Brandon Cole: First of all, Scott, on behalf of the Top Shelf, I want to say that it’s great to have you here, doing this interview. Your reputation precedes you, and it is my hope that, though some who frequent this blog may not yet know who you are, they will check out your work after reading this.
Scott Brick: Well it’s my pleasure, and as for people not being familiar with my work, that’s understandable as many aren’t familiar with audiobooks in general. Last I heard, something like 37% of Americans had listened to audiobooks, which is a remarkably high number and something we’re thankful for. However, we’re always trying to introduce ourselves to the other 63%, so if some of them find us here through Top Shelf, that’s something to be grateful for.
Brandon Cole: Let’s start with the questions. First, the really obvious one. How did you get started in audiobooks?
Scott Brick: I was splitting my time between acting and writing, this was in 1999, and part of my time was spent with a touring Shakespeare company, performing at schools all over California, and the other part of my time was spent writing magazine articles for various national publications, mostly about science fiction, comic books and other fan-friendly subjects. As a fan of Old Time Radio, I’d been a fan of great storytelling all my life, and audiobooks seemed the perfect fit for me. I tried for years to get into the field but without success. Finally I learned that a good friend from UCLA, Bob Westal, worked for Dove Audio and got me an audition. They liked what they heard and brought me in to do two short stories. That day, doing my very first job in the business, I met Dan Musselman. It was amazing timing, because he was leaving Dove Audio to take over as Executive Producer at Books on Tape, and he heard me in the studio that day. It was crazy, we literally crossed each other’s paths on that one perfect, all important day; it was my first day and his last day in that studio, so had I gone in there any other day my career might never have happened. Within a year Dove had sadly gone out of business, but before that happened, I’d done maybe six or eight jobs for them. Well, Dan Musselman has hired me literally hundreds of times since then. I’ve done six hundred audiobooks, and easily 350 of them have been for Dan. I am grateful every day I wake up in the morning for the fact that I met Dan that day.
Brandon Cole: Have you done a lot of theater, or other types of acting before and during your time as a narrator?
Scott Brick: I have, though never as much as I’d like to do. Theater requires a very full time commitment, and when I’m recording a book, time is something I have very little of. There’s also the vocal strain that sometimes comes in theater. If that happened to me, I wouldn’t be able to record the next day, so that’s a pretty big potential problem. I haven’t pursued it regularly for years because of my audio career, and even though I’m passionate about audiobooks, I have to admit I really miss being onstage.
Brandon Cole: Is there anything you do to prepare when heading into a studio to narrate a new book? What about on a day-to-day basis when working on the same book over time?
Scott Brick: Well, there’s preparation you have to do with the text, researching all the words you don’t know how to pronounce, words or sentences in foreign languages you don’t speak, that sort of thing. There’s also preparation narrators do for their throat, vocal warmups and such. But I think it’s equally important to prepare your mood, to put yourself in the right frame of mind for a particular project. For instance, when I worked on Richard Matheson’s STIR OF ECHOES, one of the greatest ghost stories of all time, I watched The Ring before the first night’s recording; after that I watched The Shining, and once I’d scared myself sufficiently, I went downstairs to my home studio and started recording the book at midnight, all alone in a big house. It was important to me that the fear really come through, so beyond the script preparation I had to do, I knew I needed some attitude adjustment as well. Now nobody who listens to it is ever going to think to themselves, “Hey, it sounds like he watched The Ring right before this…!” Obviously the fear will be a subtle thing, yet audiobooks is a medium where subtlety makes a big difference.
Brandon Cole: I have listened to some of your narration work, and the next couple questions will be based on my own impressions. First, you put a lot of emotion into what you read. Do you feel that’s essential to being a good narrator of both fiction and nonfiction? Should as much emotion be present when reading an essay as there would be in reading a thriller?
Scott Brick: I think so, but a different kind of emotion. Obviously the emotions inherent in a thriller will be more of the fear or excitement or fury variety, and those typically have no place in an essay. However, there is quite often a great deal of passion in an essay, the passion every author feels for whatever story they’re sharing. Authors firmly believe that whatever story they’re working on will benefit the reader or listener, that people will benefit greatly from hearing it, and we as narrators always need to convey that passion. Some narrators approach nonfiction the way newscasters present the news, but that horrifies me. TV newscasters, the talking head variety, they don’t write their own stories, and the stories certainly didn’t happen to them, so they’re not invested in them. Authors, however, are the most invested people imaginable, so we have to convey their passion and enthusiasm on every page. Not to the point where we sound like a motivational speaker while reading about grisly crimes or anything, but still, we need to be invested in the story the same way the authors are. We are their advocate, after all.
Brandon Cole: You do a great deal to modify your voice and accent when required, and it seems you go to a lot of trouble to get it right. What are your thoughts on the importance of character portrayal, especially where dialect is concerned?
Scott Brick: I do go to a good deal of effort to be prepared, and there are several accents where I’m technically proficient, but there will always come occasions where you encounter accents you have no idea how to do. When I teach classes in audiobook narration, I always tell my students that when you’re not perfect in an accent, less is more. You can give just a hint of an accent and the listener will fill in a lot of the blanks themselves. There are people who put in hours and hours with dialect coaches to prepare for books, yet if they try so desperately to be accurate, when they inevitably fail, even if it’s just for a few words or a sentence, it will inspire the listener to pick the performance apart. To me it’s more about playing the scene with authenticity than aiming for technical accuracy on accents. It’s funny, when I did IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote, I decided I would not do the Kansas accent Capote wrote about in such detail, simply because I’d never been there, nor did I know of a coach who could help me achieve one. Instead, I spoke clearly and slowly, that’s all. Well, two different magazines gave me really positive reviews. The first one said the book succeeded because I didn’t attempt any accents but instead let the listener do that part of the work themselves. The second review said the book was great because my regional accents were so accurate. Now, I actually think both reviews are correct, the second reviewer heard those accents, but attributed that work to me instead of him or herself.
Brandon Cole: Here’s a tough one for you. I noticed that, when reading high action scenes, you tend to drop into a slightly more monotone reading voice. Not completely, but it got me wondering. Is it that you feel less comfortable with such scenes, or is it, as I suspect, that you’re trying to fade into the background, and let the reader’s imagination do a little more of the work?
Scott Brick: Those are actually the scenes I feel the most comfortable doing, so yes, it’s the latter. Absolutely, it’s that moment when the reader’s imagination should most come into play. I think the experience of an audiobook is an interactive one, with work being done by both the narrator and the listener. If I try to do too much of it, it will fail. Also, the more you give yourself over to the scene, the more the emotion flows, the harder it can sometimes be to understand the author’s words, and we have to keep that in mind all the time. Quite often I hear a wonderful, very heavy, very emotional performance that a narrator is giving, yet I can’t really understand what the author is saying. Frankly, the book is about the author, not my performance. I want the listener to be concentrating on the words, not me.
Brandon Cole: You’ve read books of just about every single type there is. Are there any particular genres you prefer?
Scott Brick: Well, as a book fan I of course have my favorites. Science fiction and mystery come to mind, especially the hardboiled type of mystery, so I of course love it when those genres cross and I get to work on BLADERUNNER, which is basically future-noir, or the Joe Pitt series by Charlie Huston, which are, for lack of a better term, vampire detective novels, and easily some of the best novels I’ve ever worked on. That’s just the best of both worlds! When I get to work in those genres, it doesn’t feel like work at all.
Brandon Cole: What if one of our esteemed community wanted to try their hand at audiobook narration, or even voice acting in general? Would you have any tips or advice for them?
Scott Brick: Sure, I hand out advice for new narrators all the time. In fact I teach classes several times a year, and I’m actually writing a book about audiobook narration, it’s called NARRATING AUDIOBOOKS BRICK BY BRICK. It goes into a lot of the different skills one needs to do this kind of work, but I also put together something free on my website, a blog about how to create an audiobook demo and go about breaking into the industry. I essentially tried to answer an FAQ list, the questions I’m asked most often, and then organized it all into a primer on getting your foot in the audiobook door. People can find it at http://scottbrickpresents.com/learn/
Brandon Cole: You’re not only a narrator, you’re also a writer. Care to plug your work in that field?
Scott Brick: Absolutely, thanks for asking. Yeah, I’ve written a number of things over the years. I collaborated with Orson Scott Card on a night of one-act plays, all based on his short stories, we called it POSING AS PEOPLE, and it’s been released as both a print book and an audio edition, we assembled the cast in a studio and read it as a multi-voice audio adaptation. It was a wonderful experience. Both editions are available online, at amazon.com and audible.com. I also just finished my first novel, a supernatural thriller, a modern day murder mystery inspired by a real-life murder that took place in 1792. My agent is planning on submitting it this September, so that’s very exciting. Next up comes a science fiction saga, a time-travel romance that’s been percolating in my brain for years.
Brandon Cole: Lastly, we here at the Top Shelf like to plug our authors, and in this case, author/narrator. Could you list some of your favorite performances from your own massive library of work that we may link to them and thereby convey your awesomeness to the rest of TTS’s community?
Scott Brick: Absolutely, and I appreciate you asking. I dearly love working on so many of the books I do, so it’s tough, but I’ll narrow it down.
BLADERUNNER by Philip K. Dick
MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis LeHane
THE LION’S GAME and THE LION by Nelson DeMille
YOU’RE NEXT by Gregg Hurwitz
SOMEWHERE IN TIME by Richard Matheson
WHITE SISTER by Stephen J. Cannell
THE BOOK OF JOE by Jonathan Tropper
THE FIRST COUNSEL by Brad Meltzer
THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT by Stephen R. Donaldson [Brandon, all of these should be available on Audible.com, but this last one is only available on my website; it’s my favorite book of all time so I licensed it myself. http://scottbrickpresents.com/store/ ]
Brandon Cole: Thank you once again, Scott, for spending some time with us.
Scott Brick: It’s really my pleasure, thanks for having me. And thanks to everyone else for listening!