Wednesday, September 7, 2016

H. Schussman interviews Jim Foster, Voice Over Artist

Heidi: First, Jim, tell us a little about yourself.
Jim: Hmm… how much autobiography do you want? I’m 48, married to my wonderful wife Joellen, have five energetic kids (three girls, two boys) aged from 11 years to 2.
I live in Wamego, Kansas; home of the world-famous Wizard of Oz museum. I was born and raised in Kansas City. Though I’ve lived in Kansas most of my life, I have lived overseas for a few years, and traveled in Europe and much of the US.

Heidi: What made you decide to become an Audio-Book Voice Over?
Jim: I’ve often been told I have a face for radio. Seriously, I’ve been encouraged to do so by many over the years. Two folks’ opinions carried enough weight to actually push me forward: a pro audio engineer; and a co-worker who listens to audiobooks regularly. I ran across the ACX web site, and that gave me a place to start. I need to give a shout out to Brian Coles, a friend of mine who believed in me enough to provide gratis tuition for that first VO class.

Heidi: What genre do you prefer to work with?
Jim: I’m not sure yet. When I first started auditioning, I went mostly for non-fiction, thinking that would be a more natural fit. However the first two books I’ve done (one of which is El Tiburon) were both fiction. I’d still like to do some non-fiction, but I’ve found with fiction getting inside the characters and voicing them is a lot of fun.

Heidi: When did you start voice acting?
Jim: I’ve been involved in community and church drama productions for years, and done occasional VO work for friends and inside communications at my job.
I first started soliciting work about two years ago. When I decided to get serious, I signed up for training classes I’ve taken a couple from Bill De Wees (a talented VO and great teacher). For audiobooks specifically, I took the ACX Master Class with David H. Lawrence XVII and Dan O’Day.

Heidi: What are you working on now?
Jim: I’m just about to start The Ghostwalker File by Kevin Robinson, a contemporary novel. In the meantime, I do regular short-form voiceover work of Fiverr (e.g. podcast intros, explainer video VO, phone videos.) There’s also a full-time day job, and another side business as a gunsmith and armorer for the local police department. Add the large family, and I’m always working on something...

Heidi: Do you see yourself in any of the characters?
Jim: To give justice to each, I try not to identify with any one in particular. What I do is give each a physical place in my head. Sean was to my right forward, kind of leaning out the side. Gary was just to the left, and forward; Sport was center, just a little back. By giving them each a spot to “sit”, it made it easier to hold long conversations with myself.

Heidi: Where do you record? Describe your studio.
Jim: In all truth, it’s a just a walk-in closet off our master bath. It’s isolated with sound-deadening curtains; the clothes in the closet are the remainder of the sound treatment. Acoustically, it’s delightfully neutral, but it is a long way from being soundproof. As such, I record after about 9 pm, when kids are in bed, and my neighbors aren’t mowing lawns or driving about. My long-suffering wife gets banished to the family room in the basement.
The recording equipment is a mic, a monitor attached to the wall, and cords running to a laptop kept outside the recording space.
We’re in an age where advances in technology have replaced the need for a lot of specialized equipment in audio recording. It’s revolutionary.

Heidi: Do you practice outside of the recording studio?
Jim: Reading stories to my kids, for one. I work on building specific voices for characters. I also take webinars on performance as income permits. I’m saving up for one-on-one pro coaching.
In addition, I spend time taking classes and practicing editing techniques and audio sweetening. Making money as an independent narrator requires producing a high-quality product as efficiently as possible, both in performance and in post-processing.

Heidi: Who are your all-time favorite authors?
Jim: That’s a very difficult one. I’ve been a voracious reader from my very young years so there are many, many books and authors I love. Filtering by the list of books I re-read on a regular basis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Elizabeth Moon, Larry Correia and John C. Wright rank up pretty highly.
But there are always new authors with stories out there who surprise and delight. I have a bias towards science fiction, modern thrillers, mystery and (selectively) fantasy.

Heidi: Do VOs write query letters? If so, did you find writing a query letter a challenge? How did you overcome that challenge?
Jim: Not as such, at least on ACX. I do, however, audition. In some ways it’s easier than a cover letter: there’s no deciding what to say. I just have to decide how to say another’s words.
For me, the hardest part is setting aside the time to seek out and audition for the next book project I’d like to do. It’s really just a matter of setting goals and a schedule to keep moving forward.
After that, it’s the waiting. With rare exception, you never hear back from the rights holder directly; at some indeterminate time in the future, ACX gives you the polite, “Thanks, please try again” form letter.
Another challenge is learning not to take the rejection personally. I’ve auditioned for a lot of books I was sure I was perfect for… didn’t get the job. Sometimes I’d really like to know why.
In the end, I may deliver a perfectly good performance, but if the author/publisher wants a soprano, young female voice, that’s their choice. Nothing I can do will change that.

Heidi: What makes you choose a book to commit your voice to?
Jim: I research the book, read as much as is available, and look for indicators it would be a good “fit”. For example, when Vinspire offered me El Tiburon, I spent some time Googling you, reading your blogs, reading interviews by and with you; and also Vinspire’s website and reviews. That gave me a lot of confidence that this was a book I’d enjoy doing and could be proud to promote.

Heidi: I know my publisher, Vinspire, contacted you. Is that common for you?
Jim:  It’s happened a couple of times. ACX is a matchmaking service, essentially, so rights holders can hunt for narrators, just as I search for auditions. It’s not as common as I hope it will be some day.

Heidi: What advice do you have for an aspiring VO to be contracted by a publisher or author?
Jim: First, you don’t need to have a special type of voice. If you can read aloud clearly, you can potentially read an audiobook. Then do research on how to set up a home studio. ACX themselves have a Youtube channel with many helpful videos. Don’t think you need a huge amount of gear: your current laptop, a free copy of Audacity and a decent large diaphragm condenser mic with appropriate interface will do you. You can find mics that will work for $100 or less.
Establish an ACX profile (it’s free!) and start listening to other folks’ demos, and start paying attention to ones you like. See what you can learn. With an ACX account, you can also apply to the ACX Narrators and Producers group on Facebook, and read the wealth of information there.
Finally, get your gear together and start auditioning! You can’t truly learn, except by doing. You can also cut your teeth by volunteering with LibriVox, who record public domain books pro bono. Again, learn by doing.
Really, that’s the hardest part. It’s easy to get lost in always preparing to be “good enough”. There is no such thing. Have a bias towards action, but play it for the long game… start quickly, but don’t give up.
It’s pretty much the same battle a new writer or any aspiring creative hopeful goes through. Just do something, then work to do something again, just a little better next time. Keep doing, keep learning. Never assume you’re the best, but never let “them” tell you you’re not good enough.
Budget for and plan to get professional training at some point. That’s expensive, but it’s ultimately worth it. I highly recommend the ACX Master Class: they really teach how to leverage ACX; how to record well and record efficiently; and how to market yourself on ACX. Plus there’s a great community of ACXMC grads who are helpful and encouraging. I can’t imagine getting to this point without them.

Link to Jim’s Fiverr gig:
Link to Jim’s Narrator profile on ACX:
At present Jim doesn't have a website, blog or a facebook page for my VO work. But folks are welcome to contact him at


  1. This was a fascinating read. I've never gone behind the scenes with a narrator before, and I learned so much from this one interview! Great information!

  2. I agree Dawn, it was interesting to get the inside scoop!

    1. It's actually a good idea to interview industry professionals. There's no telling what extra information they can share with you!

  3. Thank you both for the opportunity. I'm always happy to share what I can.