Let Me Introduce You To…Jeffrey Kafer

Tonight’s featured guest is just a little different. He’s not an “author” per se…but he plays an extremely vital role in the book industry. A very cool role actually. I first heard about Jeffrey Kafer while watching Mike Huckabee’s show on Fox News Channel. The governor was featuring people who had been hit hard by the bad economy and essentially, turned lemons into lemonade by using their creative and entrepeneurial spirit to create very successful businesses for themselves. Jeffrey had started his very own voice-over business and was hard at work producing top notch, amazing audiobooks for some of the big names in the industry. After watching the show, I knew he was someone I had to learn more about. We have since become good friends and I wanted to take tonight to share with you some of his amazing work.

Jeffrey has lent his voice to some just absolutely incredible books including many novels by my own favorite author, Jeremy Robinson…including Kronos (without a doubt, one of my favorite novels of all time). Other books by Jeremy Robinson that he’s voiced are both of the Chess Team series (Pulse and Instinct).  Kafer has also voiced the audiobook for J.J. Hebert’s groundbreaking Christian novel “Unconventional” and a slew of others.

Jeffrey took a look at my own book, Primal Thirst, and gave me a sample of his remarkable talents by narrating a portion of one of my favorite scenes (Chapter 16). Here’s a clip from his narration to give you an idea of just how good he is. Take a few minutes to take a listen and be sure to let me know what you think (it’s a little under 9 minutes long):

http://www.archive.org/flow/flowplayer.commercial-3.2.1.swf

Recently, I had a chance to talk to Jeffrey about his unique occupation and the very special skills required to be a voice over artist. Here’s what he had to say:

1) You are a voice over artist…a very unusual profession to say the least. Can you tell us how you first got started in the business? What prompted it? How did you ever think of a cool profession like that?

It’s actually not as unusual as you might think. Voice over is everywhere. Cartoons, commercials, corporate training, documentaries, message-on-hold, radio liners, etc. And of course, my specialty: Audiobooks. I grew up in the theater. I’ve been an actor pretty much all my life. But when you get married and have children, it’s tough to dedicate the time needed to go to rehearsals 3 days a week. I just couldn’t give up the family time. So I decided to take the next best path – voice over work. This allows me to continue the creative outlet of acting, but work at home on my own schedule (mostly). And with audiobooks, I like to think of them as one-man plays. I get all the roles and they require all the acting chops one can muster.

Why Voice over? When I was working at Microsoft, the audio designer needed some scratch VO for a game we were working on called MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf. Scratch VO is placeholder audio dropped in to allow the animators and designers to get timing right for various things. Then the scratch is replaced with the real VO when the product ships. They asked for volunteers to do the scratch VO and I jumped at the chance. After spending an hour or so in the booth, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I was hooked.

2) In your work, you lend your voice to commercials, videos, and books. Care to share some of your more memorable jobs? What made them interesting to you?

Certainly my most unique gig has been working with Herald Entertainment on the Brother Francis line of children’s videos. I play the title character, a young Catholic priest. What makes this interesting is that I was raised in a Methodist household. My mother and grandfather are both Methodist ministers, my wife is Jewish and here I am playing a Catholic priest. Just goes to show you what a small world we all live in and how diverse we all are.

3) You’re really making a niche in the audio book industry. I’ve already shared some info about your audiobooks, but what are two or three of your audiobooks you think my readers would be most interested in checking out? Tell us a little about these books.

For your readers who enjoy science fiction I would recommend any of the Jeremy Robinson titles. I narrated four of his books: Kronos, Beneath, Pulse, and Instinct. These are great books, full of interesting characters, lots of action, and classic and neo monster mythology. The first two are available at my site at SpringBrookAudio.com/Catalog and the latter from Audible. For those who prefer more spiritual books, you can’t go wrong with J.J. Hebert’s Unconventional, a truly uplifting story of a young man chasing his dream of giving up the janitor’s mop in exchange for being a writer. For anyone who’s ever had a dream of something bigger, this is the book for you. Also narrated by myself and available for sale at SpringBrook Audio.

4) What are you currently working on? What’s lined up for the future for you?

I’m going to start The Holy Terror by Wayne Allen Sallee, my first crack at a horror novel. I’m also working with David Wilson of CrossRoad press to get distribution deals with Audible and Overdrive, the company that distributes digital audiobooks and ebooks to libraries across the country. So not only do I produce and narrate books, I can offer my customers real distribution details including SpringBrookaudio.com, crossroadpress.com, Audible, iTunes, Amazon, and OverDrive. I’ve also been listed with Blackstone Audio and Oasis Audiobooks as a narrator so I’m hoping I’ll be able to work with them soon. Of course, this is all in addition to the usual non-audiobook voice work I get from week to week: Corporate narration, commercials, etc.

5) If someone was interested in becoming a voice over artist, what are some words of wisdom you could think of to offer them? What does someone need to be successful in your line of work?

My first advice is “don’t quit your day job”. Now, I don’t say this to be mean. But Google “Voice over artist” and look at the number of pages that show up. Thousands. There are thousands of people who want to do this work, and many of them because they think it’s easy money. All you need is a microphone, computer, and someone to tell you that you “have a nice voice” right? Wrong. I may own a Stradivarius, but that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to play in a symphony. So how are you going to compete with the thousands of other people vying for the same jobs as you? You need training, acting abilities, and technical prowess. Add to that all the skills it takes to run a business such as marketing, PR, customer service, bookkeeping, accounting, etc. You’ve got to be able to handle the feast or famine cycles of the small business entrepreneur. You’re not going to make money quickly. It will take years to build up a stable of paying clients. And for those who think “yeah, but I’m really good. I’ll be successful faster than others!”, no you won’t. Sorry, there are very few exceptions to the rule.

So if you’ve gotten through all of the above negativity and you still want to pursue VO, congrats. I encourage you to get acting training, to have your skills analyzed by a professional voice coach, and get some basic business acumen. Avoid the “master classes” that promise you a weekend of training and a demo for only a few thousand dollars. They may be able to make you a decent demo, but chances are you won’t be able to live up to the promise of that demo. Heidi Montag had an album made. Think she can actually sing live? Dang! More negativity! Sorry, but there are so many pitfalls and warnings that I could write a book on it….

But seriously, if you pursue this line of work full time or part time, have fun with it. I can’t think of another profession I’d rather be a part of. It’s tough work, and 90% of the work is *getting* the work. But when it comes in and you hear your voice as a part of something bigger, there’s nothing more satisfying. So work hard, get training, and I hope I’ll hear your voice tickling my eardrums.

When asked what the actual process of turning a book into an audiobook is like, here’s what he had to say:

People often wonder why it’s so expensive to produce an audiobook. And this is simply because of the amount of work involved. Figure it’s a 6:1 ratio. So for each hour of audiobook produced, there’s 6 hours of work that went into it. So a 10 hour audiobook takes 60 hours to make it. Here’s the step by step:

1) The narrator has to sit down and read the book. This isn’t always the case for non-fiction, but is a pretty crucial step in fiction. Authors are famous for introducing a character on page 2 and then describing the way he talks on page 200. Imagine narrating 200 pages of your main character doing a southern accent only to find out that he actually talks like a New Jersey longshoreman. This is also the stage where the narrator/producer double checks pronunciations for things in question. True story: After searching for days on the internet for an accurate Vietnamese pronunciation of “Ngoui Rung” for Jeremy Robinson’s Instinct, I finally went to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant and asked.

2) Narrate the book. This is the actual recording. This is about a 2:1 work ratio when you include breaks for water, mistakes, mouth noises etc.

3) Edit the book. This is the grueling task, but also where the real art lies. Editing an audiobook is an art form. Getting the pacing right is crucial to the storytelling process. Carefully placed pauses tell the story as much as the narration.

4) Quality Control: After each chapter is recorded and edited, I send the chapter to my quality control (also known as my wife, Sarah) and she follows along in the book while listening to the audio to make sure I got every word correct. She logs any mistakes in a spreadsheet and I go back and fix them. For a 10 hour audiobook, I usually have to fix about 100 mistakes. This is a critical part of the process and ensures that every one of the author’s carefully chosen words is correctly read. There can be no mistakes.

5) Mixing and mastering. This is the final step. If there are intros or music, this is where they get added in. I also do some compression and EQ per the distributors specifications.

Viola! Complete audiobook!

If you enjoy listening to your books as opposed to reading them…or you are like the millions of Americans who just don’t have time to sit down and read, but would love to catch up on some fanastic books, I highly recommend checking out Jeffrey’s assortment of audiobooks. You can find out more about him, as well as purchase his audiobooks by going to:

http://jeffreykafer.com/
http://springbrookaudio.com/

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