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 Interview with the Narrator:
Sandra Burr


Tell us about yourself--what you do for a living (do you narrate audiobooks full time or have other means of income)?

At this point, I primarily do books. Growing up, I did theater. When I went to college, I did some theater and was a speech major with concentrations in radio, television, and oral interpretation. After finishing college, I moved to Germany for a year and a half with my husband who was in the service. When we got back, I had this degree that I didn't know what to do with.

I took a tape to some advertising agencies & sound studios to see whether I could get work doing voiceover. I started getting calls, and since then I have been doing commercial work, primarily in Michigan, although some of it has gone to larger markets. And then Brilliance Audio came along. They as well as the audiobook industry were in their infancy.

Brilliance was looking for a narrator for one of the first books they recorded, Deadlock by Sara Paretsky. The book was written in the first person from a female perspective. The director contacted many of the theater people in the area but hadn't found exactly what he was looking for when a friend of mine who owned a studio recommended me. I auditioned and we began recording a couple days later. I've been recording with them ever since. I also do some recording for Zondervan. On occasion, contract work from other companies comes in to Brilliance as well. The Christian fiction is very new for Brilliance Audio, but the company has high hopes that it will find a strong audience.

How many audiobooks have you narrated?

I don't keep count. Over 100, I know, but I don't know how many. I also direct them, so titles get mixed in my head sometimes.

What are some of the challenges you faced being a narrator or doing narrations?

There are different theories of how audiobooks should be read. Some people like an unvoiced read. I tend to want to give different voices to different characters. Essentially, I try to change my voice enough that it's easy for listeners to follow the story, without actually trying to fool anyone about who is reading. I definitely don't want to break a vocal chord, sound like a cartoon, or have people asking, "Good heavens, what is that woman doing?" Certainly books are a challenge, but they're also fun. I always used to do commercials where I was either trying to sound authoritative or enthusiastic, really enthusiastic, or extremely enthusiastic. With the books, I'm everybody. For the narration, I can be a storyteller; for some parts I can be a ditz; for others I can be a college professor. No one sees me, so I hope listeners will get lost in the story and suspend disbelief. All I'm trying to do is give them enjoyment, and I hope that what's happening.

Are there different challenges for each style and genre of book, and which do you prefer (ie. Fiction/Non-fiction, Christian/non-Christian, third-person/first person)? Where does Christian fiction fit in this picture?

Fiction and nonfiction are basically entirely different types of read, but I can't generalize about which I prefer. A good nonfiction book will beat a bad fiction book any day, and vice versa. It's the quality of the writing that makes the difference. I always hope that whatever style I use to interpret the work is the one that best fits the book. In essence, each project is an acting piece and you have to decide how to approach it. So far, with the Christian books, we have only recorded abridgements, though in some cases, I would love to read the full book. As a category, I think they are gentler than much of contemporary literature. You can play Christian fiction in any tape deck and you don't risk exposing people to offensive or prurient material. Your children won't learn anything you don't want them to learn. I don't mean that Christian books don't cover all topics--they do. But they do it in a way that you don't have to worry about exposing your children. I think it's very good that these books are out there, and I hope they do find their audience.

What are some of the "behind the scenes" parts of the production that you liked? Disliked?

Every book company tends to work differently, so I should tell you how we work at Brilliance Audio. We always have a director to tell you if you missed a word or an interpretation is off. Sometimes, I'm that director. There is also an engineer to assure sound quality. When a mistake is made, the engineer sets an edit point at the last clear spot before the error. Then the reader uses the playback as a cue and just begins reading again after the edit point. When we're finished, we have an almost fully edited piece. I like that a lot. I understand some companies do not use a director but, instead, review the finished project and then call the reader back in to fix any mistakes at a later date.

When I go into the studio, I get into a comfortable chair and prop the script on a podium in front of me--blown up enough so I can see it without going blind--then I just start reading. Readers are essentially alone, because they're in a separate room from the engineer and director. You just do your best and hope the people in the other room will stop you if you start to go wrong. I honestly enjoy playing all the different parts. I also run into a variety of writing styles between authors, and that makes it more fun. Of course, the better the author the more fun it is.

One challenge in reading an audiobook is that there is no way that you can rehearse. You can rehearse a radio show or a commercial because they are short, but audiobooks are normally three to four hundred pages long. Even abridgments contain three or more hours of material. You do have to read the book in advance, of course, so you know whether a character is suppose to speak with a squeaky voice, a lisp, or an accent. You also keep your fingers crossed that no one in your book speaks Serbo-Croatian or Basque. (I shudder to think what those accents would sound like coming out of my mouth.)
When I'm reading the book the first time through in my home, I mark the text with various colors and underlines--a different one for each character. That's so that in the studio I can look at the page and know who is speaking by the colors I see. I don't spend a lot of time working on the narration in advance, because it's almost a cold read when you go in, anyway. You know what's going to happen in the story, but over the course of that amount of material, you really can't remember the sequence of words.

I understand that many book companies record in 3- or 4-hour sessions, but at Brilliance we work eight-hour days. We break when we have finished the equivalent of a CD or cassette side, depending on the particular project. So you are in the studio usually an hour to an hour-and-one-half at a time. Then you run out, get a quick drink and you're back in.

I guess my favorite thing about the work is the people. They are wonderful. The readers come from all over the U.S. and are almost invariably fascinating personalities. Then you also have the engineers and everyone else involved in the project. It really is great to work with such a fun group of intelligent, talented people.

How long does a narration take you to complete in the studio?

It varies. As an example, a three-hour abridgement is two cassettes or four tape sides, roughly 45 minutes of finished material per side. (Normally they run just a little longer than that.) On a really good day, I can read a 45 minute side in 55 minutes to an hour. On a really bad day, four sides could take up to all day--including a lunch break and the breaks between sides. The studio manager plans projects assuming that a minimum of four sides can be completed in a day. If it does take longer than that, projects can start stacking up.

Do you listen to audiobooks or audio products?

Actually, I don't very often outside of work. But it isn't because I'm not a fan. My best time for listening to audiobooks is during the hour-long drive to and from Brilliance. That is also when I'm on my way to either read or direct a book, so it's kind of like a busman's holiday to listen then.

I have listened to a few books when a friend has really recommended them or when I have needed to read something quickly to prepare for my book club. Very honestly, I think if the audiobook is well done, it can really enhance the material. So I guess the complete answer to your question is that the only reason I don't listen to audiobooks very often is that I listen to them all the time.

How do you feel when you hear yourself on a finished product?

I don't hear those that often. I have already been through the book twice, once silently and once aloud, and I've heard myself quite a bit in playback during the recording process. I try to learn from that and then put the project behind me. When I have listened to a finished project, I've started second-guessing myself. And it's way too late to make changes by then. So when I listen to audio, I listen to other voices.

Have you met the authors of any of your books or received any feedback from an author?

Mostly we don't meet the authors as readers. I have met authors as a director. Usually, we're recording here (Michigan) and the authors don't live in the area. Although they certainly could, most don't come in to see the recording process.

I have gotten a couple of letters from authors that were lovely. One author wrote to say that she had wanted to read her own book and had thought she would do a terrific job. After all she knew her characters better than anyone else possibly could. Then she heard the recording of me reading it, and realized that I did things she could not do. I considered it the ultimate compliment. I have also had authors send me signed copies of their books. But in general, I don't meet them and I can only hope they like my interpretation of their work.

Any new projects on the horizon?

I don't know. The company gets a synopsis of a script and they decide who is best to read it. If I am that choice, I'll be called and asked if I want to do a book. I'll ask when and they'll tell me anywhere from two weeks to a month from now. With the shorter projects, it can be as soon as the day after tomorrow. So I don't really have a list of upcoming titles.

Check out some of Sandra Burr's great Narrations!
Someday #3, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)
Someday #3, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)

#5: Forever, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)
#5: Forever, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)

#1: Fame, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)
#1: Fame, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)

The Beloved Disciple: Unabridged Audiobook on CD
The Beloved Disciple: Unabridged Audiobook on CD

#2: Forgiven, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)
#2: Forgiven, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)

Sunrise #1, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)
Sunrise #1, Abridged Audiobook on CD (Value Priced Edition)

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