CLAN - Interview: Narrator Jeff Hays

Today I'm sharing an interview with narrator Jeff Hays who did a brilliant performance of CLAN. In CLAN, characters are all clones of the same person, yet Jeff did a great job making each of them sound unique and put in lots of depth to their personalities. I hope you check out the audiobook and hear it for yourself! The quality is truly superb!

Link to Jeff's Site
Link to Audiobooks Performed by Jeff

1. What inspired you to become a professional narrator?

 I wouldn't say that I was "inspired" to become a narrator. It sort of just happened. Even my decision to do voice acting was more of a practical choice. I needed money, I had the gear to do it (or so I thought at the time) because at heart I'm a musician, and as a musician I've always been fascinated with sound and have fun mimicking all the various sounds around me day-to-day. Commercials, characters in film or TV, singers, the people I associate with, and even animals. As I was struggling to make money in the world of voice-over, I stumbled upon an audio book job, and I really enjoyed it. I landed a few more of those jobs and discovered that I had a knack for it. It's more work than commercial VO per dollar earned for the job itself, but when you measure the amount of work that goes into auditioning constantly and actually landing such a small percentage of gigs through that process against the amount of work that goes into each audio book job, it evens out. Besides, with auditions for commercial VO, all that work goes to waste on the jobs you aren't selected for. With audio books, I get to play entire casts of characters, tell entire stories, and all that work actually goes into an actual product.

2. What drew you to audition for CLAN?

As I continue to hone my craft and add to my catalogue, I'm realizing that listeners are actually seeking my audio books out specifically because they enjoy my performances. I'm not just a narrator, I'm a producer, and as such, I have a responsibility to not only provide listeners with quality fiction to consume, but to represent myself in the stories I choose to work on. That means that I seek out fiction that is well-written and makes listeners think. I also try to diversify my catalogue as much as possible, not only to ensure that my catalogue remains eclectic and fresh, but also so that I am constantly challenging myself and improving as an actor. Clan struck me as unique, and it asks questions about the human condition. The cover is cartoonish and slightly humorous, yet bleak and ominous in a way that I can't pinpoint.

3. I'm glad you thought it was unique! What was your favorite part about narrating CLAN?

My favorite part of any project is the challenge. This specific story was challenging in a very strange way, but I have a lot of explaining to do as to why.

4. You have a great range. How do you hone your craft? 

The orthodox method of teaching narration is to encourage the narrator NOT to do voices, but to simply change inflection or speech patterns in a subtle way just so the listener can tell the difference between characters when they're speaking to each other. In other words, narrators are supposed to be themselves throughout the entire book, and tell you what the characters are saying. My success in this business has been due to my refusal to conform to that method. This goes back to my own experience as an audio book consumer. Simply put, I have a very hard time listening to fiction audio books. I do just fine listening to non-fiction because I'm actually learning something about the world, but fiction is nonsense. It's made up, and none of the details actually matter on their own. In order for me to enjoy fiction, I have to be fooled into believing the story is actually happening. It has to be an actual SHOW, or else I lose interest very very quickly. I have to believe the characters are there, I have to feel the atmosphere of a scene, and I have to comprehend the ideas the author is trying to communicate through their story. There are almost no narrators out there that can do that for me as a listener. So, it's my policy to produce audio books I could actually listen to.

I've been most successful in auditions for books with large and diverse casts of characters, and I've been working very hard throughout my career to expand my range, not only so that they all sound different, but convincing. I wasn't always great with female characters, but since male narrators doing female voices has ALWAYS been a problem for me while listening to fiction, that was a major problem I was determined to overcome. Now, my females are indistinguishable from real female voices. I can voice trolls, children, old men, FBI agents, news reporters, radio DJs, all because every time I try a new character, I analyze what my instrument is doing to produce particular sounds, and what speech patterns those kinds of people display in real life or other popular media. Each new voice is easier to discover than the last, because I've become so familiar with the process. My listeners truly feel like they're listening to a full cast performance, and they get lost and immersed in the story, even if they don't find the content itself particularly interesting. I strive not to be myself reading a book, but to become the book, and allow the listener to forget I'm even there. 

5. I think it's very awesome that you try to become the book. What was the most challenging part about narrating CLAN? 

Having said ALL of that, Clan challenged me to retain that goal of producing the book as an experience with the same qualities as my other work, yet in a way I had to behave like classically trained narrators for the first time ever. Of course, I wouldn't have just been satisfied with that. I couldn't resist one-upping them even in this area. Using the same voice because they are physiologically the same person, I had to give each character their own spirit and identity by making slight adjustments according to little details like attitude, or more significant details like age. To be perfectly honest, I don't even know how to begin describing my process in doing this, but I feel that I pulled that off with this production. I hope listeners agree.

6. I definitely agree! Do you have any advice for what authors should keep in mind while searching for narrators? 

It's hard to advise authors about audio books, because not all authors care about them too much. I don't blame them, considering how the industry treats them. This isn't really a dig on the industry, because honestly, the margins are very tight and it's hard to justify putting too much effort into producing these things. Most successful narrators focus on volume, completing jobs quickly so they can move onto the next. So, the standard of audio book quality isn't very high. As long as your book is good, and you hire a competent narrator, regular audio book listeners will buy it and enjoy it. If all you want to do is make your story available to the portion of readers that consume literature through audio, stick to the reliable people with plenty of titles, or even new guys who have lower rates than the established big names. There's plenty of independent talent out there that can make a decent product.

HOWEVER, if you want to treat your audio book as a completely new experience that simply can't be had by simply reading the print version of your novel, if you want a product that is an upsell, that's value-added, you have to be willing to pay more, and search harder. If you're reading this interview, you've at least found one, though my availability is limited due to demand and a desire to focus on other things. I'll also recommend Joel Froomkin. Other than the two of us, I don't know who else can really pull it off, unless you go all out and hire a studio to produce an audio drama. Just remember, this kind of audio book is a high-risk high-reward proposition. You will have a high quality product, but because of the nature of this business, it may still flop. Especially if you don't highlight the quality of the product in your marketing strategy.

7. Anything you'd like to share with the audience about yourself or what you're working on?

I have a series that I believe people who enjoy your work will be interested in. It's called the Selfless Hero Trilogy by William D. Arand, and it starts with "Otherlife Dreams." This series has been highly successful, which surprises me because it is so bizarre. It belongs to the new genre called LitRPG, a crazy mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy that revolves around people playing video games. 

Audio books and voice-acting are not my only skills. I'm also a musician, a martial artist, and a lover of ideas. I'm constantly keeping my eyes and mind open for new opportunities and challenges. I'm trying to reach into other forms of media to grow my audience. One thing I've already been doing has been to stream some of my narrations live. I call the show "Soundbooth Theater Live." Once every couple weeks, I stream the first few chapters of my current project, and EVERY SUNDAY at 5PM CST, I do Requests Only. If you enjoy Clan, please visit my Twitch channel to see how I operate or find out how to submit a request for me to narrate. Again, I love a challenge, so as long as it's in English, I'll probably be willing to give it a shot. Don't forget to investigate the rest of my work. I have something in my catalogue for everyone. And keep an eye out for my name in other areas. My current long-term goal is to do MMA commentary, so if you're a fight fan, maybe you'll hear me calling one some day.

Also, if you're a gamer and you play Skyrim, I recently voiced a follower in a mod! JPDoctor is the modder, and the title of the mod is Jareth Follower. Yes, that Jareth, David Bowie in Labyrinth. It was so much fun voicing this character as the film was in my VHS player at all times as a kid, and I've revisited it in various altered states as an adult as well. JPDoctor will be adding my voice to the mod whenever he finds the time, as the recording has already been done. He also made followers of the entire Fellowship of the Ring, for whom I will also be doing all the voices. Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Mary, Pippin, Boromir, Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas are all available as followers. They will all have voices soon!

Awesome--I love that you voiced Jareth for this mod! Thanks for your time, Jeff! Looking forward to listening to more of your work.



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