I recently had my books Lithium Dreams and Melancholy Sunrise and Shadow of Soul turned into audio books. I put an “ad” out on ACX to find a narrator and couldn’t have found a better voice for my work. His name is Bradley J Westra and he is amazing. In the midst of his busy schedule, Bradley was kind enough to sit down for an interview with me. If you are looking for someone with a dark, brooding voice for your project, he’s your man.
Narrator Spotlight: Bradley J Westra
1. When did you first start getting interested in narrating?
“Transcending history and the world, a tale of swords and souls, eternally retold.” These lines open the video game Soul Calibur 2, and as a twelve-year-old boy I was blown away by the delivery of the narrator. You could say that was the first time I ever thought about voice acting. It wasn’t until many years later, that I would consider it for a career. In 2010, I served a two-year proselyting mission for my church. During this time, I received a lot of compliments on my voice. When I came home, I kept this in the back of my mind, and in 2015 made the decision to pursue voice acting as a career.
2. How long have you been narrating?
I began my first audiobook in August, 2019. It was a recording of “I Just Like to Make Things,” by Lilla Rogers. For whatever reason, it was never published.
3. Do you have any formal training?
No. Most of my education on the subject has come from webinars, youtube videos, and trial and error. I also learned a lot from a book titled “Acting with the Voice: The Art of Recording Books” by Robert Bluenfeld. It was written before online freelance work was an option, but it has a lot of valuable information on acting and performing.
4. What are your favorite kinds of projects to work on?
I love any script that calls for a creepy or sinister tone. Maybe it’s because I’m a pretty meek and milquetoast guy in reality, but I enjoy doing a spooky voice. That being said, I also like spiritual or self-help.
5. What is your recording “studio” like?
I’m glad you put quotations on “studio,” because that’s exactly how I would say it. I have an office chair set in front of my closet, where my laptop and microphone are set up. The clothes dampen the sound of my voice, so the sound waves don’t bounce around and create an echo in the recording. I’ve also strategically set up some blankets to help with this dampening.
6. Does someone have to have a separate studio in their home or could they use a more simple setup?
Not at all. There are many factors that play into whether a space can be used to record, namely it needs to be a quiet spot, where sound doesn’t reverberate. There are DIY tricks to
reducing a reverb, but if you live in a noisy part of town, you may need to do some soundproofing.
7. Is there a certain brand of equipment that you would recommend?
I’m not too tech savvy, but my Audio Technica hasn’t let me down yet.
8. What are the bare essentials someone needs to get started?
There are a lot of entry level microphones that are under $100. You will probably need a pre-amp to connect the mic to your computer. Typically, I’d say to avoid a USB microphone, however, they have greatly improved over the last few years. You will also need a DAW (digital audio workspace) to edit your recorded audio. However, no amount of equipment or editing will make up for a loud recording space.
9. How did you feel when you landed your first gig?
It was surreal. I thought, “wow, this is real now.” It was humbling that someone heard my audition and thought, “I want this guy to read my book.”
10. Do you have a favorite project you have worked on? Why?
I really enjoyed reading Yei Theodora’s “Japanese Fairybook.” I’m a bit of a Japanophile, so I had a lot of fun going through the country’s traditional fairytales.
11. What draws you to a project? What do you look for?
There are a few things I look for. Firstly, whether or not the book sounds interesting, and whether or not I’d enjoy reading the manuscript. I also look to see if the author correctly filled out the project page. You can tell a lot about what working with them will be like by whether or not they can do things like create a sample script or provide a description of the project.
12. Poetry is such a different genre, what drew you to Lithium Dreams and Melancholy Sunrise and Shadow of Soul?
Well, I found the title very alluring. There was a dark fluidity in it. There was something familiar about the loss that was invoked in the prose. One of the interesting things about reading poetry, is that it’s so personal. It’s like reading someone else’s diary.
13. When working with an author, what are some of the most important things they can do to make your job easier?
I like it when an author is proactive. It’s nice to have creative liberties, but nobody knows the text better than the author.
14. What platforms are your favorites to find work?
So far, I’ve found the most success on ACX. It’s easy to audition upload progress, and communicate with the author or rights holder.
15. What are your favorite genres to work on?
I’m most comfortable with nonfiction, probably because it typically requires less character voices. I’m also a big fan of horror.
16. What would be your dream project?
Like everyone else, I’ve got a head full of stories. One day I’d like to put these down on paper, and record the audiobook version myself.
17. Do you have any tips for people who want to get started narrating?
Just start recording. Read anything. Find things you love, things around the house, and whatever you can find, and record yourself reading it. No one enjoys the sound of their own voice, so you need to listen to it as much as possible, and become extremely familiar with it. I also recommend learning about acting in general. Ultimately, there are a lot of common elements between stage acting and audiobooks, so it is very beneficial to learn everything you can. If you have a favorite voice actor or narrator, see if they have a website, blog, or podcast that you can visit. There are so many resources available for those willing to do a little searching.
18. Is narrating your full time gig, and if not, how do you fit it in with your other responsibilities?
Yes, I’m working full time. Fortunately, I have a family that supports me (perhaps indulges is a better word), and I am able to pursue my dreams.
19. How many projects do you work on at a time?
At the moment, I’m doing two. Typically, I try to pace myself out a little better, but sometimes you see a book that you really relate too, and you want to snag it before someone else does.
20. What are some things you struggle with when narrating?
I’ve got a little bit of a nasal drip, and my throat is almost always congested. This means my mouth is frequently sticky, and it can be hard to work around. Also, I’m pretty bad at social media and marketing. That’s more of a struggle ‘after narrating,’ but my social anxieties extend into my internet usage, and don’t really help me promote my work.
21. Are there any exercises you do before getting ready to narrate? (Breathing exercises, vocal warm ups, etc)
I’ve got some tongue twisters I like to run through. I also like to make motorboat noises; I look like an idiot while doing this, but it helps loosen my lips.
22. What is your process for narrating a book?
Once I get my hands on the manuscript, I take the time to make a production schedule. I figure out how much I need to record each day in order to meet the deadline, and try to give myself a few days of leeway. I start each session by reading through and reviewing the script for the day. I try to make note of anything that may trip me up when I start recording. After recording, I spend a few hours editing. This part is extremely tedious, but can be very satisfying in the end.
Bio: Bradley J. Westra is a voice over talent living in Arkansas, USA. When he is not recording audiobooks, he can be found relaxing in the forest or playing video games. He is currently attending Brigham Young University Idaho, through their online program. If you are interested in working with Bradley, you can contact him here.