Help! What if I Suck

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Often, new volunteers are afraid to record for LibriVox. A few of our experienced volunteers offer tips for getting the most out of your talents.

Advice from GordMackenzie

I think that anyone who cares about quality is likely to be overly critical of their own work. I know that when I listen to my own voice, it is very hard to get out of "critical" mode. When I listen to other people, I can relax and just enjoy them.

If you can actually relax and enjoy your own work, then I applaud you! If you find yourself cringing when you listen to your own recordings... then join the club (and try to give yourself a break)!

As for myself, I have the questionable advantage of having received professional actor training and, in my younger years, worked as a "professional" actor in the Toronto theatre scene. I eventually grew tired of starving, and went out and got myself a "real" job

Having studied theatre, acting and performance for some years, and pondered it for many more, I’ve come up with some thoughts on the subject that I will inflict on you. So here are some thoughts on reading for listeners from a reformed actor:

Enjoy the sound of your own voice.

Ok, this one sounds like an insult ... "that guy loves the sound of his own voice, blah blah blah". But seriously, we probably all remember the first time we heard our own voice recorded ... "argh! Is that me??! I sound terrible!" was my response... maybe it was yours too.

Obviously the "internal" mental image we have of our own voice is not usually in sync with what the outside world hears. But what the outside world hears is probably just fine. If you've ever told a story or related an emotional experience to a friend and actually had them listen to you (as opposed to cover their ears in pain, horror or disgust), then you probably have a "good" voice.

If you harbor any concern about the sound of your voice… get over it! Your voice is a tool to communicate thoughts and feelings. If your voice can convey emotion and is understandable, then you’ve got a good voice for reading.

One of my favorite singers is Neil Young. Few people would say that Neil had a “good” singing voice … or even a “pleasant” singing voice. Yet his songs are moving and pack an emotional punch precisely because his voice is not “perfect”.

To be a singer worth listening to, you don’t have to sound like you stepped out of American Idol, and to be a “good” reader, you don’t have to sound like Don Pardo.

Go on a journey (and take your listeners with you!).

My guess is that most of the people volunteering for LibriVox are probably people that love literature, stories and reading. Every reader knows that a good book is a journey. This journey is not physical, obviously, but rather it is a journey of ideas and emotions.

A novel takes us by the hand and leads us beyond the fields we know to experience new thoughts and feelings. Once we come out the other side, we are changed in ways perhaps subtle, and perhaps not.

When you read a story to a listener, you are inviting them to come along on that journey. But for them to come with you, you have to travel the road yourself as you read.

To me, this means that you must allow yourself to experience the story on an emotional level, and allow that experience to color your voice and presentation. I don’t mean to suggest, however, that you have to “act” out the story or break down weeping and wailing!

When you read a good book (to yourself), you may find yourself slipping into the world of the story, and losing track of where you are. Allow yourself to become lost in the book when you read aloud: don’t think too much about lip smacks or plosive pops or strange pronunciations, or whether you’re breathing too loudly, etc. etc.

Let the technical details go, and just try to experience the emotional journey of the book just as you did when you first read it. You don’t have to force emotion into your voice, it will be there automatically.

What you bring with you is your gift to the listener

I like listening to people read aloud.

If you are involved in this project, chances are that you do too… so, what is it that we like about it? It may be simply the convenience of the format: the ability to listen to a book while driving in the car or walking down the street, or just about anywhere.

But for me, there’s something else. I like what the readers bring to the story. The readers bring themselves. They add their experience to the author’s words and create something new.

When you read for a listener you are sharing more than the text, you are sharing your experience of that text. And your experience of the text is colored by who you are and where you’ve been in your life.

As a reader, be aware of that. Be aware that you are giving something unique to the world, something that only you can give. You are giving a little bit of yourself. No one else on earth has lived your life, and no one else on earth can communicate your experience.

So, if you are honestly experiencing the story and giving of yourself in a reading … then it’s not really possible to “suck”, is it?

It’s all there in the Text

One of the great advantages to being able to read for the LibriVox project is that you have a chance to read some of the greatest works of literature in the English language! What a great honor! These are works of greatness that have withstood the test of time.

Put your faith in the words. Let them take you where they want you to go. You don’t need to control them, manipulate them or massage them. They want to be spoken. You don’t need to fear them. Just get out of their way and let them happen. They will work the magic for you.

Here’s your moment of McLuhan/Zen: you are the medium, not the message.

Point 4 and Point 3 may seem contradictory… but that’s the weird paradox. The more you remove yourself and let the words speak, the more you will actually be giving to the reading.
... ok, these 4 points are pretty esoteric. Here’s my last one, and the only one that counts:

Forget all the B.S. and start reading into the microphone!

Advice from Betsie (aka thistlechick)

Begin with a work to which you are not emotionally attached.

While the reason you are probably here is because you are passionate about books... often specific books or authors, you might find it easier to begin by recording a work that you feel neutral about... this way you won't feel so bad or be as critical of yourself if you think you are slaughtering it (even though you really aren't slaughtering it at all)... and after some practice and your comfort level increases go and tackle your favorite titles or authors.

Pretend you're listening to someone else.

If you are uncomfortable with the sound of our own voice, but still want to edit your own recordings, try pretending that you are really editing someone else's recording. We tend to be a lot less critical of other people than we are of ourselves. If you don't believe that, try volunteering to help edit someone else's recording in the Listeners & Editors Wanted forum and notice how much quicker you are able to edit when it isn't your own recording.

Advice from Cori (with audio)

There was a week in the forums where it seemed like all I did was post encouragement to people ... "Everyone has a first recording, just get yours over and done with, it WILL be fine. I hope it's the first of many!" And it seemed like the worries people had weren't (usually) unique -- they were the same things that EVERYONE worries about. The same things talked about above on this page. So I put together a community podcast (audio file) about the most common worries and how to either avoid them, or not take them so seriously. Sucking! And how not to! I hope it's fun to listen to; ongoing feedback is always welcome. And if you've a story of your own about this subject, please do tell me -- perhaps it can be in a future podcast, to encourage ever more people to take the plunge and Read For LibriVox.

Document your mistakes for the enjoyment of the LibriVox Community

Don't delete your mistakes! Those things are gold! We have a whole thread dedicated to bloopers that our readers have made. It reminds us that we're not the only ones who occasionally get tongue-tied.