An Interview with Helen Lloyd
By Emily De Vogele and Cameron Phillips
Helen is an award-winning audiobook narrator and producer.
What led you to your current role in audio publishing? Is it where you wanted to be when you set out, or did an alternative surprise land you there?
I have reinvented myself several times during my career. I always wanted to be an actor, and won a scholarship to The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Upon graduating, I spent the next fourteen years as a professional actor, mainly in theatre, at the National Theatre at the Old Vic, the Edinburgh Festival and in the West End. I played small parts in a few television dramas and did a lot of radio drama in the days when the BBC drama department was significantly larger. In the early 1980s I moved to Nottingham with my husband who was also an actor. Eventually, I applied for a job as a presenter and continuity announcer. I did this for seven years, and during that time developed a parallel career as a freelance voice actor, particularly in commercial and corporate work. I narrated over fifty documentaries for ITV and recorded my first audiobooks – back in the day when they were recorded onto tape and released on cassettes. Fortunately, those recordings no longer exist, I am sure they were pretty ragged! I eventually moved to be a producer at ITV Central/Carlton making documentaries, both on location and in the studio while continuing to take on freelance VO work.
In 2014, I created a very basic recording studio at home and began recording audiobooks working mainly with US publishers and production companies. I was Bee Audio’s UK "Voice Wrangler" and was responsible for finding and training new narrators when they expanded their roster to include UK based narrators. With an audio engineer I created and developed their Studio Certification Course which Bee Audio ran for three years.
Can you talk a bit about your role as a narrator and also as a founding partner of Raconteurs Audio, and what a typical day in your role looks like?
Raconteurs Audio was created following a breakfast in Fluffy’s Restaurant in downtown Manhattan. I and several British narrators were at APAC (The Audio Publishers’ Association Conference) and realised that one of the ways we could really progress as narrators was to create work for ourselves. Slowly the idea took shape and Raconteurs Audio was registered as an LLP in 2019 and began creating audiobooks in 2020 – with our first publication, an anthology of H. G Wells’ short stories winning an Earphones Award. We have since then produced several more anthologies, some full-length novels, and a radio drama as well.
A typical day will depend on whether I am recording, producing or coaching. Recording days are pretty lengthy in a mainstream studio, typically an eight hour day – the expectation being that it takes two hours of studio time to record each hour of finished audio. If I am behind the glass running a session with a narrator, then that is also the schedule. Recording solo or working on an indie production allows a more flexible schedule. If I am editing, then it will take me about the same amount of time. Coaching and one to one director sessions are often in the evening as I work with a lot of US based narrators.
What do you think about the shift and rise in audiobooks, especially during the pandemic? Do you think this is an increase that will remain the same, or will we see audiobooks drop off again in upcoming years?
I think audiobooks are here to stay. One thing holding back growth is studio availability. Studios in the UK were largely operating in the traditional way prior to the pandemic, with actors going into studios to record. This changed during lockdown, with actors recording from home more and more often. Sadly, the quality of some of these COVID-19 recordings was pretty poor, and that created the impression among some publishers that it is impossible to create a quality audiobook outside a mainstream studio – a fact I vigorously dispute, though I have had many conversations with audio engineers who say that they faced really difficult edits because of poor quality audio. I did more books last year than ever before, but that rush seems to have cooled somewhat. Now, there are more publishers and production houses that are now willing to work with narrators who have a good quality personal studio at home and if this trend continues then the demand for audiobooks will continue to be met.
How important is it to have audiobooks available to smaller publishing houses as well as the bigger, more dominant ones?
It’s vital. Audible is really only interested in quantity and relies on the quality work, or the big-name authors, narrators and celebrities. The majority of audiobooks are read by jobbing actors and narrators, written by hard-working (and often little known) authors. Only small publishers seem willing to take a risk by publishing/producing a new and exciting novel by an unknown person because production costs are thought to be too high and the risk too great.