Narrator: Ray Porter
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a small town in Indiana, got my B.F.A. in acting from CalArts and in 1990 went to work for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.
I told my L.A. friends I’d be back in six months after I did “this theatre job”. I moved back to L.A. in 2008.
In the off seasons at OSF I would come to L.A. to do TV and Films. I started narrating at Blackstone Audio in 2007/2008. Since then I have been narrating for various audiobook publishers and love it.
My amazing wife is a costume designer for movies (I can’t tell you anything about her current project as assistant designer but Batman and Superman look great)and a six year old son who is brilliant (he’s doing his tutoring homework here at the table next to me and I needed to say that).
What’s your favorite color?
(Totally kidding, just thought I would start off with something that would sound like the gushing fan boy that I am.
I have to say that I am a huge fan of your work especially Joe Ledger. I know that you went over this a bit in one of the Joe Ledger Novella compilations, but some readers may not have listened to that yet. How did you come about being the one to be the voice of Joe Ledger, where you picked from a pool? Did you ever think that first job (in the series) would have had the success that it did?
Thank you for that. I was narrating at Blackstone Audio and Grover Gardner came to me with the first Joe Ledger book. Grover thought it would be a good fit and I liked the book right away. When it was done, I moved on the the next project and it was some time later when Grover let me know that the book was doing well. Then I got a very nice email from Jonathan Maberry. Hearing nice comments from the author is always very humbling (and also really cool). I was very happy when they told me there was a second book. Jonathan has since become a friend. He told me he hears my voice when he is writing now. That is
probably the highest praise I have ever gotten from an author. He also loves to throw weird accents and voices into the books now to see if I can do them.
Why do you think the Joe Ledger character was such a perfect match for you?
I really don’t know. I’m not a smartass at all. Ask anybody (just not my wife, my son, my cat, any of my employers or any of my friends, especially don’t ask Jonathan Maberry)
What is your favorite thing about working with Jonathan Maberry?
His fashion sense.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I had been interested for some time in doing them. I had the dumb “I like to read and I’m an actor, how hard could it be?” idea before I realized how hard it is to do this. I auditioned for an audiobook company and they gave me my first book to do. It did okay in reviews and sales so they sent me another. About that time I was realizing that narrating is great and rewarding and also deceptively difficult work to do. I had a lot of respect for the people who do this work and still do.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
Well, like most narrators, I retire to my beach house in Maui and sip Dom Perignon while my butler downloads the next book.
Or rather, I drive my kid to school, I work on the house, I go to auditions, I go to car shows (I have a classic car), I work on the aforementioned car. And, believe it or not, I read a lot.
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?
Well, obviously you probably don’t want to audition for a Monster Truck commercial with the same voice you used when narrating Proust (or maybe you do, note to self…) but no real hurdles to jump. You can hear me in some video games and a few commercials here and there.
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 as many as I have time for and have tried really hard not to overbook myself. I am so grateful that I get to do this work that it is really hard to say no to a project.
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?
Oh wow. I don’t think I can really describe my narration style or voice. That’s a tough question. I try to serve the author as best I can and I find that most books have a voice of their own. I really try to stay out of the author’s way. You should feel like you read the book. I think my best work isn’t really mine at all. I give the most credit for the Joe Ledger books to Jonathan. In a book like “14”, Peter Clines’ writing was great. There are books where I feel like I could have served the author better. Each new book I do, I try to do my best for the listener and the author. I’m sorry, I really suck at self-promotion. If you think a book I narrated is my best, then you’re probably right.
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?
Almost all the books I have done have been for a set amount. I did one for residuals solely. None of the checks have bounced, so I guess I like them both.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
I have been fortunate enough to have been nominated for Audie awards numerous times, I’m proud of that.
There was a period of about three audiobooks early in my career where I was trying to do a style of reading that I felt like I “should” sound. So embarrassing. Thankfully Grover had a chat with me about it and helped me greatly. Seriously, Grover Gardner is why I have a career at all in this business.
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 do have a list of both and I’m not going to elaborate because if I accidentally left someone out I’d feel terrible.
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’ve been pretty lucky in that regard. I have asked authors for input on some things and they have always been helpful. Also, the people who assign me books are pretty good about choosing the right projects and making a good fit between author and narrator.
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 like to do what I call a gentle pre-read of the book so that I have an understanding of it but I don’t like to set anything in stone about how it will sound. For me, letting the author lead has always worked best.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
Sometimes the author tells you: “His voice was like Tom Waits on a paint shaker in the Swiss Alps after ingesting helium and OxyContin.”
Other times, the book will tell you by the way the characters look or the words they use. The challenge is choosing a voice that you can reasonably sustain for several hours without requiring surgery.
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 do have a home studio. Working from home is great. My Los Angeles commute to work is going downstairs. Sometimes I even wear shoes. Probably the most unique thing in my setup is my mic. It is a Pearlman TM-1 made by Dave Pearlman here in L.A.
Dave is the nicest guy and hand builds his mics. He has taken the time to redo some things for my mic that make it unique.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
Hot. I need to fix my ventilation system. It is actually pretty serious in there. I am usually working hard to meet deadlines and make the book as good as I can.
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 complete three recorded hours a day. That can take anywhere from 4 and a half to 6 hours. It depends on the book. Some books flow very quickly and others take a little longer.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
I don’t really have a favorite genre, I’ve been lucky enough to have a variety of things to read. When an author is excited about what they are writing, you can tell. I like those best and have found that from Jonathan Maberry to Michio Kaku and everywhere in between.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
Joe Ledger is one of my favorites obviously but I have had a few others.
I’ve had some characters where the author has been very specific about how they sound and sometimes that can be vocally challenging. Sometimes it hurts! I read book where the sound the author described was killing me vocally. And it went on for a long time.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I don’t! I just have to re record that bit after I settle down. The listener should be laughing or crying, not me.
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
As I said earlier, I think the perfect audiobook experience is where I am only there as a conduit between the listener and the author. I try to work from an attitude of respect for the listener and the author. There’s a path the author has made to the listener, I need to stay out of the way. Maybe I sometimes hold up a flashlight so the path can be seen.
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 am a voracious reader. Always have been. I don’t really have a preference. One of my favorite authors is Umberto Eco, I’d love to narrate one of his books. I’ve been really lucky to get to narrate things I have genuinely enjoyed reading.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Don’t make the mistake I made and think that there’s a way you should sound that is different for the way you actually sound. Take everything with a grain of salt but really listen if someone who has been at it longer than you has something to share. There will always be something there you need to know.
This isn’t rocket surgery but it ain’t exactly easy either. Read. Listen to audiobooks.
Oh yeah! An apple can do wonders for eliminating mouth noises (clicks, etc.)
What has been your favorite project and why?
I have a lot of favorites but a project I really learned something from happened a few years ago.
There was this book I did at Blackstone that was very well written and really tough subject matter. After one particularly dark and disturbing section, the engineer said we needed to stop because we were both just destroyed by it. We went outside and stood in sun for a while and talked about anything other than what we had just recorded. We laughed about everything we could and that was the first time I realized that what we do as narrators can be powerful but it isn’t just the narrator alone. It takes a lot of people giving a lot of themselves to make an audiobook happen. From the author to listener and
everyone in between. I came away from that experience with a new-found respect for this thing we do. Even if you record alone in your booth as I do now, it isn’t just you. Roll your eyes if you want but I have a lot of respect for this work and the people who do it.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
I do. If I’ve done my job correctly, you should feel like you have read the book.
Are you working on any special projects?
Oh, there’s some very fun stuff coming up! I don’t want to jinx anything.
This is for the question you wish I would have asked but didn’t.
Oh, my classic car you ask? I’m glad you asked me that.
It is a fully restored 1969 Ford Mustang Mach1 with a 351 Windsor engine and a 4 barrel carb. Here’s a picture:
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