Nashville

And I learned right away that when you read audio books you have to do character voices. Which was something I’d never thought about.

It’s morning in Nashville. I am on my way to a recording studio. The traffic is awful. Locals call this the morning rush.

The locals also tell me that this frantic rush will immediately be followed by: mid-morning rush, pre-noon rush, noon rush, afternoon rush, and the halftime show.

And don’t even get the locals started on what traffic is like after everyone gets off work. In Nashville they don’t even call it “rush hour” because that would imply that it only lasts an hour.

There are cars gridlocked on the interstate that have been stuck in the same place ever since Gerald Ford was president.

I am recording my second audio book today. The first time I recorded a book, I had no idea what I was getting into. I learned a lot. Namely, I learned that when you read audio books you have to do character voices. Which was something I’d never thought about.

To give you an idea of what I mean: Let’s say that you’re reading a book about pirates to kindergarteners. If you don’t say “Arrrgh matey!” in a graveled sailor voice before every sentence, the kids will have no idea you’re reading about pirates and might think you are reading about, say, the rise and fall of the Roman empire. It’s the same way with audio books.

The studio I’m recording in is not far from the famed Music Row, where all the famous studios are. Just down the street are world famous places that once cranked out groundbreaking albums from legendary artists such as Elvis, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and of course, the Backstreet Boys.

I remember how nervous I was the first time I visited this place. I was trying not to stammer into the microphone while reading. And when I got to the a dialogue section in the book, the audio engineer spoke over the intercom and said, “Hey, aren’t you gonna do the voices?”

“The what?” I said.

“The voices of your characters.”

Thus, my journey began. At first, speaking in character was a little awkward. Especially when you consider that the main character of that book was a fifteen-year-old girl. But I gave it my best shot.

Whenever I did the voice of the girl, I came off sounding a little like Olympia Dukakis with a severe hangover. And throughout the day, I would frequently see the engineers behind the glass, doubled over, laughing until their faces were maroon-colored, and snot was stringing from their noses.

I arrive at the studio. I am led to a recording booth. And soon, we are up and rolling. I am speaking into a big microphone.

The book I am reading is about my own life. A book with my family members in it. Then it occurs to me after finishing the first paragraph: I will have to do character voices.

This is going to be weird, I’m thinking. I will have to imitate the voice of my late father, the voice of my mother, and even—this is hard to talk about—the voice of my family dentist.

It’s hard work. And the hardest part is trying not to make mistakes when reading the manuscript, which is nearly impossible. Nobody on planet Earth can read a whole paragraph without completely screwing it up.

Sometimes, we have to stop recording because my mouth is too dry, or too spitty, or too smacky, or the mic is out of position, or I can’t stop sneezing, or my chair is creaking, or my stomach keeps growling, or I have to pee like a Russian racehorse.

Whenever these things happen, the engineer has to stop recording and start over. Engineers love doing this.

Also, sometimes we have to pause recording because of Nashville’s ongoing construction epidemic. This city is always under heavy construction. Every two seconds there is a distant explosion somewhere in town, blasting the earth’s crust, expanding the city, and making way for an important new Whataburger.

When these explosions happen, the engineer has to stop recording and say, “Let’s try that last line again.”

But we both know that we will be interrupted by at least ten more explosion sounds in the next few minutes until the engineer finally says over the intercom, “I hate my life.”

So I had a really good time recording over these past few days. My audio engineer, Sarah, has had biblical-level patience with me. And we finish in record time. It only takes fourteen hours.

When I leave the recording booth, I can feel that my voice is hoarse, my back is sore, and I am seeing double. I just want to go back to my hotel room and take a hot shower.

Before I say goodbye, Sarah lets me hear some audio samples. She hits the play button. I hear my voice come over the speakers.

It is the sound of me doing the character voice of my father. A somewhat dramatic scene. Lots of emotion. And when it is finished, Sarah and I hug. She wishes me luck. I wish her the same. I crawl into my vehicle and look at the city. And I can’t help but feel the pleasant sensation that comes with finally being finished.

Anyway, that was two days ago.

I have been sitting in rush hour traffic ever since.

15 comments

  1. Amanda - November 7, 2019 9:59 am

    I think you are the only person who could make me laugh at Nashville’s traffic and that’s not the only thing that the locals talk about. Growth and progress which means change seem to equate with personal inconvenience, but it’s still a great place. I haven’t experienced any of it on a daily basis for over 20 years and can’t say that I miss it. I put it in my rearview mirror and even though I was “homesick” for the first decade for my neighborhood, friends, church, etc., I did not have trouble adjusting to a “non rush hour” life!

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  2. Camille - November 7, 2019 10:27 am

    We live 2 hours from Nashville and are sentenced to go there every few weeks to the VA Clinic where my husband’s doctors are located. Nashville’s only redeemmg quality, imho, is the Batman building! I’m not sure what you do when a city has ougrown it’s roads, but some genius needs to figure it out in NashVegas!
    Congrats on your new audio book.

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  3. Cynthia Harmon - November 7, 2019 10:27 am

    Nashville traffic is horrible. One of my daughters lives there. She doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe you have to be 28 yrs old. Anyway, I love your voice and look forward to listening to the book.

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  4. Sharon - November 7, 2019 10:54 am

    Are you sure you are not on I-64 in St. Louis or anywhere on I-70? Sounds very familiar.

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  5. Jess - November 7, 2019 12:08 pm

    I haven’t heard the saying, “I have to pee like a Russian racehorse,” in a long time. Last time I heard it I was probably still on active duty in the Army. Nice to read that some good ol’ sayings are still being used today.

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  6. Martha Black - November 7, 2019 3:21 pm

    My fondest memories are of reading and doing voices for my granddaughter when she was small. It was a wonderful glorious time I hope she remembers & holds, but that’s a whole other thing from what you’re doing. Why don’t you volunteer to read & do voices with kids at school or the library. I bet you’d love it & they would too.

    As for “RUSH” traffic,not would best be called “HURRY UP & WAIT” traffic. It would be worth it to rent a room to nap while waiting, then get up & go on your way.

    Still loving your “written words”, although a recording would be fascinating.

    As a sedgway:

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  7. margefromnaturesgift - November 7, 2019 3:39 pm

    “Sitting in traffic ever since.” Yep. You’re in Nashville.

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  8. MermaidGrammy - November 7, 2019 4:12 pm

    Can’t wait to really hear your voice and see how closely it resembles your voice in my head. And heart

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  9. Mary - November 7, 2019 4:13 pm

    I listen to a lot of audio-books while I’m driving. And since I LOVED your first audio-book, Stars of Alabama (that was your first, right?) I am excited that you are doing another. “Stars” would not have been nearly as enjoyable if you had picked someone else to read it. Just imagine Alexander Scourby reading it! That would have been so crazy!

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  10. Linda Moon - November 7, 2019 4:46 pm

    Music Row! Those two little words from you brightened up a dreary day here in my hills and valleys. Doing the voice of my family dentist from down in the valley would be easy for you because he’s funny and makes me laugh, like you often do. It’s not easy to laugh while my actual spitty mouth and teeth are in his actual hands. Two other guys I know and love are up there close to Nashville and have a story to tell, too. YOUR FATHER’S VOICE. Hugs and good fortune to you, Sean, for telling life’s story. I can’t wait to read or listen to it!

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  11. Sharon Hand - November 7, 2019 4:54 pm

    Sean, My husband and I are part of a team that drag races a top fuel motorcycle. I can relate to the Nashville traffic as we are headed north to a track. Odd thing, though. We came through Nashville back in July without a problem. I knew it was too good to be true. We sat on I 65 just below Elizabethtown, KY for 4 hours. Karma, I guess.

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  12. Edna B. - November 7, 2019 7:47 pm

    I agree with Martha Black. It would be such fun to read and do voices for young children. I am a little behind and did not realize that you had an audio book. I’ll have to look this up. As for Nashville, I’ve been there twice for Fan Fare many years ago. I loved it. I was on foot most of the time. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

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  13. Shelton A. - November 7, 2019 8:10 pm

    The reading must have been a catharsis for you. A lot of stuff to sort through like, voices, emotions, and feelings you may not have looked at for a while. You have a lot of guts to do that and a lot of faith that you could and would somehow get through the hard parts. My hat is off to you, Sean. God bless you and Jamie.

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  14. Dru Brown - November 7, 2019 11:49 pm

    I loved “doing voices” when I was teaching literature years ago. I miss it. I look forward to hearing your books.

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  15. jack - November 10, 2019 1:36 am

    When I entertained kids I had a rough time doing my voice and one other. I would get them mixed up, but the kids caught it! Hope you are out of traffic. Since you spent that much time many folk will appreciate it, I am sure, but not me. Being deaf, you wasted your time on me. BUT But not on the other folk, keep on talking.
    Love you dude, I have missed several blogs, hope I am back….

    Just Sherry & jack heading for Florida soon,…………….. need a cat?

    Reply

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