series influenced a whole host of the cultural elite from Arthur C. Clarke to Stanley Kubrick to Jane Goodall. And while some of the hypotheses are outdated and have been disproven, the books have a timeless quality. And, of course, impeccable writing. Hands down, the best-written non-fiction ever to have graced my brain. And it was also extremely challenging tracking down pronunciations of esoteric place names and scientists long since gone.

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?
Name dropping…. oh boy. I worked with so many awesome talents early on at Brilliance… I have to count Dick Hill as one of my earliest influences. I worked with Dick on dozens of titles as an engineer and whether he knows it or not, I learned a lot from him. Jim Bond is a brilliant non-fiction narrator and has remained a dear, dear friend as well and has taught me the importance of prep. Joyce Bean has been incredible valuable and I’ve gleaned a lot from her. And lots of younger talent I’ve worked with are incredibly inspiring: Kate Rudd, Amy McFadden, Tanya Eby, Luke Daniels, Nick Podehl, Angela Dawe… crap! I hope I’m not forgetting anyone obvious.

What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
I love the natural sciences and agriculture. We’re outside a lot with the kids, and we hike as much as possible. I’ve been an avid aquarist for some time, at one point I had over 2,000 gallons of aquaria in my basement and was growing lettuce with the wastewater. I’m very interested in the permaculture movement, which is basically an environmentally low-impact method of growing food utilizing natural environmental systems. Living in the pacific northwest, I’ve also become quite fond of Subaru cars. I’m currently modifying a 2005 Impreza RS wagon for a quick, fun, off-road rally car. Not enough time in the day!

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?
They’re three sides of the same die, no? I would say alien because the probability of one actually existing SOMEWHERE in the universe is the greatest.

If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?
Object in mirror is closer than it appears

Care to share an awkward fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your narration/acting…..or one where you were gushing over another narrator/actor’s work?
The most awkward I’d say is at school picking up my eldest boy. I live in a small community apparently with lots of audiobook listeners. I never know what to say, particularly when a soccer mom compliments my work on a particularly juicy romance.

What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?
We all know that Greedo shot first at this point, don’t we?

What is the first book you remember reading on your own? What do you remember most about the experience?
When I was seven or eight, I remember getting “Children of the Dragon” by Rose Estes. It was one of the first proper chapter books I remember reading, and I devoured that book with relish. The book was incredibly deep for children’s book with political subtext and lots of implied violence. I just found it in a box of old things, and plan on giving it to my boys to read when they’re ready.

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?
Hands down, my wife because of her superior athletic prowess and her impeccable taste. We’d most definitely enjoy a mature single malt of some sort.

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?
At this point, having earned some trust, publishers give me license to do what I want. Working with a new author on ACX can be challenging if my interpretation doesn’t jive with what’s in their head, but I try to set the ground rules early on in the process and work out any kinks before going full bore on a title.

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?
Yes, I use iAnnotate on my iPad and can make quite a mess with highlighters and notes. I also tend to keep a spreadsheet with character notes, just so I can refer quickly. This is especially helpful in a series. I directed the first few titles of Stephen Erikson’s Malazan series, narrated by Ralph Lister. Without a spreadsheet we’d have been screwed — so many characters… and those who die, only to be reincarnated with different names and such. We ended up diagraming things to keep it straight.

How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
Often during prep I’ll read aloud, those sometimes I’ll get an idea on the spot and role with it.

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?
For a long time I operated a commercial studio in a dedicated space. In fact, I’ve had two studios – one in Portland and another in Michigan — it was nice having everyone under one roof. We’ve since downsized a bit, now that most narrators have set up their own home studios. Right now for my own personal studio I’ve set up a whisper room modular booth inside a walk-in closet and have my console and Mac Pro in the other room. It’s quiet, comfortable, and I can work in my PJ’s. Days can go by without me ever touching proper clothes. My three-year-old gets dressed more than I do. As a former commercial studio owner I probably do have more equipment at my disposal than the average narrator. I use Pro Tools HD for zero latency monitoring and print to disk with a chain of plugins. I have a collection of vintage microphones and preamps which I will occasionally use, but most of the time I stick with a Neumann BCM-104 and Universal Audio LA-610.

What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
Considering I’m in the booth upwards of 40 hours per week, I am not completely serious all the time. It IS a padded room, after all.

How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
I try to put in about eight hours on an average workday, which will net me around three finished hours of audio. More dialogue tends to mean more time, as I will sometimes run scenes a couple of times in order to get them just where I want them.

What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
I’m a Sci-Fi / Fantasy guy. Because I’m a huge nerd. And proud of it. I also love non-fiction for the exact same reason.

What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
I really can’t play favorites. Roen Tan and Tao from Chu’s “Tao” series have likely provided me the most entertainment. There are some seriously hilarious exchanges between those two. It was also quite challenging considering Tao was a voice in Roen’s head.

How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
Stop myself? If only…

I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
Well, “narrator” may imply more of a two dimension role. To some, it may be synonymous with “reader” or “announcer”. Some listeners even expect that. I’m a performer. I prepare and deliver a performance for each title, so “voice actor” or “performing artist” might be more appropriate, but really I don’t care.

How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
It’s a beautiful amalgam of both. We incessantly study and practice, but learn to trust our instinct, heart and mind.

Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
I always keep the listener in perspective. A narrator’s interpretation of the text must always capture — and maintain — the listener’s interest, despite the content.

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 love reading non-fiction. These days, reading for pleasure is a rare thing. And I truly enjoy learning more than anything. Of course, I am a sucker for Stephen King…

Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Prepare, practice and prepare some more.

Are you working on any special projects?
Yes, but I can’t divulge at the moment. 😀

Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?
Thankfully I’ve never had a bad professional review, though my luck there is sure to run out soon. However, I get bad listener reviews all the time. Most of the time though, listener reviews I take with a grain of salt. My favorite example is being lauded by UK listeners for my use of a variety of regional British accents while being lambasted by US listeners for the same thing, on the same title. Everyone has a unique perspective to which they’re entitled, and I appreciate all feedback. It helps me grow as a performer. But I do realize that not everyone will be satisfied with everything.

How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?
Don’t do it! Pay a professional! Seriously though, take your time and work with a director and/or engineer. Listeners tend to love to hear an author read their own work, but few authors have both the technical ability and the technique to deliver a marketable product. When an author releases a sub-par product, we all lose.

About Mikael Naramore

Naramore has worked in the audiobook industry since 2001 when, fresh out of college, he was hired as a recording engineer for publisher Brilliance Audio (now Brilliance Publishing, subsidiary of Amazon.com). Over time, he transitioned to Director, all the while absorbing technique and nuance from the best actors in the business. To date, Mikael has narrated well over 100 titles, under his own and assumed names. Authors range from best-sellers Nora Roberts, Lisa Gardner, Edward Klein and Clive Barker to sci-fi rising stars Wesley Chu, Ramez Naam and Mark E. Cooper.

He was recently chosen to narrate prolific playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robert Ardrey’s seminal Nature of Man series which includes the international best-sellers African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative, titles which reportedly had a very heavy influence on Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick in their development of 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

Mikael is also an active writer, musician and recording artist, having scored the soundtrack to an independent short film, produced and engineered critically acclaimed rock records, and written, performed and recorded several “”silly little lo-fi rock songs”” of his own. He currently resides in the wild and scenic Columbia River Gorge outside of Portland, Oregon with his wife, two small boys and their beloved Golden Retriever.

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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