In 2017, I was 29 years old and making $30,000 a year as a church music director and private music teacher. My husband was a middle school music teacher, and made $48,000 a year.
With two children — both under four years old at the time — and $80,000 in combined student debt, we struggled to keep up with our finances.
But I’m in a much different place today. Switching careers to become an audiobook narrator has changed my life immensely. I now bring in six figures a year, and we have only $10,000 left on our student loans, thanks in part to the student loan forgiveness plan.
I get to do my dream job from home and spend more time with family in our cozy home, perched on a mountaintop in Northern Virginia. Here’s how I did it:
Switching careers: Going from music to books
I graduated with a master’s degree in vocal performance in 2014, with hopes of becoming an opera singer. But between the low wages and unpaid artist programs, I started to feel discouraged.
I considered going back to school to study dental hygiene or medical sonography — anything with a decent salary that would better help me support my family.
As I commuted to my church music jobs, opera rehearsals and private lessons, I’d listen to audiobooks to pass the time, often for three or more hours a day. I’ve always been an avid reader, and particularly enjoyed audiobooks. I loved the comfort of a familiar voice keeping me company, telling me a story.
One day, it occurred to me that recording audiobooks could be a real job for me. So on a whim, I Googled “How to become an audiobook narrator.” I learned that audiobooks were one of the fastest-growing mediums in publishing, and that most were recorded by voice actors in professional-grade home studios.
I was thrilled at the idea that all the things I loved about opera — the stories, the acting, the beautiful words — could still be a part of this new career.
When I brought the idea up to my husband, I was nervous about investing money into a brand new business. But he was supportive right away.
So I purchased about $300 of equipment and, in just a few weeks, we set up my first home studio in the hallway closet.
Finding my voice in the industry
I landed my first few book jobs through ACX, a platform that connects narrators with authors, agents and publishers. I started working with independently published authors, then started traveling to industry events to get my name and voice out there.
In 2020, with the cancellation of all in-person events in the wake of the pandemic, I put my energy into building my Tiktok and Instagram accounts, giving audiobook fans glimpses into my life as a narrator.
I had this vision of showing people how sexy and silly this job can be — and they loved it. As my content went viral, my audience grew. Book gigs from publishers started pouring in like never before.
I used to have to send quarterly emails to producers looking for work. Now producers I didn’t even know were emailing me, mentioning that their friends had sent them my videos. Creating an online presence has been among the greatest things I’ve done for my career.
The joy of writing my own story
Today, I work about 40 hours a week, divided between recording, office work, and pre-reading and researching upcoming books. But that isn’t all at once, or necessarily in a 9-to-5 schedule. I will often record and answer emails during the day, then prep-read a book in bed at night.
The flexibility is helpful, because the physical rigors of recording an audiobook can be intense. Usually, for five hours a day or more, I’m sitting sitting completely still in a tiny room, dividing my attention between reading accurately, performing passionately and listening for noises, from outside or inside the booth.
Luckily, my classical singing background trained me to use my voice for long stretches without strain, while still delivering emotion and nuance.
Being in the performing arts taught me how to network, and it also gave me a thick skin, which helped me move on quickly from auditions that didn’t go well, and rejection in general, especially at the beginning.
In my third year as a voice actor, my business started bringing in six figures, which felt so significant to me. It was an unimaginable number in my days as a freelance musician.
Typical rates from major publishers start around $225 per finished hour of audio. Included in that hour is pre-reading the book, researching, recording the book, and then recording corrections once the book has been proofed for accuracy.
Over five years, I’ve recorded nearly 400 books. The growth in our income from my career change allowed us to purchase land and build our mountaintop house, as well as my upgraded recording booth.
It was a difficult decision to give up my opera dreams. But if I hadn’t left it behind and taken this chance, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Now I have a career that I love. I’ve met and become best friends with so many of my fellow narrators. I’ve financed and built a beautiful home with my husband. And I have the flexibility to spend time with my amazing kids.
I feel like I’m finally writing my own story, and it feels really, really good.