Narrator: Paul Woodson

Posted August 27, 2015 by Paul (Audiobook Reviewer) in Interview / 1 Comment

Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
I’m a narrator and voice artist, as well as a SAG-AFTRA, AEA & APA stage & film actor and singer. I’ve lived in England, California, Boston, NYC, and toured the USA and Europe in AEA tours and regional theatre. I’ve currently done over 50 audiobooks.

How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
It was a natural progression, especially as standard acting work had been slow for me and I needed to make some money. I’d been primarily a stage actor in musicals in my 20s and early 30s, doing some great projects both in and outside of New York, but I never cracked that Broadway nut. Then as I needed to make more money, I gravitated more and more toward Union Film & TV work, which pays a decent rate if you can get the work.

But because I’ve never really meshed well with agents, (and I have had several over the years), I never got past doing Background and Stand-In work on most professional Film/TV projects. I’d be standing on set among other extras with NO acting experience, thinking, “”I have a BFA in theater. I’ve done Shakespeare, Opera, performed with Broadway stars. What in the hell am I doing here?””

So when even the SAG BG work wasn’t providing enough steady income, I sought other avenues of employment, like a retail job (which I’d rather not mention, except that I got some good employee discounts and met some very cool co-workers). Eventually, it was actually a SAG Webcast about audiobooks, featuring Scott Brick, that gave me the necessary info to get started.

That was how I first learned about ACX and that it was very easy to break in on that site if you were talented. I figured I already had the advantage of being a 20-year acting veteran, a singer and musician who was already familiar with microphone and studio technology (I’d made many home music demos over the years), and for years I’d been told I could probably do very well in Voiceover and Audiobooks.

The problem with pursuing those paths in the past were the same problems that had plagued my whole career: you needed good agents to break in to those fields, and my luck with agencies had been less than stellar. –And perhaps that was my own fault, I don’t know, but in my acting career I’d found that when I brought MYSELF into the casting process, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for me, I usually got cast, or at least called back.

So with ACX, I simply brought myself into the site, recorded demos, recorded auditions, learned audio editing, and over a few months I found myself booking more and more narration. And except for my first couple of projects, I stuck to my guns about receiving a set amount of pay per finished hour, or ACX’s Stipend. So I haven’t done much for Royalty Share alone.

Anyway, I’ve now narrated over 50 titles, nearly all for pay at Union rate or Stipend, that are available on Audible, and I’m hoping soon to work for the larger publishers so that I’m not relying on ACX alone. Some of my books are under a pseudonym, so you won’t find that many under my name alone.

What do you do when you are not narrating?
I still do the occasional share of SAG-AFTRA background and stand-in work. I live in Queens, so I’m close to most of the studios and production facilities.

In my free time, I enjoy backpacking. I’ve section-hiked over 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and every year I try to put in another 100+ miles, usually in the warm months. I’ve done Northern Virginia all the way up to New Hampshire, and one gap in Vermont.

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 am still doing audiobooks only. Some folks seem to come from radio or voiceover INTO audiobooks; I may be in the opposite camp. If this continues to take off, I do hope to break into voiceover, but all I hear is how difficult that business is to break into. Still, nothing’s off the table. I’d love to lay down some commercial copy and make a few grand. 🙂

As I said, I’d also love to start working for the larger publishing houses, which I believe I have enough solid credits to attempt now. This year I attended my first APAC in NYC, so I’m hopeful there as well.

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 would love to pick & choose, though right now I just try to keep my queue full with paying projects. It’s allowed me to figure out which genres really fit my voice and storytelling style.

I suppose I still pick and choose a bit, in the sense that only work for paid projects. I’ve been approached many times about working for Royalty alone, but have remained firm that I need $X per finished hour, or at minimum, ACX’s Stipend.

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?
That’s a tough one; I’ve worked in many genres, though I seem to get the most work in Romance, possibly also Fantasy/Adventure. I’ve also done several Erotica projects (those are under my pseudonym), and generally authors want to bring me back for multiple books.

Because I have good facility with British and Scottish accents (probably because I was a child in Cambridge where my Dad did his graduate work), I’ve found success in stories that want a good personable-sounding British narrator, or a variety of dialects from the English-speaking world (Scottish, Irish, American, etc.) About 50% of my books are RP British, and 50% are American. I’ve worked for UK authors & publishers; some are surprised to learn that my natural accent is more American than English.

I did an Edgar Rice Burroughs classic a few months ago titled THE EFFICIENCY EXPERT, which I feel shows a lot of my ability to do multiple characters and convey a particular humour and style of an author. I highly recommend that one.

I could of course recommend 5 more that showcase different aspects of my abilities, but I’ll stand by that one for now. 😉

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 do both on ACX, but I only take Royalty Share projects with the Stipend ($100/PFH + a 20% Royalty cut). On a PFH, I always ask at least Union minimum, . Some of those PFHs I do wish had been Royalty Share, as some of those authors sell thousands of books, but if they’re savvy and KNOW they will be bestsellers, they’ll know to offer me a PFH so they can keep the royalties. 🙂

Generally, I prefer a PFH rate.

What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
Being compared to Jim Dale by a couple of my Rights Holders was quite flattering, especially as it was on the 1st of 3 books in a series (HIGHLAND SOLUTION being the 1st), all set in Medieval Scotland, all with upwards of 40 characters that I had to find voices for. And although my British accent comes on & off like a tap, at that point I hadn’t attempted a Scot since my last stage performance of BRIGADOON. I worked and practiced to get the dialect down, watched Danny Boyle films on a loop (TRAINSPOTTING especially) :), and although I still feel I could improve, Scottish characters have now become a staple of my work, including for the UK author Poppet, who herself comes from there, so that’s quite a compliment!

So perhaps I’ll combine that as being both my most difficult moment AND my greatest achievement. 😉

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?
Well, the usual Scott Brick & Simon Vance are wonderful talents. I just listened to Julia Whelan deliver a wonderful SNOW QUEEN, and I really loved Bernadette Dunne who narrated WILD by Cheryl Strayed, which was my most recent audiobook. A recent favorite of mine is Rosalyn Landor, who read a delicious GODS BEHAVING BADLY, which I highly recommend.

One favorite of mine that goes back to pre-digital downloads, was Rob McQuay’s audiobook of Bill Bryson’s A WALK IN THE WOODS, which, as a backpacker, is one of my favorite books in general. Bryson self-narrated some years later, but I didn’t like his reading nearly as much as Mr. McQuay’s. I listened to that one multiple times, long before I started narrating, and maybe even learned a few things from his performance. Mr. McQuay didn’t narrate a lot of books and I always wondered why; I later learned that he was in a horrible crippling accident, which I believe affected his audiobook work.

What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
I enjoy backpacking, as I mentioned earlier. Also taking vacations with my wife to National Parks, usually involving camping, hiking, visiting breweries & wineries too. I mostly feel that I need to make more money these days so that I can afford to do those things more often!

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 always ask for unusual pronunciations, especially for a Fantasy or Sci-Fi novel, where they are created by the author and not Google or Forvo-available. If they have any character notes, I HAVE to get those before recording gets underway, as I’m not going to re-record an entire character’s lines because he wasn’t, say, “”deep enough””.

A helpful note is usually when I’ve totally missed out an important subtext from the delivery (though I usually catch it). I want the performance to be just right. I’m quite a perfectionist in the recording process, so I’ll usually do something over right away, in the booth, not just for an error, but if the tone felt off.

A less helpful note is when I’m given line readings, especially for lines that I performed as closely to the way the text suggested them as possible. I had a couple RHs who started to give me multiple line reading notes per chapter, and we had to discuss things a bit about the parameters of “”notes””.

Trust me, I do want notes when necessary for real errors, and other things that compromise the overall feel of the story. But usually my instincts as an actor let me fix things like that during recording. My interpretation is always going to be slightly different than the author’s. Most of the time they realize that and are excited to hear their words interpreted in a way they maybe hadn’t heard before.

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 do a routine scan of the document for accents, voice character notes, etc. I don’t usually mark up the text, but I create Evernote files & notebooks for reference. That way I can access them at home or on the go. I can always record a sound file into Evernote for dialect, character voice or pronunciation notes.

I try to make sure that there are no surprises, like a last-chapter reveal of a character really being someone else all along, or a dialect that is only revealed to the reader 50 pages after a character is introduced. (Though that’s not great writing if you don’t tell the reader early on that Doug is from Belfast, for example.)

Sometimes I’ll research the author’s other books, get a feel for their style as well. Or listen to other audiobooks by the same author to get a feel for the other narrators’ tones.

How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
I think of their role in the story, and have sort of “archetype” voices that I work with, then I try to build on that with their personality traits. For example, I know that Romance heroes should sound generally masculine and strong, so I start with that and let the rest come from the action.

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 have a home studio. It’s in a closet that is already well-insulated from outside noise. I simply insulated it further.

The biggest disadvantage is how cramped it is, especially for my feet! But unless I want to make a mess of the rest of my apartment, the stuff that’s taking up space needs to stay in there. Plus a lot of the items in there deaden the space, so I’m hesitant to open it up too much.

I do work with a MacBook Air in the booth with me, propped at a 45º angle at the base, so it doesn’t overheat, and I can record for hours before the fans come on. It has a SSD, so it doesn’t make noise anyway. That’s somewhat unique in the sense that so many other folks don’t have their computer in the booth with them.

What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
It’s funny, I tend to embrace the humour in my recordings, and if there’s a way to read a line for humour without forcing, I go for it. So I do have a lot of fun with characters and jokes when appropriate.

However, I am very impatient with myself, so at the same time, when I start making lots of errors and am forced to go back and re-record lines, I begin making lots of angry noises and swearing at myself. I need to be less hard on myself, I guess.

How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
2-3 hours in the booth a day is usual, on a recording day. However, sometimes I’ve gone as long as 6-7 hours. My voice training allows me to go long stretches without my voice giving out, though it does get tired. If anything, it’s the rest of my body that gets tired first, sitting in that cramped space, not moving my body so that I won’t create extraneous sounds. Though I do take frequent breaks. Also, in summer, it gets hot in there VERY quickly. I often finish a chapter feeling like a slickened seal!

What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
I guess the English/Scottish Romances, which have kind of become my mainstay, because there are such colorful characters, at least in the novels I’ve narrated. I’ve also enjoyed the YA Fantasy and Adventure genre, usually because they include a variety of character voices that I can sink my teeth into.

I’ve had a good side run with my pseudonym in Erotica too, though again, maybe I’ve gotten lucky in only working with classy, talented writers with good editors in that genre– because all of the Erotica I’ve done has been written by women, and feels somewhat “”refined””– it hasn’t simply been like some I’ve seen, which are just wordporn. 😉 This may sound funny, but I feel like I now have to keep up a level of respectability even for my Erotica pseudonym, because “”he”” generally only reads fairly highbrow stuff. 😀

I’d like to read some more good, dramatic, character-based fiction as well.

What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
That’s a tough one. Perhaps Mycroft Holmes as an old man, because I went so over-the-top with him (THE CASE OF THE EXPLODING SPEAKEASY). Or perhaps Rance Crawford in THE WINTER COURTSHIP RITUALS OF FUR-BEARING CRITTERS (great long title, eh?), because he’s this tough, gruff rancher in Colorado with a cigarette-smoke voice who also happens to be gay, so I played around with getting into the deepest part of my range for him.

The most grief? How about a parrot on a pirate ship? There’s no way to voice that without feeling foolish.

How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I usually give myself a minute or two in the booth to get over it. Or if it’s in-character, I will allow myself the emotion in the reading. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the neutrality of the 3rd-person narrator, I think emotion is good in a reading.

The most grief? How about a parrot on a pirate ship? There’s no way to voice that without feeling foolish.

I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
I don’t dislike the term. Call me a Narrator.

How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
Both. I’d prefer to focus on the Art, but frankly, my scientific side has come in very useful for self-production. When I get to the point that I outsource my editing & mastering, I’m a little worried that the outside folks might not give my performance the nuance that I’m used to in doing my own work. I try to create my pacing in the reading, but every now & then I realize that I should’ve paused more here, or less there.

Who knows? Perhaps I also have a future on the production end of things, despite the fact that my favorite part is the performance side.

Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
I don’t know that I do. It’s a very subjective experience.

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?
Again, a bit of both. And generally, yes to the 2nd question.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
The first few books are the hardest. Push through that, continue aspiring to improve your technique.

What has been your favorite project and why?
I’ve done so many terrific projects. That’s a hard question. MINIONS OF THE MOON by Richard Bowes was a terrific project early in my career that almost nobody has listened to. The book won Awards! But being released in 1999, it’s kind of falling through the cracks of the Audiobook circuit. It’s also early in my career, so my performance may not be quite as well-honed as my current works. But I encourage people to check it out; it’s very well-written.

I’ll also recommend EFFICIENCY EXPERT again, as well as a couple classic short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne that I narrated, THE BIRTHMARK and THE ARTIST OF THE BEAUTIFUL. Hawthorne writes in a very ornate, highly verbose 19th century style, and my classical theatre training came in very handy for narrating those extraordinarily long, clause-ridden thoughts.

Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
I think it is a KIND of reading, but not the same experience. You can tune out of an audiobook and miss things, whereas with reading an actual book, it’s more a process of stopping and coming back so that you catch everything.

Are you working on any special projects?
I just began narrating for Keira Montclair, another bestselling Highland Romance author. I just finished one and should beginning another quite soon. She’s already had several books narrated by a different narrator, so there is that worry about “”measuring up”” to the previous performer, but so far I feel that I’ve done well with it.

I am really hoping to get the audio rights to produce the audiobook of TIME AFTER TIME by Karl Alexander. That story has always been one of my favorites since I was a child, and I feel I would be the perfect fit for it, not only as a lifelong fan of H.G. Wells, but also having both the English AND San Franciscan backgrounds of the various primary characters. I’m still waiting to hear from the Rights Holders on that one, though.

This is for the question you wish I would have asked but didn’t.
Well, anyone who is curious about my Alter Ego, pseudonym narrator identity can go to my primary website, and in the right-hand column under “Pages” there is a link to Audible titles by a different narrator. Those are actually my titles, under the pseudonym.

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About Paul Woodson

I’m a narrator and voice artist, as well as a SAG-AFTRA, AEA & APA stage & film actor and singer. I’ve lived in England, California, Boston, NYC, and toured the USA and Europe in AEA tours and regional theatre. I’ve currently done over 50 audiobooks.

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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