Interview with Deryn Oliver

audio book narrator and voice artist

Deryn is an audiobook narrator and voice artist whose voice can be heard around the world and across the Web in audiobooks, games, animations and corporate narrations. Her audiobook titles span many genres, including romance, young adult, children and nonfiction. She loves bringing character to the written word and is delighted that she gets to spend so much of her time telling a good story. Deryn came to voiceover after a comment about her voice when appearing on a gameshow gave her the idea to change careers and train as a voiceover artist. She has found that her acting skills naturally lend themselves to audiobook narration and character voices are a particular love.

When not narrating from her Shropshire home studio in the UK, she can be found walking in the countryside with her husband and dog.

Makarelle: How did you become a VO artist?

Deryn Oliver: Even as a child at infant school in the '70s I was complimented on my clear and confident speaking voice. Throughout my school days, I was regularly asked to be the narrator for assemblies and stage productions. When asked for volunteers to read out loud in class it was my hand that shot up as although I wasn’t great at science and maths, I knew I had a talent for speech.

Skip forward to my twenties when I was running my own successful beauty therapy business with a loyal clientele. I was still using my creative talents on stage in local theatre and, as much as I loved my job as a beauty therapist, I still had a little voice inside telling me that a more creative path was out there for me. 

And then in 2017 Bradley Walsh and his quiz show Cash Trapped came into my life.

No, he didn’t suddenly call me up and offer me a new career, but I was a contestant on the show. During filming both the man himself and the producer commented on the clarity of my voice. They suggested I could be great at voice over work.

Thrillingly, I won the show (can’t tell you how exciting that was!) and spurred on by their remarks, I did some research into the voice over industry, investing my winnings into training,  professional equipment and setting up ‘The Quiet Room’ aka my home studio.

Makarelle: Do you need to be a good actor?

Deryn Oliver: Not necessarily as some voice over work doesn't require acting as such but you need to understand nuance and have the ability to reflect emotions in your voice.

Makarelle: What as well as talent do you need to book work and keep booking?

Deryn Oliver: Understand how to market yourself, deliver consistent high-quality work, have great communication skills, keep learning from others in the industry, notice the type of work you are being asked to do and understand why your voice is sought after in that particular genre of VO. Even in audiobook narration your style and tone can be more suited to a particular genre of books.

Makarelle: What in your life experience was most useful to you in becoming a vo actor?

Deryn Oliver: Being read to as a child and having a love of reading and an interest in the English Language. I was encouraged to look up words I didn’t understand in the dictionary. Being able to pronounce words correctly is really important in my job. Being in an amateur dramatic group has also been great at improving my acting skills.

Makarelle: Do you have a recording studio?

Deryn Oliver: Yes, I have set up a recording studio in one of our bedrooms. My husband made soundboards to create a booth and I have acoustically treated glass in the window to ensure it's a very quiet space.

Makarelle: What sort of clients have you worked for?

Deryn Oliver: As I particularly enjoy narrating audiobooks I work with a lot of authors either directly or through their agents or publishers. I have also worked for gaming developers on their video games, video production companies, e-learning companies and animation companies, 

Makarelle: What type of work do you most enjoy?

Deryn Oliver: I love books and narrating a well-written book is one of my favourite projects to work on especially if they require character voices. I am asked to narrate a lot of children’s books and being the voice of animals and fairy tale characters is a lot of fun. Being wicked characters is very enjoyable too and I voiced a lot of witches and villains. Gaming characters is also fantastic fun.

Makarelle: What do you find frustrating with your work?

Deryn Oliver: When people haggle a price with no idea of how much time goes into producing the work or have no understanding of how the usage of a voice affects the cost. It’s so much easier to work for clients who understand buying voice over services or audiobook production.

Makarelle: Were you impacted by the pandemic?

Deryn Oliver: I was a little bit as some types of work - video production companies mainly -  suddenly stopped and also little jobs that I get from the general public wanting fun little family projects doing also stopped. However, audiobooks continued pretty much the same and in fact, ACX increased the amount of Royalties that were paid out by 5% so that helped. 

The competition for jobs increased though as a lot of actors went into VO and that is still the case now. 

Makarelle: Do you need to be able to do accents for your work?

Deryn Oliver: No. I never apply for jobs that stipulate any accent other than my own natural one and unless you are really good at a particular accent it’s not wise to as the casting producer will probably tell you aren’t natural.

It is handy sometimes however to be able to offer accents if you are an audiobook narrator and I can voice book characters with Northern, Scottish, London and West Country accents but it isn’t essential in voice over work.

Makarelle: How do you choose what work you do?

Deryn Oliver: I have learned over time the sort of projects I am more likely to get and so rarely audition for jobs I’m not suited for. I also won’t audition for jobs that don’t pay well enough for the amount of work involved or the usage.

When it comes to audiobooks I look at the titles available on ACX - Audio Creative Exchange - and if the cover art looks good I will look in more detail about the story, characters, and payment. I think the care taken with the cover art says a lot about the author and the quality of the book in general. If all looks good I will read the audition sample. If it’s well written I will then audition for the book.

Makarelle: How do you find work?

Deryn Oliver: I am on a lot of websites where voice over projects are posted so I sometimes audition or sometimes I am approached by a client with a job offer. Fiverr is a freelance site where I receive a lot of children’s audiobook work from and I also am a listed narrator on ACX and Findaway books and other audiobook publishing sites. 

I have a website and have occasionally been found that way - WF Howes the audiobook publishing house approached me with work after seeing my site. 

I am also on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and sometimes I have been contacted that way. 

I’m not great at online networking but that has also been another source of the odd job.

Makarelle: Any classes, books, programmes you would recommend?

Deryn Oliver: Marketing is a huge part of being a voiceover artist and so I would recommend signing up with . He has been a great help to me in understanding marketing myself more effectively and also a huge confidence booster and support generally.

Gravy for the Brain have a huge amount of information about the VO industry in general and training

Bill Dewees is a voice over coach with a lot of helpful advice too

For more information about audiobook production for both authors and would-be narrators, ACX is a good place

Makarelle: Any advice for would-be VOs?

Deryn Oliver: Don’t think of it as a full-time career from the start as competition is huge, particularly now, and it can take a long time to get any well-paid work. However, it is great fun and building up the work can lead to full time so enjoy it as a side hustle.

Do the research. You can learn a huge amount about the industry from the sources above without spending lots of money so spend lots of time on this first.

Don’t think that you need expensive equipment. Your recording space is the most important factor but you can record in a cupboard so even this doesn’t have to be costly.

Makarelle: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with us, I look forward to listening to much more of your work in the future.

photo credits: all rights remain with Deryn Oliver