I only started listening to audiobooks in the past few years, but I'm always so impressed with the ability of actors in creating so many voices to represent a story. Recently, I got the chance to find out what it's really like to be an audiobook narrator when my friend Lorraine called to tell me that her boyfriend, Barrett, had been hired to narrate a new audiobook with the legendary Jim Dale (who narrated the Harry Potter series). I jumped at the chance to talk to Barrett about his experience, and I knew you'd all want a peek behind the scenes too! Read on to learn more about Barrett's experience narrating the very first audiobook musical, Spin.
INTERVIEW WITH BARRETT LEDDY, AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR
Welcome to TST Barrett! Tell us a little about yourself.
I am originally from Massachusetts, and now living in Brooklyn, New York where I work primarily as a voice actor and audiobook narrator.
How did you decide to get involved in narrating audiobooks?
I love storytelling. Whether I’m on stage, or talking to people at a party, I’ve always thrived on telling stories and listening to stories; narrating audiobooks allows me to do just that!
How did you land your roles in Spin? Tell us about the audition process.
I had been doing voiceover work for Neil Fishman and Harvey Edelman, the creators of Spin and Neil heard a recording of me singing a classic Gershwin song called “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (from the musical “An American in Paris”). I guess he liked what he heard because he asked me to audition for his and Harvey’s new audiobook musical project. I had never heard of an audiobook musical before, but was intrigued by the concept, so I submitted an audition and landed the roles of Rumpelstiltskin and the King!
How do you prepare for narrating an audiobook? Do you have any pre-recording rituals?
First I comb through the book, and make note of words or names I’m not sure how to pronounce. I always like to familiarize myself with other works by the author, so I have a better feel for his or her style. Before a recording session, I do a lot of vocal warm-ups (similar to warm-ups for singers). I also stock up on water, honey, and tea! I make sure to take regular care of my voice, and avoid doing anything potentially straining to it.
You have a background in theater, right? How is being on stage similar and different to narrating?
In theatre, your whole body is your instrument (which sounds highly pretentious, but it’s true!) The audience not only needs to believe your words, they need to believe your eyes, how you stand, how you walk, how you interact with other actors, etc. When narrating an audiobook, you only have your voice, which can both be liberating and restricting. However, whether it’s theatre, film, or audio, my job is always to tell the story and engage the audience.
What was it like working with Jim Dale? Did you ever feel starstruck?
Surreal! It was thrilling to watch such a highly accomplished performer at work. He’s a Tony and Grammy-winner, and an Academy Award nominated songwriter; he’s done it all! I was definitely starstruck, having grown up listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks, but he couldn’t have been nicer or more humble. I am so proud to have worked on the same project as Jim Dale, as well as the rest of our fabulous cast! (Shout out to Khristine Hvam, Johnny Heller, Nick Sullivan, John Brady, Lisa Livesay, and Nicola Barber!)
Do you have any other audiobook projects in the works?
Neil and Harvey are currently working on a follow-up audiobook musical project, so I will be sure to keep you in the know! In the meantime, I have some great voice over projects I am working on.
If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
I already have it!
Here on TST, we love to read (and listen) to books! Can you recommend a few of your favorites?Recently I’ve been reading a lot of Jon Krakauer and Michael Crichton, but I love graphic novels, historical fiction, and autobiographies.
If readers want to keep up with your work, where can they find you?
Readers, I recently listened to Spin and found it to be totally unique from other audiobooks that I've listened to in the past. The musical element made it one that I could actually pay attention to in the car, and I think listeners of all ages will appreciate the humor and whimsical retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.
From the publisher: A witty musical re-imagining of Grimm's fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin, created by Broadway veterans, narrated by Jim Dale, and featuring a cast of Broadway musical stars. The story takes place in a Nice Little Kingdom, and ignites when a foolish miller brags that his daughter, Jane, can spin straw into gold. Since she cannot perform such a miracle, Jane desperately enlists the powers of a magical being...Rumpelstiltskin...in exchange for a promise with dire consequences. A fun, fractured fairy tale for the entire family.