Matt Haynes in others’ words: The art of audiobook narration at the Jesup

PORTLAND, Ore. — Some folks around here might remember those tall, lanky Haynes boys, the sons of Susan and Lee of Bar Harbor. Two of the boys, Michael and Matt, distinguished themselves on the Higgins-Demas stage at Mount Desert Island High School. Michael went on to a career in music, and Matt has continued his life upon the stage as an actor, director and most recently as an audiobook reader.

Matt Haynes will return to MDI on Wednesday, July 26, to give a talk at 7 p.m. at the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor about his most recent endeavor in the booming industry of audiobooks.

After graduating from Mount Desert Island High School in 1997, Haynes went on to Skidmore College in upstate New York, where he continued his theater studies with an emphasis on the commedia dell’arte style of physical acting and improvisation.

In 2000, he left the east coast entirely for the vibrant theater scene in Portland, Ore., where he is now the artistic director of Pulp Stage, an experimental theater company that combines acting and reading.

Perhaps not coincidentally, about four years ago, Haynes broke into the audiobook world as a narrator. The craft seems to suit him to a tee.

“Well, it’s creative, interesting work that I can do at home, and I have complete control over my hours,” he said in a telephone interview from Portland. He went on to explain that this sort of voice work is “invited” rather than “intrusive,” a term referring to commercials.

“Nobody wants to listen to commercials, so the narrator has to employ speed and color to catch the listeners’ attention. But with an audiobook, it’s an invited interaction with the listener. You have their permission to entertain them, so a steadier, gentler delivery is called for.”

In the phone conversation, Hayne’s deep, smooth speaking voice makes it clear why he is so well-suited to the work.

Of course, when it comes to locally bred voice artists, one has to think of Seal Harbor’s Steve Zirnkilton, whose deep sonorous basso informs us about the “criminal justice system” on TV’s “Law and Order” franchise. Haynes’s voice has a lighter, more approachable quality, perhaps a better fit for the long sessions of “invited” book listening.

It’s similar to live stage acting,” he said. “It’s storytelling, trusting the authors’ words to provide the atmosphere. There’s an old theater saying, ‘if it’s not on the page; it’s not on the stage,’ well that’s even more true here.”

Another asset Haynes possesses for telling those stories is a good ear for accents and dialects, which he uses for veracity and to help the listener distinguish characters.

“I have 52 now,” he said, “and am always working on new ones.” In fact, he has made a series of YouTube videos that give tips on how to learn various accents, such as a Scottish burr. He breaks down certain vowel and consonant sounds one at a time then puts them all together in a totally convincing Scotsman’s spoken rendition of R.E.M.’s “Night Swimming,” or “Noyt Swehmmin.” As a rule, he said, when working on a new accent, he uses song lyrics he has memorized. Joanie Mitchell lyrics are recited with a Mandarin accent, for instance, Turkish is Pete Townsend, and, with apologies to Johnny Cash, Haynes’s Swedish accented rendition of “A Mahn Nehmed Seeoo” is a hoot, uh heeoot.

As a freelancer, Haynes said, he gets his reading gigs from an agency called ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange. In the three years Haynes has been doing this, he’s narrated 20 books, all from self-published authors.

“At this point, I am still building my career,” he said. “So, I am happy to do what comes my way.”

Thus far, he has narrated adventure tales, spy thrillers, young adult fantasies, romances – “those are fun,” he said – and some nonfiction titles. He is currently working on a steamy, psychic thriller.

He said at this point, he has not been asked to read anything that would make him ethically or morally uncomfortable. But should that day come, he does have standards.

“I wouldn’t want my name or voice associated with anything that compromised my personal values.”

In his program at the Jesup, Haynes will talk about how a narrator works with an author, what his approach is to interpreting the author’s work and preserving the author’s the original vision in a variety of genres.



Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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