For those of you interested in what goes into the making of an audiobook from start to finish, my guest on today’s Q&A answers that wonderfully. He also offers some excellent tips for people who are looking at getting into the narration industry.
I, like many, truly hadn’t the slightest idea just how much work goes in to an audiobook from start to finish. I’ve come out of this Q&A with an even larger appreciation of narrators and all those tech-minded folk behind the scenes of audio creation.
From my interactions with David, and from what I’ve learned from his answers, he seems like a total class act and I wish him all the best in his future narration works.
For more information on David (including rates for audio narration) check out his website: DSB Audio
With that said, on to the interview:
Before we get started with the questions, please tell us a little about yourself. Who is David Sweeney-Bear? Besides the owner of one of the coolest double-barrelled surnames I’ve come across?
Hi, thanks for inviting me to talk to Swords & Spectres, this is a first for me! I am a British Voice Actor and Audio Producer, currently based in Ireland. I’m the founder of DSB Audio audiobook production house.
- How long have you been in the narration/voice work industry?
I’ve been narrating and producing audiobooks since 2018. Before that, I was a singer and musician.
- What got you into narration?
Reading my favourite books and stories to friends and family! I found I enjoyed the act of bringing a story to life, giving the characters unique voices and adding a sense of drama for the listener to become engaged in. Eventually, I decided to combine my audio production skills with my love of literature and have a go at recording myself reading. One of the first authors I worked with was British Horror writer P J Blakey-Novis of Red Cape Publishing, who showed great faith in working with me as a fledgling narrator! I ended up producing three short horror collections and a novella for him, which gave me the perfect opportunity to develop a whole host of character voices and accents.
- Do you have a preferred genre as far as what you narrate goes?
I’m a big fan of horror, mystery, sci-fi and fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily prefer those genres to narrate. As it turns out, I’ve done a lot of work those genres, but have also really enjoyed non-fiction work, historical novels and children’s books.
- How do you typically find narration work? Do clients approach you or is it based on an audition style approach?
The majority of my work has been through ACX, Audible’s Audio Creation Exchange, where authors and publishers post their titles looking for producers. It’s usually a mixture of auditioning for titles I think I might be suitable for or being approached by authors who are interested in me as a narrator.
- Do you do voice work other than audio book narration?
No, I prefer to specialise in audiobooks as that’s where my passion lies.
- Are you currently working on any projects, if so, and providing you’re allowed to talk about them, what are they?
I have three projects in production at the moment. “Grievar’s Blood” by Alexander Darwin is the second book in his Combat Codes saga. I’m producing this on an episode-by-episode basis and it’s available free on Stitcher, Spotify and other podcast channels. It’s a futuristic dystopian novel mixing martial arts themes with sci-fi. Second is “The Divine Sage” by J P Cunningham, a historical adventure story based on Captain Basil Hall’s voyage to South America in the 1820s. Thirdly, I’m just beginning production of a two-part World War 2 saga “When Country Calls” by Jerome Ostrov, which follows the trials and tribulations of a Jewish family fleeing the Nazi regime.
- How do you typically go about the recording process? Is it done via a home set-up or do you work from a purpose-made studio type venue?
I work from a home studio, a small building that started out as a porch but has ended up becoming a fully sound-proofed recording room. Even now, I still feel I could do with more sound-proofing – although each additional layer of insulation makes the room a little smaller! I use a tablet reader mounted on a wall stand to read from, I have my computer in a separate room so there’s no fan noise and have a non-creaking chair (very important!).
I never record anything without first warming up my voice and rehearsing what I’m about to read. Typically, I rehearse for half an hour then read for half an hour then take a short break. I find this helps to minimize voice fatigue.
- How long does the narration process take? I fully appreciate that this could well be a ‘how long is a piece of string’ type answer.
A very good question, and yes – it does vary. The very first step in any project I undertake is to read the material and do research/note-taking as necessary for pronunciations and character voices mostly. Then as I mentioned, everything I record is rehearsed first. Once the recording is finished it is then edited, removing all unwanted elements and adjusting for correct pacing. Next, I proof the edited file then re-record any corrections necessary. Finally the production is mastered, adding any effects or additional music or other elements.
Taking all this into account I find, on average, each hour of finished audio takes 9 hours of work all-told.
- Is voice work a full-time job for you?
It certainly is! I actually never intended for this to be the case, but since the start of 2020, I have had a continuous stream of projects to work on and am enjoying it, so have no complaints.
- What ambitions do you have for the future where voice work is concerned?
Mainly to continue doing what I’m doing and improve my narration skills and experience. I’d love to produce my own podcast series, similar to what I’ve been doing for Grievar’s Blood with Alexander Darwin on a weekly basis. I seem to be finding the opportunity to include musical and sound-effect elements in many of my productions of late and would love to develop that side of things further.
- I, like many, often cringe when hearing my own voice played back to me. Do you get that ‘is that what I sound like to others’ thought pass through your head or are you so used to the sound of your own voice now that it doesn’t register?
As a musician, I was already quite used to hearing my own voice before I started recording audiobooks. That said, when I first started to seriously record myself reading I was surprised how little my voice sounded like what I had intended in my mind. Slowly, with practice I gained more control over my speaking voice. After many many hours of editing my own material I’m now a little too familiar with my own voice and find it impossible to imagine what I sound like to other people. “Pleasing” hopefully!
- If you could narrate any book/series ever written, what would it/they be?
I hesitate to suggest many of my favourite books such as The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, The Lord Of The Rings or Dracula since they’ve already been so incredibly well presented by some very talented individuals. For a short story, I’d love to read The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl. And for something more epic – The Narnia books by C S Lewis, all seven of them!
- Are there any genres or types of book you would not narrate?
I generally steer clear of Romance or Erotica – just not my sort of thing. I suppose I wouldn’t read anything overtly offensive or that I didn’t feel comfortable with. I once auditioned for an autobiography of a Nazi war criminal which left me feeling slightly uneasy in case I was actually offered the work!
- Do your reading habits differ to what you read for audiobook work?
Most of the time, there’s a fairly close correlation between what I like to read and what I choose/get chosen to narrate. Equally, a fair number of the books I have narrated have turned out to be very enjoyable to read even though I may never have picked them up myself. The Return Of Fursey by Mervyn Wall is a great example of this. I can’t honestly say if I would ever have read it based on its title or synopsis but it has turned out to be one of my favourite books of all time.
- Do you have friends within the Voice Over world or is it more of a solitary, lone wolf type industry?
As a home-based producer, I would say it’s definitely a lone-wolf type of thing. If I was going into studios, working with other producers or actors I suppose this might be different. The kinship I feel within my work has more to do with working directly with authors themselves, getting to know their vision for the production and generally what makes them tick as writers.
- Do you have any favourite narrators?
Yes, many! I confess I tend to like a particular type of narrator personally and to a large extent they have been a great inspiration to me in my work. Anything read by the great Stephen Fry or Derek Jacobi is absolutely spell-binding. Harking back to probably my first experience of an audiobook – Stephen Moore reading Life, The Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams was just brilliant.
- Could you list a couple of your audiobook narrations that you enjoyed working on the most and why these were so memorable for you?
Quite honestly nearly all of the audiobooks I have produced have been both enjoyable and memorable for a variety of reasons, so this could be a very long answer! If I had to pick just two, I would say the book I mentioned earlier, Grievar’s Blood by Alexander Darwin, which I’m just finishing. Being the second book in the series I’ve really gotten into the characters and the premise of the story. Also, producing it as a podcast on a weekly basis has been very interesting and I’ve had the chance to add title music of my own composition plus even sing a couple of songs as part of the production! Secondly, The Return Of Fursey really stands out. It’s something of a forgotten classic, published by Valancourt Books and was originally written in the late 1940s by Irish writer Mervyn Wall. Being a Brit myself who has been based in Ireland for quite a few years, it was really enjoyable to read it in an Alglo-Irish accent and both the language and characters were such a joy to give voice to.
- If you could offer any tips or advice to people looking at getting into the narration/voice acting/voice over industry, what would it be?
Listen to the pro’s with a critical ear. Try to figure out what it is that makes them good at what they do – the pacing, the way they portray characters and tell a story. Try to develop your own voice by reading samples of a variety of material and listening back critically, see what sounds best and try to develop a trademark style. Practice makes perfect, the more you read out loud the more conditioned your voice will become and the skill of transferring the written word into spoken form will become easier. When you feel confident, record some demo samples. A variety of samples showcasing your skills is best: Fiction, non-fiction, an action scene, some dialogue and character voices as well as narrative. There are a growing number of casting websites for audiobooks online, such as ACX, where you can audition for titles and join a roster of narrators. If you want to get straight into it, there’s also Librivox, a voluntary community of audiobook narrators for anything in the public domain and also many narrators are now uploading public domain works to sites such as youtube for free listening.