Andi Arndt has narrated over 200 audiobooks since beginning her career in 2010. She narrates for all of the major audio publishers, and coordinates production for best selling indie authors through her company, Lyric Audiobooks. She recently won the 2017 Audie Award for Romance, and is the recipient of multiple Earphones Awards, as well as co-narrating Audible’s 2016 Romance Audiobook of the Year.
How did you get started performing audiobooks?
I approached author Lucy Corin about her book Everyday Psychokillers to see if she’d allow me to produce the audiobook and she said “Sure, why not?” I wanted to find out if I even enjoyed the process of creating audiobooks. I did, so at that point I looked for good workshops, to learn as much as I could about becoming a professional narrator. I paid my dues as a proof-listener for quite a while before letting the production company I proofed for know that I wanted to be behind the mic.
My first exposure to you came when audiobooks really did come on tape, and you narrated most of Charlotte MacLeod’s Sarah Kelling/Max Bittersohn series. In those days, what engineering capabilities did you have for going back and correcting things after the fact?
I recorded those digitally, as I do all my projects. From the digital source file, they can be turned into digital downloads, CDs, or tapes. I didn’t know anything was still being made into a cassette when I started! I’m sure that’s no longer the case. CDs even seem to be on the way out these days. I’m so glad to hear you’ve listened to those though – I loved the Kelling / Bittersohn books.
The Family Vault, the first in that series, is listed on Amazon as October 2012. Did you have to record them again, or did they get a new copyright for the Audible version?
That’s actually when I recorded them. The print editions were of course released much earlier, but in 2012, Audible was in the midst of a major undertaking, bringing hundreds of popular backlist titles into audio. The Charlotte MacLeod books were a part of that.
I also enjoyed your reading of Ellery Adams’s Antiques and Collectibles series. One thing that impresses me about this series is the way each book focuses on an artifact that it tracks over time until the object ties into the plot of the book. The artifacts come to life in the series, and your reading of the books goes a long way to making this happen. Is there a trick to making an inanimate object come to life?
It’s a bit of a trick to translate that italicized back-story into audio. In a way, those antiques are witnesses. They have a point a view and in some cases, even an agenda. Truth, justice, revenge, wholeness. And yet they can’t speak for themselves. They need someone to be clever enough to discover their secrets and to listen to them. People can be like that sometimes. It’s not such a stretch to make a character out of that. Then to convey the italics, I like to just get more quiet and conspiratorial.
How do you prepare in advance to perform a book? I.e. What kinds of notes do you make and what do you look for in your advance reading of a book?
Well of course there is the book itself and all of the clues to character and energy and tone and mood that it contains. I sometimes get background information directly from the author. I’ll go to the author’s website, see how the book is being promoted, which can give other clues. For example is this book being described as irreverent, groundbreaking, sexy, comforting? That can give me a clue about the intended audience for the book, and what the listener who chooses that book might be looking for in the listening experience. After all, if an author is earnest about her subject, I don’t want to be cheeky. First and foremost it’s my job to stand in for the author and convey her book to the listener. Sometimes I also seek out 1-star reviews on Goodreads, because they can tell me what a book’s Achilles heel might be. If a reader wasn’t getting a good sense of the characters, that’s actually something I can attend to in an audio performance. Finally, if there are accents I need to brush up, I’ll take care of that before recording.
How do you select the voices you use for different characters? After years of having listened to your reading of the Charlotte Macleod books, as I listen to others of your books more recently, I will find myself saying, “Oh, Max!” Or “Cousin Brooks is in this book?” So how do you decide who gets what voice?
I start with the main characters and fill in around them with changes in pitch, pace, energy, tone, vocal qualities like a bit of gravel or maybe a bit more air in the voice. You can have a lot of fun with minor characters because they are often quirky anyway. There are things I do for characters with 2 lines that I couldn’t get away with for a main character because over a whole book it would be too annoying. Sometimes a character reminds me of someone I know, so I just imitate that person. Doing that always makes me think about that movie “Being John Malkovich.” In the scenes where someone was supposed to have taken possession of Malkovich’s body, that meant that Malkovich needed to imitate the actor who was supposed to be “occupying” him at the moment. That must have been challenging and a lot of fun. When I work with a co-narrator and need to match that person’s voice / characterizations, I enjoy playing with changes in energy and rhythm and tone as I try to discover the right combination.
You have the experience of not just studying voice but actually teaching voice acting. How has teaching your students made you more effective in your own narration?
Wow, you’ve done your research! I taught acting and voice for 12 years at James Madison University, and stopped when my narration work became full-time, though I still teach workshops occasionally, and coach one-on-one via Skype. The most valuable effect of teaching Voice for the Stage was simply going through the various exercises right along with my students. The connections among imaginative impulse, breath and speech can be deepened and strengthened, and I absolutely notice in my narration the importance of being open to respond to the text, to try something new, to get out of my own way and see what happens. I have a better sense of my toolbox / palette than I would have otherwise, I think. And my students showed me the power of voice work, which can be deeply moving, scary sometimes, joyful sometimes.
You read all kinds of genres, including fiction and non-fiction. But you are especially renowned for your work in romance. What about your narrative gifts makes you especially suited for that genre?
I think about that a lot: Why have listeners responded the way they have to my work in romance? And I think at least part of it is that my job is to be their avatar in that love story. The male narrator’s job is to be an ideal, but I think my job is to be real. I’m them, experiencing a fantasy. So whatever it is they hear, I think it invites them into the story. Sometimes the best thing a narrator can do is simply get out of the way.
What is your favorite thing about performing audiobooks?
Being part of a community of storytellers is my favorite part. I have the best colleagues on the planet.