Interview with Andrea Emmes, Audiobook Narrator

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind-the-scenes while narrating an audiobook, take a listen to our interview with audiobook narrator, Andrea Emmes, where she chats about her favorite titles, how she gets into character, and sheds some light on the audiobook recording process. Let’s start out with how you got into narrating audiobooks.

Andrea: That’s a good question. I’ve been a performer for most of my professional life, actress or dancer. In 2006, I actually was in a bad accident in a stage show I was in and ended up getting a pain disorder, so I had to regroup and find something else to do. So, I went back to college, got a degree in video game design and art design and was a Game Designer at Disney Interactive for a couple years, but then got laid off.

I was like, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?” It’s so hard to find another job, especially with my pain disorder. I don’t even remember how exactly I was looking and my husband went, “Well, why don’t you look into audiobooks?” Because he listens to audiobooks all the time. “Oh my god, that’s a great idea.” because I have my voice over equipment and my mic—I still had all my equipment, so I started researching it and I found an article on ACX that Sean Allen Pratt, who is a coach and a narrator, wrote, reached out to him, and kind of started from there. Very cool. So, when it comes to recording audiobooks, what is your process for getting into character?

Andrea: Ou, that’s a good question. It’s so interesting because when you’re doing a book you’re every character, right? Right!

Andrea: So, we have to flip flop back and forth constantly kind of like Sybil, if you know that movie reference? I might’ve dated myself.

I do a lot of prep work beforehand. I have this whole spreadsheet where, as I’m reading the book, I write down all the characters—information about them, their quirks, their age, certain vocal qualities or accents that are listed in the book, or other attitude attributes. So, I have them kind of locked in at least there, so I have an idea of who everyone is before I actually go into the recording studio. Because it’s kind of a constant switch back and forth, sometimes there’s a lot of stopping and I have to go back to my spreadsheet, take a moment, “Oh yeah, that’s right, where we are in the scene,” until you finally get into the flow of being able to switch back and forth.

A lot of times it’s just a matter of, “Okay, I’ve got this one character who is quirky, but she’s a little bit jealous of the main character because she wants that guy or whatever.” Then, I try to just say, “Where would I find that emotion?” Or, I’ll actually have this list of character references to say, “Maybe it’s Rachel McAdams from Mean Girls that I’ll kind of pull that attitude from.” Or Reese Witherspoon from Legally Blonde if I’m looking for something that’s really bubbly and positive. That’s very cool and on our end, when you listen to it, it just sounds like a natural flow from character to character. Sometimes you don’t think about what goes into it.

Andrea: Yeah, and that’s the hard part. To me, it’s slow, and sometimes it’s a matter of the editing part. Sometimes like, “Oh, wait,” I have to stop, pause a second because I went out of voice. Sometimes it’s easy to blend the voice from one to the other when you’re going back and forth [between] accents. If I’m speaking in an Irish accent and then the next character is Texan I might leak that Irish into the Texan. I’m like, “Okay, hold on a second,” Let me pause, say a little sentence to get myself back into it and then dive right back in and then make sure that the edit is nice and clean. Of course, the professional editors clean all that stuff and make it really pretty. Yeah, it’s an art and a science. Yeah, it sounds like it! What are some of your favorite titles that you’ve narrated so far?

Andrea: That’s a good question and there’s many, but if I had to narrow it down to a couple…I’m very much into the geeky stuff, having been a Game Designer in my previous life, if you will, before I got into audiobooks. I was also big into comic books, so one of the books I did not too long ago was The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin, which is this amazing book where you’ve got the strong female character, MG, who is a comic book artist, but she also ends up becoming a consultant for the police to help find this vigilante who’s going around and causing all kinds of havoc. It’s a really great, funny, light-hearted, but yet action-packed book. That was super fun!

I also has a really good time doing Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, which is for middle graders. That was such an awesome book because you’ve got Maxine Einstein, or Max, who’s a 12 year-old genius and she ends up working with a whole bunch of other kid geniuses from all over the world. They’re doing good deeds around the world and helping…I’m trying not to give away the book…doing a lot of great things for the world using their genius, which is in different areas. Of course, there’s an evil villainy guy that’s trying to muck everything up. It’s just a really great book for kids, I think, and hope it’s inspiring, not only for them to read more, but to get into science and be excited about doing things for their community or their world or trying to make the world a better place. So, I think that’s probably one of my favorites.

I guess, lastly, this is kind of on the flip side of this. I also really like Flights of Fancy by Jen Turano, which is a historical, clean, Christian novel. It’s just a beautiful love story back in the 1800s that’s very funny and whimsical and also very light, but romantic. For sure! It sounds like you’ve done a variety of things.

Andrea: Yeah, which is nice because it kind of changes up things. Not too long ago I did a LitRPG and then I’m back to doing another Christian romance and then back to doing a mystery or a non-fiction book. That’s exciting for me because it keeps things from getting too monotonous. Yeah, exactly. Something new each time.

Andrea: Yeah, yeah! I guess this is kind of a related question. If you could narrate any book, which would you choose?

Andrea: Something, I think, geeky. I mean, I love the YA genre a lot. I feel like that’s my jam. I feel I can really get into the snarky angst place that they live in and I just love how things are just worked out in a different way, especially if you do something that’s paranormal because I love the paranormal kind of stuff.

I did a LitRPG series, which is wonderful, but really, honestly, when it boils down to it I just want a really good story. If a really good story happens to be a cozy mystery I’m all over it. For sure, yeah. Okay, coming down to a few of the end questions. What’s something about the audiobook production process that listeners might find surprising?

Andrea: That listeners might find surprising? How much I belch during recording, but that never gets in. You know, and that’s actually a true statement.

It’s very tedious. You start the prep where you get the book and then you should read it and go through it, make all your notes and make sure you, especially if there’s a bunch of words you don’t know how to say, make sure you look them up and you have that for reference, check with the author or publisher if you have any questions.

Then, the recording process—you’re sitting in front of this computer screen and you have your editing software. I use Studio One recording program. I don’t just go in there and record and don’t have to worry about any of the editing stuff when I’m doing home studio working from home, so I have to be sort of Engineer, Director and Audiobook Narrator, so it’s a long process.

There’s a lot of mistakes, there’s belching, sometimes there might be cursing if you mess up that is is all wonderfully edited out. Yeah, I guess that’s really it is just it’s a longer process.

It’s not just get up to the mic and read because there’s a lot of acting you have to put forth or making sure like, “Oh no,” like I said before, “what was that voice again? Let me stop.” Especially if I’m doing a series and I’m like, “Oh, Jack was in book one, but he didn’t show up again until book three. What was his voice again?” Then I have to go back to my archives and find out what was his voice.

Or a lot of times, like in Max Einstein, I had 12 different accents I had to learn, so I had to spend a lot of time with Kenyan, Swahili, Chinese, Irish, Mumbai, and Texan…I’m telling you, there was a whole bunch. Taking the time before I even get into the booth to do and listen and study all I can to do the best that I can for that accent. It’s a lot, a lot of work that goes into it. It’s fun! It sounds super fun and it’s like you said, “an art and a science.” It’s not like rolling up to a microphone.

Andrea: Yeah, I mean, those moments are awesome. If you go into a studio and they have everybody over there at the publishing office and all you have to do is just perform, it actually is a lot more freeing, but when you’re in the studio yourself at home sometimes it’s hard to focus. You have to really work to not over micro-manage yourself, so you can stay in the moment and be the moment. Like, “Ah, man. There was a weird gurgle my stomach did. Let me stop, go back, delete that, and start over.” That seems like quite the process, but it turns out well, so that’s good.

Andrea: It does! It’s amazing to me to know an eight hour book might take 20 hours in the studio to record. When you hear it all done, especially once the editors and the proofers have all tightened things up, the end result is like, “Ah, man, that’s awesome and fulfilling!” Exactly, so cool to hear the end product all shiny. Okay, then finally, do you have any other projects on-the-go that you can tell us about?

Andrea: Sure, well, I just mentioned another Christian book. I’m doing the Amish of Pontotoc series by Amy Lillard. I just recorded books one and two, A Home for Hannah and A Love for Leah. Not sure when those are coming out because I just finished them.

I’m excited about that and on the docket, Max Einstein, book two is coming out…Oh, oh, oh, you know what, talk about geeky stuff sort of, The Hashtag Hunt, by Kristina Seek. I’m super excited about that. Actually, I start that in two weeks, which is about this character who is trying to win $10,000 to help her with her business by doing this contest called The Hashtag Hunt. She ends up getting these text messages saying, “I need you to find a hottie in the wild.” There’s a bunch of rules she has to do and in doing so, she ends up on this grand adventure that’s kind of out there and crazy and there’s a little love involved. Super fun! I can’t wait to start that. Super cool. It sounds like a good listen.

Andrea: I hope so! It was a great read because I’ve already prepped the book. Yeah, that sounds amazing. Okay, well that’s all the questions I have. You went into great detail and I’m very excited to listen to anything upcoming from you!

Andrea: Thank you! I appreciate the time to chat.

Click here to check out titles narrated by Andrea →

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