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The audio world can thank a happy accident for bringing in one of the industry's best talents and staunchest supporters. A quirky coincidence, coupled with a complementary background, led then dancer and actor Robin Miles into new careers in narration, direction, education, and leadership.
In the 1990s, Miles was acting on and off Broadway and in such television series as "Law & Order" when she stumbled on the world of audio. Leaving a hair salon, she happened to see a sign for a Lighthouse for the Blind office.
"I was used to giving back," she says, citing the philanthropic efforts of her parents. "This was something I could do."
Coupled with the example of community involvement was Miles's unique childhood. Growing up as the youngest child on her New Jersey block, she was drawn to the adults in her neighborhood. Those visits exposed her to human diversity as she met newcomers from across the globe. Instinctively drawn to the beauty, rhythm, and subtleties of language and dialects, the young Miles soaked up the music of European, Asian, and African voices.
A call to Lighthouse offering to share her voice brought an audition with Talking Books and, to Miles's surprise, a paying gig recording books. With that solid training and the guidance of one of her favorite narrators, Suzanne Toren, her talents came to the commercial world.
From her first Earphones Award for Cane River  to several Audie nominations and awards, Miles has rocked audiobook lovers with her thoughtful narrations and stunning vocal characterizations. Not only does she wow with her favorite tongues, French, Irish, and Jamaican, her ability to build relationships with listeners while reading makes Miles a narrator of choice.
"When I'm narrating, I feel the connection to the reader," she says. "I'm creating the movie in the reader's mind. "
Her Earphones nods include BROTHER, I'M DYING and HALF OF A YELLOW SUN. She received a 2007 Audie for directing ROOTS.
In 2004, life threw new circumstances in her path, moving her to a new level of involvement in the audio world. A mysterious autoimmune illness, now well under control, threw up a huge challenge: Miles's breathtaking voice was affected to the point that narration was prohibitive. The door to audio direction was opened. "For two years, I just directed," she says. "This was a big gift, the best thing that ever happened."
She brings a decisive yet flexible approach to directing. Her secret to success is leading narrators to use her relationship-building approach without imposing her own interpretation. "When I direct, I listen for the connection and the content, "Miles says. "I visualize. If a narrator stops talking to me as a listener, I stop them."
Her commitment to the industry is further rooted in her work with the next generation of narrators. Miles's company, VOXpertise, provides training in both the technical and creative sides. Her trademark advice is that every sentence holds meaning from an emotional or point-of-view perspective. Miles's students cannot take even the most seemingly mundane passage for granted. "Nothing can go by and be blank," she explains. "I tell my students, 'you should never make your audience have to blink.'"
A dedicated listener herself, Miles's overarching goal is to bring audiobooks into a new status as an art form. "I want to make people love listening and bring back [the emotional intelligence] we get from storytelling." To make that a reality, she hopes to revolutionize audiobook production standards. Her dream list includes more flexibility with production timetables and budgets, making casting decisions and the creative process the focal points. "We as an industry must use the best narrator for each book. Every listener should have a star experience."
By any measure, Miles herself is indeed that star, proving her mantra that when we give, we also receive. "I love what I do. I can't believe I get to do this."
All those who share that love can look forward to more tantalizing readings from Miles. She says she won't be satisfied until she earns an Audie for best solo narration.--Jenan Jones Benson
Photo by Jordan Matter
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