I recently announced the release of my first audiobook, The Teddy Bear Town Children’s Bundle, now available via Amazon, Audible and iTunes. I have found the whole behind-the-scenes process of creating an audiobook quite fascinating, and on this project, I was fortunate to work with Bill Russell as my narrator and producer. Bill and I met through a wonderful program called the Audiobook Creation Exchange. (ACX)
Among his accomplishments, Bill has narrated over 90 children’s books, was chosen for five characters for the new animated series Wannabeez, and was a Veggie Tale sound-a-like for A Very Veggie Christmas Live. Here is an interview with Bill that gives insight into what it’s like to be an audiobook narrator and voice artist. This is the first in a series of interviews with my audiobook narrators.
1. How did you get interested in doing voice-overs?
I’ve been mimicking commercials ever since I can remember. Copy catting cartoon characters, listening to accents and copying them, but hadn’t thought of making a career of it until about eight or nine years ago.
2. You’ve done an impressive number of children’s books. How did you find out that you have a knack for doing children’s books?
I always loved reading to my son, doing the voices, sounds, etc… But not until this year, when I auditioned for a children’s audio book site. They heard something in the audition, and to date, since the beginning of March, 2012, I’ve done over 90 children’s audio books.
3. What kind of voice training do you have, or is it something that you developed naturally?
Singing was my first voice training. Using those techniques kept me from trashing my voice. The rest came naturally. I played with, and found out what I could do with my voice. How high or how low I could go. Always testing its flexibility. But that classical voice foundation, singing in choirs all they way from 6th grade through University, and in churches to today, is what truly helped to establish any voice longevity I may have. Now I’ve trained with Emmy Award winning Voice Actor/Teacher Stevie Vallance in her Tooned In Workshop, and truly found out what I didn’t know. Training is the key. You can have a natural talent, but if it’s not honed in on and schooled, you can flounder like I did for years. Now I can’t wait to learn more.
4. When you sit down to narrate, how do you get yourself in the mindset to do all those voices? How hard is it for you to switch from a male voice, to a child’s voice, to an adult female voice in one sitting?
Training taught me to approach a character physically and mentally, examine the traits, and repeating maybe three of the main ones that embody that character. Then let my body move to become that character. Sometimes sitting down isn’t an option. It’s not that difficult really to move from one voice to another, but staying consistent is what I find to be the hardest. I keep having to go back and review what the character sounded like at the beginning. People like Jim Dale who performed the Harry Potter books, had files, and probably audio to refer to get that one character just right. Take that one step further, and how hard it must have been to age the youngest characters over a seven year period. That’s where I want to be.
5. Your voice is obviously quite valuable. Is there anything special that you need to do to protect it, such as voice exercise or days of rest?
Lots of water. Tea, coffee, and colas tend to have caffeine that will dry my voice out. Vocal exercises help, like scales, or saying tongue twisters like “good blood, bad blood” and “red leather, yellow leather” over and over to get my mouth loosened.
6. You’ve been a musician since you were thirteen. What kind of music have you done?
I’ve performed everything from gospel/classical to Broadway tunes to classic rock. I’ve been singing since I was eleven, but been playing instruments since I was thirteen. Toy pianos are a recent acquisition. And I’m teaching myself how to play a toy accordion.
7. Do you want to share anything about the new series the Wannabeez?
It is my first opportunity as an animation actor. It’s a possible series for a channel like Adult Swim on CN, or Comedy Central. They just raised the funds to produce the first five minute teaser reel on www.kickstarter.com. So that’s in production. I was chosen for five characters but if you know anything about that kind of series production I could be in the first pilot with all five voices, one voice, or none. I have to look at it realistically. But its my first shot. Which means I’ll be heard but the right people. So I am very excited about it.
8. Can you share your web site, Twitter, and any other social networking links?
www.thebillrussell.com is my voice acting website. I’m still building it, but what I have is out there. I’ll be posting the first 14 second part of the teaser reel for The Wannabeez soon and then the full five minute reel when its finished. Twitter is @thebillrussell and my Facebook is “billrussellvoiceactor”.