Producing an audiobook with your iPad: it’s easy!

As many of our professional narrators know, technology has  created a new paradigm for audiobook production. It’s easier than ever to set up a home studio, and new devices continue to inform the way actors and producers get audiobooks made on ACX. Below, actor Dean Sluyter explains how the iPad can be a narrator’s best friend. If you have ideas or opinions about this, please post a comment or let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

The truth is, the iPad looked like such a supercool toy that I really just wanted an excuse to buy one. “I need it for narrating” was a convincing-enough justification. But, as things have turned out, the iPad has become an indispensable tool of my trade. In the course of using it to produce several audiobooks, I’ve discovered a number of advantages, some of them quite unexpected. Now — especially as an independent narrator-producer — I can barely imagine working without it.

In the old days, once I’d downloaded a script, I had to run to Staples, pay to print out 300 pages, then lug that brick of loose sheets around on planes and trains, to Starbucks or my backyard or the (windy) beach, or wherever else I wanted to sit and prep. Now I can work almost anywhere — including in bed, while my wife is sleeping, without turning on the light. And I can map my way through the contours of the text, using my finger to insert multicolored underlines, highlights, marginal notes, and customizable rubber stamps. The mark-up app I use is iAnnotatePDF. GoodReader is also popular.

Research has become much more efficient. When I encounter an unfamiliar name or term, by holding my finger on it for a moment I can go straight to the corresponding Wikipedia article or a choice of online dictionaries. I can finger-write or type the pronunciation in the script’s margin or even embed a little sound file there for later reference. That’s especially useful for preserving the nuances of  foreign pronunciations that I’ve cadged from a native speaker.

Another great pronunciation resource is an app called Howjsay: I type in a word and hear it regally enunciated by what sounds like the ghost of Sir Laurence Olivier. What about names of cultural figures less famous than Lady Gaga? I recently narrated Fool’s Paradise, a chronicle of South Beach and its culture of excess, and had to deal with the occasional paragraph that was essentially a guest list for a fancy party: architects, bankers, rappers, athletes, models. In two taps of my finger I could go to YouTube, and find a news or interview clip of the person. Back in iAnnotate, I can use the Find function to quickly gather every occurrence of the name or other tricky word and ensure consistency. Or, if a minor character I thought I was done with back in Chapter 3 suddenly shows up in Chapter 12, I can quickly locate his previous appearances, go to the corresponding spot in my sound file, and check the voicing.

Note: To use many of these apps, you must have a script in PDF format consisting of actual text, recognizable as such by an iPad or other computer. Some but not all of the scripts that rights holders upload to ACX fit that description. The others look identical, but are actually just pictures of pages (like a photocopy) and not computer-readable as text. Fortunately, you can convert a “bad” PDF to a “good” one by opening it in Adobe Acrobat, using the OCR Text Recognition command, then saving the file in a congenial format such as PDF/A or Optimized. If the PDF you’ve received has extra-wide top and bottom margins, which can make smooth scrolling a challenge, you can trim them through a handy free service available at pdfscissors.com.

In the recording booth, the most obvious benefit of the iPad is the absence of rustling pages (and dropped pages, and misplaced pages). With a device called the Standzfree, you can mount the iPad in front your mic stand, then use your finger to scroll smoothly from one screenful of text to the next. (I used to use the iKlip, which attaches the iPad directly to the mic stand, but found that that produces a rumble during scrolling.) Another benefit: as the session proceeds and your eyes get tired, you can keep making the text bigger. But perhaps the best perk is the most low-tech. If you’re working in a small, poorly ventilated booth — yeah, you in the bedroom closet, I’m talking to you — you don’t need any lights, so you don’t wind up drenched in sweat.

In my perfect world, I’d be able to ditch my laptop and use the cool, silent iPad for all my recording and editing, but that may take a few more years. At the moment, the iPad’s recording capabilities don’t appear to be at the pro level. There’s a nifty little audio editing app called TwistedWave, which is adequate for such first-pass tasks as adjusting pauses or deleting coughs and false starts, but to clearly see and hear all the little pops and clicks, tweak the equalization, and so forth, I still need my computer’s trusty editing software. But the iPad still plays a role in post-production, especially in the in the QC stage, where I can follow along with the text, highlight pickups with a digital rubber stamp (I use a red skull-and-crossbones), then easily find them when I go back into the booth.

So … the iPad is a great tool that can make you seriously more productive. And after a full day of narrating or editing, when it’s playtime again, you can reserve your movie tickets with Fandango, gaze at the night sky with Star Walk, or just curl up and play another dozen rounds of Tiny Wings. Happy scrolling!

In addition to being a narrator-producer, Dean Sluyter is an author and speaker. He lives in Santa Monica, California, where he rides his Vespa a lot.

5 responses to “Producing an audiobook with your iPad: it’s easy!

  1. I use my Nook similarly. Smaller screen but similar benefits. LOVE the ability to scroll text with no page noise! Wsh all audition and full scripts on ACX were able to be marked up!

  2. Hi Dean,
    I’ve been paperless for awhile (using an extra monitor in my booth), but do not have iAnnotate. Do they have that for Mac laptops or is it just for the iPad? It would be nice to be able to mark up the script.

    Also, how do you “go to the corresponding spot in my sound file” with any kind of ease? That’s my biggest problem. Finding the stuff in the audio file. Any tips on that?

    Thanks for a nice article.
    Celia

  3. Hi, Celia

    iAnnotate is for the iPad only, but on the Mac you can use Adobe Acrobat. To display the annotation tools, go to the View Menu and select Comment & Markup, which gives you access to a highlighter, pencil, sticky notes, rubber stamps, etc.

    To “go to the corresponding spot in my sound file,” I do some quick math. If, say, the spot is about 4 pages from the end of the chapter and running time is about 3 minutes per page, I start by clicking 12 minutes in from the end and see where that gets me. Usually I can find it within a few clicks. (If you do enough of your own editing, after a while you can almost read the words from the wave forms!)

    Cheers,
    Dean

    • I appreciate the added info, Dean. I don’t currently have Adobe Acrobat, so will have to check that out. It will definitely help since so many scripts are in PDF format. I can sometimes take them and convert to Pages, but not always.

      I actually do all my own editing, but haven’t gotten to the point of being able to “read the waves files” to correlate them to the words, unless I’m doing something short like a commercial. But I like your tip on doing the math and getting a good estimate of where you’re at. I had thought maybe you put labels in or something — which I would find tedious — so good to know I don’t have to start doing that.

      Thanks, again!
      Celia

  4. I do set labels (a.k.a. markers) in my sound files during the QA process to mark pickups, briefly noting the problem and the PDF page number — then I highlight it in the PDF itself and mark with a skull and crossbones. I find that this process of double-marking takes a few more seconds but is great insurance against missing anything when you go back into the booth to record your pickups.

    ~ Dean

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