Natasha: How did you get into narrating audio books? You’ve got quite a few under your belt.
Philip: I’ve always been an actor, and also a singer. I’ve always felt much more versatile with the vocal part of my acting instrument (my body) than with my movement. I used to do musicals because I was a terrific actor/singer, but was limited because I was certainly no dancer! I always wanted to do voices for film & TV but never had a Voiceover agent. It was hard enough booking stage or TV/Film work through my legit agents, and getting voice work is an even tougher game, so I really didn’t know how to break in.
Eventually, I heard of ACX through a SAG Webinar featuring Scott Brick (he’s one of the most prominent narrators in the biz). I set up a profile, auditioned a lot, and quickly got hired for a lot of audiobooks for decent pay, sometimes combined with a part of the royalties. It’s been burgeoning ever since.
Of course I have even more audiobooks under another name, since Philip Alces is one of my pseudonyms.
Natasha: Is the audio book market growing, in your opinion, since you started doing this?
Philip: I think I came in at just about the time it was really expanding. Audible is really taking over the audiobook industry, for better or worse. I think largely it’s for the better. But the Internet and digital audio have made the purchasing and listening of audiobooks SO much easier than in the past. I used to listen to audiobooks before they were online, and usually they were in a massive case of CDs or even cassettes, sometimes 10 or 12 per book! Putting everything on digital media has made the overhead costs lower and the delivery system simpler. So I think the audiobook industry is in a kind of Renaissance as we speak.
Natasha: Do you have a favorite genre you like to read?
Philip: Well, as Mr. Alces, I read only erotic romance and M/M romance. It’s interesting that I’ve actually only done what I consider “classier” erotica, since I consider yours very well written with great characters and plot, and usually a HEA despite all the very naughty stuff the characters get up to. ;) It’s been the same for my other erotic work by other authors. And now I feel like I must keep up that higher standard because Philip Alces is just that kind of narrator.
I’ve never done, say, the crudely written “pulp porn” that’s out there, often poorly written and edited, no character development, etc.– where it’s just a quick shag and the story ends. And that stuff is out there, I’ve just never done it. I’ve almost come to feel like the “refined” erotica narrator as Philip Alces. Even on my Facebook Fan page, my images are usually classical artwork of a sensual nature.
Outside Mr. Alces, in the mainstream book world, I do a lot of romance, and enjoy it a lot. I do a ton of English and Scottish books, because despite living in America for the bulk of my life, I spent part of my childhood in England and that Cambridge dialect never quite left my brain. I had a bit of an English accent as a kid, which I lost when we moved back to the USA, but I can always call it back up again. I’ve also rigorously studied dialects throughout my life, so I can do many of them fairly well, but nothing comes as easily as the Southern English one, which is just permanently always somewhere in the speech center of my cranium.
I also enjoy reading fantasy and thrillers, and classics. Under my other name, I’ve done all of those. And I would enjoy doing more complex fiction, NY Times Bestseller kind of stuff. But of course those are reserved for the big boys, and I’m still knocking on those doors to narrate for the major publishers.
Natasha: As far as romance and erotic romance, how does the market compare to other fiction?
Philip: Actually, the romance and erotica titles I’ve done far outsell ANY other genre I’ve narrated. For the ones in which I share royalties, that has proven to be a wise business decision. :)
Natasha: I know when I listen to the recordings of my books (to approve them), the sexy bits make me a little uncomfortable to hear out loud. Writing them is not a problem though. Is it strange for you to read erotic romance or do you just look at it as work?
Philip: I really don’t have an issue with it. Actually, Natasha, I always find it funny and kind of charming that you can write this steamy stuff, but get embarrassed to hear it back! :D
Without going into too much personal detail, I’ll just say that I’ve always been very comfortable with sexuality, in life and in art. I think sex is one of the greatest experiences we have as human beings on this Earth, and if engaged in responsibly, it can be enjoyable in all forms. I think your books are a great expression of a particular type of sexual relationship– the dominant/submissive pair. That may not be for everyone, but it’s a valid and real form of pleasure, and your stories provide almost a feel-good version of that. I mean, there’s spankings and power play, but in the end, there’s love and affection too. Usually your characters are making that discovery about themselves during the story, that they enjoy this kind of BDSM stuff, and that’s fun to play during the reading. They’re discovering hidden sides of themselves, which is a great angle to play as an actor.
I don’t see it as “just work”, as I truly enjoy narrating the sex stuff as much as any other parts of the stories. BDSM in particular isn’t really my thing in real life, but I can easily get into the characters’ heads and do a good acting job with it because I can substitute my own particular experiences, my own thrilling adventures or impulses, shall we say. ;)
Anyone who’s looked at my other titles under Philip Alces will see that I have a lot of male/male romances, for example. I’m not gay, but I can narrate those because it’s not hard for me to substitute, say, the kind of attraction I feel toward women into the feelings a gay man might have for another man. It’s still physical and emotional attraction; the object of that attraction may be different, but the feelings are the same. I think most talented actors pull this off the same way.
Natasha: What is your process when you narrate a book? Do you read a story through before recording? Do you record at home or at a studio? I realize I don’t know the first thing about what you do, I only know you make an awesome end product.
Philip: Well, thank you! I should read the book all the way through every time; I will admit that on some occasions I only skim for key things like character traits, accents, nationalities, or any surprise reveals of hidden identities. If a book is well written (like yours), then the book itself is laying everything out for the reader in the correct order anyway, and there are no cheap surprises. If a key character trait isn’t shown in the first page of a new character, for example– like Gary has a Maine accent and speaks slowly– if that isn’t revealed until 50 pages later, then the reader has been cheated a bit because he/she can’t envision the character properly early on.
Anyway, my process. I do read or at least check through the book for such things. I have a home studio, which is surprisingly quiet for being in New York City, fortunately. I’ve done some soundproofing, but I’m also on a first-floor, interior apartment so there isn’t a lot of sound bleeding through. It is an incredibly tight space, though, and gets brutal in the summertime since I can’t pump cool air inside without creating fan noise.
I’ll record several hours at a time, doing a punch-in recording, which means that if I make a mistake, I go back, delete the mistake, and punch in recording again, so that when we get to the editing process, there should be no bad takes in the editing version of the file. Invariably, there are still a few errors, though, which means I then have to go back into the booth and record pick-ups for the mistakes I didn’t catch in the recording.
Recording an audiobook this way– and I’m pretty fast– still takes 4-6 hours of work per 1 finished hour of audio. About 2:1 ratio for the recording, as I must stop for errors, reset, etc. About 2-3:1 for editing the audio, and another 1:1 for mastering the audio specs and file conversion and uploading to the servers. Some folks think we narrators just dictate into a microphone and send off the audio, but it’s a lot more involved than that!
I’m currently doing all my own editing and mastering, but have gotten busier of late and might have to begin outsourcing some of the technical side so I can focus purely on the artistry of it. It helped that as a former musician, I had a lot of knowledge of the technical side of audio recording already.
I am still looking to narrate for larger publishers and am on the rosters of some studios, but have yet to record outside my home space. Actually, even the top narrators now are narrating 90% of their books from their home studios instead of coming in to the recording studios. It's just easier and cheaper for everyone.
Natasha: How would readers find the books you’d narrated?
Philip: I’m easily findable on Audible (shortcut to Philip Alces: http://tinyurl.com/philipalcesaudible). If folks don’t want to click the link, they can just search for Philip Alces on Audible and a bunch of titles will come up.
I have a Facebook Fan Page at https://www.facebook.com/philipalcesnarrator which they are welcome to follow. I post updates on my new releases there all the time. I may start a Philip Alces Twitter account shortly as well.
Of course, those who want to hear my work done other my other names will have to do some research. I’ve done quite a few romances and steamy stuff outside the Alces name as well. ;) May I direct folks to an outside book? If they look for the narrator of A Bridge Through Time, they may hear a fellow that sounds remarkably like me. They can cross-reference his name and search for more of his works if they like his style. And he’s done even more work than Mr. Alces!
Natasha: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Philip! I’ve always been curious and I’m sure I’m not alone. Below is the link to Deviant on Audible (just click the cover). It will appear on Amazon right alongside the ebook in a couple of days!