An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD
I was honored recently when September Day, the voice artist behind the text-to-speech software used on second generation Kindle Fires, left a comment on this blog.
I’ve always liked voice artists (Paul Frees is a personal favorite), but I do feel like I have a different connection to September Day. I typically listen to text-to-speech on my Kindle Fire HD for hours every week…I’ve spent a lot of time listening to September!
September was kind enough to answer some questions for me and my readers:
ILMK: While many of us have spent so many hours listening to you that we feel like we know you, we realize that we actually don’t. Tell us a little bit about the life path that brought you to doing the voice we hear on our Kindle Fires.
September Day: I was a veterinary technician for 13 years right out of college. I absolutely loved it, but it was tough on all fronts; physically, emotionally, mentally. One day, I started to consider a career change and remembered that back in my youth I had loved a particular local radio station. I would call in and chat with the DJs and one of them, the commercial production guy, would constantly ask me to come in and record but my shyness held me back. In 2007, I finally got the guts to give it a try and 6 months into my career, I was voicing at the MTV VMAs. By the way, that same DJ from my teenage years happened across my voiceover website years later. We reconnected and have been married 3 years this October with 2 little girls and a baby boy.
ILMK: You’ve done a variety of voice work, including announcing the MTV VMAs (Video Music Awards) and voicing MJ* in a Spider-Man motion comic. You’ve also appeared on screen in a movie. Your delivery has been quite different in different situations. When you recorded the voice that we have with Ivona, do you consider it acting, or something else? Are you thinking of a character, perhaps picturing the person speaking?
SD: Working with Ivona was unique in many ways. One has to keep a consistent tone for many days, many hours a day. They were asking for a youthful voice and I am 36 so I have to work to keep that youthful pitch. The acting part was keeping the mental fortitude to keep the pace and tone level throughout every single sentence. It was perhaps, the absence of acting. I was permitted no inflection of my voice except for the last words of some sentences. I had to read all of “Alice in Wonderland” and many, many news stories from the AP wire. As Ivona is based in Poland, it was the European AP wire, which is *much* more difficult and unfamiliar
ILMK: Have you done any audiobooks? How is that different? Do you listen to text-to-speech or audiobooks for your own entertainment?
SD: I have done a few short audiobooks. It’s not my favorite aspect of the industry simply because of the long recording time. Also, there are times when I am requested to edit my own audio, which is the bane of my existence as a voice talent. I don’t listen to many audiobooks as speaking and listening to speech is my job. I much prefer music of the classical, house, electronic, world and ambient varieties.
ILMK: Presumably, once you’ve recorded a voice for software like this, you don’t know how or where it will be specifically used. Have you ever been surprised by encountering your own voice in your daily life?
SD: Oh yes! I had no idea of the plans for the software. I had assumed it would mostly be used for GPS navigations or IVR. There have been times I have been in line at the bank or grocery store and have heard my voice coming from a tablet. The first time it happened, it was incredibly surreal. I was holding my daughter, just kind of snuggling and whispering in her ear that she was going to get a lollipop from the bank teller when my voice spoke up reading out loud. We both turned and my daughter shouted, “Mama”!. I had to explain everything to about 15 bank customers and 4 tellers. It was hilarious!
ILMK: Many of my readers are also authors. It can be hard to balance your creative life and your personal one. Is there anything about being a voice artist that makes that easier?
SD: Definitely! Having a home studio means that I can work in pajamas!… or less. I’m able to squeeze in auditions and jobs during naptime and after the kids go to bed. I also take my recording setup on the road when we travel, so I’m able to work and finance our travel as we go. That is really convenient. Because I have been doing it so long, auditioning and editing can be done very quickly and gives me plenty of time to have other outside interests and be a mom.
ILMK: What’s it like when you record a voice like this? Do you do it out of your home studio, or do you go to a studio? Does anyone direct you in your performance?
SD: For this particular job, I went to GM Voices, a large studio in north Atlanta. The Ivona representative would call in on what’s called a phone patch using Skype and listen as I spoke. It was his job to make sure I didn’t lose pace or tone and to help with the pronunciation of the names of prime ministers from European and African countries.
ILMK: Are you given specific material to read? Are you reading actual books, or are they words and sentences designed for use with the software?
SD: Yes. I read over 196,000 prompts from “Alice in Wonderland”, the AP wire, and many just random sentences. Apparently, the software knew beforehand the sounds it needed from me and so it crawled the web to find sentences that would make me deliver those sounds. I do remember one particular sentence I’ll never forget: “Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court.” It was the line we played at the start of each session for me to get the tone perfect again.
ILMK: Do you do any research into the “proper” way to pronounce things? Some words are pronounced differently in different regions of the country, for example, and you may also be encountering scientific terms or (in the case of science fiction, fantasy, and proper names), made up ones. How do you decide how to say it?
SD: Honestly, we say it every way it can be said. That is true in all aspects of VO. When a script contains a word or number that can be said different ways, it’s easiest to just give every variation because inevitably, the one you choose will be wrong.
ILMK: Do you ever re-record, because you want to change your performance?
SD: All the time! Sometimes, a 60 second commercial session can take a half hour to do depending on the director, how many people from an ad agency attend the recording, how creative the team is feeling. Sometimes, they re-write the whole thing on the spot. Most times, it’s done quickly, but I have had sessions last for 8 hours for a 30 minute infomercial.
ILMK: About how much time did you spend recording for Salli, the voice we hear on the current Kindle Fires?
SD: Salli was recorded over 8, 8 hour days with short bathroom breaks. I couldn’t eat between takes because that changes how your mouth sounds so I would always leave the studio starving! I had also just given birth to my first baby girl 4 days prior to the project so sitting that long for that many days wasn’t easy. It was at that point that I got the reputation in the industry as “hardcore”!
ILMK: Is there is anything else you’d like to say to my readers? Many of us are very grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy books when we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do so.
SD: I’m very honored and pleased to be the voice of the Kindle Fire. I have always enjoyed volunteering in the community and throughout my voiceover career, I have donated my services to many nonprofits including reading for the blind and print handicapped. Knowing that my voice is able to help these people on a global level now is so rewarding.
Thanks again to September Day for taking the time to answer these questions is such an entertaining way!
* MJ is Mary Jane Watson, an important love interest for Peter Parker
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.