The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Audiobook Professionals

Are you an actor new to voiceover work? Maybe you’re a narrator looking to become an audiobook producer through ACX. However you came about your “newbie” status, we’re here to give you a run down of all the little things the veterans just seem to know. In an effort to save you from the pain and embarrassment of making the most basic audiobook production errors, we present the seven habits of highly effective audiobook professionals, aka The DUH! List

1. Don’t skimp on equipment. If you have poor sounding audio equipment, nothing else will matter to your potential clients. Not your talent, not your professionalism, not your beautiful head shot. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a good sound either.

2. Save your files. No, seriously, save your files. Frequently. If you have friends in the business, you’ll only have to ask a few to find one with a horror story about having to do an entire audiobook project over because their hard drive crashed or their files became corrupted. Save each iteration of your work along the way. Save after you record. Save after each edit and QC pass. Save before you EQ, mix, and master. And don’t just save locally – save to a cloud backup like Amazon Cloud Drive, in case your computer/hard drive is lost or stolen or vaporized by aliens.

3. Be Organized. This goes hand-in-hand with point 2. Come up with a file naming convention you like and stick with it from project to project. Keep files and folders organized on your computer. Keep your studio neat and your calendar straight. Being organized in every aspect of your business will help ensure that you and your files are where they need to be, when they need to be there.

4. Be Consistent. Make sure that your voice and your studio have a uniform sound from day to day and project to project. Pay attention to mic placement, temperature, and humidity, and work to keep them consistent. Note the settings on your studio equipment and software on the first day of a production, and match them on subsequent days. Schedule your recording at the same time of day, every day, if outside noises intrude in a periodic manner.

Consistency is an important part of performance as well, so listen back to a few minutes of the previous day’s (or previous project’s) audio before starting a new session, and compare it to the sound you’re currently getting in your studio. Then make small adjustments to your settings if necessary.

5. Respect Your Microphone. Your mic is your closest friend in the studio – you’re practically kissing! Sitting too close to the mic can make your audio sound muddy and cause plosives – sharp bursts of breath that result in a popping sound on the recording, often caused by the letters P, B, and T. Sitting too far from the mic will cause it to pick up too much of the room and not enough of your wonderful voice.

One trick for finding the right distance from the mic is to make a “hang ten” sign with one hand, placing your thumb on your chin and your pinky on the mic. That’s roughly how far away you should be. Be sure to repeat the lesson from point 4, and keep your distance and location relative to the mic steady as you record.

Finally, don’t forget that your microphone will pick up everything. Don’t wear loose jewelry or clothes that make noise when they brush against something. Take off that ticking analog watch, and keep your cell phone out of the booth. Incoming calls and texts can cause interference between your audio interface and your computer, and can be a major distraction for you as well.

6. Prep Your Script. There’s an age old tale that every narrator has heard at least once. A colleague with a busy schedule forgoes script prep and records the book “cold,” only to find out in the last chapter that one of the characters had a thick accent the entire time. D’oh! Save yourself the trouble and read through your scripts at least once before recording. This will allow you time to sort out character choices and do pronunciation research ahead of time. Trust us, you don’t want to stop recording every 5 seconds to look up a strange word you can’t pronounce.

Find a way to keep everything that informs your performance straight. Some narrators highlight. Some write in the margins. Some keep a spreadsheet with character voices, pronunciations and other performance notes. However you do it, find a method that works for you and stick to it. This ensures the recording process will go smoothly and efficiently.

7. Take Care of Your Instrument. You are the most important piece of equipment in your studio. Take care of your voice. Reduce intake of sugary drinks, as they cause bloating (which inhibits your ability to project from the diaphragm) and excess mucous in the mouth and throat (which will make you sound gross). Avoid alcohol before recording, as it can dry out the vocal chords. Too much caffeine will do the same, with the added drawback of causing a rushed-sounding read. And don’t smoke. We don’t even have to tell you why that’s such a bad thing for your voice, do we?

Finally, remember that audiobook production, as fun, artistically rewarding, and profitable as it can be, isn’t everything. Schedule “mental health” time. Take a walk. Zone out in front of the TV for a bit. Go to the gym. Get out into the real world before you go stir crazy in your studio. Keeping your body and mind healthy will ensure you’re focused on one thing in the studio: getting a great sounding read.

Following these basic tips will put you ahead of all the other rookies and set you on the path to a rewarding, successful audiobook career. And who knows, maybe someday you’ll be the one playfully yelling DUH! at an inexperienced colleague who had to learn something the hard way. Just make sure to be nice and show them this post so they don’t repeat their mistakes.

What tips would you put on your DUH! list? Help the next generation of audiobook pros in the comments!

16 responses to “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Audiobook Professionals

  1. Excellent tips. Some I hadn’t thought of. I also try so very hard to never touch my face before my hands are washed after being in public. I carry my own pen if I have to use one, I use it. And wet wipes are in the car for wiping down things I touch. Sounds a little much but without those precautions I’d loose money.

  2. Great tips. Thanks! I have found script preparation important when you have multiple characters engaged in conversation without indication of who is talking. I go through the entire script and color highlight characters in a distinctive way to avoid confusion. With my editing software, I set each character with a distinctive speed and pitch so they sound the same throughout the story.

  3. Airvent and Cold-Eze have saved me a couple of times when I woke up scratchy and had a recording session in the next couple of days. At the first sign of a cold, I take so much zinc I keep turning toward magnetic north. It works for me. The other trick is apple cider in the studio; its acidity reduces the time you’ll spend swallowing after a drink. Not hard cider, now; that’s for when the mastering is done.

  4. Applying lip balm or Chapstick before recording is helpful. 🙂

  5. Isn’t it funny! It’s always the simple stuff that evades us.
    I’ve found the juice Green Machine to be very smoothing to my voice as I record. There are some other great ideas in this blog: SEARCHING FOR OUR SOUND CHAIN: Part 1 The Voice

  6. David Michaelson

    The Alkalol Nasal Wash has been a savior in keeping mucus away from the nasal cavity. It’s a little gross (that’s what my kids tell me) and slightly uncomfortable, but it keeps me healthy! Make sure to boil the plastic tube often to keep it clean…

    I’ve also made an infused water that not only lubricates the vocal chords but also keeps the colds away…using a basic cheese shredder, shred up one Granny Smith apple and a handful of ginger root. Combine that with the juice of four lemons, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and fill it up with water in a covered gallon container at room temperature. Make sure to consume it all within three days before it starts to go bad! After 30 minutes of drinking that stuff you’re sounding silky!

  7. Pingback: ACX is Now Open to UK Authors and Voice Actors! | Audiobook Creation Exchange Blog (ACX)

  8. Great tips. I also put a cork in my mouth and read a page or two to get my articulators going before I record. Then I do stretches both of my mouth and body before I go into the booth.

    Horror of horrors, Alkalol is being discontinued. I was told to go to local pharmacies to hunt down the remaining bottles in the world. I got three. Amazon has about 40 left.

  9. I am having problems with little clicks at the end of lines. It appears the back of my tongue touches the back of the roof of my mouth and it takes forever to edit these out. Any suggestions?

  10. Throat Coat tea has saved my life and brought me back from the brink of laryngitis. And it tastes good too.

  11. Very new here….really encouraged to see the 7 Habits. Thanks for the direction! Tim Miller

  12. It would be good to clarify between SAVING and BACKING UP your files. I’ve run into more people than I’d like who were SAVING their files religiously…but on their computer’s hard drive. Which then went kaput.

    What people should do in addition to saving on their computer is to BACK UP the files to an external source–an external drive, a thumb drive, a cloud drive like Dropbox or something similar. I not only back up every file to an external drive, I also save everything I do by emailing it to my father, who then saves it on his computer and backs up the files to an external drive a his house as well.

    When I was writing my novels, I backed up to my external drive, to Dropbox and by emailing my day’s work to myself. It’s a damn good thing I did, as, when I was working on my current novel, I had files disappear out of my hard drive. But I was able to go to a back up on my external drive and retrieve them, as well as find them in my email folders. If I hadn’t been backing up to an external source, I would have been up every sh*t creek in existence.

    You can SAVE to your heart’s content, but if you do not BACK UP to an external source, you can still wind up in a terrible situation.

  13. I’m not sure whether it’s physiological or mental, but brushing my teeth seems to help me articulate better. Tricky words? Or just stumbling a lot? Try brushing your teeth!

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