Tag Archives: QA Fail

File Management with Andrew The Audio Scientist

ACX’s resident audio scientist Andrew Grathwohl first joined us on the blog last month, when he discussed the theory and best practices for encoding audio. Today, he’s back to discuss the bedrock of any successful audiobook production: file management.

File Backup and Preservation

Andrew_250x320Anybody who has produced a lengthy audiobook will tell you that it can be rather arduous. After hours of prep work, days of recording your narration, and several additional days of editing, QC and mastering, the last thing you want to have happen is a disastrous and sudden loss of all your hard work.

As a former Audible Studios engineer, it didn’t take long for me to realize the importance of backing up my work. While it may be obvious to some producers that data backup is important, learning file storage and archiving methods appropriate for audiobooks is key to your project’s success. Today, I’d like to go over some best practices for data preservation and how you can help prevent any tragic file loss for your next ACX production.

5 Keys to Proper File Management

  1. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE. Make a habit of saving your work every five minutes. It takes almost no time at all and will ensure that, if data loss occurs, you will be able to recover most of your current work. The keyboard shortcut to save is almost always “Ctrl+S” in a Windows program, and “Command+S” in a Mac program (command is the “⌘” key on your Mac keyboard).
  2. Each chapter’s audio file should be backed up upon completion of each stage of production:
    1. Completed Recording Backup – The WAV or AIFF file containing the completed raw recording of your chapter.
    2. Completed Edits Backup – The WAV or AIFF file containing the completed edits to your recorded audio.
    3. Mastered Audio Backup – The WAV or AIFF audio file created after putting the Completed Edits Backup file through your mastering chain.
    4. Encoded Masters – The Mastered Audio Backup file that has been encoded to MP3 for ACX submission. This is your final, retail-ready audio.
  3. At the end of each day of production, you should make a backup of your DAW session, making sure the filename contains the day’s date.
  4. Each time you make a backup of your work, it is strongly recommended that you store the files in two storage locations. (We recommend doing automatic backups to an external hard drive as well as cloud storage. More on that in a bit!)
  5. Until you are ready to encode and submit your audio to ACX, back up all audio as WAV or AIFF files. No chapter file should be backed up as an MP3 unless it is 100% complete and ready for ACX submission. Making changes directly to an MP3 will lower the audio quality of your final production.

The above practices are important habits to form. Should you ever need to make changes to your files or fix an error found by our audio QA team, having consistent backups at each stage of your production will ensure that changes can be easily committed. For instance, if you master a chapter file only to discover that you want to re-record a particular line of dialog, doing so would be as easy as opening up your chapter’s Completed Edits Backup file and re-recording the line. Without this file, you will be forced to record and master your new dialog to a different file and paste it on top of your old Mastered Audio Backup file. Things can get messy!

Data Storage Options

File preservation is important, but it is undoubtedly a hassle. Luckily, file storage is more versatile, cheap, and reliable than ever before. We producers can take advantage of not just excellent portable hard drives, but specialized software and online backup services as well! We recommend the options below.

Portable External Hard Drive – The easiest and quickest file storage solution is to simply purchase an external hard drive. We love the Seagate Expansion drive series, which has a 1TB option priced at only $64.99. Cheap and easy to use, these drives should be on the shopping list of every beginning ACX producer. However, using it can be a bit clunky, as you must organize all of your files manually.

Backup Scheduling Software – Luckily, there exists software for both Windows and Macintosh platforms that aid file backup. We strongly recommend that Mac users utilize the built-in Time Machine feature on OSX to automatically back up and organize your files on your external hard drive. For Windows, I love the free FBackup by Softland. Both of these tools are easy to use and can be configured to automatically back up your files to external locations every night, or even every time the file is modified.

Cloud Storage – Amazon, ACX’s parent company, knows as well as anyone how important reliable storage solutions are for consumers. AWS, Amazon’s online web storage platform, is the leading “cloud storage” solution on the web. What is cloud storage exactly? In essence, it is a series of interconnected servers which safely handle and store massive amounts of data for customers of all stripes. Amazon provides this service to consumers for free as Amazon Cloud Drive. Upon signing up, all users receive 5GB of free storage! Using Amazon Cloud Drive in conjunction with the free Cloud Drive App, you can automatically back up your files to the Amazon Cloud Drive network without needing to lift a finger. Once you finish installing the Cloud Drive App, simply follow the on-screen instructions to set up your computer for automatic nightly backups.

In following these best-practices, you may save yourself and your rights holder from a potential disaster, and you will be putting your best foot forward by amply protecting both your hard work and your rights holder’s intellectual property.

What is your file management and backup process? Do you use any of the methods Andrew recommends above?

Why Did My Title Fail QA? Part 5

Welcome to the  final installment of our series aimed at helping ACX users ensure their titles make it from “in production” to “on sale” quickly and painlessly. The rest of the series can be found here.

Gating

Gating is a process used to help tame unwanted noise within recordings.  Used effectively it is completely transparent, can be a great time-saver, and can help give your audiobook a nicely polished sound.  Used improperly, it can result in a seriously flawed sound that takes away from the listening experience.

There have been a few titles submitted to ACX with the hallmark sound of an improperly used gate, and the majority of these have needed revisions made before being allowed up for sale.  At best this means going back to a version of your work saved before employing this tool and making a few adjustments (You archived a 100% unprocessed version of your original recording, right?).  At worst, especially if the gate was a part of your recording chain and you have no unprocessed version saved, you’ll need to rerecord the entire book.

Take a listen to these samples which contain badly used gates.  You’ll be able to hear the room tone cut in and out as well as the occasional cut-off word – two very distracting problems that make listening for extended periods of time an uncomfortable experience.

Bad Gating 01

Bad Gating 02

Your takeaways should be:

  • If you’re considering using a gate and don’t know how to set it up, consult a qualified and experienced audiobook engineer to help with this task.  Once you dial-in your settings you can usually use them again and again on future projects.
  • If you’re hearing fluctuations in your room tone after employing the gate, it is not setup properly.  Same for cut-off words.  Continue to work on getting your settings right or simply do not use the gate.  Again, your room tone should not change at all– it must be consistent throughout the entire listen, whether under your voice or in the clear.  Your audio should never drop to absolute zero.  Your room tone should be your baseline.

Finally, remember that there is no substitute for good editing.  When you do employ gating, it should only be used as an aid, and in conjunction with a proper end-to-end edit/QC pass.

This wraps up our series, and will hopefully help ACX producers achieve better sounding audiobooks. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more tips, and be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Why Did My Title Fail QA? Part 4

Below is part 4 of our series aimed at helping ACX users ensure their titles make it from “in production” to “on sale” quickly and painlessly. The rest of the series can be found here. Today we’ve got some great info on the do’s and don’ts of using noise reduction on your audiobook production.

Extreme Noise Reduction (or “Noise, and What NOT to Do About It”)

The sound of your voice and the “sound” of clean room tone are the only things that should be heard in your audiobook (no, not all breaths need to be removed – only those that are noticeably distracting).  Anything else can be an annoyance to the listener.  High-pitched ringing, buzzing, distortion, feedback, or odd “metallic” sounds that occur throughout the entire audiobook are a sign of a bad recording environment and/or a flawed recording chain. Noises such as these are best resolved before you start recording your next project. Leaving them to be fixed after the fact, in post-production, is a recipe for disaster. The improper use of noise reduction to remove these sounds often results in an overly processed and poor sounding audiobook that may be rejected by the ACX QA team. Take a listen to the following sample for an example of overly processed audio:

Overprocessed Audio Sample

If your recording contains such noises, you may need to hire an experienced audiobook engineer to help mitigate the problems and salvage your production.

Momentary noises such as desk thumps, car horns, a dog barking or your kids fighting in the next room – none of these should exist in your final audiobook either.  Treat your room (and yourself!) to more sound deadening to help prevent these issues in your next audiobook, and take the time needed to listen from start to finish to properly remove these sounds from your existing audio.  Of course, if they occur under your narration you will need to re-record those sections and edit them back into the rest of the file.

For more tips and information on the do’s and don’ts of audiobook production, check out our Video Lessons & Resources Page. And make sure to check back tomorrow for the 5th and final part of our series, “Gating.”

Why Did My Title Fail QA? Part 3

Today we continue our series of posts aimed at helping ACX users ensure their titles make it from “in production” to “on sale” as quickly and painlessly as possible. Part 3 is below, and the entire series can be found here.

Outtakes (aka Bad Editing)

It happens to even the best professional narrators: you hit a difficult name or a tricky sentence and make a mistake, then pause and re-read it. If left in your final audio, these outtakes sound unprofessional and are very distracting for listeners, so you should make sure these errors are removed before clicking “I’m Done.” And remember, in order to be eligible for the Kindle and Audible feature Whispersync For Voice, your audiobook must match the print/eBook at a rate of 97%.

Marking the script when you stumble on a passage is the best way to ensure you’ll catch these outtakes during the editing phase of your production. Narrators often pause after an outtake, so double-checking any pauses in the audio waveform can uncover a lot of them as well. Clapping or making another loud noise that’s easily recognizable in the waveform is an even better way to make these outtakes easily apparent.

Finding errors can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort.  There’s no replacement for giving your entire audiobook a final QC (Quality Control) pass to catch any lingering outtakes, misreads, and noises.

For full details on ACX’s audio specs,  check out our Rules For Audiobook Production, and stay tuned for parts 4 & 5 tomorrow and Friday!

Why Did My Title Fail QA? Part 2

This week we’re featuring a series of posts aimed at helping ACX users ensure their titles make it from “in production” to “on sale” as quickly and painlessly as possible. Part 2 is below, and the entire series can be found here.

Duplicate Chapters and/or Missing Chapters

Make sure to pay close attention to the order in which you upload your files to ACX. While the opening/closing credits and the retail audio sample have specific upload slots, it’s up to you to order the individual chapters or sections properly. Don’t click “Done” or “Approve” if a chapter is missing, duplicated or out of order, hoping that the ACX team will catch it. You are better acquainted with the intricacies of your title, and as the producer or rights holder of your audiobook, your name is on the line.

While errors such as these can often cause delays in the QA process, the worst scenario is having your title go live with such a flaw.  When this happens the customer hears your mistake and may leave a negative review on Audible.com that will adversely affect sales.  Help us ensure that our listeners are getting exactly what they’ve paid for by delivering a complete and correct final product to our QA team.

For full details on ACX’s audio specs,  check out our Rules For Audiobook Production, and stay tuned for parts 3-5 every day this week!

Why Did My Title Fail QA? Part 1

Once your Audiobook is completed, and the rights holder has clicked to approve the final audio, there is still one more step that ACX has to do.  All incoming audiobooks are put through a brief QA (Quality Assurance) check by the ACX Audio team.  This check is done to ensure your audiobook is well produced, will meet Audible’s customers’ standards, and adheres to the ACX Rules For Audiobook Production.  Unfortunately audiobooks do not always pass this QA check. Our team occasionally finds problems that require fixing before we can offer your title to our listeners. Every minute you spend fixing these problems is a minute your title is not available for sale.

So, in order to educate our users and streamline the production process, we will spend this week reviewing the five most common problems our QA team finds and some ideas on how you can avoid them in your own productions.

Improper Grouping of Files

The number one cause for rejections is also the easiest to avoid. Opening/closing credits and the Retail Audio Sample aside, every file you upload to ACX should contain only one chapter or section. Each file represents a spot the listener can track to on their player using the forward and back buttons.  If each file consistently represents one chapter, navigating through the program will be easy for the listener. Want to help listeners out even more?  Be sure to announce the chapter!

There are only two instances in which you may need to deviate from this standard:

1. A chapter is very long.

If the running time of a file is over two hours, or the file size is greater than 170 MB, it must be split in two.  Just be sure to find a natural point in the text.  And yes, it’s perfectly fine to note “chapter x, continued” in the audio.

2. The majority of the chapters are very short

If the print or eBook version is comprised of many very short chapters or sections, and the files will be less than five minutes each, you may combine consecutive chapters into groups of five chapters each.  In this case consistency is key – you don’t want a listener fighting to navigate to the section he wants to hear.

Sounds simple, right? ACX makes it easy for you to upload the chapters of your book by allowing you to queue consecutive uploads on the title’s production page. Just click “Save & Add Another Chapter” while the first is uploading!

Stay tuned all week for more ways to ensure your titles pass QA, and make sure to tell us what you think of our tips in the comments.