Kate Sample is a Boston-based British voice over artist with a state-of-the-art home studio. Kate’s sophisticated, soothing and warm British voice is ideal for audio books and other voice over projects. IndieReader talks with Kate about the growth of the audio book industry, how she got into voice over work and what’s next.
Loren Kleinman (LK): You’re a voice over artist based in the Boston area. Talk about how what led you into this profession. Was there any motivating force? Or, was this an organic move? Had any profession in you past prepared you to be a voice over artist?
Kate Sample (KS): About three years ago I saw an advertisement for a voice over class and it piqued my interest. I never went to the class but it got me thinking and researching the industry. This led to training with New York based Edge Studio and one-on-one coaching with Wren Ross, a fabulous Boston based voice over artist and coach. I remember one of my first instructors saying “having a pretty voice is not enough” and boy was she right! Besides a “pretty” (or interesting) voice, today’s voice over professional needs talent, business acumen and technological know-how. My prior career in the technology industry, while not directly relevant, has certainly helped in many areas. But it was a desire to do something more creative and a passion for bringing the printed word to life that got me hooked.
LK: For the last year, you’ve narrated audio books for the Perkins School For The Blind, a voluntary commitment that gets you into the Perkins studio once a week. How did you begin working with the Perkins School? What’s so special about this particular volunteer commitment?
KS: Yes, I have been working with the Perkins School For The Blind for over a year recording audio books of all kinds – fiction, non-fiction, self-help, and poetry. This is a weekly voluntary commitment which I love. Narrators audition, and if accepted, are paired with a partner to record books. These audio books are then edited and mastered by the professional Perkins studio team. The Perkins Library serves over 20,000 patrons who are sight impaired or otherwise print handicapped. It is an honor and privilege to be part of the team. For many patrons this is their lifeline to books and other printed material.
LK: Do you think volunteerism is part of an artists’ responsibility to community?
KS: I think it is always good to give back when you can and I am proud of my commitment to Perkins. I also find it is a two way street. You can learn so much from volunteering and it can broaden your horizons. It has certainly helped me become a better narrator.
LK: In addition to your own personal studio at home, you also work with ACX, an Amazon platform that where professional authors, agents, publishers, and other Rights Holders can post fallow audio book rights. Can you talk about how you started working with ACX? What makes this company so important? What are they offering authors and publishers in terms of audio book capability?
KS: ACX is an online marketplace that brings together authors (or their agents) and narrators. Authors can search for narrators and narrators can search for authors/books based on all sorts of criteria e.g. genre, fiction/non-fiction, gender, accent, vocal style, project rate, etc. You can be invited to audition or you can audition for any titles that you think fit your profile. This is technology working for us. ACX also acts as an impartial third party between authors and narrators helping manage quality, contracts, distribution, payments, etc. It simplifies the whole process. The narrator is still responsible for producing a high caliber audio book that meets the author’s expectations and ACX’s requirements but much of the risk of working with someone you don’t know is taken off the table. Fundamentally, it is a means of getting more audio books made in an affordable and cost effective manner. I first heard about ACX from other narrators and the staff at Perkins.
LK: Can you speak to the growth of the audio industry as a whole? What has made this medium so in demand lately? Any predictions on its future?
KS: According to The Audio Book Publishers Association the audio book industry is now worth $1.2 billion having experienced double-digit growth over the last couple of years. Surprisingly, CD sales are still strong and represent over 50% of the market but there has been significant growth in download revenue due to the growth of smart phone usage and other digital devices particularly among younger audiences. Audio book customers site the ability to listen in the car, the ability to multi-task, and portability as key reasons why they buy audio books. Given these findings I would expect strong growth over the next few years especially among younger age groups with the MP3 format becoming dominant over CDs and other formats. From personal experience an audio book is a godsend on a long car ride with children!
LK: What’s one challenge that a voice over artist faces? How do you prepare, vocally?
KS: Creating a sound proof studio can be a challenge especially at home. But there are many solutions to this problem and there is lots of advice out there too. Before I record I like to warm-up my voice plus watch what I eat. For example, too much dairy leaves a coating in your mouth that can impact the quality of your vocal delivery. Granny Smith apples really help. Of course coughs, colds and sore throats are a nightmare. Grumbling stomachs don’t help either.
LK: What’s the process look like, from preparation to recording the audio? How long does it take you to record one audio book?
KS: Some people can go straight into the recording studio and read. Not me. I need to read the text beforehand, really understand what’s going on, and get my head around the emotions and subtext before recording. Is there anger, is there sadness, is there sarcasm, etc. I also need to make sure I know how to pronounce any strange names or places. Being familiar with the text makes a huge difference to the quality of the finished product. Actual recording and editing time depends on the length of the book. In the studio I “punch and roll”. This means I read until I make a mistake, then go back to a logical break point before the error was made and re-record from that point. Once the recording is complete the detailed editing work begins. This entails removing unwanted breaths and other noises, checking for accuracy and re-recording sections as necessary. It all takes time. The final step is mastering which means the recording is technically enhanced for consistency and quality.
LK: What’s been your favorite voice over project thus far? What’s been your most challenging? Why?
KS: I am currently recording In Leah’s Wake by Terri Giuliano Long and I love the dialogue between the main characters. It’s well written so the dialogue flows easily and naturally and I feel I’m right there. I am also recording a non-fiction book Cultural Dimensions of Expatriate Life in the UK by Bill Drake. There are some very funny bits about the British which (being British) I find highly amusing. I recently recorded a beautiful book called Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet by Gary Kowalski. On occasion it moved me to tears which makes recording very difficult!
LK: What advice can you give to anyone interested in breaking into this business?
KS: Do your research (the internet is a great resource), take some online classes to test the waters and if you like it get some face-to-face coaching. Consider volunteering your services and get as much experience as you can. Don’t expect instant results but if you are willing to work hard and put in the time things will happen. It’s a growth industry.
LK: What’s next for voice-over artist Kate Sample?
KS: Hopefully more audio books but also other voice over work too. I might be one of the strange few who like voicing “how to” videos and e-learning. I would love to tell you that my first paid voice over job was a literary masterpiece – but no. It was a commercial for a Portuguese steak restaurant where I delivered the unforgettable line “fancy a steak?”