June is Audiobook Month! To celebrate, we’re sitting down with narrators to give you the scoop on everything you want to know (and didn’t know you wanted to know!) about recording an audiobook. Check back each week to hear from a new narrator and listen to excerpts from audiobooks they’ve recorded for Macmillan Audio.
This week, we’re talking audiobooks with P. J. Ochlan. P. J. has worked in the entertainment industry for 30 years, performing in roles on Broadway, TV, feature films, and lending his voice to more than 100 audiobooks.
Q: What’s the best part of being a narrator?
It’s truly hard to pick one as there’s so much I love about the work, but I’ll say this: I recently celebrated my 30th anniversary as a professional actor. In all those years I’ve been fortunate to have numerous “big breaks” including Broadway, the New York Shakespeare Festival, major feature films and television series, and working alongside some of the entertainment industry’s biggest legends. But it wasn’t until audiobooks that I could say I’m a steadily working actor who gets paid to perform virtually every day that I want to. I have intense appreciation for that regular outlet for my creativity and skills.
Q: Do you retain all the books you narrate?
To a pretty good degree, yes. That’s also helped because of prep, which has me reading each book twice. In fact that’s another great aspect to being a narrator—the constant ongoing education from reading many dozens of books each year, quite a few of which I likely wouldn’t have selected on my own to read for pleasure.
Q: Do you feel nervous before recording?
I wouldn’t say nervous, but I always have a deep feeling of responsibility to deliver. In most cases, a book represents tremendous passion, time and commitment by its author. And when I sit down to record it, I can’t help but be mindful of all that and feel responsible to do it justice with my performance. I embrace that feeling though. The heightened state contributes to staying engaged with the material.
Q: What’s your favorite audiobook that you have recorded?
That’s like asking which of my dogs I love most 😉 There are so many that will stay with me for ages, but some of my more recent favorites include the intensely emotional YA love story A Thousand Boy Kisses by Tillie Cole, Spencer Kope’s very dark (yet often funny) thriller Collecting the Dead for Macmillan, and being part of the cast for George R.R. Martin’s Aces Abroad.
Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of being a narrator?
Aaahhh! Another superlative! If I have to pick one again, I suppose it’s the quantitative/time to qualitative/work equation. We often say that shorter voice acting jobs like commercials and whatnot are a 50-meter dash, whereas audiobook narration is a marathon. Every single book is like an epic solo performance—one actor needing to infuse every moment with energy and be compelling for what’s frequently upwards of 10 or 15 hours—all recorded in a matter of days, and increasingly in a self-directed and -engineered environment. Compare that with a stage performance that’s accompanied by weeks or months of rehearsal, or an on-camera performance that amounts to minutes filmed over a long period. Audiobook narration requires intense focus and endurance to efficiently deliver a quantitatively significant performance that’s qualitatively just as honest, energized and connected as any other acting discipline.
Q: Do you ever listen to audiobooks that you have recorded once the program has been edited?
Not typically. Once in awhile I’ll listen back to a section after a while to try to get an objective sense of how it turned out, or sometimes I’ll overhear my wife listening to one of my books. But mostly, I hear too much of myself as it is every day in the recording booth.
Q: Does your voice sound the way you perceive it sounds when you hear yourself on an audiobook?
At this stage it does. I think people being surprised by the sound of their recorded voice is primarily among those who don’t hear it often. In this work one can’t get away from it. 🙂
Q: Do you have any dream books or authors that are on your wishlist to record in the future?
Anything J. K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin (again).
Q: What’s something about narrators that listeners might not already know?
We spend a tremendous amount of time in isolation and we love to hear from them. Many of us will picture an individual we’re reading to while we record (some even keep an actual photograph in sight) to maintain that one-on-one connection, but the reciprocal energy we share with the listener is separated by time and space. So when you enjoy audiobook performances, reach out to the narrators on social media and let them know!
Listen to an excerpt of P. J. reading one of his latest narration projects, Spencer Kope’s thriller Collecting the Dead: