The ACX Narrator Knowledge Series: Editing & Proofing

We’re back with more production advice from the experts at Audible Studios. Today, ACX presents editing and proofing an audiobook the Audible Studios way.

In the video found here, Audible Studios Post Production Associates Darren Vermaas and Brett Lubansky cover basic editing and proofing techniques, providing audio and visual examples along the way. Editing is both a technical skill and a craft, requiring attention to detail and an understanding of the proper flow and pacing of a great sounding audiobook. If you’re taking notes at home, make sure to pay attention to the following topics:

  • Popular self-recording techniques and how they factor into the editing workflow
  • Recommended DAW and headphone options
  • Pacing of various genres of audiobooks
  • What to listen for when proofing your audio (aka the QC pass)
  • Resources for ensuring proper pronunciation of words
  • Proper methods for marking and reinserting corrections or “pickups.”

If you’ve still got editing questions, put them in the comments below and let your fellow readers help you out!

50 responses to “The ACX Narrator Knowledge Series: Editing & Proofing

  1. Thanks, guys! Very clear and informative presentation. Keep ’em coming.

  2. Wow, you folks really know how to lay it out for us in a simpleand straightforward manner. I laughed my hindquarters off at the bit where the narrator forgot to edit out “this book is going to kill me”, from their file. I love you guys!

  3. Thanks for the overview! Here are a few more tips that might help others: Using Audacity, I insert a Label track so I can mark where I need to insert a pickup (cntl+b). I also prefer to use Word docs with line numbering, which I notate in the label I insert in the Audacity file. This speeds up finding my place in the manuscript (I read almost exclusively electronics manuscripts now.). I’ve also started using a Logitech G13 gaming keyboard with programmable keys to further automate my editing strokes. I don’t even need to look at the keyboard to do things like copy/paste/delete start/stop.

  4. I do have a question on how much time do you typical allow between sentences (not in an action sequence), and also between paragraphs? I tend to edit with pacing that is too rapid, but slower paced seems odd to me, probably because I am too familiar with the material. Suggestions?

  5. I’ve edited talk shows, infomercials, radio sermons, and audio books for many years. This ole guy -ME, can always learn something! Great work, good stuff and refreshing to get this kind of training and review gratis via internet!
    I often am looking up pronuciations and did not know about AudioEloquence dot com, so thanks for that.

  6. I just watched your editing video – really good and very helpful advice. I like to see how the “pro’s” are doing things so I can come closer to their examples.

  7. Hi Julie –

    Although there’s definitely no set formula for how much time to leave between sentences or paragraphs, I think the best advice would be to go with the pace that feels most natural and best reflects the style with which the book was narrated. Adding a slow pace or something too regimented can often take away the style of the read, so you have to look at it from the ears of the listener and see what pauses are necessary. In terms of paragraphs, I think it’s fairly standard to leave 2-3 seconds between breaks.

  8. Nice job gentlemen. Clear, concise, unambiguous.

  9. Great video!
    Glad to see my methods are in line with the Audible production team approach. Thanks for putting this together.

  10. Brett and Daren – thanks for the general guidelines – it is helpful to understand what the sort of rule of thumb is to start with, and then adjust as necessary or desired. Keep up the good work – the examples were instructive!

  11. I have a profile at ACX as, “Producers for Hire” – my wife does the voiceover and I edit/master the product(s). Your podcast suggests that some Voice Talent outsources their editing. How can I advertise my editing skills to these narrators?

    Very best…

  12. This was terrifically useful. Very well presented and highly practical. I’d love to see even more content along these lines on the ACX blog. Great work!

  13. Still learning to be my own editor after years of working at The Library of Congress. Thank for all your help.

    What I really need is mastering advice: how to hit that -18 to -24db, and peaks hovering around -3db. still seems like guess work to me! HELP

    Sara Morsey

  14. Hi Sara Morsey,
    George Whittam can help you with that. His online tutorials are great and worth every penny! Also employing him to create effects stacks that you just click to apply to each chapter will completely take care of those levels uniformly across all of your work. 🙂

  15. I’m pretty flexible with breaks and spacing because I work with a lot of narrators. Each have a different flow, just the same as stories have a different flow. It’s a feel for it more than anything. For scene breaks (not gone over in this and pretty much missed by every independent narrator we work with at Bahn Sidhe), I’m always putting in 2.0 seconds for soft breaks and 3.5 seconds for hard breaks. This is an author thing (of which I am one too). We break scenes for a reason. Narrators often go–that’s a cute little five stares in a row, but I’m moving on.

    • This is an interesting topic to me, as I’m aware that we can process speech in our heads much faster than we can speak it, but it requires a certain high level of concentration. On the other hand, folks are listening to audio books primarily for entertainment and some information (textbooks aside), so the pace needs to be slower, and more varied, accordingly. Thanks for the tips, I’ll definitely adjust my editing for current and future projects!

    • Good point, Lee! As an audiobook listener, it frustrates me when a narrator moves without pause from one scene to the next and I’m momentarily confused why So-and-So is suddenly in the room. It means I have to mentally take those moments to move from one scene to the next, but now I’m missing part of the story since it didn’t pause to give me time to do this. Timing is so important!

  16. Thank you for making this video. It was great and very well done. I’m glad to see that I’m doing things the right way but I did not know about some of the helpful websites you guys pointed to. I would love to see more videos with tips. We really get a lot out of them so thanks for producing them!

    • Definately not, P — one of the better (free?) softwares on a Mac. Better than the one I use, but still we’re talking about audio book narration, not symphonies. I’ve also used Pro Tools, which is excellent, but now Audacity, which is free.

  17. Thanks gentlemen. This was a good basic tutorial. Would you guys consider a more detailed video, explaining exactly how you eliminate breath sounds, eliminate mouth sounds, etc. I know how I do it, but I’m self-taught. I’m wondering if maybe you have some tricks of the trade you’d be willing to teach us that could make the editing process faster. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

  18. Nice work gang… question is: do you have a rule-of-thumb metric for deviation from the script? I know minimizing it is optimal, but as a narrator/producer, I find myself with a script where the book didn’t get optimal editing, and there are duplicate words occasionally or grammar errors… I … I just CAN NOT HELP MYSELF and have to say it “right” when it’s an obvious oops.

    For those of here producing on ACX, how much deviation will muck up whispersync? I figure I change … one word in 500-700 or so? Maybe less on most works… I think in this 85k work, I’ve made a half dozen, maybe 10 small changes. Also, is it deletions or additions that make it harder for the sync to work?

    As an example, I was reading a passage the other day which read
    “I opened the front door, stepping into the the hall passage with quick, hurried steps.”
    … and there’s no way the author meant to leave 2 “the” in the sentence… the character doesn’t stutter, so it was just an editing mistake…. So I omit the second “the” when I read it.

    • I concur..if it’s wrong, you’re obligated to make it right. But I always inform the author/rights holder…
      those hiccups don’t effect whisper sync either

  19. Ditto to Natalie’s request. This is a great basic video, thank you! But it’s a bit below the level of where many ACX DIY-ers have gotten to. I would greatly love to see you guys get more specific and hands-on. I spent 100-plus hours last year mucking my way through the basics. Now I have an idea of how I can finagle a passable end product, but I’m sloooow at it. I know you don’t want to teach yourselves out of jobs, but any road signs pointing toward a more efficient workflow for audiobook editing would be fantastic. For just one example, I’ve tried 2 different “de-breath” plugins (Waves and iZotope Nectar’s), and just can’t get them to work reliably. End up having to hand-edit the noisy breaths post-compression. Is that what you guys do? Or just use a gate/downward expander to the point that it acts as a de-breather on all but the loudest breaths? What are some of the options that should be in our toolboxes? (Thanks!)

    • Jane: force yourself to change the way you deliver the read. If you rely on the (somewhat dicey) softwares to clean up a recording, you’ll be doing a disservice to yourself, and if you make manual fixes, you’ll lose money (assuming time is money). Make the recording clean by giving yourself enough time to develop good habits. Hydrate yourself. Eat a Granny Smith. Stop and take a break for incessant belly rumbles.

      Bee Audio gave me grief when I inhaled mid-sentence. A good rule of thumb is to breathe naturally, but not at every comma. Give a nice long breath before a paragraph. Remember, too, as my 850+ book reader wife Laura says, DON’T BE AFRAID OF AUDIBLE BREATHS! People do breathe, even narrators: That’s how we stay alive!

  20. Good video generally. My background is as a 50-year vet of audio production. I was Mel Blanc’s personal audio producer in the 70’s, and worked with major stars in Hollywood, then moved to New York City for 30 years as a broadcast producer/director. Today, in semi-retirement (I’m 67), I teach voice acting and am an audio actor myself (please see my Wikipedia bio). I mention this to qualify my comment: IT IS A MISTAKE TO REMOVE ALL BREATHS IN YOUR READINGS. You’re a human, not a robot!

    Great actors USE breaths as part of their performance (just listen to dialogue in films), revealing things about the character’s state of mind. Example: Working with Oscar-winning actor Jack Palance, I found that choppy, shaky breaths can reveal the inner panic of a character. Highlight and soften the amplitude of distractingly loud breaths, yes. Clean up mouth noises, yes; but I would never even think of using some automated breath-removal program. Ugh. That’s anti-acting. (However, I do use an expander gate to effectively push breath levels down a bit, relative to spoken words.)

    Personally, I didn’t care for the example from which all the breaths were eliminated. To me, that’s too extreme. My advice: Keep it real! Hearing someone speak without ever breathing is like looking at someone who never blinks. Something feels unnatural, even if you’re not sure why. (Besides, if you don’t keep it real, you’re inviting the rise of the machine, i.e., electronic voice synthesis. Heard any good GPS performances lately? No breaths in those!)

    Thanks for inviting comments. ACX is a great resource for voice actors, and I tell all of my students about it. Several have already been hired as readers.

    BTW, about timing your breaks: I have found that .2 to.3 seconds is a typical pause between sentences in normal conversation. Much above a half-second can seem like the character has lost the train of thought, but there really shouldn’t be any rule carved in stone. As in film editing, cutting dialogue is an art, not a science.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Chuck. We agree that not all breaths should be removed from an audiobook. Big breaths at the start of a paragraph, or breaths that interrupt the flow of a sentence should go. The rest, as you say, is an art!

  21. I would also love some more specific instruction on how to debreath and edit out mouth noise. I would love some suggestions on settings I should be using. I use Audacity and have also downloaded Reaper, I would appreciate any help.

  22. What software is your favorite for audio production for a PC running 8.1? At present I am using Windows 8.1 with an M-Audio interface and the software (Ableton Live) which came with it. Thank you.

  23. Derick Alexander

    Hi, what’s the best way to get rid of those “Ssss” sounds at the end of words ending with an S? I use “Audacity.” Thank you.

  24. I am an author (and actress) and would like to narrate my own book here. However, I would love to do this with the help of a tech producer – in someone else’s studio. Is that an option?

  25. I use WavePad Sound Editor Masters Edition and am very pleased. One thing I do for selective ‘breaths’ that I want to remove is to highlight the breath sound on the wave form and then reduce the volume to “1”. Viola, it’s gone. Is this acceptable?

  26. I really found this useful. I’d love a magic rule for when to leave breaths in and when to take them out…….I haven’t got the balance right. I work in Adobe Audition and have been editing out every breath with room tone. But when you do that the programme seems to insert a ‘click’ at the beginning and end of the insert. Anyone use Audition who can help me with how to avoid this?

  27. So I’m pretty new to this, so I’m still kind of learning the software, but I’m finding issues with getting the 0.5-1 second at the head of the file. I’m using pro tools and when I edit, I am definitely leaving less than 1 second at the head in the audio track, but when I save it as an audio file and play it back, there always seems to be a 1-3 seconds of space at the start and ACX is not accepting it. Not sure if I’m doing something wrong when I save it or if it’s an issue with the software, but I would appreciate any help on this!

  28. Pingback: Editing and Spacing with Alex the Audio Scientist | Audiobook Creation Exchange Blog (ACX)

  29. Reblogged this on "Gangsters,Strippers&Tippers: Memoirs Of DJ The Book" Blog and commented:
    Using These Tips From This Article now for my book: “Gangsters, Strippers & Tippers: Memoirs Of A DJ” (Softcover/Hardcover x Amazon/Kindle x Audiobook x Mixtape)
    (https://gstmemoirsofadjthebook1.wordpress.com/)

  30. Pingback: Tips for Recording and Publishing Your Own Audiobooks

  31. Pingback: Tips for Recording and Publishing Your Own Audiobooks | Musings and Marvels

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