If you haven't joined the APA (Audio Publishers Association) yet, or have yet to attend APAC, I don't know what you're waiting for! Well, I might know what you're waiting for; because if you were like me, maybe you just didn't see the value, or couldn't afford another "thing", or maybe you simply didn't care!
The APA was never really on my radar until 2021 because I considered myself a "new" narrator and felt like joining the APA was for more "seasoned" "professional" narrators. Actually up until 2021, the thought of attending APAC frightened me, because I worried that it was an organization that was out of my league! Boy was I wrong! Not only did I attend APAC this year but I joined as a member, and also listed myself in the AudioFile Magazine Talent listing as a narrator immediately after APAC ended on May 12th (more on that later).
APAC attendance was very different than that of VOATL Audiobook Academy which I attended in April 2021. VOATL Audiobook Academy is geared more towards the "new" narrator, or narrators with less than 50 books produced. APAC is definitely for the "new" and "seasoned" narrator, and one of the biggest and most valuable differences is that you will run into many more producers at APAC. I look at APAC as a producer, narrator marketplace so to speak. This is where these two industry professionals converge to network, scout for new talent and projects and hone in on narrator business essentials. Even with this years' online format, networking was a priority for most. I know many narrators who opted to spend most of their time in the networking "bubbles" during the conference and opted to watch the recorded sessions later.
Another key difference and highlight for me was just being able to connect with so many "seasoned" narrators, and "Golden Voices" at APAC. Robin Miles (whom I completely stan) narrated a panel discussion on Strengthening Diverse Voices in Audiobooks on Tuesday which left me in awe at the grace and humility with which she moderated this important discussion!
My key takeaways for APAC 2021 were:
Watching Vikas Adams, Joniece Abbott-Pratt and Jeena Yi take live direction on narration from established audiobook directors live! I'm still dissecting these performances for tips to use in my own performance. I and many others were just enthralled with Vikas' physicality in his narration, and Joniece' ability to portray the realness and vulnerability in her characters just kept me mesmerized. At one point she was given direction to change the motivation of her protagonist in the story, and it was like listening to two different stories after she shifted intention. Jeena Yi's ability to take direction and shift the tone and energy of her narration was eye-opening for me. I realized that in watching all three narrators and directors, each director has a specific communication style, and the ability for a director to give a "directive" as described by Paul Ruben is important for a narrator's success when working with a director. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification, examples, or an alternate directive if you are just not "getting it" when working with a director.
In the Tech in the Time of COVID panel discussion, I don't think I walked away with any new information on how to leverage technology as a narrator working in a home studio. There was a robust discussion on whether narrators should wear headphones when recording. There were other great discussions on when to trade up microphones (you might consider this if you're working a multi-cast narration and find that there are differences between your sound and the other cast members) and mastering audition files that I found helpful during this session as well. My takeaway on wearing headphones; most producers say yes! Wearing headphones allows you to pick up patterns. It's important to know how to carry your own voice, something that can be hard for actors in theatre or film.
Related to this topic, one proofer in the audience noted that it's obvious to them when a narrator has not used headphones as they are more likely to hear more mouth noises and clothing rustling! I personally always wear headphones when narrating. I need to be able to hear the sound of my voice during my performance and it allows me to dial in and stay present in my own head while performing.
I was particularly interested in the session on "Audiobook Rights & How That is Changing" as someone interested in production. Jessica Kaye was a wealth of knowledge on this subject, and I have since ordered her book on Amazon. There was a good discussion about advances and royalties when seeking to obtain audio rights from a publisher or rights holder, but the best part for me was connecting with another narrator who is in the process of obtaining audio rights for a book she wants to produce. She proposed that we be accountability partners and I was so excited to have made that connection!
In the session on "Breaking In: How to Establish Yourself with Publishers", l learned so much in this session on reaching out to producers, and creating relationships. As the moderator said, this is a long game, and it's about relationship building. Take time to get to know producers and don't look at them as your next meal ticket. Create relationships, they know that you are looking for work but what keeps you on their radar is the relationship you have with them. As I said, there were so many opportunities to create these relationships at APAC.
I learned from Robin Whitten & Emily Connelly at AudioFile Magazine that AudioFile reviews over 50-60 audiobooks a week and has about 100 volunteer reviewers in their ranks. I worry about the diversity of the reviewers quite honestly, as its clear that there is not as much representation of BIPOC AudioFile reviewers. I also learned that you are much more likely to get an AudioFile review if you are on their talent directory (see my earlier reference on this), and the reviewers are the ones who submit nominations for Earphones awards. When AudioFile is looking for audiobooks to review they are looking at trade publications like the Library Review Journal, Publisher's Weekly, publisher advances, and buzz-among others. I also learned that they do not review any Audible titles!
One session that left my head spinning was the session on audiobooks and podcasts. It's clear that podcasts are beginning to offer more audio dramas and fictionalized series which may or may not impact audiobook listenership. There are way more podcast listeners than audiobook listeners, no doubt because most of them are free. Podcasts are still not a well monetized product but some companies, like Spotify and Audible are trying to monetize them by offering subscription services. I know a couple narrators who have narrated an audio drama podcast but it's not yet clear to me how casting works in this medium. I have heard some amazing audio dramas podcasts and I always marvel at the amazing production involved one in particular is Appollyon (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/apollyon/id1559430818) and Lennie Gray (https://www.spreaker.com/show/lennie-gray-an-audio-drama-podcast) an audio drama produced by fellow narrator Earl Sewell.
Last, how do I sum up the wealth of information learned from Andi Arndt's session titled "Improving Quality of Life: Narrator GPS Goals ." I love Andi's creativity with acronyms. 'GPS' in this session meant: "goals, policies and systems!" This session was definitely for the "seasoned" narrator but I learned so much about how to set a goal for recording PFH time per week (her goal is 2.0 PFH on her recording days), and she recommended creating blocks of time during the week to work on various aspects of your business i.e. administrative, recording etc. A couple suggestions for recording tracking tools were shared as well as www.zapier.com , an app which allows you to automate workflows between apps. Someone mentioned a recording tracker that was developed by fellow narrator Greg Tremblay (which I don't have access to but would love to find it) and in another session Andi shared that she uses www.airtable.com for managing her narration projects. It clear that if you're in need of some good business coaching she has a lot to offer.
If I were to sum up my experience at APAC I would say, this was an experience that really facilitated a leveling up for me. I did not know what to expect going into APAC, but I am so glad I attended. I made some invaluable connections that have opened up so many doors helping me meet some of my objectives for my goals. I was able to participate in a Meet the Producers session, where I was paired with a producer from Rakuten Kobo, which facilitated connections with other producers (one being my target audiobook publisher in Michigan where I live; can you guess which one?).
As an introvert the quality of the connections I make are most important and I made some very good sustainable connections with fellow narrators and producers. I have since identified three goals which I am committing myself to reaching between now and the next APAC in March 2022, so off to work I go!