10 Questions with Mark Rossman

1.)  How did you get started as an audiobook narrator?

 

Several years ago I received an audiobook as a Christmas gift. While working out at the gym one day I decided to pop in my earphones and began listening. After a few minutes I thought to myself “Hey, I can do that!” So, that is when I first caught the itch to narrate audiobooks. The more I looked into producing audiobooks the more seriously interested I became.

Since then I have produced and narrated over 80 audiobooks in various genres, most of them can still be found on Audible and Amazon.

Actually, I have been active as a voice artist for a long time. I began by working for various radio stations while in college and producing commercials or voice ads as a freelancer for advertising agencies. I have also narrated numerous documentaries for a number of outlets, including the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, TLC, The History Channel and several others.

Audiobooks were an entirely new challenge for me. It was an avenue I had yet to venture into and I was anxious to give it go. Depending on the type of book, producing and narrating an audiobook though can be extremely time consuming and can get very involved. To be good at it you have to genuinely enjoy doing it, be devoted to the project and of course, it helps if you actually enjoy the book you are narrating.

 

2.) Is there any genre of fiction that you prefer narrating?

I enjoy narrating most all genres, both fiction and non-fiction. But if I had to choose one genre of fiction in particular, I would have to say I love telling ghost stories. I love the mysterious, the paranormal and the incomprehensible. That was what made “Battle of the Soul” such an enjoyable book to narrate. It was a book I probably would have read on my own anyway.

Since my voice sometimes comes across as being deep and dark I often get asked to do various voices for video games. And I almost always end up playing some dastardly bad guy, evil villain or gruesome monster type of character.

With audiobooks I always seem to struggle with the question: would the listener prefer the book to be read straight, absent of any hint of drama or interpretation?  Or would the listener rather enjoy hearing the elocution of a professional voice talent with all the little nuances and acting that entails? That is one of the first questions I try to answer before delving into the production of an audiobook.

That being said, with Carl’s “Battle of the Soul” I was able to make up my mind rather quickly. After reading through the first few chapters I knew right away how I was going to tackle the narration. “Battle of the Soul” was literally screaming for the drama and I could easily visualize the characters up to that point. But I also knew it was going to be a major challenge to carry it through to the end. I thoroughly enjoyed telling that story because it was so well written. It is a great story, with great characters, antagonists and protagonists. It is also full of compassion for the fellow man (or woman), which makes you as the listener feel good. I just didn’t want to screw it up. But I digress…

 

3.) What current projects are you working on?

 

At the moment I am working on the narration for another audiobook about the Kennedy family entitled “The Kennedy Curse: Shattered” written by Les Williams. The book is non-fiction which requires more straight reading rather than the previously described drama. It is about the various members of the Kennedy clan and the tragedies that befell them. It also delves into the conspiracies surrounding some of those tragedies.

 

Some people believe the bad fortune the Kennedy family endured was due to a curse. At one time Bobby Kennedy even said: “Somebody up there doesn’t like us.“ 

This particular book about the Kennedys, and there have been many, sets out to disprove ’the curse’ theory and shows us that Joseph Kennedy was, in many ways, the architect of his own terrible suffering. The book portrays the Kennedys as a troubled and dysfunctional family with a distorted view of the world and their place in it. It is full of interesting insights that are thoroughly researched and also very well written. The audiobook is due out in March 2019.

So much for the plug…

 

Aside from that audiobook I recently finished an image video project for Birkenstock – the nature loving shoemaker – which should go online soon. I also do a lot of narrating and voice work for the German auto industry on a fairly regular basis. New and equally interesting projects tend to pop up nearly every day.

So, you could say, the studio is almost like a second home to me. I spend a lot of time breathing that stale air in that soundproof recording booth.

 

4.)  Which person do I most admire?

That is a tough question to answer and I spent a lot of time thinking about this one. First, I must say, I admire many different people for many different reasons. But if I had to choose one present-day living individual – and I may be sticking my neck out here a little – I would have to say Vladimir Putin. Here’s why.

Despite all the demonization, vilification and threats that have been thrown at Putin and Russia over the past few years and all the unverified accusations he has been confronted with, Vladimir Putin has maintained a very cool head. Putin’s humanity and self-control, has maintained peace despite the aggression and provocative actions against Russia coming from the West. In my view that’s admirable. Vladimir Putin has accepted insults that in the past would have resulted in all-out war. That is the sign of a true leader.

Whether we like it or not Russia is a major world power and needs to be regarded and respected as such. Whatever happened to diplomacy?

I admire Putin for keeping his cool and for not losing it while under tremendous pressure and attempting to resolve issues rather than escalate them.

My grandfather once told me “if you can keep your head while all those around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, you are a much better person.” If I am not mistaken, I believe my grandfather was actually attempting to quote George Bernard Shaw with that statement.

Let us all just remain cool. Remember there is no winner in a nuclear war.

 

5.) What is the most challenging type of accent to master?

 

I personally do not have too much difficulty picking up or copying a particular accent if I actually take the time to seriously study and practice it. To be honest though, I am not sure I have actually mastered any of them. Of course, some accents do come much easier than others and I can’t really explain why that is. For me I think it may be because I have travelled a lot and have been exposed to so many different regions, cultures, languages and peoples. In other words, I’ve been lucky to be able to pick up some accents and dialects through osmosis, if you will.

Each voice artist develops his/her own method of acquiring accents. My method is quite simple: I listen to them intently over and over and over, usually one or two sentences at a time until I feel comfortable with my own rendition of the same sentence(s).

But to get back to the original question, I find trying to do a good British accent is the most challenging simply because even though English is my mother tongue I am simply not British and there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of different British accents and dialects.

If I went into a pub in say Manchester in the UK and started using my fake British accent it would stick out like a very spoilt pint of lager and I would probably get laughed at out into the street. “You bloody well got that right, mate!”

 

6.)  What advice do you have for beginners in voice narration?

Understand what you are narrating and if you don’t understand it, then at least act like you do. If you don’t understand what you are reading then chances are those listening won’t understand it either.

The point I am trying to make here is ‘do your homework.’ Become familiar with the topic and practice reading it out loud to your self. Read it in front of a mirror over and over again or into a recording device and play it back and listen to it. Find things you can improve upon. Practice by toying with the different ways you can say things and find the one way that works best for you.

Anyone can read out loud, but not everyone can narrate. Like anything it takes time and practice. You have to really want it, desire it more than anything else and learn to trust your natural instincts when telling a story. Never talk down to people. Fine-tune and hone your communication skills by simply talking the story, talking as you would with people you know, like you are telling it to a friend or neighbor.

One of the biggest challenges in narration is trying to figure out what the author is looking for in a particular character or trying to capture the overall feeling for his/her work as a whole, in other words interpreting the text the way the author originally intended. That is sometimes a mystery and real guesswork. But it is also a big part of the overall challenge of narrating, especially audiobooks of fiction.

 

7.)  How did you wind up living in Germany?

The simple answer is…it just kinda worked out that way. I just sort of got stuck here. But that of course requires a bit more explanation.

I first became exposed to Germany, and Europe, as an impressionable 16-year-old exchange student when I spent a year living with a German family near the city of Cologne. Originally from Portland, Oregon and having spent most of my childhood in the Pacific Northwest I soon found myself in an exciting, but foreign place far away from home. But the experience of a year abroad turned out to be a life-altering eye-opener for me.

While at school I had developed a keen interest in world history and international affairs and had an insatiable appetite for learning more about it. Essentially I fell in love with Europe and at the time it seemed like the ideal place to be. Every nook and cranny in Europe was just oozing with history.

After my first year abroad came to an end I knew I wanted to return to Europe at some point. In fact, I did return several times, mostly as a backpacking student tourist. Then upon graduating from Washington State University with a degree in communications and journalism I applied for and received a grant to study in Germany for another year, which I did. This led to a number of great opportunities, one being in the field of international broadcasting.

To cut a long story short, I became a director and correspondent for an award winning European TV news magazine program (European Journal) that aired all over the English-speaking world, including on PBS for several years. During that time I also met a German girl who eventually became my wife. Our son is now an English and PE teacher at a German middle school.

Being where I was at that stage of my life everything just sort of happened the way it happened. I never planned it that way.

 

8.) What type of voice work do you find most enjoyable?

 

For me the most enjoyable voice work is being able to tell a story from beginning to end. The length doesn’t really matter. It can be in the form of a 30 second spot, 1-2 minute long image film or a 90-minute documentary. To me it is the art of story telling that I enjoy, grabbing the attention of the listener and not letting go until the end.

Even though I truly relish narrating audiobooks and documentaries I will narrate virtually anything at any length as long as it comes with a genuine storyline, essentially anything with a beginning, middle, and an end. To me narrating – telling a story and getting paid for it – is my personal dream job.

 

9.) What do you see for the future of audiobooks?

 

Wherever I go I see a lot of people moving about with headphones, with listening devices of some kind and earplugs stuffed in their ears. I view that as a very good sign for the audiobook industry. It is an industry that has shown incredible steady growth over the past several years and the trend seems to be continuing. I recently read that audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in the digital publishing industry and the United States continues to be the biggest market for the audio format. There is also a big youth movement when it comes to audiobooks and nearly 50% of all listeners are under 35.

 

That being said I often get the feeling that people don’t read anymore. Maybe this is due to the time factor involved here. Everyone has busy lives and no time to read. We are always on the go and multi-tasking has become a way of life. Why read it when an audio version is available? You can consume the same content while driving, walking the dog or working out at the gym.

I often get asked to lend my voice to material that is not traditionally suited for a voice artist. For instance, on numerous occasions I’ve been asked to record my voice to user’s guides and user’s manuals for assembling a piece of furniture, a home appliance or some newfangled gadget. That is what made me stop and think: “Don’t people read anymore?” That would have been unthinkable years ago. Nowadays following instructions read to you by a canned voice is not so uncommon.

So, I see that as a very good sign for the future of audiobooks, even if it is only a handbook or a user’s manual.

 

10.) If you could invite five people to a dinner party (alive or dead, real or fictional) who would they be?

 

1-Mark Twain, aka Samual L Clemens, American author, humorist and social observer. I love his perceptively sharp wit and keen eye for the obvious. I oftentimes even quote him when appropriate.

Here are two of my Mark Twain favorites:

‘Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.’

And…

‘It is easier to fool the masses then it is to convince the masses they have been fooled.’

2-Peter Ustinov – writer, actor, director, raconteur and multi-talented voice artist. I worked with him briefly many years ago on a production for PBS commemorating German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. I was most impressed by his unique cultural versatility. He spoke 6 languages fluently – English, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Russian – and he was proficient in accents and dialects in all of them. He was amazingly gifted and a true gentleman.

3-Walter Cronkite – a journalist, broadcaster and TV news anchor of the Edward R. Murrow genre who became the voice of truth for America. A TV journalist you could trust and always look up to and one who never talked down to you – an honest down-to-earth communicator. He is dearly missed in the mainstream media of today.

4-Dr. Paul Craig Roberts – an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. He has written several books and internet columns which have attracted a worldwide following. He is known for his candor and integrity, a good citizen who truly loves his country.

5-Hugh Hefner – He is an amazing publisher whom I simply admire for his accomplishments. There is perhaps a smidgeon of envy mixed in there as well. What red-blooded testosterone-driven male wouldn’t envy his accomplishments? He founded his famous magazine for men with $600,- in 1953 and built it into a multi-million dollar entertainment empire. Actually, I would invite him to dinner just to see if he arrived in his pajamas… and to count – and ogle – the bunnies clinging to them.

 

Note: The invitations are in no particular order. Naturally, there are quite a few other individuals I could have easily added to that dinner guest list but I will have to save that for another occasion.