Audiobooks: a voiceover marathon

Image result for run the raceThere are challenges in every field of voiceover work but the major factors in producing an audiobook are stamina and persistence. It simply takes a long time to record several tens of thousands of words, and even longer to edit them. The recording must be consistent throughout, with character voices the same at the end of the book as at the beginning, the speed must be steady, but paced to convey excitement where needed. This can be difficult when the finished recording may stretch to several hours in length.

Possibly the first consideration is are you prepared to spend house sitting in a recording booth or studio learning how difficult is it to read a book out aloud without making a mistake? It can be a lonely experience.

The key is planning and being prepared for a VO and editing marathon. The following are a few tips and lessons I have learnt from my, admittedly limited, audiobook experience so far.

Read the book!

Tempting though it may be to launch straight into recording once you have a copy of the written book, don’t! It always pays to read the book first. Inevitably you will discover more about the characters throughout the book and these will influence how they are voiced and how they sound. The strapping young hero that you voice in a stirring English accent might visit his Scottish parents three quarters of the way through the book. I keep a notebook and as information is revealed about the characters I make a note under their name so, by the time I start recording, I know what they are likely to sound like, and if I am going to have to change their voice as a result of illness, dying or stress (the character, not me).

Consistent recording

Obviously there is no way that an audiobook can be recorded in a single sitting; it will take many recording sessions, split over many days or weeks. When the listener hears the book, they don’t want to be reminded of that, they expect a consistent recording in terms of volume, room noise and voice sound. The audiobook listener shouldn’t be able to tell where a late afternoon recording ends and the following day’s session starts. Things to remember:

  • Keep the volume constant: Sit the same distance from the microphone in each session. Mark the position of your chair on the floor or find a way to make sure that you are sitting in a consistent position on each take.
  • Room noise: Unless you have the good fortune (and possibly a real fortune) to have a dedicated, sound proofed recording studio you will have days where your recording ‘studio’ is noisier than others. Maybe your next door neighbour has decided to host a loud party, or hire a digger to build a swimming pool. Don’t try and record a session with background noise, it will standout like a sore bum. As much as possible ensure that the ambient background noise is the same from the first to the last recording session.
  • Pace: It is easy to start recording an audiobook at a lovely, measured pace. However, once the enormity of the task has sunk in the temptation is to speed up, simply to get the book read. But the reader will pay for the book and doesn’t want to be cheated out of their hard earned cash by a narrator rushing the last third of the book. Keep a consistent pace. Every so often listen to part of the first recording session to remind yourself of the pace you have set for yourself.
  • Character voices: Your strapping (now Scottish) hero should sound the same in the first chapter as in the last, unless there are factors that would have changed the voice. The best way to ensure this might be to record samples of the character voices before starting to record ‘properly’. Referring back to these recordings can help keep your characters in character. This can be especially useful when reading a book series, with the same characters, as weeks, months or longer might pass between finishing one book and starting to record the next in the sequence. The notes you made about the character during your initial read of the book may also help. Possibly find a vocal key or phrase to bring your voice naturally back to the correct sound. Does saying the character name or a stock phrase pull you back into the voice you want?

Editing

If you think recording the book takes a while you’ve seen nothing yet! For every hour of recorded material, you will probably find it takes 3 or more hours to edit. If you don’t like listening to your own voice for hours on end, this may not be for you! Why so long? Well:

  • Mistakes: You will make mistakes, everyone does. It is surprising how difficult it is to simply read out aloud without stumbling over your words, mispronouncing that complicated Polish surname or unconsciously rewording sentences.
  • Retakes: You will need to re-record these sections that you made a mess of and edit them into the audiobook, taking care to match the volume and tone of the original.
  • Breath noise: Everyone breaths, and everyone expects to hear the person they are listening to breath, but it shouldn’t be distracting.
  • Unwanted noises: The world is full of noises determined to interfere with your beautiful recording. From the next door’s lawn mower to passing helicopters, some days it can seem as if the world is against you. In addition, as if external noises are not enough, your own body can conspire against you. The microphone will pick up your tummy gurgles, funny little mouth noises and rustling of your clothes. All these will need to be removed.

Mastering

Done editing, so all ready to go, right? No, not quite. There are a few final steps that you will need to take to make sure your audiobook is ready for distribution.

  • Sound levels: Unless it is a very short audiobook (or you don’t need sleep, toilet breaks or time to rest your voice and can record it all in one session) the book will have been recorded over several sessions spread over days or possibly weeks. The listener won’t want to keep adjusting their volume control as they listen to the book so you need to make sure that every section has the same basic volume level. How you achieve this will depend on the software that you are using to edit the software.
  • Maximum volume: Distribution services such as Audible like all their books to have similar peak volume levels across all their audiobooks, often around -3 to -6db. If you don’t meet this standard your beloved audiobook will generate an email from quality control.
  • Distributor guidelines: In addition to the maximum volume level, whatever service you are using to host your audiobook will have a range of other specifications, all of which you will need to meet to make sure that your precious MP3s are accepted. These may include:
  • Backgound noise level
  • Maximum RMS volume
  • File size
  • File length
  • MP3 or other format
  • File naming conventions
  • General audio quality.

It is important that you are fully aware of these before trying to submit your audiobook, or, ideally, before you start recording the first session. It is a painful experience having to re-record a whole audiobook.

 

In future posts I will look in more detail at specific requirements for ACX, which is the platform used to get audiobooks onto services such as Audible, and other issues in getting your work out to the world.

Promotion

So your masterpiece of acoustic excellence is up on Audible, time to sit back and watch the money pour in? Well, no. Unless you have just recorded a new Harry Potter novel, or similar, you will have to promote the audiobook. Now this does not come naturally to many audiobook artists. We like to sit in our little booths talking to ourself, immersed in a book, but books and audiobooks do not sell themselves. If no one knows about the product no one will buy it. Social media is the obvious choice. The main channels are:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • Personal website.

Other sites might be useful, such as Instagram, SnapChat and I am sure that there are many others I don’t know about.

Post regularly, and post on subjects relevant to audiobooks and books in general, including promoting your audiobook(s). The longterm aim is to build up a good number of genuine followers who will both buy your work and promote it by sharing your posts with others.

Any thoughts on any of these suggestions? Always open to new ideas and techniques.

 

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