Michael David Axtell is one of the narrators of Leigh Bardugo’s upcoming adult debut: Ninth House, a tale of power, privilege, dark magic, and murder set among the Ivy League elite.
Other audiobook projects narrated by Axtell include The Social Leap, Going Dutch, and The Gunners. He told us about how he became an audiobook narrator, what his process is, and his own audiobook favorites.
Please tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an audiobook narrator.
I left a full time job singing with Chanticleer (a men’s choir based in San Francisco) to pursue an MFA in Acting from The New School in NYC. After quitting my job, but before starting school, I got offered a deferment of attendance and suddenly found myself with a year off. It wasn’t enough time to get a “real” job, and I didn’t want to go back to working in the service industry. So I picked up some singing gigs to pay rent, and started auditioning for projects on ACX from my closet to see if I liked the work. I’d always liked storytelling, and it seemed like a natural fit if I could just get my foot in the door…which luckily I did! I got noticed by Audible and brought in to their studios, where I met the incomparable Jayme Mattler. She brought me in to Blackstone and really set me on my way!
TLDR: I had a lot of good luck and Jayme Mattler is a boss.
What is your process for preparing to narrate an audiobook?
My first read through of the text is primarily to make sure I understand the dramatic arch of the story and all of the words used in the telling. I’m looking for characters and their function dramatically, for dialects and accents, and looking up any unusual vocabulary (for example, in Ninth House one character speaks in Ladino; a language I didn’t know existed prior to working on the audiobook). After that prep work is finished, I focus on finding character voices that are distinct without being distracting. I identify the sound changes for any dialects or accents, mark them in the script, and then “amuse” my wife by talking to her in whatever accent I’m working on ad nauseam!
What do you think is the key to your success in narrating audiobooks?
I attribute much of my success to my ear. I am a singer as well as an actor, and my ear for music helps me not only with dialects and accents, but also with rhythm and pacing.
What is your favorite line from an audiobook you’ve narrated?
My first instinct is to tell you “Hey, Hot Dog!” because I have read that at least a dozen times in a thick Greek accent in the Sean O’Brien series by Tom Lowe, but that’s more of an ear worm at this point than a favorite. My favorite line comes from Deepak Chopra’s foreword to Radical Kindness by Angela Santomero:
“Kindness, along with its close companions empathy, compassion, and love, is an aspect of consciousness that cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be forgotten and rediscovered.”
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
I don’t have as much time to listen as I’d like, but I do love a well done full cast production! Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (Full Cast) was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of Princess Bride by Cary Elwes, and a great production that is tragically under known is Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel (full disclosure: I am part of that one, but my role was ten minutes long and I was pretty sick when I recorded, so the plug really isn’t self serving!).