Home Studio Setup with Andrew the Audio Scientist: Part 2

WelAndrew_250x320come back to the second half of my two-part home studio setup series. Last week I covered where to place your home studio, how to properly soundproof it, and the basic equipment you’ll use in it. Today, I’d like to share real-world examples from three Audible Approved Producers. Let’s look at (and listen to) the great results a home studio can produce.

Visible Sound Audiobooks

Visible Sound

 The controlling and deadening of acoustic reflections in her bedroom and specifically around the microphone is one of the main contributing factors to the professional audio quality of her recordings – Ben Glawe of Visible Sound Audiobooks.

This home studio photo comes to us from Visible Sound Audiobooks, an Audible-Approved Producer whose operations primarily take place in a Brooklyn bedroom. How does this team achieve their professional sound quality in the midst of the country’s busiest city? House-narrator Christine Papania explains:

The biggest noise problem with my bedroom was my window, which overlooks a a noisy street in Brooklyn as well as a park. I bought special blackout curtains which block out light and sound from windows, which lowered the outside noise to acceptable levels. My laptop fan was also leaking noise into the microphone, but the addition of a silent laptop cooling pad fixed the problem.

Now we’ll hear a recording from Visible Sound’s space. You might be surprised how good it sounds!

 

kate udall

Udall

 

Kate Udall got her start as a narrator at Audible Studios. After working on her production chops and securing some great ACX titles, she earned herself the Audible-Approved Producer distinction. Kate’s studio is a great representation of an effective DIY home recording setup.

According to Kate

We call it Fuzzy Jail around here. It is made of blankets, the size of a cell and I am often inside in locked-down solitary confinement.

Kate uses thick packing blankets to isolate her recording studio from the rest of the room’s noises, which also provides the added benefit of reducing sound reflections that may otherwise occur on the side wall to the left. Her microphone is situated in front of an Auralex Mudguard, a great tool that can further reduce sonic clutter that occurs in home recording environments. She is also wise to set up an external monitor and other necessary components so that her laptop, which sits outside of the recording environment, does not introduce more artifacts and noises into the recorded signal.

Lets listen to a recording from Kate’s Studio:

Stephen Bel Davies

Bel Davies

Our final example shows the upper limits are of home audiobook production. Yes, you are looking at a home studio! This photo comes to us from veteran narrator Stephen Bel Davies.

Located in his Manhattan bedroom, this Studiobricks* installation is the top-of-the-line option for home recording due to its incredible noise-blocking capabilities and reflection controlled environment. Acoustic treatments on all walls, as well as the ceiling, guarantees a deadened recording space with extremely dampened artifacts and reflections. While Stephen is able to achieve a stunning -60dB of sound reduction with this setup, it doesn’t come cheap. These installations will set you back about at least $4,000 before factoring in installation costs. Still – one can dream!

Here is a bit of audio produced in Stephen’s studio.

 

FINAL NOTES

While Whisper Rooms are an ideal recording environment for any audiobook narrator, they are not necessary to produce a great recording. The most important consideration during an ACX production is consistency – both in practice and in aesthetic. For this reason, after you’ve installed your home studio, I strongly encourage you to read up on my four-part series, How to Succeed at Audiobook Production, which goes over methodologies to ensure success with your new audio production system.

How do you achieve a professional recording? Leave your feedback in the comments below.

(This section originally misidentified Mr. Bel Davies home studio as a WhisperRoom.)

This Week in Links: August 11 – 15

Did you know that the submission period for the 2015 Audies is open? Sponsored by the APA, the Audies recognize distinction in audiobooks and spoken-word entertainment. As a publisher or producer of an audiobook, you can enter your ACX title for consideration as a nominee, and yes, rights holders, by “publishers,” we mean you!

Titles released between November 1, 2013 and July 31, 2014 are eligible during the current submission period. Submission runs $175 per title ($100 for APA members), and must be completed by August 22. Complete submission info can be found here (PDF). Submit your ACX production today, and you might find yourself the winner of a shiny new Audie!

Now, on to your weekly links roundup.

For Rights Holders:

J. R. R. Tolkien’s 10 Tips For Writers (Infographic) – via Galleycat – Take a look at the Lord of the Rings author’s advice for wordsmiths.

The Joy of Writing Longhand – via Lit Reactor – Writing longhand: antiquated idea or inspiring throwback?

10 Essential Tips for Dating A Writer – via Buzzfeed Books -Check out this fun look at what it takes to date a writer. Do you resemble these remarks?

For Producers:

This Much I Know…10 Things I Learned From Getting Into Voiceovervia steveoneillvoice –  Steve O’Neill helps you learn from his time in the VO business.

Game Of Tones: How To Play Your Voice For Maximum Impact – via Gary Terzza’s Voice-Over Blog UK – Gary’s got the “moves that will sharpen your voiceover skills.”

What Growing Grass Taught Me About Voice Over – via Marc Scott Voice 0ver – Find out why the voiceover business is all about patience, perseverance, and endurance.

Home Studio Setup with Andrew the Audio Scientist

Welcome to the latest musings from Andrew the Audio Scientist. Today, I’ll be addressing the most essential component of a successful ACX audiobook production: constructing a home recording studio. You may be surprised to find how clean and clear your narration can sound after implementing just a few of the techniques and products below into your own studio setup. Let’s take a look at the two main aspects of a solid studio arrangement.

Andrew_250x320The Room

The most important consideration when building your home studio is its location. The ideal recording space dimensions are rectangular (NOT square), with low ceilings and 90º corners. Closets and other enclosed spaces make perfectly great recording spaces after implementing a few basic room treatments.

Reflection absorption materials, such as the ones detailed on the ACX Beginners Amazon Wish List can make all the difference. The primary reflection points that should be addressed are any surfaces behind the microphone and on the side walls, at a distance exactly half-way between your sitting position and the microphone stand. If you want to go the DIY route, the same effect can be achieved by hanging your old winter coats on the walls, or even throwing up moving blankets where clothing is not an option. The idea is to use fabrics that are thick and provide ample absorption so that once sound hits the material, it stops dead in its tracks.

Isolation is an important consideration for your room, too. An important step in the audiobook production process is the pasting of clean room tone on top of edits and other extraneous noises. Doing so can be greatly inhibited, though, by a non-ideal recording space. You may find the room tone to be too noisy to affect any real sonic improvements. To combat this and other noise problems, make sure to isolate outside noises from your recording space by hanging blackout curtains at all windows, and insulating your room’s open cracks and crevices. However, note that there are some rooms where even the most expensive room treatments are unlikely to make a big impact.

ACX Recommends:

  1. Avoid installing your studio in large rooms such as kitchens and sun rooms. These will cause undesirable echo and reverberation, and result in a muddy sound.
  2. Small rooms with reflective surfaces like bathrooms should also be avoided, because the porcelain and mirrors will send your voice flying across the room without remorse.
  3. Last but not least, recording outdoors is a big no-no. While the sounds of nature can be pleasant, squawking birds and passing cars are not sounds that belong in audiobook productions.

3-Spaces-Bad

THE MICROPHONE

This is pretty obvious – if you want to record your voice at home, you’ll need a microphone. Not so obvious, however, is the kind of microphone you need to purchase. At ACX, we recommend a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone. These microphones are typically more accurate and clean than other types of vocal microphones, but are also more sensitive to recording mistakes. You’ll need to adhere to some setup best practices to get the most out of your purchase:

  1. Placement – A microphone is best set up at a point no further than 40% away from the front wall. Ideally, the microphone would be placed half-way between the side walls.
  2. Height – Microphones placed at or below mouth-level tend to pick up more “body” of a voice, while placement above the mouth (closer to the nasal cavity) capture a more “bright” and airy sound. However, this is a very personal aspect to studio configuration that is best left to experimentation.

    andrew's blog ratio

    Diagram of a ideal mic placement within a home studio

  3. Distance – It is never necessary to stand the microphone further than 6-10 inches from your mouth. This should help you avoid plosives, but we strongly recommend purchasing a pop filter for your microphone if it does not already come with one. (For you DIYers, you can also construct your own pop filter out of – no joke – some pantyhose and flex tubing, as demonstrated in this Lifehacker article)
  4. Interface – All cardioid condenser microphones require an audio interface that can provide phantom power to the microphone. If phantom power is not provided to the microphone, then it will not work.

ACX Recommends:

One of our favorite starter microphones of this type is the Rode NT1-A, which can be found on the ACX Beginners Amazon Wish List. The NT1-A kit available on Amazon comes with a pop filter and all of the mounting hardware needed to get started. This, in conjunction with the Blue Icicle XLR-to-USB microphone interface and a solid microphone stand, provides an excellent starter ACX production system.

Following these basic rules for home studio setup will allow you to transform the appropriate area of your living space into a great sounding vocal booth. Join us tomorrow to see and hear examples of some real-life Audible Approved Producers home studios.

ACX and Voice 2014 Team for Audible Studios Casting

Audible Studios and ACX are kicking off our latest casting call. This time, we’re teaming up with Voice 2014, one of the LA area’s top voiceover industry conventions, taking place in Anahiem, CA August 27 – 30 2014.

VoiceButtonThis casting call gives actors attending Voice 2014 the chance to audition for Audible Studios’ Grammy-winning team of producers, as well as one of the audiobook industry’s top talents, Scott Brick. Male actors can audition for the opportunity to voice Build for Change by Alan Trefler. Female actors can audition for Pivot Points by Julia Tang Peters. Both titles are non-fiction, and require an instructional read appropriate for newbies and veterans alike.

Both titles pay a per finished hour rate commensurate with the actor’s experience. Build for Change will having an estimated running time of 6 hours, and the contract is valued at roughly $1,200. Pivot Points will have a running time of about 10 hours, and will reward the female winner a contract worth roughly $1800. The contract is for narration only; all editing and post production will be handled by Audible Studios.

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Actor and casting call judge Scott Brick

To audition, visit ACX.com and create a free account. Auditions are open to attendees of Voice 2014 from Friday August 8th at 9 AM ET – Monday, August 25th at 11:59 PM ET. The selected actors will be announced during Scott Brick’s audiobook panel at Voice 2014 and right here on the blog.

After submitting your audition, browse over 4,600 additional titles open for audition on ACX and find your next audiobook gig. We can’t wait to hear your voice!

This Week in Links: July 28 – August 1

Welcome back to our weekly links roundup. Before we get to the collection of advice on writing and producing audiobooks, we’ve got a special announcement for our LA-area audiobook producers.

Voice and ACX Logos

If you’ll be in town over Labor Day weekend (August 27-30), you’ll want to head over to Twitter and enter our contest to win a free ticket to Voice 2014! All you have to do is follow @ACX_com and retweet the tweet below for a chance to win!

The contest is open through 11:59 pm on August 5th, and you can enter once per day for a maximum of 5 entries. We’ll announce two winners here on the blog on August 6th. Full contest rules can be found here. Good luck!

Now, on to this week’s links!

For Rights Holders:

Find the Right Publicist for Your Next Book – via The BookBaby Blog – Looking to branch out beyond self-promotion? Chris Robley has your guide to picking a publicist.

The Cast of Characters in a Novel – via Live Write Thrive – “Sure, life is interesting when you have interesting people around you. But we shouldn’t be writing novels just to showcase fascinating characters.”

The Writer’s Retreat – via The New York Times – A fun illustration of what your happy place might look like.

Bodices Don’t Rip: Writing Accurate Historical Fiction – via LitReactor – “Staying true to period doesn’t necessarily mean getting every detail right— it’s also about creating characters that interact with their settings in a believable way.”

For Producers:

8 Ways to Get a Well-Rounded VO Education Without Hiring a Coach – via CourVo – Dave Courvoisier offers advice for producers looking to step up their game without shelling out for a coach.

10 Cartoon Voices That Are Actually Impressions of Other Actors - via GeekTyrant – A fun look at the inspiration behind your favorite cartoon character voices.

Signs Your Voiceover Website Needs to Change – via RealTime Casting – Is is time for a business reinvention? RTC offers 5 ways to tell if it’s time to give your VO website a facelift.

Directing the Actor

As an author, you’re probably used to working with editors, proofreaders, and cover designers. But when you put on your audiobook publisher hat for ACX, you’ll meet a new type of creative person: the actor. To ensure you cast the right actor and can effectively direct them on your audiobook’s needs, you need to know how to communicate. Read on for our expert advice on the subject and helpful forms you can use to guide your actor to a great performance.

Casting the Actor

Casting the right actor is the important first step towards getting the best performance. ACX features a wide range of talented actors,  and you’ll want to narrow that list down to those with the specific vocal attributes you’re looking for in your audiobook. During the title profile creation process, you’ll come to an area with the following options:

Describe

 

This is where you’ll set the overall tone of the narration. If the book is set in England, or the main character has a heavy Spanish accent, now’s your chance to note such details. You should also begin thinking about the more specific aspects of who your characters are, and how that plays into their personalities. You can include some of this information in the “Additional Comments” field of your title profile.

Directing the Actor

Any actor worth their salt wants to produce the best audiobook they can, providing their best performance while honoring the material and the vision of its creator. As a rights holder, you can help him or her achieve this goal by providing detailed notes on the characters.

How can you help your narrator get the characters and tone right? Start by thinking back to when you were writing the book. Dig deep into your characters’ origins, histories, and motivations. Try to answer some of the following questions to get a sense of who your characters are:

  • Where do they come from?
  • How were they raised?
  • How do they act when happy/sad?
  • How do they react to adversity?
  • Are they book smart or street smart? Perhaps neither?
  • Are they generally upbeat or pessimistic?
  • What motivates them to take make the decisions they make throughout the book?

Thinking about these things and communicating them to your actor will not only help ensure you get a great read, but will help you better understand your own writing and characters! Also, make sure to think about any tricky pronunciations, either place names, names of people, or made up words or names from a conlang (we’re looking at you, Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors).

A Good Example

Check out these character descriptions from a recent Audible Studios production:

The romantic leads: 



  • Jessica: She has a slight southern accent – nothing over the top. If we don’t have a soft southern lilt, then a soft, clean, alto voice. She’s a teenager and should sound like one.
  • Kayne: Slight Scottish brogue. Sexy. He’s the lead male in this book.
  • Sonyaza, The Mephilum King (aka The Bad Guy): Strong, deep, dark, old voice; he’s been around for a while (20,000+ years).

Supporting characters: 



  • James: British. steady. He’s one of the crew’s moral compasses, so a moral-sounding voice.
  • Norris: His voice is a superpower, so it needs to be very resonant; the kind of voice that can command people. Preferably a deep voice.
  • Mary-Beth: Neutral young woman, maybe with slight ‘valley girl’ undertones. She’s a fun person.
  • Eden: Smug, sensual, earthy.

Use this handy Audio Information Form to provide your actor with the information they’ll need to succeed.

The 15 Minute Checkpoint

The 15 Minute Checkpoint sets the baseline for the recording and performance quality you need. We’ve covered reviewing your audio for technical issues previously, so now we’ll delve into tweaking an actor’s performance.

When it comes to guiding or correcting your actor’s performance, remember two key points about your collaborator: he or she is an adult, and he or she is a professional. And like any adult professional, he or she should be able to handle constructive criticism when given respectfully and directly. Keep the following tips in mind when communicating your needs to your actor:

  • Be clear and confident in your vision. You’re going for respectfully direct, not wishy-washy.
  • Use a well known actor to guide your examples. “This character should be charming and romantic, like James Marsden.”
  • If your character is based on a friend or colleague, describe that person.
  • If you can’t describe what you want, try describing what you don’t want.

The Final Audio

If you’ve followed the advice above, you should reach the final audio review stage with very few, if any, notes on character voices and scene tone. Make sure to plan time to review your final audio, and if you have notes, communicate them expeditiously to your producer. It will only become more difficult for them to re-immerse themselves in the world you’ve created as time marches on and they move on to other projects.

Be sure to make reasonable and specific notes. Requesting a complete change to a character voice you approved in the 15 Minute Checkpoint is probably not a reasonable expectation at the final audio stage, but it’s OK to ask for tweaks to a key scene or a few lines of dialogue over the course of a book. You can make things easier for yourself and your actors by making use of the Audible Studios audio review form, found here.

Remember, an audiobook production is a collaboration between two creative parties. Setting up your partner for success will help ensure that you have a productive creative relationship that results in a great sounding audiobook.

Producers: What kind of direction do you find the most helpful? Tell us in the comments!

 

ACX Storytellers: Scott Sigler

New York Times best-selling author Scott Sigler is an ACX bounty superstar, racking up over $10,000 in bounty payments this year alone. Releasing his self-recorded works as free podcasts, his “serialized audiobooks” built a dedicated audience that pushed his indie print novel Ancestor to #1 on Amazon’s Horror and Sci-Fi charts. His print success led to a recently signed three-book deal with Del Rey, and Scott successfully negotiated with the publisher to retain his audio rights. Read on to see why those rights are so important to him, and how he made ACX’s $50 Bounty Program such a large part of his revenue stream.

Sigler_Bio

ACX Author Scott Sigler

NO STRANGER TO AUDIO

I worked for fifteen years to land a publishing deal, to no avail. By 2005, I had a nice, neat file folder labeled “motivation” that contained 124 rejection letters. That year was also when I learned about this newfangled thing called “podcasting.”

As an author, a lifelong reader, and a big fan of audiobooks, I saw the writing on the wall: podcasting would let people serialize audiobooks and deliver them to listeners. I still had my first novel, Earthcore. Since I hadn’t signed a publishing contract, I owned all the rights, which meant that I could record it and release it for free. Anyone who wanted to try out my stories could do so without spending money on an unknown author, giving me a competitive advantage to help gain new fans.

I built a large audience of people listening to my serialized audiobooks. When it came time to sell a story in print — the indie trade paperback of Ancestor, published March, 2007 — that audience rewarded me beyond my wildest expectations. Ancestor was the #1 print novel on Amazon’s Horror chart, #1 in SciFi, #2 in Fiction and the #7 best-selling book overall.

That success got New York publishing interested. They wanted to partner up and see if we could make something big happen. My novel Infected went into auction, Crown Publishing won, and we set out to make great books together.

ACX – THE ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY

I absolutely loved working with Crown Publishing (a division of Random House). I wouldn’t trade that experience for all the footballs in Texas. But it was one small difference of opinion with Random House Audio, over my audiobook marketing strategy, that led to my fantastic relationship with ACX.Nocturnal Cover

By my fourth book with Crown, Nocturnal, Random House Audio simply chose to not put out the audiobook. Since they owned the audio rights, I couldn’t record it and release it on my own. Therefore, no podcast.

So we asked them: if you’re not going to release an audiobook, can we have the rights back? Happily, they said “no problem,” and promptly worked with us to release the rights back to me, the author.

That left me with the audiobook rights to a pair of in-demand novels. What to do, what to do…

HOW ACX BECAME A TRUSTED PARTNER

We had released one book with ACX, my horror short story collection Blood is Red. We next hired the golden-voiced Phil Gigante to record both Nocturnal and Pandemic, and released those audiobooks via ACX. We thought we might sell a couple of hundred copies, and that ACX’s high royalty rates would do us well.

We didn’t sell hundreds. We sold thousands.

And it’s not just the audiobook sales themselves: the $50 bounty we receive when a new Audible Listener selects one of our books as their first purchase is a significant line item in our revenue stream. We actively market the availability of our books on Audible, and ACX in turn rewards us when we bring them new customers. Everyone wins.

It’s Empty Sethard to measure our podcast audience, but our stats show we have around 20,000 listens per episode within the first month of that episode’s release. Therefore, we have an existing audience that already listens to audiobooks on a regular basis. Our podcasts are free, but also serialized and ad-supported. We regularly tell our listeners that if they want the whole book in one big chunk, free of ads, they can swing over to Audible and buy it — free or paid, the choice is all theirs.

Offer the customer a choice, and you’ll be surprised how many will take the “paid” option. In 2014 alone, we’ve earned over $10,000 in bounty revenue. That’s on top of the royalties we’ve earned for the books themselves.

Since I am a happy and active Audible customer, I really get into pushing Audible to my podcast listeners. It’s a great service at a great price and I know the vast majority of my fans who try it will love it. We regularly pitch Audible as a “pre-roll ad” where the pitch comes before our episode’s intro music, and we often pimp it with messaging in our blog posts and posts on Facebook, G+, Tumblr and Twitter. We only pitch about once a month on each of those locations, however, so that we’re not beating our readers/listeners over the head.

AND THE FUTURE ROLLS OUT BEFORE US…

I recently finished my five-book deal with Crown, and my agent landed me a three-book deal with Del Rey (also a division of Random House) for my Generations trilogy.

Part of the negotiation with Del Rey was that we keep the audiobook rights. Del Rey agreed, and we’re excited to be in business with thUntitled-9at legendary Sci-Fi imprint. The success of Nocturnal and Pandemic on ACX taught us that we’re more successful when we control our own audiobooks. Del Rey manages the print and eBook products, we’ll sell our own audiobooks through ACX.

We can’t wait. We’re looking forward to a lifetime of royalties and bounties for our products, a long-term revenue stream that will contribute to our company’s bottom line. More importantly, that revenue will help us keep making new products for the readers who have given us everything we have.


New York Times best-selling author Scott Sigler is the author of fifteen novels, six novellas and dozens of short stories. His hardcover horror-thrillers are available from Crown Publishing and Del Rey. He also co-founded Empty Set Entertainment, which publishes his YA Galactic Football League series (The Rookie, The Starter, The All-Pro, The MVP and The Champion due out in September 2014).