So You Want My Arts Job: Audio Book Producer

Sarah Bacaller is co-director of Voices of Today, an Australian audiobook production company, and has narrated over 40 titles on Audible and beyond. She has produced audiobooks for Australian authors and regularly participates in full-cast audiobook productions with narrators from around the globe.

Sarah is currently producing a podcast series all about audiobooks, called The Audiobook Reader’s Review (landing later in 2022). She is the author of She Tenacity (2022) and The Fault Lines Founding Liberty (2020), and you have written for The Conversation, Sydney Review of Books, Zee Feed and a range of academic journals.

How would you describe what you do?

As a narrator, I bring texts to life through the spoken word, recorded and distributed for your listening pleasure in the form of audiobooks! As a producer, I work with authors, rights holders (or public domain texts), along with narrators, proof listeners and audiobook distributors to get audiobooks out there into the world. My work is through a company I co-direct called Voices of Today.

How did you get stated in your career?

In 2016 I was at home full-time with a baby and a three-year-old. Was so exhausted in the evenings that instead of reading books to my toddler, we used to listen to free audiobooks on Librivox instead, while I nursed the baby to sleep.

At the start and end of Librivox recordings, they say, ‘For more information or to volunteer, please visit Librivox.org’. So one day, I did.

Read: The pros and cons of recording audiobooks

My husband (who studied music at uni) set me up with a decent microphone and a recording space and I contributed to a few Librivox projects. Out of the blue in 2016, I received an email from Denis Daly inviting me to join his association of narrators, Voices of Today – and to contribute to an Audible project of Australian poems. I said no because I already felt overwhelmed. But he persisted and in 2020, he invited me to go halves in the company.

What do you look forward to the most in your job?

When my kids were smaller and I was feeling more isolated, narrating was a manageable way of working with others on a project bigger than myself. I could sneak off to record for half an hour here and there, and gradually, projects would come together. It’s really wonderful to collaborate with friendly, creative people from around the globe, whether narrators, producers, distributors or authors, and to work together on projects that will bring joy to others. For me, listening to audiobooks reminds me of a childhood where my Mum read to us every night and developed in us a deep love of words and stories.

In an interview for your job, what skills and qualities would you look for?

For producing: good diplomacy and mediation skills. Audio editing skills or a willingness to delegate them! Attention to (audio) detail.

For narrating: Good literacy and fluent expression, and an ability to interpret text into communicative speech. Many narrators these days are also their own producers, proofers and editors – but even if they delegate these jobs, there is still a fair degree of capability with hardware and software needed for handling audio recording.

What’s one of the most memorable books you’ve worked on?

Last year I worked on Hazel Edward’s memoir, Not Just a Piece of Cake … Being an Author (narrated by Erin Marie White). That was amazing because I remember my school librarian reading There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof to us in primary school, and my Mum reads the Hippo books to my own kids now! I proofed and edited Hazel’s audiobook as well as producing it, and I really identified with her anecdotes and encouragements around juggling responsibilities and navigating a long-term creative career. I also took comfort in Hazel’s drivenness and sense of adventurous aspiration.

Last year I also narrated The Historian’s Daughter by Rashida Murphy. That was challenging because of the mix of languages, characters and settings in the book. But I also learned a lot about my own Anglo-Indian heritage because the protagonist in that story is Anglo-Indian.

There are other lovely, lovely authors I could mention, like Kate Constable and Susanne Gervay. We got the audiobook of Kate’s Crow Country out last year, which was really important to me because it’s a text that’s studied in a lot of schools. Accessibility is really important and there are so many ways to engage with text.

What is the best thing that’s happening in your sector?

Massive year-on-year growth in audiobook sales (in the US at least). And for us at Voices of Today, a collaboration with Bolinda Audio which is now underway … Challenges in the sector however, include the growing incursion of AI technology into the narrating space, underpayment and low income for audio industry professionals, and the under-development of the industry in Australia. But we’ve got amazing stories to sustain and inspire us as we work towards a more inclusive and connected future, so that’s good news!

For more about Sarah Bacaller’s work, see her website or find sarah_bacaller on Instagram.

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