What if I Suck?

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the Literate Loser
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Post by the Literate Loser »

I confess that one reason my chapter of The Secret Agent has taken me so long to complete is a sudden fear that I suck. In my own podcast, I don't care so much, because I do what I do for myself. This, though, is important. It's significant. It matters. It could even make some kind of difference in something (I teach dyslexics, so I'm stoked about anything that gets literature into people's heads and am always wondering about how new technology can help people with reading difficulties) lasting.

So I don't want to suck.

And if I suck, I don't want people to keep that a secret from me! So when you get around to chapter 8 of The Secret Agent, please tell me if I suck.
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Post by kayray »

I totally sympathise. I read my chapters of Psmith without having listened to the other readers, and I was a bit worried. But I figured a) hey I'm a volunteer -- I'll just do my best and if I really really suck, someone awesome can re-record my chapters and b) I'll bet every single one of us is at least a little bit worried about sucking, and if we all get too nervous about not being perfect, we'll get nothing done.

Now that I've listened to several of the other readers, I feel a lot better -- hey, I'm not perfect and neither are they, but none of us actually _suck_ :) We all stumble a few times, we all could be more perfect -- but we've got half a book done already! And the world is a little bit richer.

My $.02 :)

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Post by Kristen »

I worry about sucking, too. So I read carefully, sometimes re-reading sections when I go from a fumble to an all-out flub, and then edit out the worst mistakes.

But this is not a professional reading performance. It's like someone else said--Librivox has the intimacy of bedtime stories. Remember those? Mom and Dad read like regular people, making an effort, but not stressing over being perfect. And those times were special. It was great even though (maybe because) it wasn't perfect.

So far, I've read seven chapters in three books and I've noticed that each time it gets better. Since I edit the files, I have to listen to my voice, so I'm more aware of how I sound. Slowly, I'm building more control. So I'll suck less as I continue to participate in Librivox. :-)
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Post by admin »

I hope this does turn into an important project, and to me one of the most interesting bits is the participation of volunteers: to get people reading, in some kind of community. there's something cool about that.

and, lets say the project is really successful and we put out, I don't know, 100 books by the end of 2006 (?) ... and it was cause regular joes & janes who like books, and who have crappy reading voices like me, said, ok i'll pitch in there!

I know my chapters are not very good. certainly we have a broad range of readers, but like kristen I find by reading a few chapters, and listening to some of the good readers (check gord's stuff, esp his frankenstein!), I try to pick up some tips, and it seems to be getting better. i hope!

anyway, i listened to chap 8 & it sounds great to me.

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Post by Kristen »

admin wrote:(check gord's stuff, esp his frankenstein!)
Yes, gord most definitely does not suck. :-)

I spent some time thinking about why he doesn't suck and how I can use that knowledge to improve my own reading. I came up with a few things:

1. I like the tone of his reading voice.
That's not something I can change in my own self too easily. My voice is never going to be gord's deep and throaty growl. But I can think more about what I like in his voice and practice that.

2. He understands what he's reading.
For me, that can be accomplished by reading the piece in advance several times. A once-through reading followed by recording doesn't give my brain any time to sort out the meaning of the piece.

3. He gives voice to that understanding.
Gord knows where to slow down, where to speed up, when to adjust his volume and how to bring out the drama in his reading. It never sounds overly dramatic or campy, but it's a long way from monotone or flat.

In summary, Gord is studied and subtle (and has a great voice).
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Post by GordMackenzie »

Wow. Thanks for the kind words, Kristen!!

I've had the opportunity to listen to a lot of the recordings, and I've yet to hear one that "sucks". All the ones that I've listened to have been excellent! It's great to listen to all the different voices and the different styles and approaches to reading.

I think that anyone who cares about quality is likely to be overly critical of their own work. I know that when I listen to my own voice, it is very hard to get out of "critical" mode. When I listen to other people, I can relax and just enjoy them.

If you can actually relax and enjoy your own work, then I applaud you! If you find yourself cringing when you listen to your own recordings... then join the club (and try to give yourself a break)!

As for myself, I have the questionable advantage of having received professional actor training and, in my younger years, worked as a "professional" actor in the Toronto theatre scene. I eventually grew tired of starving, and went out and got myself a "real" job (which is nice, as I like the fact that my children have food to eat and a roof over their heads!).

btw, I don�t mean to imply that it is impossible to make money as an actor in Canada... just that it was impossible for ME to make money as an actor! :P

Having studied theatre, acting and performance for some years, and pondered it for many more, I�ve come up with some thoughts on the subject that I will inflict on you. So here are some thoughts on reading for listeners from a reformed actor:

1) Enjoy the sound of your own voice.

Ok, this one sounds like an insult ... "that guy loves the sound of his own voice, blah blah blah". But seriously, we probably all remember the first time we heard our own voice recorded ... "argh! Is that me??! I sound terrible!" was my response... maybe it was yours too.

Obviously the "internal" mental image we have of our own voice is not usually in sync with what the outside world hears. But what the outside world hears is probably just fine. If you've ever told a story or related an emotional experience to a friend and actually had them listen to you (as opposed to cover their ears in pain, horror or disgust), then you probably have a "good" voice.

If you harbor any concern about the sound of your voice� get over it! Your voice is a tool to communicate thoughts and feelings. If your voice can convey emotion and is understandable, then you�ve got a good voice for reading.

One of my favorite singers is Neil Young. Few people would say that Neil had a �good� singing voice � or even a �pleasant� singing voice. Yet his songs are moving and pack an emotional punch precisely because his voice is not �perfect�.

To be a singer worth listening to, you don�t have to sound like you stepped out of American Idol, and to be a �good� reader, you don�t have to sound like Don Pardo.

2) Go on a journey (and take your listeners with you!).

My guess is that most of the people volunteering for Librivox are probably people that love literature, stories and reading. Every reader knows that a good book is a journey. This journey is not physical, obviously, but rather it is a journey of ideas and emotions.

A novel takes us by the hand and leads us beyond the fields we know to experience new thoughts and feelings. Once we come out the other side, we are changed in ways perhaps subtle, and perhaps not.

When you read a story to a listener, you are inviting them to come along on that journey. But for them to come with you, you have to travel the road yourself as you read.

To me, this means that you must allow yourself to experience the story on an emotional level, and allow that experience to color your voice and presentation. I don�t mean to suggest, however, that you have to �act� out the story or break down weeping and wailing!

When you read a good book (to yourself), you may find yourself slipping into the world of the story, and losing track of where you are. Allow yourself to become lost in the book when you read aloud: don�t think too much about lip smacks or plosive pops or strange pronunciations, or whether you�re breathing too loudly, etc. etc.

Let the technical details go, and just try to experience the emotional journey of the book just as you did when you first read it. You don�t have to force emotion into your voice, it will be there automatically.

3) What you bring with you is your gift to the listener

I like listening to people read aloud.

If you are involved in this project, chances are that you do too� so, what is it that we like about it? It may be simply the convenience of the format: the ability to listen to a book while driving in the car or walking down the street, or just about anywhere.

But for me, there�s something else. I like what the readers bring to the story. The readers bring themselves. They add their experience to the author�s words and create something new.

When you read for a listener you are sharing more than the text, you are sharing your experience of that text. And your experience of the text is colored by who you are and where you�ve been in your life.

As a reader, be aware of that. Be aware that you are giving something unique to the world, something that only you can give. You are giving a little bit of yourself. No one else on earth has lived your life, and no one else on earth can communicate your experience.

So, if you are honestly experiencing the story and giving of yourself in a reading � then it�s not really possible to �suck�, is it?

4) It�s all there in the Text

One of the great advantages to being able to read for the Librivox project is that you have a chance to read some of the greatest works of literature in the English language! What a great honor! These are works of greatness that have withstood the test of time.

Put your faith in the words. Let them take you were they want you to go. You don�t need to control them, manipulate them or massage them. They want to be spoken. You don�t need to fear them. Just get out of their way and let them happen. They will work the magic for you.

Here�s your moment of McLuhan/Zen: you are the medium, not the message.

Point 4 and Point 3 may seem contradictory� but that�s the weird paradox. The more you remove yourself and let the words speak, the more you will actually be giving to the reading.

� ok, these 4 points are pretty esoteric. Here�s my last one, and the only one that counts:

5) Forget all the B.S. and start reading into the microphone!


Gord Mackenzie
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Post by hugh »

well said!
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Post by pberinstein »

Yesterday I read a thread here about character voices and got all intimidated because I don't think I'm all that great at voices. I'm certainly no Nancy Cartwright. And I can't compete with Librivox readers who are really good at accents.

But I know that's not the point of what we're doing here, so I'm not going to worry about it. After reading the rest of this thread, I realize that most of the rest of us feel the same way. So thanks, you guys, for your great calming comments.
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Post by RobertG »

Well, nobody has posted here in awhile but it might be a burning question for many new folks.

Here is what old Eugene has to say about it: Fear of Sucking


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Post by LibraryLady »

Oh, Robert, I can't even express how much I loved that! Eugene truly understands the spirit of Librivox. I'm so glad he talked with you and I think lots of new readers will be comforted by his wise words.
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Post by ChipDoc »

"I ain't got no vacuum leaks!" What a gem, Robert! Thanks...
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Post by hugh »

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Post by Stephan »

Did YOU create this Robert? You wrote this interview? You did that southern accent and came up with these formulations, didn�t you?


This is terrific! Boy did i enjoy this.
Hugh, please, dontcha just say "nice", put it in a good place.

Btw, "nice" is a language thing, too. Nice in germany is near to beeing mediocre. Its ok, but nothing grand...it's hm, well, nice.

(Do Americans have a love/hate relationship to the way southernes talk? Me, beeing a german, sure love it, dunno why, ...probably since i read Garth Ennis' Preacher )
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Post by kri »

(Do Americans have a love/hate relationship to the way southernes talk? Me, beeing a german, sure love it, dunno why, ...probably since i read Garth Ennis' Preacher )
I think in a sense we do Stephan.

Well, "nice" has different connotations depending on the context and how it's said. You could say it with the right emphasis and it could mean that you really enjoy it. It could just mean, that's pretty cool. Sometimes it's just a way of responding to what someone says, but you don't really care that much. I think mostly it's a positive thing though.

About the interview: Robert that was wonderfully entertaining, and informative at the same time. I knew that you were the one doing Eugene's voice, but you give him such personality that I forget thinking it's two people. I'm looking forward to hear any other interviews if you do them :)
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Post by Stephan »

Yay! More!
Let him talk about FileSharing! :D
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