Between the Sheets with David Brenin
Romance Narrators: You work in practically every genre it seems! What's it like zipping from sci fi to romance, crime to self-help, biography to young adult?
DB: I love variety; I thrive on it. It gives me the opportunity to stretch as a performer, to “try on” different personas, and each author’s narrative voice, even within the same genres, is unique. The pacing and energy changes from book to book, too; there’s a very different rhythm to an action thriller than there is to a scholarly tome about climate change, and I really relish being able to switch gears that way from one project to the next. The work itself involves hours at a time, sitting as still as possible, in a space that is small and as silent as possible, but working on such diverse projects allows me to populate that space with this rich variety of people, and stories, and voices. I’ve been doing audiobooks for seven years, now, and I am still never bored. That’s a really, really good sign.
Romance Narrators: It is indeed. And you are also a professional pianist? How awesome! Tell us about the place music has in your life.
DB: Thank you! For most of my life, it was how I self-identified. People ask “what do you do?” and I would always answer “I’m a musician.” As far as the place music has in my life, now, I’m sort of figuring that out. Earlier this year I committed to narrating audiobooks full-time, and am still trying to find a way to stitch doing music back into my routine.
Romance Narrators: Tell us about your work with Second City and all the fancy people you've worked with on tour.
DB: I played for the Second City National Touring Company, which was like the farm team for the Main Stage company, for about two years. At various times I performed with Steve Carrell, Chris Farley, Jane Lynch, Joel Murray, Jeremy Piven, and Amy Sedaris, among many others. Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson), had just graduated to the Main Stage from the touring company when I was hired, so I never got to tour with him, but he and I went to the same high school, and I got to share the stage with him there a few times.
Being in the TC was an amazing experience, because I got to study these incredibly talented people plying their craft night after night. It was a great way to (hopefully) absorb some lessons about comic timing and delivery.
Romance Narrators: You are a part of the Audie-nominated cast of Nevertheless She Persisted. How was that whole experience for you?
DB: It’s hard to describe. It is, so far, the capstone of my career. There was so much about being a part of that production that I treasure; being able to work with Tanya Eby, and that incredibly talented group of authors and narrators, celebrating our nomination together at the Audies. In a year that has been my best, so far, professionally, that really stands out as the highlight.
Romance Narrators: You are skilled on both the narrating side and engineering/directing/producing side of things. Do you find that one side influences the other?
DB: I don’t know that they influence each other in any way, now. When I was first starting out, I think my ability to engineer a polished recording really gave me an advantage over other narrators who didn’t yet have the same expertise. And editing my own recordings also helped me zero in on aspects of my performance technique that needed improving (especially with breathing, and keeping my mouth and throat relaxed). But the two functions (performance and engineering) call on very different skill sets, and I haven’t found much overlap. I haven’t proofed, edited, or mastered any of my own recordings for several years, now, but I still occasionally do it for other narrators, and I sometimes consult on engineering as well.
I think my musical background plays a big role in how I approach narrating. I have a good ear, and can mimic voices pretty well, and I also have (I think) a natural sense of rhythm and melody that translates well to finding the true arc of a sentence, or a paragraph, or a story.
Romance Narrators: Is there an author whose books you'd love to narrate? How about a co-narrator with whom you'd love to be paired?
DB: I’ve been a huge fan of William Gibson since I started reading his short stories in OMNI magazine back in the early ‘80’s. I would LOVE to do his next book.
There are so many narrators I’d love to work with; the two that really stand out for me are Andi Arndt, and Tavia Gilbert. They both have such a lovely, natural musicality that I really connect to.
Romance Narrators: We narrators spend an enormous amount of time in a literal box telling stories. Tell us about your booth. Any fun photos? Good luck charms? What are your must-haves while you work?
DB: When I started out I recorded in a basement bedroom. I put acoustic foam over all the walls, and I was able to put the computer in the closet and run cables to my desk. The great thing about that space was that it was in the part of my house that’s built into the side of a hill, so no sound of any kind from outside the house ever bled through to interrupt recording. The bad thing – and it was really bad – was that any sounds from INSIDE the house were showstoppers. This included any footfalls, any running water, any heating or air conditioning, and conversations above sotto voce. So a couple of years ago I invested in a 5’ x 4’ double-walled prefab booth from VocalBooth, that I set up in the same bedroom. It’s made an incredible difference; not so much in the sound (although it is a bit improved) but in the quality of life my family can enjoy while I’m working. It’s a really well built product and I recommend looking into them to any narrators who are considering buying a prefab booth.
I’ve treated the inside with some of the acoustic foam I’d mounted in the bedroom, which mitigates the boxy-ness that you hear in a lot of small, rectangular booths. And I do have a couple of objects crammed in there with me; one is a father’s day gift from my daughter, and the other is a post card with Jamie Wyeth’s Portrait of a Pig.
Romance Narrators: What draws you to working in the romance genre?
DB: OMG, are you kidding? It’s so much fun! The stories can include all kinds of elements - action, suspense, intrigue, sports, fantasy, magic, humor, everything any other genre offers. But they’re also about relationships, which I enjoy exploring very much. And, yeah, the sexy bits are always a highlight.
Romance Narrators: Do you find the time to listen for pleasure? What was the most recent title you loved?
DB: I’ve always got an audiobook going. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, and now, any discretionary time for just sitting and reading a book is devoted to prepping my next title, so the only way I can consume books for my own pleasure is to listen to audiobooks while doing something else.
I loved Circe, which I finished just a week or so ago, and before that Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Both are 1st-person narratives, and the performances, by Perdita Weeks and Cathleen McCarron respectively, are both examples of an actor fully committing to the text and bringing the story and characters to vivid life.
Romance Narrators: If you had to, could you pinpoint your most challenging audiobook project so far? What made it so?
DB: Every book has its own challenges. The ones that stand out for me are the non-fiction books I’ve narrated that deal with disturbing topics. I’ve done two on the Kennedy assassination, one about a mass-murderer, and a couple of recent ones about horrific crimes. I read the book prior to beginning recording, so when I’m at the mic, I know what’s coming with these types of books, and it’s a struggle to stay connected to the text, and convey the author’s intent, without internalizing any of it too much. I always need time to decompress at the end of a day recording those.
Romance Narrators: What exciting audiobook projects do you have on the horizon?
DB: I will be starting SE Smith’s next book in her Project Gliese series soon, and I’m looking forward to the release of Eulogy, by Rachel Van Dyken, on which I had the great fortune to collaborate with Scarlet Chase and Rob Shapiro, and that Andi Arndt produced though Lyric Audio.
Romance Narrators: Where can people keep up with you online?
The only online presence I currently have is on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/DavidBreninNarrator
And you can find all my listings here -