Merry Happy Everything from Jeff Hays

As 2022 comes to a close, Founding CEO & Lead Narrator, Jeff Hays, reflects on the past, present, and future of Soundbooth Theater. Read on to learn about the origin of Jeff’s narrating career, everything we’ve accomplished this year, and everything we’ve learned. Consider this a holiday love letter to our fans, without whom, none of this would be possible.

The first audiobook that I narrated that is available on Audible was published in September of 2013. It’s a nonfiction, the only one I’ve ever done in my career, called Liberty in Eclipse. A political book, and if I remember correctly, it’s a surface-level argument for libertarianism, citing many awful government policies (are there any other kind?) and actions. It leans Conservative a bit too much for my taste, but it was a fun exercise. The only audiobook I’d done before that was Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. It was for a company called Pearson Education, and it was part of a curriculum package for schools. Wish I could find it; unfortunately, it’s unavailable to the public. At that time, I was getting odd jobs through, auditioning 100 times a week, and landing one or two out of those. I was just squeaking by, but I remember avoiding audiobooks at first.

When I first started my voice career, I was, of course, looking to get into the “glorious” fields: video games and animation. These were the media I consumed, so that’s what I thought I should be doing. I had dreams of being in some Hollywood studio someday, being directed, playing fantastical and fun characters, being a part of something legendary that would be imprinted in the minds of kids who were the same age I was when Labyrinth, Aladdin, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Hobbit (to name only the first few that popped into my head just now) captivated and charmed me. All the other jobs just looked like stepping stones.

And audiobooks looked like long, boring jogs on a high-school track. A sure road to nowhere.

But I discovered three key things with that first audiobook job:

  1. Everyone else seemed to feel the same way, so the competition was much shallower
  2. At least for this one, the pay was excellent
  3. It was my job to be the narrator, the director, the casting director, the editor, and the entire cast

When I finished that job, I was ecstatic. I had spent an ENTIRE WEEK working on a project. (I think the audiobook wasn’t even four hours long, so it’s really funny to think of spending that much time on it now.) But usually, I would have put just as much time and energy into auditioning for jobs that paid way better per work hour, of which maybe 1% would actually land. So, in reality, this was a huge improvement. Better pay, my work actually gets listened to, and I got to put on an entire show.

I kept looking for audiobook jobs through (I landed Daimones and Once Humans this way. Again, decent pay, but holy crap were those books terrible. Go have a listen to the samples for a laugh). But more importantly, I found out about ACX, and that’s where things really got started.

From those humble beginnings, so humble that I would not hire the narrator I was back then, I find myself here. Writing a blog post that presumably a few of the people who subscribe to our newsletter will read. A newsletter with almost 2,000 subscribers, on a web page of a website we’ve been cultivating for years now, with an app that now has over 20,000 users. And all of this madness started with me abandoning the dream of doing voices for Hollywood and video games after discovering that I could captivate my audience a different way. That I could have a new dream attained through a different medium. By bringing the worlds that authors imagined to life in audio.

I think that a major part of the illusion that Hollywood and other mainstream media production companies manifest is that they are the ultimate destination for entertainers who want to have a career. But that was never the case. As much as those industries want people to believe this so that the best talent in the world depends on them, the truth is that they all started with humble beginnings. Just like all theaters and acting troupes — all those entities that are typically thought of, and act as, gigantic mega-corporations — started with an entertainer who had a dream.

Right now, you listeners are making our dream come true.

Soundbooth Theater is now at the end of a dark, uncertain adventure of discovery. It was wrought with sacrifice, bad decisions, impatience, heart-breaking disappointment, disillusionment, and opportunity cost. We’re ending the year beat up, exhausted and frazzled; but ultimately, victorious.

The year has ended with us having more than doubled the amount (and I would argue, quality) of content, and more than TEN TIMES the revenue on the SBT Direct platform than last year. Not only have we done that, the success we’ve experienced with this has immediately brought attention on us from other businesses. More exciting opportunities have dropped into our laps that we will be running with next year. But even on the Audible side of things, I’m being told that parents are (perhaps irresponsibly, but I don’t care XD) sharing Dungeon Crawler Carl with their kids, and just like Robin Williams and David Bowie and Mel Blanc, my work is being imprinted on minds as young as I was when I was first captivated by the magic of stories.

We’re now approaching the light. A whole new world is opening to us. We have you to thank for sticking with us to now, and those of you who will keep supporting us and sharing our work even more. All the work we’ve put into this, one day at a time, sometimes forgetting exactly why we’re doing it and getting lost in the tasks but remaining faithful, is manifesting this dream into reality. And it’s surreal, and amazing, and unfathomable what we’ve accomplished.

It all started less than ten years ago. Stick around to see what happens in the next ten.