Voice coach legend Bettye Zoller Seitz joins Paul Ruben, Johnny Heller, & Pat Fraley in my series on how audiobook narrators learn skills that lead to success. Bettye’s experience as a voice-over artist and narrator, along with her professional audio engineer skills, provide a wealth of wisdom for her workshop students. Here’s more from Bettye…
Who is the audience for your workshops and why do you have the expertise to conduct the sessions?
My events enroll people from all walks of life who have been in love with audiobooks and use them regularly (but have never voiced a book). I also teach professionally trained actors with major credits in theatre, film, and TV, and audio book narrators wanting to brush up or add to current skills. Sometimes, my workshops are for multi-level learners. Sometimes, I present advanced acting weekends. I say, unabashedly, my students WORK. They are narrating in the book field worldwide and I get emails and notes attesting to this. I tend to keep track of students and stay with them.
My skills as a teacher-trainer of narrators in the audiobook field stems from three primary areas. With partners, I owned and was CEO of an audiobook publishing company in the 1990s. This on-the-job education in the book and audiobook publishing industry equips me to not only teach audiobook narration but to consult with audiobook authors. I tell authors wanting an audio product (or a professional wanting to put his or her expertise on audio) to let me guide them because I’ll reveal everything NOT to do before they spend money and time needlessly! I consult by phone and also have several CDs and manuals that are of instructional value in this area. Plus.I am a seasoned actor and acting coach as well as voice coach. I began my acting career at MGM Studios in Hollywood at age 5 as a contract player schooled in the old “star system.” This was in the late forties. I then continued my studies in acting and singing obtaining advanced college degrees in not only performance but in vocal pedagogy and educational areas. I have narrated approx 30 books to date including ensemble casts. For the past two years, I’ve been the moderator and featured host on VoiceoverXtra‘s webinars, great learning sessions featured interviews with audio insiders such as Robin Whitten, publisher of AudioFile Magaine, Jason Ojalvo, creator of ACX–Audiobook Crative Exchange, and Grover Gardner, a terrific narrator and studio chief at Blackstone Audio.
What skills do you focus on, and why will this training advance a participant’s career in audiobooks?
First, at every seminar, I spend time on explaining the business. There are many ways of being paid and I try to delineate these.
What should a good audiobook CD demo contain and what do I hear from publishers and producers about what they want in demos and in new voices? I focus on helping students transition from what they’ve done in their past, such as theatrical acting or commercial voice overs, to narrator skills. These are quite different from all other voice over and acting skill sets. I teach that the narrator is NOT the star, but only the reader of a text, interpreted for a listener. The narrator must never be perceived as ‘dictating’ to a listener. The listener should be permitted to form his or her own opinions of the book’s content. In other words, like a musical score to a film, we shouldn’t be paramount, but while telling the story, we are ‘background.’ I teach students (who have the skills to do so) how to narrate fiction books with many characters. I urge non-actors to stay with non-fiction titles until they’ve taken some acting instruction and practiced. Non-actors may never be suited to fiction work. Trying to voice characters is not for the novices, the “announcer,” or the public speaker types. I always hear attendees read actual scripts and I record them, coaching them and offering critiques of performance. While doing this, I also touch on recording studio etiquette and microphone techniques. At many seminars, I have guest speakers. These almost always include at least one guest who teaches about the in-home recording studio’s equipment and operation. Students comment that this is most valuable! I teach participants how to take direction from a producer (or whomever is directing). I also stress the value of experience and urge students to read for charitable causes in their town. Most cities have wonderful outlets for aspiring readers.
How does the changing world of audiobook creation – digital technology, home studios, economics – impact the focus of your workshops?
While I am a trained audio engineer also skilled in post production, many who want to narrate books are not. This is a great disadvantage today. There are many ways to learn basic audio recording skills, at least at a level sufficient to record one’s audition on ACX or for a publisher interested in your voice. Recording an entire book, however, takes a high degree of skill. I always include material on Auible’s Audio Creation Exchange business, in my opinion truly a breakthrough in our industry, opening up the field of narration to so many who do it at home and cannot reach the major publishing houses to obtain jobs! I am a SAG AFTRA performer and as a union member, also include information on union narration work and the pay scales we enjoy plus our pensions and insurances and other benefits. I’m very pro union! I am very “vocal” (pardon the pun) on the subject of vocal health. Many performers are ignorant of taking care of their living instrument, the vocal folds and the body. Stamina is required from audiobook narrators! And a vocal illness can knock a performer out of work for a long time. I particularly enjoy teaching as a guest professor at universities.
What upcoming events do you have of interest to voice performers?
September 1 – Dallas Audio Post Recording Studio – A one-day adventure in this new million dollar studio. September 8-9 in Dallas – Beginners in Voice Overs Workshop. September 28-29 San Antonio Texas Voiceover Seminar including audiobook narration. October 27-28 Audiobook Weekend in Dallas – our annual mega event. For more information visit http://www.voicesvoices.com.
Thanks, Bettye, for sharing your expertise with us!
Thank you for asking me to be your interview subject! And to all aspiring narrators out there…it is “the new frontier” for actors and voice over talents. Get into this exciting field.