Since 1999, Scott Brick has recorded nearly 300 audiobooks. While work for Books on Tape represents almost 50% of his output, this tireless reader worked for virtually every audio publisher in 2006. Among the 25+ audiobooks he recorded last year, he delivered outstanding performances for Audio Renaissance (Joseph Finder’s Killer Instinct), Blackstone (Robert Littell’s Vicious Circle), Brilliance (Alex Kershaw’s The Few), Hachette (Nelson DeMille’s Wild Fire), Penguin (Clive Cussler’s SkeletonCoast) and Random House (Lincoln Child’s DeepStorm). PW’s review of his 2006 reading of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood said, “Brick’s surefooted performance is nothing short of stunning. This facile audio actor delivers an award-worthy performance.”
PW: How did you get into the business?
Scott Brick: An old college friend who was working for Dove Audio at the time got me an audition. The day I went in to record my very first short story was actually Dan Musselman’s last day at that studio; he was leaving to build Books on Tape’s first studio and begin work as its executive producer. He dropped into the studio, listened to me, then handed me his card and told me he’d like me to work for him. Six months later, Dove was sadly bankrupt, but I found myself working for Books on Tape on a near-constant basis.
PW: Can you take us step-by-step through recording a book?
SB: I’m a slow reader, so I usually only have time to read it once. I take a certain amount of notes while reading, but mostly I use a highlighter to create visual cues for myself. Sometimes the type of book dictates what kind of notes I take. In the Dune books, there were 490 words that don’t appear anywhere but in the imagination of Frank Herbert. I got in touch with his son Brian and he got me notes on pronunciations. I spent four and a half hours working on pronunciations, writing down phonetically.
The only time I really apply definitive voices to characters is when an author notes that a character speaks a certain way or has a specific quirk. I don’t want to interfere with the author’s words. We want the author’s words to speak for themselves; it’s about them, not me. For me, its more a matter of tone rather than accent. My work is sometimes secondary to the work of the producer and editor. When I was reading The 9/11 Commission Report, there were so many Afghan names, I could only get from one comma to the next before checking the pronunciation. If it sounds like it rolls off my tongue, then we’ve done our work, because I was stopping and stumbling all the time.
PW: What do you need in the studio to function?
SB: I usually have two or three pages open in front of me and there are four things I do every time I turn a page. I take a slip of water, to hydrate the vocal cords. They’re muscles that need hydration. I take a sip of throat-coat tea that soothes the throat. I also put a few drops of breath freshener on my tongue to get rid of cotton mouth and put on a light coating of lip balm. Those last two things help combat pops, whistles and other mouth noises. I usually have food in the studio and Diet Coke to keep me awake.
I have diabetes so I need to have food—it’s like my utility belt. Stomach noises are the bane of our existence. Right before lunch your stomach starts to rumble, and right after lunch it’s digesting. I burp on every page. I keep a pillow with me and wrap it around my stomach at moments. People need to have food in the studio. Green apples cut down on mouth noises.
PW: How long does a job take?
SB: I do about 20 pages an hour, 100 pages a day. It takes about 90 minutes to get an hour’s worth of usable tape. Most books can be read in three or four days, although I remember Kurt Vonnegut’s 81-page God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian was knocked out in 90 minutes. On the other hand, Robert Littell’s The Company, that ended up running 45 hours, took three weeks. We tend to break every hour. It’s all about maintaining your energy for six hours. You have to sound the same at the end of the day as you did at the beginning. Have to have the same energy. You can’t sound like you’re winding down.
PW: How does it work when you read both the abridged and unabridged versions of books?
SB: There’s three ways of doing it, and it depends on the company. Recording the book unabridged and then editing it down to an abridged version is a horrible way to do it because they sometimes edit the chapter’s climactic moment. If it’s fiction, it should read like an old-fashioned movie serial with a cliffhanger. Other times, we just record it twice, like I just did with Deep Storm by Lincoln Child. You add a couple days to the schedule to read the abridgment, and that way I’m able to hit all the proper ending moments. The third way is recording simultaneously, with two versions of the script on each page. Text in brackets is cut for the abridged version. That way I can read the same paragraph two different way when it might be the climactic moment in the abridged version. They put bridge material in bold that I read at the end of the page and is edited into the correct places. It’s kind of intrusive to a smooth reading to put those bridge moments in later. But it helps keep editing time and cost down. I love reading it twice. They’re different animals, and I love to give each version the attention they deserve.
PW: Do you get to meet the authors?
SB: As far as favorite experiences go, I’d have to say the recent interview I did with Stephen J. Cannell ranks right up there. He came into the studio so I could interview him for his latest title, White Sister, as an extra feature on the last CD. Well, he brought a film crew so they could also put it up on his Web site. When I was done, he turned the tables on me and started asking me questions, interviewed me for another 20 minutes, asking all sorts of questions not just about my audio work but about my writing and other acting work as well. Not only had he done a great deal of homework to know so much about me, but he was incredibly generous during the interview. I had the feeling he was helping me to say all the right things that a producer or casting person listening to the interview would want to hear.
PW: How do you not lose your voice?
SB: I’ve become a wimp when it comes to protecting my voice. I can’t sing along to a song on the radio. I can’t yell at a Dodgers game. If I do, I feel it the next day. After six hours of reading, your throat is going to hurt. If it hurts to begin with, it’s going to be terrible by end. I spend tons of money I wish I didn’t have to spend to make sure it stays healthy. When I’m doing a play, I have to schedule my audiobook recording dates on specific days of the week to recover from performances.
PW: Is your voice insured?
SB: I may need to invest in that. My throat and Betty Grable’s legs.
PW: Do you read for pleasure?
SB: I don’t get to read as much for pleasure as I used to, which kills me. I’m passionate about books, I used to read one or two books a week. I don’t get to do anything near that because I’m spending hours working on the one book I’m doing in the studio. Reading books has totally affected the way I read for pleasure. Sometimes I end up reading slower in my head because I’m making each character sound as they should in my head.
PW: Do you listen to audiobooks?
SB: I make time to. Although I never listen to my own—listening to my own voice would drive me crazy—I love checking out other narrators. I live in Los Angeles, so I listen to them during my commutes. There’s so many who are absolutely fabulous. Jim Dale is like an Olympic athlete; other narrators I enjoy are Paul Boehmer, Paul Michael and Simon Vance. John Lee is amazing and so is David Warner—he doesn’t do voices but his tone is so chilling.
PW: Which books are you most proud of recording?
SB: The Dune series was an amazing experience because I got to become friends with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, who were so generous with their time. I was an enormous Dune fan. Getting to work on those books and contribute was an honor for me. I felt the same way about Fahrenheit 451, a love letter to the printed page. I spent two and a half days savoring every page reading that book. We could have done it in two days, but we luxuriated. I’m also enormously proud of doing almost all of Nelson DeMille’s books. I think he’s written 14 and I’ve done 12. His body of work is so impressive. I’m proud to be along for the ride. I love recording Orson Scott Card and Brad Meltzer’s books because they’re friends of mine and during those times, my work life meets my social life. I have the coolest job in the world.