Monday, June 13, 2011

The Pink Chair: Casting for an Audiobook

A few weeks ago, I mentioned "The Cattle Call" and "Auditions" on twitter and one of my followers wanted to know the difference. What follows are a couple of brief and general descriptions of the types of ways an audiobook can be cast:

THE CATTLE CALL: Every once in a while a studio may throw open its doors and take in live auditions. This is not casting for a specific book nor is it a search for someone specific in terms of type. Word is sent out, perhaps through an announcement in a trade publication, and candidates are asked to schedule a time slot with the studio. Once in the studio, the candidate is asked to read either material they have brought and/or; material that the studio has prepared. There are always huge numbers of people who respond to the The Cattle Call.
PROS: This is where you can find a "Natural," a previously unheard talent who has the potential to become a narrator. It's like finding a hundred dollar bill in your old suit jacket.
CONS: "Naturals" are rare and so the time and money spent by both the studio and the candidates is relatively deep. Also, many candidates view The Cattle Call as a workshop instead of an open call. Months later, the audiobook publisher is often still fielding phone calls from candidates who want more of an acknowledgement, some sort of customized evaluation and/or feedback. There is a statement on the sign-up sheet to the effect that, owing to the large number of respondents, any feedback beyond beyond what might be given in the studio, is just not possible. It's variation of "Please don't call us, we'll call you." Sadly, many overlook this and what follows are many awkward phone calls and e-mails to the casting director and his staff.

DEMOS: The demo is an unsolicited sample of work sent in to the audiobook publisher. These are are sent in via e-mail, CDs, flash drives and every once in a while, a written missive directing the reader to a web-site. Demos arrive by the hundreds every week.
PROS: Having samples on hand is a great way to keep potential narrators on tap.
CONS: Owing to the number of demos received, staying on top of it all (from the casting director's point of view) is a Sisyphean task. People who send demos in are often discouraged when they haven't heard back from the casting director. Again, many awkward e-mails and phone calls ensue.

AUDITIONS: This is the call for a specific type of voice for a specific type of book. The book may call for a young British female vampire slayer. The casting director asks all his young female British narrators to send in a sample and then a selection is made. Auditions are usually called for when the contract calls for author approval of the narrator; or when the production is a co-publication (another party is involved in the production) and they also want a say as to who gets cast. Generally, the sampling pool consists of three or four auditions.
PROS: This is a relatively efficient way to ensure that all parties involved are satisfied and on the same page. There are no unpleasant surprises. There are relatively few awkward phone calls/e-mails.
CONS: Sometimes the type called for can be too specific (e.g. " a young British female vampire slayer who has fluency in Mandarin Chinese who can get this audiobook done in the next ten days.") This means that the possible pool of candidates is rather shallow to begin with and; if the author/other party isn't satisfied with the auditions, the audiobook can actually be in jeopardy. Many nervous phone calls/e-mails and a second round of auditions ensue.

THE SUSHI DINER: This is pretty much the inner sanctum. Auditions aren't called for so it's up to the casting director to decide who gets to narrate any given title. Deliberations are made in the office, over lunch at a local sushi diner, in the car on the way into work... At any given moment there are about twelve books for every hundred narrators wanting work.
PROS: Matching up the perfect narrator for a book is immensely gratifying.
CONS: There isn't a book available for every narrator. The thing is, consideration for the book must come first. It's not about finding narrators work. It's about finding the right narrator for each and every title. The phone calls/e-mails at this point are something beyond awkward - mostly from narrators who don't have a book.



  1. the posting is excellent and informative but the fact that YOU HAVE AN IMAGE OF ONE OF THOSE CRAZY PINK CHAIRS IS AWESOME.

  2. I love the Sisyphean image of a mountain of demos to get through...

  3. This is really useful information. I'm liking the insider's look at how the world of audiobooks works.

  4. Great article. Iambik Audiobooks uses the audition type which has worked well for us.