Audiobooks: Ensemble or Single Talent?

Audiobooks are a very popular medium, allowing us to consume books while we workout, commute, clean the house, or just kick back and relax in the tub. Whether you're an author published through a big name publisher, small print press, or self-published, there's a demand for your works as audiobooks. But there's more to audiobooks than just having someone read it who has a good narrative voice, and there's more options than just having a single voice actor. Let's look into some of the factors to consider when selecting the right voice actor for your audiobook, and whether to go with a single actor or an ensemble.

What exactly goes into voicing an audiobook? This differs between fiction and nonfiction to some extent, but both require a good foundation in narrative delivery. With fiction, however, it goes beyond that and also typically requires the ability to act out the various characters. Because of this, the talent also needs a strong background in acting, or else the characters run the risk of sounding either flat or over-dramatic and cheesy. And while maybe some stories lend themselves to cheesy delivery, others like tense crime thrillers won't really sound right with cartoonish voices. An audiobook actor must be incredibly flexible, able to alter their voice to cover a wide range of distinctly different characters. When shopping around for a voice actor to do your audiobook, you could present a short scene with multiple characters in dialogue, to gauge whether the actor has the desired range.


Some common issues and criticisms that listeners to audiobooks tend to have are that male actors don't always get women's voices right, and female actors don't always do well with the male roles. These are things that many voice actors train hard at rectifying, but are also things to keep in mind while auditioning talent. This is also one of the reasons that some authors instead opt for an ensemble cast.


An ensemble cast is when multiple actors are hired for an audiobook, allowing for the various characters to all have their own talent voicing them. If the book is in third person, then one of the actors will be cast specifically for the narration. This can be a very fun and immersive experience for the listener, and the author is potentially more likely to get voices that more accurately match the ones they have in their head for the various roles. Another benefit to ensembles is if there are characters from different nationalities, then native speakers can be cast to voice them. That way the accents are authentic, preventing the listener from being pulled from the story by a spotty attempt. Bad accent attempts also run the risk of coming off as an offensive caricature, whether intentional or not. So if not going for an ensemble cast and actor that's a native speaker, it should at least be discussed with the voice talent as to whether or not they can perform certain accents and are comfortable doing so.

One of the few drawbacks of ensembles is that they can potentially take more time to produce, as well as more time to cast. Services like FlyVoiceovers can at least help cut back the time it takes to cast an ensemble, as it has a diverse talent pool from around the world (definitely helps with finding the aforementioned native speakers). Money may also play into the difference between ensembles and single actors, depending on individual rates. Some talent may have a base fee, like a certain amount up to one finished hour of audio, and then a rate for each additional finished hour. So if, say, ten different actors are hired, you may have to pay for each of their base fees even if only five of them get up to or over an hour of finished audio.


Some authors opt for a hybrid of the two, with the vast majority of the load handled by one voice actor, and a few of the characters handled by one or more other actors, but not a full ensemble. Basically they just bring in additional talent to either cover voices outside of the main talent's range, or for accents outside of the main talent's repertoire. Both this style and a full ensemble also require an editor or other professional to compile all of the recordings and present them in the proper order and free of errors. Whereas with a single talent performance, much of that responsibility may end up simply falling to the actor hired, if it is a remote job and not something recorded in-studio.


Both options of either going with a single talent or an ensemble hold pros and cons, and ultimately it is up to the author or publisher to determine the best choice for the book. An audiobook is an investment, just like any other aspect of publishing a book. Much like having the right cover and ensuring the content has been properly edited, it is important to produce a high-quality audiobook that leaves a lasting, positive experience on the listener. If you're an author, you have no doubt spent incredible effort on making your narrative as perfect as can be, and so you deserve to have that world brought to life with just as much care and consideration.

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