Read Me a Story! ACTRA Audiobooks

#LoveAudiobooks is the hashtag to tune in to the celebration of audiobooks in June. #ACTRAspotlight is featuring 18 books narrated by members. See and hear your colleagues bring books to life. Listen to fiction samples, non-fiction samples, make a wish list and then dive into some great summer listening.

It’s audiobook month and there is so much to celebrate, whether you’re an avid listener, an ACTRA narrator, or a performer interested in pivoting your performance skills to dive into the format.

Anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer can now tune in anywhere and anytime, whether it’s to hear a title they borrow from their local library or purchase from a distributor. That accessibility and bounty of choice, from every conceivable genre of fiction and non-fiction, has helped the format explode. Along the way, that growth has helped publishers reach new audiences in the way they want to read and listen.

That growth is a trend reflected throughout the industry. And it’s projected to continue, according to Audio Publishers Association (APA) and BookNet Canada surveys. Double-digit growth in listeners and production is projected for at least the next five years as new listeners discover the pleasure and benefits of audiobooks, whether it’s listening while commuting, exercising, doing chores or, as many listeners do, being read to before bed.

You can listen to Ann Jansen of Penguin Random House as she returned to her roots at CBC Radio during Michael Enright’s interview with her about audiobooks in Canada on the January 12, 2020 episode of The Sunday Edition.

The feel-good origin story for the current rush of local production has a #CanCon impetus. Canadian voices for Canadian authors — it’s an obvious match that independent publishers wanted for an authentic listening experience. ACTRA members have narrated a growing list of titles: 292 to date in the past five years, with production increasing every year. It is thanks to the unrelenting work of the ACTRA Toronto Voice Committee and the determination of people like Ann Jansen of Penguin Random House and David Caron of ECW Press to build an audiobook industry here that we can celebrate. David Caron had a background in theatre and wanted the extraordinary and diverse talent in Canada to bring books to life. Through the Association of Canadian Publishers, Caron and ACTRA Toronto worked to connect its pool of superbly talented performers to help support made-in-Canada productions. Penguin Random House Audio (one of the “Big 5”) has continued its global expansion of in-house production facilities with a dedicated and growing team in Toronto.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for the industry is adoption by new listeners. More listeners mean more demand for product, which translates into more production and more work for narrators. Canadians have not yet reached the listener levels of some other countries. BookNet Canada surveys reveal that some people consider listening “cheating.” Listening comprehension involves different neural pathways than reading — it can take getting used to — yet, ironically, storytelling was once only an aural art form. Start with shorter books in areas that interest you most.

For the tapestry of stories by Canadian authors, it takes an inclusive pool of experienced storytellers to be the conduit for their intentions and expressions in the most authentic way possible. Penguin Random House Audio Canada and ECW Press have been actively seeking diverse performers. Given the multicultural nature of Canada and its many arts cultures, it is a strength the industry is working to nurture, and ACTRA Toronto is a partner in this effort.

Can any performer do audiobooks?

Do you narrate? Have you wondered about adapting your performance skills to the publishing realm?  Some actors say it’s among the most difficult of formats, because of the long hours and having to play all the parts. The challenges are great, as a Jedi might say, but the rewards can be many.

It takes a love of text, dedication to precision, a toolkit of techniques for playing within an intimate medium, as well as stamina for the long hours and unusual isolation. Anyone who thinks it is “just reading” is, frankly, grossly misinformed. As animation and videogame formats each have their own vocal tone and range, so do audiobooks, with their wide variety of genres and author tones. The number one expectation of listeners and publishers is that the narrator be an engaging and adept storyteller.

“Narrators are the conduit for the author’s intent… It is the narrator’s job to discern the tone, the message, the dramatic intention, to interpret the scene dynamics in order to heighten the presentation, to vary pacing, intimacy, to play up the humour, to let the scene run with compassion and reverence in the case of pathos, to know how much of the character’s personality to inject in third-person narrative that is really first-person expression, to know that, in every moment, whether past or present, the experience for the listener is happening NOW, for the first time, to get out of the way, or to step in with enough enthusiasm to lift the listener through a world-building explanation, to render pictures in the mind’s eye of the one for whom we are all telling the story.” Braden Wright

Listen

Where to Find Audiobooks:
Free — A third of all listeners use OverDrive, Libby™, or other apps to borrow audiobooks. There’s info on the Toronto Public Library website.
Paid — you can purchase single titles or buy monthly subscription services from sites and apps such as Audiobooks.com and Audible. Tip: Listen to the free audio samples before purchasing — find a narrator and the content you’ll love.

To narrate, you need to know what it is to be a listener.

Happily, it’s audiobook month! With so many of your fellow ACTRA performers performing awesome books, there are lots of fantastic listens to enjoy this month — and throughout the year!

Check out the samples of Joseph Pierre reading David Chariandy’s novel Brother and Marcia Johnson reading Robyn Maynard’s non-fiction title Policing Black Lives.

Braden Wright is an ACTRA narrator, and an audiobook producer, editor and coach. He has narrated over 70 titles, both in-studio and in his home studio for publishers in Canada and the U.S. He is also a member of SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and the APA, and proudly marks his 40th anniversary as a union performer this July.

Go Deeper: Addressing the industry’s current challenges and opportunities, the Association of Canadian Publishers spearheaded an Audiobook Symposium, held January 27th in Toronto, which brought together publishers, ACTRA narrators, engineers and production houses to determine where these stakeholders could collaborate. The report from Building Capacity for Canadian Creation and Publishing is now available.