A graduate of Columbia College Chicago, Rebecca Ortiz began her career in television before beginning her radio career in 2003. In 2008 she landed a job at WBBM-FM B96 in Chicago, where she still works. Some of her B96 accolades include hosting the weekly 1-hour community service show, “Chicago Connection” for the last 5 years, representing B96 backstage at the 2017 Grammys in Los Angeles and the 2017 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas. Aside from radio, Rebecca began doing voice over work in 2017. She was the live voice over at the NHL Draft in Chicago in June and has been voicing audiobooks, with 8 titles published to date including cookbooks, young adult books and mysteries.
How did you get started recording audiobooks?
I’ve been an avid reader/ book lover for as far back as I can remember. When I moved from the city (Chicago) to the suburbs 3 years ago, the discovery of audiobooks made my commute tolerable – I picked the book I wanted to read, and someone else read it to me. I then became obsessed! I even found myself getting audiobooks for books I’d actually read before since I was so fascinated to hear the narrators’ delivery compared to what I had heard in my imagination as I was reading.
I started doing voiceover work about 2 years ago, and the thought of voicing audiobooks was something I was interested in but didn’t know where to begin. My union (SAG/AFTRA) offers free workshops every month, and they had one on how to “Break in to Audiobooks” taught by Johnny Heller (who has voiced over 600 books and won countless awards for it), and I couldn’t get there fast enough! His class was amazing, and with his help, I was auditioning a week later, and by the following month (March 2017) I already had 3 projects lined-up.
You spend a lot of your time doing radio work. Can you tell us what you do?
I’ve been a radio DJ in the Chicagoland area for almost 15 years! So I’m the voice you hear on the radio between songs. I’ve been at my current station, WBBM-FM B96, a Top 40 station, for almost 10 years. I also host our station’s community service show called “Chicago Connection,” which highlights events going on in the area every weekend. Plus, since social media is so big in our demographic, you can find me on all socials daily (including YouTube) keeping you informed on the artists we play, pop culture details, and more.
How has your radio work helped you make the transition to audiobook narration?
My radio experience made for a relatively seamless transition. As an on-air personality, you are acting sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day, don’t feel well, or got dumped, people want to turn on the radio and be entertained. Plus, people can’t see your face, so all of your emotion has to come through in your voice.
On the technical side, I have been editing and doing production since I started in radio. So I already was comfortable with and knew how to use the equipment and software I needed to record with. Some narrators outsource an editor, but since I know how I do it all myself, I don’t have to do that.
How do you prepare in advance to perform an audiobook?
I read the entire book first and make a list of characters. I also make sure to check in with the author to get any notes from him or her. Typically after getting chosen to narrate a book from an audition, you have to submit the first 15 minutes for approval, and so much can change from that step, whether pacing or character voices. When I do record, I record the entire book before editing anything, so I don’t have to stop down and break my flow.
How do you determine what voices to use for each character, and how do you keep them straight in your head as you read a book?
I always make a list of the characters and try to connect them with someone I know or have met who reminds me of that person. It makes it easier for me to channel them and remember. Even with notes to reference, sometimes I do go back to previous chapters to listen.
What is the most useful piece of advice anyone has given you for audiobook narration?
You have to love it and be willing to work hard – which sounds so corny but it’s true!
I don’t know the stat, but most people who start doing audiobook narration quit within a year. It’s time consuming, and the money you make getting started might not even fill your gas tank. You have to make a name for yourself and get experience.
Also, when you start, be willing to try different genres. You might find a niche you never knew would be a perfect fit for you, and being able to do different projects will open more doors for you.
Do you think an audiobook narrator needs to enjoy the book she or he is performing? Could you make a book you truly hated seem likeable to an audience?
It definitely helps – but not necessary if they’re a good voice actor. I think it’s good to challenge yourself and show range. That being said, you won’t find me narrating a book praising our current “president” . . . or crocs ha ha
Now that you have performed a few audiobooks, how do you feel it compares to your radio work?
My radio work has definitely paved a way for my audiobook work. Going into it, my radio experience had me ahead of the game from a technical aspect, compared to others. But unlike radio, where I’m using my own ideas and words, for audiobooks I become someone else and am telling their story.
Both are challenging and rewarding and I hope to continue both for a long time!
What is your favorite part about performing audiobooks?
Audiobooks are just another version of a book, and they transport you somewhere just as books do.
My favorite part is the finished product.
Listening to something and not even recognizing my own voice because I’m getting wrapped up in the characters and what’s happening makes me proud.
There are books that I love that I’ve listened to over and over, or chosen a book based on a narrator, and I hope as my library continues to grow that people will say the same about me one day.
You can find Rebecca on all social media