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.