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Meet Karen Commins

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Commins.

Karen, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I knew in 5th grade that I wanted to be a voiceover artist. I earned my BA in journalism because that was the only route I knew at the time to get into voiceover.

Instead, I worked over 30 years in the traditional path of an employee instead of being my own boss. I was already working a full-time job when I finished college.

Like many people, I put my dream on the shelf for a better paying job. I landed a position as a programmer with my employer. I went back to school to earn my MS in computer information systems. I became a network and email administrator and, later, a technical specialist. My IT career lasted for 27 years.

However, the dream was still with me all that time. I volunteered from 1993-1998 as a reader for the Georgia Radio Reading Service (GaRRS — for the blind and print-handicapped. I took a voiceover workshop and then made a voiceover demo.

In 1999, while still working my IT day job, I became a professional voiceover talent doing mostly corporate narrations and e-learning projects. Although I had developed a passion for audiobooks in the 1990s, most publishers were not hiring talent outside of NY and LA at the time.

That all changed in 2011 when created ACX is an online marketplace where authors, publishers, and narrators can meet and create contracts for audiobook production and distribution. That site was a game-changer for me!

I worked at both my day job and my voiceover business for 12 years. I was so thrilled I could finally devote my full energy to my dream job of audiobook narrator starting in 2012!

I am delighted and blessed that Drew, the hero of my life story, directs me on every book! He catches most of my errors and offers creative suggestions regarding the interpretation and characterizations. We record audiobooks together in our stunning soundproof studio.

By the way, I’m happy to say I’m again volunteering as a reader for GaRRS.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Like every successful person, I’ve had my share of problems and what seemed like missed opportunities over the years for many reasons: my demanding day job, lack of potential clients willing to hire a narrator in her home studio, and care and loss of both my and my husband’s parents and the subsequent time-consuming duties of clearing their homes.

However, my largest struggles have been mental ones I’ve brought on myself. The performing arts are highly competitive, so feelings of rejection or being ignored have nipped at my heels through much of my journey. I’ve fought comparison-itis countless times, especially after social media became prevalent. I’ve spent too many hours in downward spirals of feeling discouraged/frustrated/disappointed that my progress wasn’t as fast as I wanted or even in the direction I wanted. I still give myself attitude adjustments whenever I start telling myself a negative story.

You have to keep thinking about WHAT YOU WANT and taking continuous steps toward it without dwelling on the WHEN and HOW it will show up. Furthermore, be happy and joyous in whatever you are doing as your activities will bring more of those happy and contented feelings to you.

In retrospect, I could have been a lot happier in the moment if: 1) I didn’t compare myself to other people and 2) I kept the faith that the Universe was conspiring in my favor even when it looked like nothing was happening.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I work with publishers and authors who hire me to produce and narrate audiobooks from my studio. The scope ranges from narration-only projects to fully-finished, retail-ready recordings. I also consult with authors who want to create audiobooks of their titles and narrators who want to learn about copyrights and licensing. I talk with both authors and narrators about audiobook distribution options, royalty rates, and marketing.

As an audiobook narrator, I specialize in clean reads, like cozy mysteries where you don’t have swearing or graphic violence or sex. I especially love to narrate biographies and books about history since I read them for personal enjoyment.

I’m gratified and humbled to have been nominated in the Voice Arts Awards and Independent Audiobook Awards for solo narrations that I also produced and published. I’m proud to have played a part in a multicast audiobook that was nominated for an Audie Award, which is the industry’s equivalent to the Oscars, and won an Earphones Award from the industry’s premier publication.

One of my greatest gifts is my unique skill in synthesizing many pieces of disparate information, organizing it, and re-packaging it for others in a way that is easy for them to understand and immediately use in their careers. I’m pretty well-known among other narrators for the advice I’ve dispensed on my blog, in articles on various other sites, and in online groups.

Last fall, I relied on this natural ability and expanded on the assistance I give to other narrators by launching Through the wealth of free info I’ve compiled or written for this site, newcomers can learn how to start this career, find out best practices in production, and connect with others in the industry.

In addition, site members have access to a video course, some exclusive consultation videos, a reviewers’ directory, and a color-coded calendar listing eight types of world-wide events from networking to training. I greatly enjoyed creating the videos in my course, which teaches narrators how to use iAnnotate software. The course married my technical and artistic sides, and I’m developing more courses and conversational videos for site members. As physical events have been postponed or canceled due to COVID-19, I’ve been seeing a big increase in online events. I’m planning one myself!

It’s important to keep learning and growing. I was proud to be accepted to this year’s CopyrightX course offered by Harvard Law School. I expect to finish this program in May and have already found the knowledge I’ve gained to be useful in my own productions and consultations given to others.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I have two little ceramic signs on my desk. One says, “Run your own race”, while the other says, “Find joy in every journey.” They remind me every day that quantitative measures — the number of audiobooks I’ve done, the amount of money I’ve made, and the number of clients and fans I’m grateful to count — are just numbers. They may describe some aspects of my career at a point in time, but they do not define me.

I gain immense satisfaction from helping other people. In fact, I often find myself putting my priorities aside to do some research to answer another narrator’s questions like obscure pronunciations or contact information for a particular person. I like solving the puzzle and knowing I’ve made a positive difference in someone else’s life.

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