On February 20, the Audio Publishers Association held its fourth annual Audiobook Job Market (see Audio, Mar. 3). Sharon Glassman, one of the voice talent participants in the event, shares her experiences.
When a bright red Con Edison "Emergency" truck starts drilling into the street outside my Brooklyn bedroom window at 2 a.m. on the morning of the Audio Publishing Association's Audiobook Job Market, I don't worry if the "emergency" could be terror-related, or if the melting snow has short-circuited power on my block.
Instead, I wonder all night, as I have wondered every day since becoming an APA voice talent candidate: What is 4 x 38 plus 8:30? It's a vital question.
Audiobook narration may be a matter of art and words once you've booked a job, but the APA Job Market requires algebraic skills I haven't used (or understood) since high school.
"You are performer 38," explained the four-page, single-spaced acceptance form I received after sending in my $725 talent acceptance fee. It's an incredible amount of money for me, but if I can voice audiobooks—which I love—the gamble will have paid off, just like it did when I launched my commercial voice-over career. ("And if it doesn't pay off?" my friends ask. "I'll just kill myself," I say, laughing.)
"You can calculate your approximate performance time by using this equation," the acceptance form continued.
"We begin at 8:30, each performance is four minutes long. Your number times four equals the number of minutes to add to 8:30 to get your approximate time."
I am a professional voice-over, a published author and a nationally seasoned storyteller. But as the macadam shatters under my window 'til dawn, I wonder if professional insomniac might be a better, less math-intensive new career.
A Form of Speed Dating
I arrive at the Park Central Hotel an hour before my audition, which I have calculated using what I remember of quadratic equations, as being held (more or less) at 11:02.
A woman at the check-in desk hands me a bright pink gift bag containing two granola bars, one chunky miniature forest-green notebook, one pen on a string, one Hershey bar, one envelope of salted peanuts and one package of Twizzlers licorice. "Oh, no!" I think, "First they make us do math, now they're going to make us hike?" As things turn out, I'm almost right.
Fifteen minutes before my audition, the woman at the desk explains, an intern will ask me to stand halfway down the hallway. From there, I will move, in four-minute increments, first to one designated chair by a closed conference door, then to another chair, then to a "green room" behind the movable wall where an audience of audio producers and publishers sits and takes notes as we auditioners read.
Four minutes later, I will read four minutes of my work. This afternoon, I will find out what each producer thinks of me during one-to-one meetings, also held in four-minute increments—the audiobook-biz form of speed dating.
Maybe it's last night's lack of sleep, or the general organizational vibe. But by the time I sit down on a settee with four of my fellow auditioners to wait, my hands are shaking in 4/4 time.
Fortunately, every person on the talent side of this day is a living testimonial to humanity as kind, good, team-spirited (most are from the West Coast or Canada). The man next to me, who will audition after me, is an actor and an announcer for a classical radio program. The man next to him has two kids who love to ski. Some people are holding photocopied pages from books marked with accents and emotional emphasis lines; others like me, have computer print-outs.
And every four minutes, an intern with an official-looking clipboard hurries by, points at someone and says in a way that brings to mind the idea of Dead Men Walking: "It's your turn to stand... (so-and-so) is in the chair."
My skiing friend is number 50. We wonder how many four-minute readings can producers be expected to really hear before their brain goes numb?
It's My Turn
And then it's my turn to stand, and sit... and stand....
And now here I am behind the wall where I ask the nice woman who will introduce me if I should take 30 seconds to introduce myself, as it says in the acceptance letter one may want to do. She says, "No one wants to hear people brag." Which I'm sure she means in the nicest possible way.
The next thing I know, I'm reading four minutes of my Brooklyn stories, which I've divided into narrative excerpts and character excerpts, per page three of the acceptance letter, and saying: "Thank you for listening!"
And Then Things Get Really Complicated
Two mini-seminars later, it's time for lunch. And then things get really complicated. At 2 p.m., the publishers and producers from this morning are seated at small round tables. Each table has a number on it from 1 to 26.
In the interest of fairness (or trigonometry) our audition numbers from this morning have been subtracted from 55 (the total number of voiceover talent—54—plus abridgers present—1) to give us our New, Improved Afternoon Numbers.
At the sound of a bell, I (the Voice Artist Formerly Known as 38) will begin chatting to the person at table 17 about my reading, their projects, and our potential future together, until the bell rings twice more, and everyone moves to the next highest table. Upon reaching table 26, I will wait in the hall until voice artists 1—26 from this morning (known in the afternoon as 1A—1Z) start their rounds.
After visiting all 26 tables, including three devoted to stories about the negative effects caused by alcohol abuse, we are cordially invited to drink ourselves senseless on complimentary cocktails in the downstairs bar.
The person at my first table has listed on her producer information form that she never hires voice talent. Several of the ones that follow are empty—at least two big publishers listed in our materials don't show, other producers bail mid-afternoon.
But over the next three-and-a-half hours, I have several lovely four-minute chats with some exceptionally nice and encouraging audiobook producers with whom I'd love to work, read and record.
My reading was fast ("Were you nervous?" one producer asks rhetorically. "Definitely," I answer, honestly. "Well," he says, softening, "This isn't the way I like to audition people, either."). But my sound and character range are appealing, they tell me, especially for books targeted to younger women; and people appreciate that I made them laugh. After all, it was a long, harrowing day on their end, too. By the end of the afternoon, instead of talking audiobooks, producers and voiceover talent alike are spending 3.5 of our four minutes inquiring after each other's physical and emotional sanity.
But at the end of the day, math and madness aside, the Audiobook Job Market delivers a ray of hope and a bit of possibility about a new career opportunity.
Could the event be organized less stressfully? For the organizers as well as attendees, I'd like to hope so. Still, the fact that the Audiobook Job Market exists at all is a small (if expensive) miracle.
"Was it worth the money?" a friend asked me today over lunch.
"I can't be sure yet," I told her. Book lovers are eternal optimists. In one sense, the chance to give voice to the words I love is priceless. "In the meantime... could I borrow $700?"