My new novel, You’re Going to Mars!, will be published by Audible Studios on November 13. (You can pre-order here!) As part of the publishing process, I was thrilled to visit Audible Studios in New Jersey, and also take a little trip to visit the narrator, Khristine Hvam, in her home recording studio. Khristine has narrated over 275 audiobooks, winning three Audie Awards and seven Earphone Awards from AudioFile Magazine. She can also be heard in TV/radio commercials, video games, and animated series. Our discussion was fascinating, and I thought, “Wow, how cool would it be to share this with folks as an interview?”
Rob: In my DIY work with audiobooks, I interact with lots of folks who’d like to narrate their own audiobooks (not with the goal of becoming a professional narrator like you, but just doing their own thing). What advice would you give them?
Khristine: I applaud all authors who want to voice their own audiobooks. I can only assume, as I’ve never written my own book, that what’s on the page is so meaningful and personal that you might feel like no one else could serve the work the way you want. So, my advice is; get raw, allow yourself to be vulnerable in the booth, don’t “perform” the work… be the work. And if nothing else read it before you get in the booth. I KNOW you wrote it but trust me when I tell you to make sure you read it first, it will make tapping into that rawness MUCH easier.
Rob: We talked about you working from home, as well as on-site at publisher studios. What do you like about each? How do you split your time?
Khristine: I record almost exclusively from my home. 2 maybe 3 books a year are done in other studios in NYC. What I love about recording in an outside studio is that all I need to focus on is the work itself. Someone else is pushing the buttons, listening for noises, and most of all, there is someone there DIRECTING! Oh, it’s just such a comfort having someone else’s ears in the room to help guide the way. NOW… all that being said, recording from home puts me in TOTAL control of the work. And I love that. Also, I’ve got small children and working from home allows me the kind of flexibility to do the mom thing too. I can volunteer, go on field trips, do drop off and pick up from school, essentially, I can be there when they need me. Recording from home has given me the gift of being a full time performer and a “stay at home” mom all in one. It’s a beautiful thing!
Rob: As you say, you’ve got kids, and we talked about navigating that in a home studio environment. Are they curious? Do you integrate the whole narrator thing into your daily life, or is it like “DON’T GO IN THERE”?
Khristine: They absolutely LOVE playing in my booth! And they are always in there. “mommy can I record my voice??? Please??” I have hours of memories stored because of the booth being in my home. I’d say, in a year or two, they’ll be able to engineer and direct me. Having the kids see what I do for a living, be able to interact with it, and participate in how much I enjoy it will hopefully instill in them the courage to pursue what they love in life, and to do that.
Rob: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty a bit with actual production. What kind of gear do you use? Is that booth that I saw in your studio a miracle, or does it come with its own challenges? Are there gear choices you can tell an up-and-coming narrator about, so they can avoid some of the trial and error I’m sure you’ve experienced?
Khristine: Ok, nitty gritty… My booth is a 3.5’x5’ WhisperRoom. My mic is an AKG c414. I record on ProTools12. I love the booth. It is NOT sound PROOF and I’ve got sound treatment inside it to help with reflection. It is suitable for my needs. But, when the landscapers are outside, I’m off to lunch. LOL
For a new narrator starting out it’s really all about budget. That’s the first thing. When I set up my space I was already working as a full time narrator (35+ books a year) and so the investment was a no brainer. Most important, find a quiet space away from the road, with few windows or NO windows, a closet makes a GREAT booth. Then sound treatment, wool coats and blankets can work great if you can’t afford sound materials. There are lots of inexpensive USB mics out there and believe it or not there is free sound editing software too. Do what you can in the beginning and make upgrades along the way.
Rob: Tell me about your narrating work day — how long you go, what kinds of shifts/breaks during the day, any rituals that help you stay focused and voice-ready, any general habits that you find help hone and maintain your craft.
Khristine: Every day is different. That’s why I like recording from home. Some days I can record a full 6 hours, some days I only get in 2. It really all depends. My goal is to have 10-12 finished hours of material by EOD Friday. Some weeks I make it. Some weeks… I work all weekend. As for breaks, I break when my body tells me to. When I’m feeling tired, when my voice starts to change, when my back starts to bother me, when I’m hungry, etc… I listen to my body and act accordingly. Rest days are essential. Every week I try to schedule a NO TALKING afternoon. To give my voice a little break. Honing and maintaining my craft… Watch, listen, and enjoy other artistic works! Get out and discover others work. It will inspire you.
Rob: The first time we spoke, you had a pretty intense cold, which I imagine is the thing a professional narrator likes least. Is there anything you like even less? (Like, say, when an author stops by and interrupts an otherwise productive day?)
Khristine: Nope. A bad cold is worse than anything. Outside noise, like big trucks or landscaping is frustrating but can be worked around. A bad cold is 24/7. It is the WORST!
Rob: What’s your absolute favorite project right now and why? (Other than You’re Going to Mars!, of course.)
Khristine: All of them? LOL. Other than You’re Going To Mars!, which was SO much fun to work on, I’ll be starting my very first Middle-Grade project. Most of my work is YA, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Paranormal. I’m so excited and nervous to jump into this genre. I was over the moon when I was selected. Wish me luck!
Rob: Good luck! And speaking of You’re Going to Mars!, tell me a little about your experience narrating it — what the read-through is like, how quickly you get in touch with the characters, who’s easy, who’s challenging, how you try to evoke the tone of the book, etc.
Khristine: Oh this was such a fun one! Every now and then a book comes along that fits right into “my” personality. This was one such project. Each day when I closed the door of my booth, put the headphones on and hit record, I found it so easy to leap into this story of dreams and hope and courage. Just such a pleasure.
Rob: If you could narrate any book, past, present, or future, what would it be and why?
Khristine: I would have liked to narrate Alice in Wonderland. There are just so many characters to play and fantasies to live through.
Rob: Forget books — if you could narrate ANYTHING, what would it be and why? (For example, we talked a bit about narrative/music projects and where listening to stories might be headed in the future.)
I’d love to play the narrator in a feature film. That would be kinda fabulous.