Stuart Gauffi has been a professional voice in the Mid-Atlantic region since 1982. Heard in countless industrials and convention presentations, as well as the occasional radio spot, he entered the world of audiobooks in 2015. His latest work, Paper Wings, by CNN aviation expert Les Abend, is a taut murder mystery critically acclaimed by NYT best-selling author John J. Nance.
How did you get into audiobook narration?
It’s probably better to ask how I avoided audiobook narration! I’ve done voice work since 1982, and had heard from others how arduous the production process on audiobooks was, making the return on investment (in terms of time) very low. Consequently, I avoided it altogether, even though I’ve always been an avid reader and actor. A few years ago, I was introduced to a colleague who claimed to have leveraged technology in such a way as to make the production process feasible. Being a lifelong technophile, I was very curious, but still quite reluctant. Eventually,I was convinced to check it all out, and found that I was already equipped with everything I needed to make a go of it. So I started an Audiobook Creation Exhange (ACX) profile, and have since recorded over 125 hours of audiobooks.
Your website is http://www.thatfamousguy.com. Did you pick this address in jest, or do you just have a big ego?
Hehe. It was an inside joke, many years ago. A colleague and I agreed that VO work is the best way in the world to avoid fame. I discovered the domain was available, so I grabbed it. The funny thing is, I’ve been asked innumerable times if a particular voice was my work, even if it wasn’t. Kind of goes with the territory. That’s where my introductory paragraph came from–every time I’ve been asked, “Hey, aren’t you the guy that I heard on [your project here]?”. In fact, that happened again just last week.
Besides reading audiobooks, you do other voice over work. You list a lot of impressive clients on your website. You have done a lot of work for the armed services and even the White House. What have those jobs been like?
Very interesting work. Much of my work over the years has been what we call “industrials” in the trade. This just means the voice that presents material specific to an industry, organization, or technology. Those great old black-and-white films you see online, about topics such as “Your Part in GM Factory Safety” and such, are industrials. The work I’ve done for our armed forces, and for the White House, were in that same vein–providing the voice for material to be used within the organization. So, very educational for me. In a completely different arena, I’ve provided a number of commercials and promos for Armed Forces Radio.
You read both fiction and non-fiction books. Is there a difference in your approach to performing them?
Very much so. Fiction involves bringing to life all the characters that populate the world of the book. It’s like acting in a play, except you have to provide all the characters (as well as the narrator, typically). Character development and story arc are the central tasks. Non-fiction, on the other hand, involves connecting with that person for whom the content is interesting and exciting. Regardless of the material, someone out there is interested in it–hopefully the author, at the very least. So, in the midst of learning unfamiliar jargon, the narrator has to find that interest, and convey it in the narration. Otherwise, the delivery is flat and boring.
How do you prepare to perform a book before you start recording?
It depends on genre. Non-fiction typically requires a lot of research of terms, unless it’s in an area where I’m already well-read. Fiction requires development of characters, working with the author to make sure pronunciation of names and places are correct, etc. I like to develop a PD (Personae Dramatis) for fiction books, as though they are plays. Then I think about presentation, context, and setting of the work, as I would if directing it for theatre or film.
How do you decide the voices you use for your books and how do you keep them straight in your head?
I meet all my characters in my imagination, just you do when you read a book. They have their own look, background, temperament, etc., each of which is sometimes provided by the author, sometimes not. What the author doesn’t provide, I fill in. Once I’ve met the character, I know that person, so reproducing their voice is just an act of mimicry. I do have some series in which I keep sample files of some characters–usually ones that recur, but not very often. Just as in real life, it’s hard to recognize someone you don’t see very often.
You read a series called Chronicle of the Host about the fall of Lucifer and subsequent events. This is a powerful series. [By the time this runs, I should have reviewed them, so I might change the wording a bit to suit the books.] Tell me about your experience narrating them.
That was indeed a very powerful and thought-provoking series. It’s also interesting that you ask this question right after the previous one, in that each of the Chronicles volumes has over 70 characters. Interestingly, though– with very few exceptions– I didn’t need to keep notes on the characters. They all became very real in my relationship with them as the stories progressed.
You read a number of different genres. Do you have a preference? How do they differ from each other in performing?
I like to switch up from time to time. I just finished a mystery/thriller that was very fast-paced and tense. Now I’m working on a pulp fiction novel that, while still action/adventure, is more predictable in its story line and has some comic relief, so it’s more fun than anxiety. Like music, each genre has its own tempo, melodic form, and harmonies.
Do you think an audiobook narrator must start with a love of books in the first place?
I’ve never met one who didn’t, so I’m not sure my research sample is fair. I know I certainly have it, and I can’t imagine being able to bring a book to life in audio if I didn’t. I suppose there are narrators out there who are just trying to turn a buck, but it’s hard to imagine.
What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?
There are many aspects I enjoy, but my favorite is probably getting to know authors. I’m always intrigued by how an author gets headed down the path toward a specific book, whether it’s their very first, or the latest in a long career. Sometimes I don’t get that privilege, as the book may be represented by a publisher and I won’t have access to the author. But when I do, I really enjoy the collaboration. I recently had a mystery author tell me, “I can’t wait to get to the end–with you bringing it to life, I almost expect a different outcome.” For me, that meant everything; he was so invested in the storytelling that he felt like it could even end differently than he had written it. Music to a narrator’s ears.