Narrator Spotlight: Dan Lawson
In this Q&A we dig into Dan’s professional career and learn some fantastic advice for both new and seasoned narrators alike.
We’ve been impressed with Dan’s background, talent, and story since we first met him. A true vocal artist, Dan has been crushing it for many years, and across several industries. We’ve been inspired by Dan and know you will be too. Enjoy!
How did you get into voice over work? When did audiobooks become a big part of your portfolio?
Well, I literally stumbled into voice acting. I took a wrong turn out of an elevator while trying to locate my new on-camera agent and ended up at the agency’s voice over department. That was in 2005 and I’ve been working professionally in voice over ever since. I received my first audiobook audition in 2012. It was for a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Accents are a specialty of mine so I relished the opportunity to delve into an aristocratic British. What I didn’t know at the time was that I wasn’t auditioning to narrate a particular book. I was auditioning to become a narrator for the company. They subsequently sent me TWELVE audiobooks in a short amount of time. I was not ready for that!
What advice would you give for a voice actor starting their first audiobook recording?
Take a deep breath. It’s been said (often by me to my wife) that most voice over projects are sprints, but audiobooks are a marathon.
Most voice over projects are sprints, but audiobooks are a marathon.
Don’t try to be a hero and set an unrealistic pace of, let’s say, 100 pages a day. Start with 15 to 20 and see how it goes. Also, as relayed to me by the esteemed and peerless Scott Brick: Take a sip of water after you narrate each page (yes, you read that right). If you dry out, your narrating is done for the day.
Audiobooks are a collaboration between two artists — that can be challenging. How do you balance two creative perspectives (yours and the author’s) while recording?
Great question! Every author is different. The spectrum varies from: “here’s my book. Let me know when it’s done” to “I need you let me hear each new characters voice before you narrate them.” At the professional level, most art is a collaboration. If you do not “play well with others” you need to learn to do so.
At the professional level, most art is a collaboration.
Reading the book through first, or at least reading a large portion of the book before you begin your narration is vital. Questions that arise will often be answered by the material. I make notes as I read and if I am not certain as to the pronunciation of a name or of a characters age, etc., I send a note to the producer.
What’s been your experience with Findaway Voices? (Be honest…)
I can say with all sincerity and pride that working with Findaway has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences of my professional voice over career. They care about you. They care about the product they are putting forth and they are great at communication.
Tell us about your recording setup and how you prepare for a performance.
For years I recorded in a walk-in closet. Now I have a studio built onto my house. The recording industry has exploded in the past five years. You can set yourself up with professional equipment for less than $500—it’s amazing!
For years I recorded in a walk-in closet.
The first thing I do when I approach a new narration is to make sure that I have the correct tone for it. This process actually starts during the audition phase. Is the novel humorous? Dark? Military science fiction? Who’s doing most of the talking in the novel? If I have been selected to narrate a horror novel for example, you’ll find me watching horror movies for a couple of days prior to my starting the narration. It’s a wonderful way to connect with the genre.
Lets talk post production: Do you do post production yourself, or do you subcontract editing, proofing, and mastering? Talk to us about your decision making here.
Personally I like to focus on the narration and making the read clean. I like to do the editing and proofing myself (time permitting). I always subcontract the mastering. I understand the process, but there are professionals who can really make your performance stand-out. I work with several different audio engineers and it’s wonderful to hear their different styles.
Many performers struggle with technical aspects of recording. Do you have any advice on meeting the technical requirements Findaway Voices has set to support their 20+ retailers?
Here’s another great reason why hiring a professional audio engineer is so rewarding. It can be extremely challenging to meet the requirements of the various retailers unless you have extensively studied or been trained on the software that you are recording with. I have acquired a great deal of information by searching on YouTube (an incredible resource), but I almost always subcontract the engineering.
Tell us about a recording that went off the rails — how did you pull through?
While narrating an audiobook I noticed that the conversations were written very stiffly. The author was using formal English. It was not how people really talk. I decided to approach the author with two narration samples. One of the exact text and one narrated with some slight alterations (for example: changing, “should not” to “shouldn’t.” It made the conversations much more real and the author loved it. I eventually narrated several books for the author. Having said all of this, make sure to tread carefully. An author may take offense at your suggestion.
Anything else you’d like to let our readers know?
Read your favorite books out loud for 30 minutes a day (if you are not currently working on an audiobook). It will help keep your instrument in shape. It also allows you to try out different narration styles.
Read your favorite books out loud for 30 minutes a day
I often record them and play them back while I’m doing the dishes or driving. I pulled out Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World last summer (I know the book backwards and forwards) and I tried out a variety of stylistic choices and accents; changing about every two or three pages. When I listened to it later I could instantly hear what worked and why. That simple exercise allowed me to form a standard approach for almost all fantasy novels.
If you enjoyed this Q&A, be sure to reach out and let Dan know! You can reach him through his website, or on Twitter @danthevoiceman. You can also specifically request Dan when starting a project with Findaway Voices—just mention him when you fill out the casting questions.