The Narration Nest segment is designed to give readers a way to connect with audiobook narrators, learn more about the process of recording an audiobook and get a better sense of the individual behind the voice.
Caitlin Kelly's voiceover experience is as diverse and interesting as her audiobook catalog. Kelly has voiced a number of popular audiobooks, including several Young Adult titles from Michelle Madow, J.L. Weil, and Kasie West.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Caitlin moved to New York City to pursue her theatrical training at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She has a BFA in Drama and studied musical theatre at CAP21. Caitlin has been working in voice over since 2009. She got started in VO while living in Tokyo, Japan. Caitlin toured Japan with Disney's World of English and World Family Club as a performer and a puppeteer. Caitlin currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and can be heard on TIME for Kids, Forbes.com, and Slate.com. For more info, check out www.CaitlinKellyVO.com.
Caitlin has graciously agreed to visit The Narration Nest for a little Q&A session discussing her adventures in audiobook narration.
Did you find it difficult to “break into” audiobook narration? What skill/tool helped you the most when getting started?
It was definitely a challenge but I don’t want to use the word difficult. I came to audiobooks having already had a career in voiceover while I lived abroad in Tokyo, Japan. When I moved to NY, I needed to start over and rebuild my career. My experience and the knowledge I had already been successful in voiceover helped me to keep persevering every time it felt “difficult”. I took a commercial voice over class with prolific audiobook narrator, Johnny Heller. He encouraged me to take an audiobooks class and the rest is history.
What type of training have you undergone?
I attended NYU Tisch School of the Arts where I received a BFA in drama. I had conservatory training while I was in school. I’m a trained singer and also studied voice and speech. Learning about anatomy and how our bodies produce sound have helped me find and test the range of my voice. I also studied IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and tongue placement and mouth shape for different vowel and consonant sounds. This training has been especially important to be able to drop my midwestern accent or put on a different accent.
Your bio says you’re proficient in performing several accents. Which is the most fun to perform and which is the most difficult?
I love accent work. I had a great time with Irish in the Raven Series by JL Weil. The most difficult accent for me is Australian. It morphs into a Waco, Texas and Russian hybrid! But I’m getting better.
Is there a particular genre you feel unsuited for?
I have a very youthful voice but I don’t believe it keeps me from narrating specific genres. As long as the main character is in the age range of my voice, the sky's the limit.
How does audiobook narration differ from other types of voiceover work you've done?
Audiobooks are incredible as an actor. I get to play ALL the parts. Parts that I would never be cast in based on appearance. So while performing audiobooks is really fun, they are the marathon on voiceover. I have to make sure I take care of myself physically so I have the energy and focus to sustain my performance.
What types of things are harmful to your voice?
Yelling! Americans are loud when we socialize in bars and restaurants. In NY, the music gets cranked way up and I find I have to shout at the person sitting next to me to carry a conversation. In the short term, yelling causes my vocal folds to swell. In the long term, it can cause nodes or polyps.
Has anyone ever recognized you from your voice?
There was one time I was shopping at Don Quijote in Tokyo, Japan. I had just finished playing Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors with Tokyo International Players. I was talking to my friend while shopping and two high school girls approached me and asked if I had been in the show. I said I had and they said they didn’t recognize me without the platinum wig and all the makeup but recognized my voice. They were so sweet and it made me feel really good.
How closely do you prefer to work with authors?
It depends on the author and the book. I love when authors share incites about characters, especially revelations that may inform my performance in a series.
Have there been any characters that you really connected with?
Absolutely! I empathize with all my characters to be as truthful to their stories as possible. But I feel particularly invested in ones that have anxiety disorders, like Autumn in By Your Side by Kasie West, or Molly in Saving Red by Sonya Sones. I became overwhelmed by my anxiety when I started college. And while I’m able to manage it now, it affects me every day. I had always been embarrassed to talk about my anxiety. But anxiety affects a lot of people and talking about it helps. Stories with protagonists dealing with anxiety contribute to dialogue about the issue.
What type of review comments do you find most constructive?
When I’m shopping for my next listen, I prefer audiobook reviews that explore how the narrator added to or detracted from the story. If the reviewer felt they got more or less out of the story based on the performance. One of my favorite examples of this is RC Bray reading The Martian by Andy Weir. He fleshed out characters and contributed to dialogue in his performance. In my opinion, Bray’s narration is the best way to enjoy The Martian, better than print and better than the film. (Sorry Matt Damon!)
Bonus question: Any funny anecdotes from inside the recording studio?
Most studios have a window in the booth so the actor can see the director and engineer. My most high profile job at the time was recorded in a booth that did not have a window. The job was to dub Japanese with a strong American accent for a national commercial. I was read the line, butchering the Japanese pronunciations, and waited for further direction in my headphones from the director. There were really long pauses between takes and I started getting nervous. What was going on out there? Was I bombing? Were they calling another actor and replacing me in the middle of the session? It was awful. When they called me out of the booth, the director, engineer, client representative, marketing representative, studio manager, and my manager were all in tears laughing so hard. The long pauses between takes weren’t because my delivery wasn’t working, it was because they needed time to compose themselves because they were laughing so hard. Making that moment simultaneously my most stressful and most gratifying in my voiceover career.