Category Archives: Actors + Studio Pros

Don’t Fear the REAPER

Mike Taddeo of the ACX Audio QA team joins us today to discuss REAPER, a digital audio workstation (DAW) that many audiobook producers find to be a solid, cost-effective solution for audiobook recording, editing, and post-production.

As technology continues to democratize home recording, audiobook producers are presented with more options for processing audio than ever before. While some advanced production platforms cater more to music than narration, other simple editors leave much to be desired when it comes to  post-production. How can you decide which DAW is right for you?

Whether you’re new to narration or looking to up your game, we find Cocko’s REAPER to be a fine balance of the two. Featuring a customizable interface, REAPER allows you to set up a session view to best fit your workflow and find all the tools needed to produce a high-quality audiobook. For more information on using these tools & effects, be sure to check out our recent episode of Q&A with QA titled, Mastering with Effects Processing.

Customizing Your View

The first step in maximizing your efficiency is to set up your session to meet your needs. REAPER’s default settings include a timeline set to bars/beats, and a metronome and grid lines to sync music to a tempo—tools you won’t need for audiobook production—so you can simplify your workspace by hiding these and other unnecessary features from view.

hide grid

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If you are only dealing with a single audio source, you may also want to hide the mixer view so you have more space to zoom in on the wave form when editing your files.

hide mixer

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Commonly Used Tools

REAPER comes stocked with several tools that can help you meet specific ACX Audio Submission Requirements.

Playrate

Increasing the playback rate is a great way to quickly review a recorded script for accuracy to ensure the manuscript matches the recorded audio. This is called audiobook QC, and you’ll perform this step after you edit your raw audio files. In the ‘Rate’ menu, be sure to select: “Preserve pitch in audio items when changing master playrate,” which will prevent your voice from increasing in pitch and sounding like a chipmunk during playback!

playrate

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Nudge

ACX requires each file to have between 0.5 and 1 second of room tone at the beginning, and between 1 and 5 seconds at the end. This spacing clearly signals to the listener that a chapter has ended and gives them a moment to catch their breath when a chapter ends on a dramatic note.

REAPER’s ‘nudge’ tool makes it easy to double-check that your files meet the spacing requirement by  lining up all of your files at the same starting or ending point so you can easily see if there is too much space on either end.

nudge

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While your files are lined up, you can also check for any extraneous noises at the beginning and end of each file. You can also add clean room tone and short fade-ins and fade-outs to all of your files at once.

Normalize

The term “normalize” can mean different things depending on which DAW you’re using, the normalize function automatically increases the level of your audio until it is peaking at 0dB, causing it to digitally distort “in the red” and fail QA review. You can use the SWS extension action item (Xenakios/SWS: Normalize selected takes to dB value…) to input the peak level you’d like your files normalized to—we recommend -3dB (peak) to keep the peak level at the maximum level permitted by ACX.

normalize

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RMS/Peak Analysis

ACX requires audio files to measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS, with a maximum peak level of -3dB, which can sometimes be difficult for the naked eye (and ear) to discern. The SWS Extension includes a reliable Peak and RMS analyzing tool (SWS: Analyze and display item peak and RMS) that can provide a quick reading of your files to ensure your levels meet ACX requirements.

analyze RMS

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Exporting MP3’s

When you’re ready to export your finished audio out of REAPER, there are two options: “render” and “batch file/item converter.” Either function is capable of quickly converting your WAV files to MP3, and each allows you to save an encoder profile. The Render function is typically used to export an audio item as it appears on the timeline. This will be a good choice if you are exporting your files out of REAPER one at a time. The Batch file/item converter allows you to add individual items from your timeline, or select files from a folder on your computer to encode all at once with the same encoding profile. We recommend saving your settings to encode to 192kbps or higher 44.1kHz MP3, Constant Bit Rate (CBR) in keeping with ACX’s requirements.

Plug-ins and FX

When using REAPER as your DAW, we recommend downloading the free compatible plug-in suite SWS Extension as well, which includes all the effects plug-ins you’ll need to produce a top-quality audiobook. . Find yourself using the same effects often? You can save these as favorites, organize your own folders, and save plug-in chains and custom presets to streamline your workflow.

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One of our favorite plug-ins in this extension is ReaEQ, which gives a visual representation of how the audio source is displayed across the frequency spectrum, making it a great tool for learning the art of equalizing. Spend time with the different filter types, cutting and boosting different frequency bands to hear how each affects the quality of your voice.

ReaEQ

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We also love ReaComp, an easy-to-use compression tool that keeps the dynamic range of your recording in check and adds fullness to your production.

Templates

Once you’ve set your project session to fit your personal workflow, you can save your custom settings in a project template so you won’t have to set up your DAW each time you begin a new project, saving you time and ensuring  consistency throughout your productions.

favorites

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Try Before You Buy

Interested in finding out if REAPER is the right DAW for you? You can download a full version of REAPER to use for free for up to 60 days. After the evaluation period, users are required to purchase an individual use license for $60.

Already using REAPER to produce for ACX? Leave a comment to let us know how you customize your setup for audiobook production!

2018 in Review: How Do You Define Success?

Before we pop the champagne and ring in 2019, we’re looking back at your wonderful accomplishments from 2018. You published tens of thousands of audiobooks, found new listening fans, and helped make the ACX community more vibrant than ever. We hope you’ve enjoyed a successful 2018, and to help you continue the trend in 2019, we asked some of our favorite Storytellers of 2018 how they define success. Find inspiration by using their stories to shape your own audio successes in the year to come.

ACX-Twitter-Template-storyteller-KHRIS

I define success as “goals set and reached.” Now, that can be confusing because I don’t always reach every goal I set. Sometimes, in the reaching, I discover something else entirely and my goal shifts.

This year my goals were to create something, collaborate, and stretch my talents AND to get back to my “pre-baby” recording schedule of one book per week. Tall order, huh? Well, along with a team of very talented writers, we created the industry’s very FIRST Fury Phoenixaudiobook musical, “SPIN-The Rumpelstiltskin Musical” which I am so incredibly proud of. And… although it took me until September, I managed to to maintain a book per week schedule. I had to record day and night to do it (between, mommy duties) but I did it! Thank you, coffee! Part of my ability to meet these goals was good old fashioned luck (meeting my creative team) and part was just good old fashioned hard work. However… My take-away; success happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Watch Khristine in ACX U Presents: Mind, Body, and Soul for the Audiobook Narrator.
Listen to Fury of a Phoenix, performed by Khristine Hvam.

ACX-Twitter-Template-storyteller-JOSH

Success is best when it has not yet been attained. You never want to find success. Get close, sure, but don’t catch it. If you do, you’ll sit back to rest and be satisfied. You’ll lose that thing that drives you toward the really good work, and then as a writer you’ll be done. Focus instead on Communewriting the most honest thing you can; the truest thing, whether your line is fiction or not. Write a thing that scares you, or makes you uncomfortable, or makes you feel shy for others to read it because you’ve put so much of yourself into the words. That will always be your best work, and then the right people will notice.

Read Be Good, Be Ready, Be Lucky.
Listen to Commune: Book Three, written by Joshua Gayou.

ACX-Twitter-Template-storyteller-NICK

I wish I had a “wise monk on a mountain” answer for this, as there are so many different forms of success. Focusing on my own 2018 experience, I’d say I met with sales success when I took steps to promote my own self-produced novels Deep Shadow and Zombie Bigfoot as well as a couple books I recorded for Robert McCammon. My advice for ACX producers and narrators Deep Shadow Coveron Royalty Share: get your title out there! Use every last one of those promo codes you get from ACX. Blitz social media. Promote the print and ebook, too, because their visibility on Amazon will improve the visibility of the audio. Consider doing a “Reviewer Blog Tour”, either in the book’s genre or for audiobooks in general. The job isn’t over when you finish uploading the files!

Read ACX Storytellers: Nick Sullivan.
Listen to Deep Shadow, written and performed by Nick Sullivan.

ACX-Twitter-Template-storyteller-KAREN

Success is not a single moment in time but rather the feelings I get from A) doing quality work that fulfills me and B) making a positive difference in other people’s lives. I help others in multiple ways, from advising narrators to sharing my prosperity with people and organizations who need it. In addition to my narration work in the last year, I published 2 titles! For one, I licensed the rights to Road to Tara: The Life Of Margaret Mitchell by Anne Edwards. I’m thrilled to announce that this audiobook has been recognized with 2 prestigious honors:

  • Nominee for Best Narration in Audiobook Biography, 2018 Voice Arts Awards
  • Finalist for Best Audiobook, 2018 Digital Book World Awards

My advice to other narrators is to create your own work. You Taradon’t have to wait to win auditions or meet the right people. You could find a dream project, license the rights, and cast yourself! In this article, I outlined many of the steps, obstacles, and side journeys I found on the Road to Tara to encourage you along a similar path.

Watch ACX U Presents: Acting with Intention.
Listen to Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell, published and performed by Karen Commins.

ACX-Twitter-Template-storyteller-ERIC

I would define success as the opportunity to work on projects that make a positive difference in the larger community, as well as being personally meaningful and valuable. 2018 is the year that I was able to fully embrace this notion and thrive in my work in audio at a new and higher level. I narrated more projects than ever before this year, several of which were produced through the ACX platform. And this was the year that my audio directing career really took off, with the release of our Audible Originals RTB_CoverStinker Lets Loose! (a New York Times Monthly Bestseller with Jon Hamm), and improvised show Bad Reception, plus Maximum Fun’s new scripted series Bubble, recently named one of Apple’s Best of 2018 picks. 2019 is bringing more big new series, including a live show at SF Sketchfest in January for Bad Reception, and a few other new shows I can’t talk about just yet! I’m grateful that people are listening, and grateful for opportunity to work with incredible collaborators who make sure we have interesting things to say.

Read Doubling Down on Audiobook Success.
Listen to Roll The Bones: The History of Gambling, performed by Eric Martin.

ACX-Twitter-Template-storyteller-JOE

Success to me is being able to make a good enough living to support my family. It’s being recognized by my peers as someone who knows and respects the business of audiobooks, someone they can trust to answer their questions with solid, actionable advice based on my experiences. Success is having fun doing what you love, yet always trying to improve your craft so that you Asylumcan continue to grow in an ever changing field. Awards and recognition are great but they don’t define success. Success is continually working in an ever growing and more competitive field with the people and publishers you love.

Read ACX Storytellers: Joe Hempel.
Listen to Asylum, performed by Joe Hempel.

How do we define success? By the careers launched, the audiobooks published, and the words brought to life on ACX. A bell rings every time an ACX audiobook gets a glowing review on Audible, and this year our bells have been ringing of the hook! From all of us at ACX to all the audiobook superstars in the US and abroad, here’s to an even bigger and more rewarding 2019.

A Critical Ear: The ACX Reference Sample Pack

Hi! This is Brendan from the ACX QA Team. I’m here today to introduce our Reference Sample Pack, a new tool we’ve developed to illustrate how your audiobook should—and should not—sound during the various stages of production.

This tool will help you spot problems in your audio and give you an idea of the audio quality your listeners will be expecting from productions on Audible. We’ve also included files that can be used to calibrate your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for recording. Mastering level specifications, especially RMS, can be difficult to understand via text alone. What better way to learn what kind of audio “passes” ACX QA than to have passable files at hand for you to refer to and test on your own setup?

Getting Started

To use the Reference Sample Pack, download the zip file onto your computer. Unzip this folder and you will find nine WAV files that can be loaded into your DAW of choice. We processed, and in some cases distorted, the same raw file for each example, then divided the samples into two categories: files that can be used as good production targets, and files containing issues you should try to avoid.

What’s Inside

Start with our PDF guide, which contains exact details on what you should listen for while playing.

 

The “Good Production” Files

File 1: A Raw, Unedited File (good-production_01_raw-recording.wav)

This file has a few issues that need to be resolved before it can pass QA, the mouse clicks and excessive spacing at the start of the file for example, but nothing you hear can’t be resolved during the editing and mastering stages.

File 2: An Edited File (good-production_02_edited-recording.wav)

This next file contains the same performance, edited properly.

 

Notice the edits made between “Step 1” and “Step 2.” We trimmed the spacing (circled in purple) at the top of the file to half a second, and removed the mouse clicks and deep intake breaths (circled in yellow), replacing them with clean room tone.

Learning proper editing techniques can take some time, but I’ve found that the Alex the Audio Scientist blog post on editing and spacing is a helpful starting point. I even use the same QC sheet referenced in Alex’s post when I work on my own projects.

File 3: An Edited Master, Pre-Encoding (good-production_03_edited-mastered-recording.wav)

Ever wonder what a file that meets our Audio Submission Requirements, with peaks around -3dB and RMS levels between -18 and -23dB RMS, would look like in your DAW? This is it! Observe how consistent the peaks in this file are, then check where this file peaks on your meters. If your file is too dynamic or sounds a little muddy, you may need to utilize mastering tools like those detailed in Alex the Audio Scientist’s Mastering Audiobooks blog post

The “Avoid” Files

The “Avoid” files contain common problems you should steer clear of during production. Included here are:

  • A file that has been recorded at levels that are too low,
  • A file that’s been heavily gated,
  • A recording processed with heavy noise reduction, and
  • Files with Peak or RMS levels that do not meet our requirements.

You should not use these files to calibrate your system for recording. Rather, train your ears to notice these sounds as you work on your own files, and use these examples to understand the most common issues you may run into during production.

Try It Yourself

The sample pack also includes the script used during the recording of the samples. If you are testing out your levels before you begin a new project and want to compare your recordings to the “target” files in this pack, we recommend you use this script, which can be found on the last page of the file “ACX—Sample Guide.pdf.” Record your read of the script and compare your noise floor and peak level to the “Step 2” file. The closer you can get to matching the samples, the more confident you can be that you will pass QA inspection later on in the process.

Final Thoughts

It can be easy to get caught up in post-production, using too many plugins or tools when trying to meet specifications, or trying to fix poorly recorded audio that is beyond repair. At ACX, we believe the best time to address audio issues is before they make their way onto your recording. Training your ears to know when problems are occurring will be far more beneficial than having the latest noise removal or EQ plugins will ever be. The better you get at listening to yourself, the better your productions will sound to others.

Did you find the QA Team’s Reference Sample Pack helpful? Tell us in the comments below.

Check Your Production Before You Wreck Your Production

Did you tune in last night for How to Pass QA Every Time, the fourth episode of ACX University 2017? David and Brendan from the ACX QA team joined us to discuss the top reasons your audiobook productions may get flagged during our QA process, how to avoid these errors, and what you can do to fix them after the fact. You can watch the full episode below, then check out our QA checklist that you can use to finalize your productions before hitting “I’m Done!”

The ACX QA “Top Five” Checklist

1. Properly Edit Your Audiobook

Here are some ways to set yourself up for success in the editing stage of your audiobook production:

Record in a quiet, non-reverberant room to minimize background noise.

Make sure there’s enough distance between your voice and the microphone to prevent pops, loud breaths, and unwanted vocal artifacts.

Use a dynamic microphone as opposed to a condenser when recording in a noisy environment. Some popular mic choices in this category include the Electro Voice RE20 and the Shure SM7B.

Use a pop filter placed in front of the microphone to help tame plosives and sibilance.

Learn and use the punch ‘n’ roll recording technique. Recording through an entire chapter in one take will often result in the file containing repeated lines, noises, and breaths that need to be edited out.

Record and save 30–60 seconds of clean room tone to use when editing out noises.

Utilize a QC sheet to identify and resolve any editing issues.

Sounds in your recording that should always be edited out include:

  • Narration with excessive mouth noise and vocal artifacts.
  • Clicks and pops located at the beginning of a file before the performance begins and at the end of a file after you’ve finished recording a chapter.
  • Long gaps of audio silence within the middle of a file.
  • Heavy background noise.

2. Encode Your Files According to ACX Guidelines

Make sure all of your audiobook files meet the following requirements before uploading them to ACX:

No files exceed 120 minutes in length or 170 mb in size.

All files must be recorded at a 44.1khkz sampling rate.

All files must be 192 kbs or higher MP3s, encoded at a constant bit rate (CBR), not variable bit rate (VBR).

All files within a given production must be either all stereo or all mono files.

3. Adhere to ACX’s RMS Requirements

Some tips to help you avoid RMS issues include:

During Recording:

Record at the proper volume. Your voice should peak around -12dB to -8dB. Adjust your pre-amp so that your voice peaks at this level, then keep it at that level. Set it and forget it.

If you need to adjust the level at which you’re hearing yourself while recording, adjust your monitor level, not your preamp.

Use proper mic technique to ensure your performance is within the appropriate volume range.

During Mastering:

Check file level statistics within your DAW to ensure you are meeting the ACX requirements. Group like files together in larger books to make mastering easier.

Use normalization and compression to even out your files. Don’t EQ after compression, as this could affect your final levels.

Keep your monitor level consistent during mastering.

4. Adequately Space Your Audio Files

Make sure you are editing with both fidelity to the manuscript and the listening experience in mind.

During the edit/QC stage, keep room tone handy to use when structuring files.

Leave one half second to 1 second of clean room tone at the beginning and between 1 and 5 seconds of clean room tone at the end of each file.

5. Correctly Order and Structure Audio Files

Ensure that all of your audiobook project’s files have been uploaded to ACX only once each, and in the proper order.

Make sure you’ve included the appropriate chapter/section headers at the start of each file.

Record each section or chapter in a separate track in your project file within your DAW.

Include the file order number along with the section name in your file name. This will help you keep track during upload. Example: 01_Tom Sawyer_Opening Credits.mp3, 02_Tom Sawyer_Acknowledgements.mp3, 03_Tom Sayer_Ch01.mp3, etc.

Print this blog post out and use it as a checklist to ensure you hit all of our QA team’s recommendations. Following the QA team’s advice will put you on the right path to speeding your production to “on-sale,” and will help ensure a satisfied Rights Holder and happy listeners for your audiobook.

 

On the Same Page: Communication for Audiobook Success

Yesterday, we premiered our debut episode of ACX University 2017, Peace, Love, and Understanding Your Audio Partner. Audible Approved Producer James Fouhey, and ACX Author Piers Platt, joined us to discuss their eight-books-strong creative partnership, and the details that go into making it a success both for them and their listeners. Today, they’re back with a recap of the tips you might not have caught on camera. Read on for their perspectives on the critical elements of audiobook production.

On Selecting the Right Narrator for Your Project

ACX Author Piers Platt

Piers: If you’re not already an audiobook fan, listen to samples of top-rated audiobooks in your genre to get a sense for what “good” sounds like, and feel free to reach out directly to some of those narrators to ask them to audition for your book, too.

James: Having a feel for how this medium has worked for other authors will help shape your expectations for your own title in a way that’s achievable for a narrator. It’s best to know what you like and don’t like about audiobooks before the project begins.

Piers: When you post your book for auditions on ACX, look for a narrator with some experience, and if they’ve got film/theater/TV training or credits, that’s a bonus.

James: The more experience a narrator has, the surer you can be that they can sustain the performance in the audition throughout an entire book.

Piers: Listen to all of the auditions that come in yourself, and pick your favorite 5-10. Then have several people you trust (ideally audiobook listeners) give you their opinion on which of those finalists to choose.

James: The more confidence you have in your narrator at the start, the easier it will be to give them the freedom they need to perform. Believing in your narrator’s ability as a professional will help you to collaborate.

On Setting Up Your ACX Title to Attract Top Talent

Piers: When creating your title profile, mention reasons why a Producer would want to work with you—have you published a lot of audiobooks, sold lots of copies, won any awards or accolades? If you have a robust marketing plan in place, if you plan on using the same narrator for the whole series, make sure to mention that as well.

Audible Approved Producer James Fouhey

James: How you go about describing this will help determine how many narrators are willing to put in the time to audition for you. The best narrators are professionals and want to work with authors who come across that way. Also, there’s nothing more enticing than a series audition, as those bring with them the potential to work on multiple books.

On Selecting an Audition Script

Piers: The portion of your book that you select as the audition script should have multiple characters talking and include a pivotal emotional moment. This will give you a sense of how they handle different characters (especially voices of the opposite gender or any foreign accents), how much they emote, whether they convey the book’s “tone,” etc.

James: This is critical. If well selected, the audition script can help you avoid many problems later on. Once you’re in production, re-recording swaths of the book that you’re unhappy with will cost the narrator time and money. Figure out beforehand what it is that you’re most worried about a narrator handling, and find a place for it in the audition.

On Starting—and Ending— the Production on the Right Foot

Piers: Once you select a Producer and agree to a contract, put together a guide to the important aspects of your title. This should include: how to pronounce all proper nouns (names and locations, for example), a short character cheat sheet with clear directions (protagonist should be gruff, but likable…femme fatale should be sultry, with a lower pitched voice for a woman, etc.). Pretend you’re a movie director and you’re giving your cast (narrator) instructions at this stage.

James: This is one of the things that sets Piers apart. He anticipates the narrator’s practical needs, has specific expectations, and gives the narrator tools to achieve them before the work begins.

Piers: Once your Producer has all the information they need, they’ll go off and produce your book. When they deliver the final audio, make sure to review it from start to finish. I like to speed up my file review process by downloading all the files from ACX and then listening to them at 1.25x or 1.5x speed. You can still catch any mistakes that way, but you get through it a lot faster.

James: Piers is great about reviewing the work in a timely manner, which is gratifying after all the care that goes into producing an audiobook. The technique of speeding up the audio for review is one that professionals use in quality control. Be careful speeding it up past 1.25x if it’s your first time.

Thinking of your creative partner’s needs from the outset of your audiobook production will help ensure you collaborate on a great-sounding audiobook that your fans will be excited to listen to. Try these tips for your next ACX production, then come back to the comments below to tell us how they helped.

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ACX Storytellers: Amanda Rose Smith

As an engineer, editor, and director, Amanda Rose Smith has worked on over 700 audiobook productions, 300 of which are ACX titles. After years of working with studios and publishers, she struck out on her own, and recently dropped a vocal booth into her Brooklyn apartment so she can see productions through from start to finish. Read on to learn her thoughts on collaborating with narrators and the value of knowing what “ə” sounds like.

Q: How did you become an audiobook studio pro?

A: I was a music major at Smith College, studying to be a composer for film, TV, and video games, and I decided I’d like to record my own work. Simultaneously, my work-study job in college involved read aloud for blind and dyslexic students, recording each week’s lessons onto those old tiny tape recorders.

Later, when I traveled to New York to get my masters in Music Technology, I began working for the American Foundation for the Blind as a recording engineer and editor for audiobooks. After that I was at a commercial studio for several years, working on audiobook productions for several publishers, doing post-production for film and television, and eventually became the production manager for the entire studio. A few years ago, I left that position to start my own business. I now work directly for publishers, with narrators on ACX, as well as continuing my work in film, television, and video games. I recorded all the ADR for the second season of Orange Is the New Black, for instance.

As a studio professional working indirectly with ACX (I’m usually hired by producers to edit and master their home-recorded audio), ACX work factors in as a significant portion of my income and in growing my business. After encountering lots of producers who would love to work on ACX but don’t yet have their own recording spaces, I decided to buy my own booth and create my own recording space.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?

A: I wish someone had explained to me how vulnerable one has to be, as an actor, to get the right performance across. Consistently connecting with this work on an emotional level is a hard job. Over the years, directing actors, I’ve learned how closely collaborative this work is. The engineer/director and the actor have to fully engage with each other to allow the best product to emerge.

In my early years, I was sometimes afraid to be as hands-on as I could have been in that collaboration. That feeling probably stemmed from an interaction I had with a very seasoned—but also sensitive—narrator on a book. They had started the book with another director, and I had been brought in to finish things off at the last minute. So we hadn’t really built a rapport yet. Being the pronunciation and misread nerd that I am, I came down a little hard and fast from the start of our session, pointing out all of their mistakes right away, before we had built any trust. It made for an uncomfortable session and the ensuing performance suffered.

Tremontaine

One of Amanda’s 300 ACX productions, the serialized prequel to the Audie-winning Swordspoint

Mistakes are important to catch, of course, but over the years, what I’ve learned first and foremost is the nature of collaboration in session work. Now, I record all sorts of people—from actors who have been narrating for decades to authors who have never spoken in public—and I always approach it from a place of collaboration rather than just fixing someone else’s mistakes. The overall quality, performance, accuracy, and technical sound quality are all part of the whole.

Q: What are you doing to grow your skills and get better at your profession?

A: I’m always researching new gear, new software, new techniques, etc. Social media plays heavily into my keeping track of what my peers in the industry are doing. When I notice buzz about a new piece of software or gear, I’ll try it out. In any technical industry, which this is, it’s important to stay current. For example, I was using ProTools pretty much exclusively when I started out, but a number of other digital audio workstations (DAWs) have cropped up in the past few years. Different programs have different strengths, and studying them allows me to find the most efficient ways to get the work done. While I still often use ProTools, Reaper is also fantastic for audiobook production, especially since it works equally well on PC and Mac. Twisted Wave is great for bulk processing. Izotope RX is indispensable for noise reduction.

Staying up-to-date in this way also helps me advise others when they have technical problems. This is still a very word-of-mouth industry, and I’ve gotten lots of work simply by offering a few minutes of my time to fix a problem.

Q: What are your favorite educational resources for audiobook production?

A: The main physical dictionaries: Merriam Webster and Oxford. When I worked for the American Foundation for the Blind, we weren’t allowed to use online resources. So, I had to learn to read all of the pronunciation symbols in order to do pronunciation research. I’m grateful for that now, because most of the pronunciation sites that are reliable, like Merriam-Webster online or Dictionary.com, may only have audio files for one version of the pronunciation. Those will often be followed by a bunch of symbols only nerds like me can read.

Workspace

Amanda’s home studio and editing suite

Q: What is your must-have piece of studio gear?

A: There are a lot of microphones and pre-amps and plug-ins that I like, and I’m sure that one of those would probably be the expected answer here. But honestly? My favorite piece of studio equipment is the iPad. I have the new 12.9 inch pro in my studio and I’m in love. I started working in this field while people were still using paper scripts. When the iPad became ubiquitous in the audiobook studio, the changes I saw were profound. Narrators who previously had to stop every two pages or so (to avoid the page flip getting caught on-mic) could now go on for as long as they desired—or until I stopped them for a misread. I saw some actor’s output go up by as much as 15%; people who previously finished a session with 180 minutes of raw audio were now finishing with 200 or 210. That might not seem like a big deal, but since most publishers pay on a per-finished-hour basis, it was a game changer.

Q: How do you define success in your creative career?

A: I feel most successful when I pull my head out of my book/computer/headphones and think, “Wow, I’m getting paid to do this.” For me, getting paid to do something you’d probably do anyway is the highest form of success. I also try to keep moving forward, in terms of my level of knowledge. If I can look back on a year and feel that I know more than I did last year, that’s a good year.

ScubaQ: Do you have a fun hobby or skill unrelated to your audiobook work?

A: I love to travel! Also, I scuba dive. In 2013, I went scuba diving off the coast of Belize, at the second biggest barrier reef in the world. To an audio engineer, there’s something oddly relaxing about the near-silence of an underwater environment.

After earning a BA in Music Composition from Smith College, Amanda, originally a musician, moved to NYC where she completed a master’s degree in Music Technology at New York University.  Recently, she was the dialogue editor for Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead: The Game.” She loves most things Star Trek, and hopes to visit all seven continents before she dies. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Caitlin Kelly’s Recipe for Success

Caitlin Kelly HSAudible Approved Producer Caitlin Kelly recently appeared in an episode of ACX University and talked about the importance of vocal health. Her secret? A special tea that soothes her vocal chords. We invited Caitlin to share it with you today.

I have one “go-to” for when my voice is fatigued. It could be from a particularly rigorous recording session or from a night out with friends and a few cocktails. So, when I have vocal swelling from overuse or dehydration, I turn to a hot cup of apple cider vinegar and honey. This elixir was introduced to me in college by my vocal performance teacher, Alix Korey – a broadway diva who drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes all day – and it has been part of my vocal care regimen ever since. I think of it as hot bath and a warm hug for my throat. Here’s how I make it:
Caitlin Recipe

The heat will relax and soothe the muscles in your throat. Use 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, or however much you can stand (this stuff is strong for the uninitiated). I use Bragg, which is unfiltered and raw. Shake up that bottle, and dump it in the hot water. The sediment is good for you – it’s called “the mother,” and it’s said to help in a number of ways: aiding digestion, balancing the pH of the body, and supporting the immune system. I swear by it to care for my voice. Honey is a humectant, which means it retains moisture. It will coat your throat and protect it while you rest your voice.

You might also try adding lemon juice. If you have mucus, the citric acid can help cut through it. A touch of cinnamon adds anti-inflammatory properties. Play around with the measurements. These are not hard and fast ratios or anything; just my own preference.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you: this stuff smells like feet. But it will make your vocal folds so happy, you will see the strong smell as a small discomfort compared to the restorative effects of the tonic!

What are some of your favorite tricks for resting and/or healing tired vocal folds?

Caitlin Kelly has been doing voice over since 2009. She got started in VO while living in Tokyo, Japan. Since diving into audiobook narration in 2014, Caitlin has recorded over 35 books. Caitlin can be heard daily reading the news on smashd.co and weekly in the Time for Kids app. To hear more from Caitlin, check out her site www.CaitlinKellyVO.com.

How to Act Like an Audiobook Narrator

Like to listen? Click on the player below to hear this post in audio.

 

Whether you’re new to acting or have been doing it all of your life, you’ll find that performing an audiobook is a unique challenge. Audible Approved producer Karen Commins is a prolific audiobook narrator who has completed over 30 titles on ACX. Today, Karen offers advice about audiobook performance.

Landing your first audiobook contract is so exciting!

KarenComminsAtMic

Audible Approved ACX Producer Karen Commins

It can also be quite terrifying, especially if, like me, you arrived here from voiceover work without ever taking an acting class. Yes, voiceover jobs require acting skills, but audiobook narration is true storytelling that demands 100% acting.

Narrating a book can be daunting even to trained theater actors. You are responsible for emotionally connecting to the story and telling it in a believable and captivating way. Rather than playing one role, you are now playing ALL of them.

Where do you even start?

Psychologist Richard Wiseman would answer, “By acting as if you are a certain type of person, you become that person.”  Let’s look at four ways to act like an audiobook narrator.

1. Listen to Books

Before you began to work in commercials, plays, or TV shows, you probably studied the medium to know what its producers and consumers expect from that type of actor. The same is true of audiobooks. You really need to listen to audiobooks to understand how you can best serve both your author’s intent and the book in front of you. Many new narrator questions can be answered by listening to audiobooks.

Although I recorded my first commercial audiobook in 2003, I listen to audiobooks every day. Each listening session is like a mini master class. While I am enjoying the story and getting through more books each year, I also am evaluating how the narrator conveys the emotions in all of the words, especially the narrative portions. I note the production quality. I analyze the narrator’s vocal choices, phrasing, and pauses. Concentrated and perpetual listening improves my performances. You can start your education in this unique art form by listening to samples on Audible.

2. Take Notes

After I celebrated getting that first contract, I panicked when I realized how many characters were in the text! Listeners expect a performance, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Luckily, I found an antidote for panic: preparation!

The first step in solid audiobook prep is to read the complete book before starting to develop any character’s voice. Take notes every time the text says anything descriptive about each character, including things the character says about himself and what others say about him.

I create a new notebook in Evernote for each book I perform. Within the notebook, I create a new note page for each character. As I read a description in the manuscript, I copy and paste the info from the book into the note for that character. I end up with a complete profile on each character, like this example from a recent book.

The goal is to inhabit each character’s mind so that their dialogue sounds natural. The listener always needs to know who is talking, especially when the book doesn’t include the dialogue tags.

The author may not leave obvious clues that could help direct your vocal characterization. Seek to understand the subtext for each scene because the emotional content will illuminate the characters’ attitudes and personalities, as well as guide your acting choices

3. Play The Attitude

Dixie Divas

New narrators tend to rely on pitch changes to distinguish characters. However, voices will soon start sounding alike if you only make changes to pitch. In his workbook for “The 9 Critical Skills to Voiceover Excellence,” the phenomenal performer and teacher Pat Fraley offers numerous examples to help you develop or expand five additional elements of a character’s voice: pitch characteristic, tempo, rhythm, placement inside your mouth, and mouth work.

You also can add some physical movement, as that energy will be heard in your read. You can change posture, add hand gestures, or even do something subtle like raise a shoulder and turn your chin. I do these slight movements when voicing my most famous character Bitty Hollandale, who appears in the Dixie Divas series. Just be careful that your movements don’t make noises that get picked up by your microphone.

The most important way to distinguish characters, though, is by playing their attitude and personality.

I recently heard Dan Musselman, Director of Studio Production at Penguin Random House, say: “A little bit of characterization goes a long way. If the character is in your head, we will hear them. [Character differentiation] may be more between your ears than in your throat.”

Even so, the tendency among new to intermediate narrators is to concentrate on doing a voice rather than being the character. I think of whom I would cast in the role if I were making a movie or TV show. The person could be someone famous, a family member, or a friend. If no one comes to mind, I make up a backstory for the character that would shape his outlook and reactions, as well as influence his speech.

Many narrators particularly worry about voicing the opposite gender. In a recent webinar, Penguin Random House director Christina Rooney advised male narrators to listen to women around them and realize that pitch is not the biggest discriminator in voices. Instead, she said that women speak more fluidly and with softer consonants, rounded vowels, and more clarity on plosives.

KarenComminsStudioPano

The actor at work in her home studio

In that same webinar, superstar narrator Scott Brick commented that when a woman does a man’s voice that’s too deep and distant from her natural speaking voice, he knows something false is going on. “We can’t share falsehood in an audiobook,” he said. “We have to share truth.”

During a workshop led by Grammy-winning audiobook director Paul Ruben, I learned to hold back and fight to get the words out when voicing a male character. Men aren’t called the “strong, silent type” for no reason! Men process things differently than women and don’t just spill their guts with the least provocation. For instance, Ruben said women express themselves when stressed, where men will swallow it.

4. Add Appropriate Accents

When a main character of the book speaks with an accent, a native speaker from that region is usually cast as narrator. Still, you’ll often find secondary and minor characters with various accents strolling through the pages of your text.

Generally, it’s sufficient to add a dash of flavor of the accent without being completely authentic. If you’re struggling to sound like a native, you may lose both the battle and the listener. On the other hand, hinting at the accent does not mean you should do it badly. It’s better not to do the accent than to do it poorly.

You’ll find the International Dialects of English Archive to be an invaluable resource in your study of accents and dialects. You can search the site to hear a native speaker voice a standard text and then talk extemporaneously. You also might hire a dialect coach to help you learn and improve a particular accent.

By listening to audiobooks, making notes before recording, playing the attitudes of characters, and adding accents, you’ll find yourself evolving into an audiobook actor. Congratulations, and best wishes for your continued success!

A voiceover talent since 1999, Karen now works almost exclusively in audiobooks. Her two previous articles about audiobook marketing (part 1, part 2) offer more great advice for narrators. Karen shares additional helpful articles and insight about audiobook performance and marketing on her blog, in InD’tale Magazine, and on Twitter.

Microphones and Mic Technique with Alex the Audio Scientist

Welcome, students! For my first lesson of the new year, I’ll be focusing on a key piece of equipment in your studio – your microphone. The video below is chock full of helpful info, but before we get to that I want to give a quick shout-out to J.L. Rebeor, who was first to comment with all of the correct answers to my quiz last fall. You can check out her ACX profile here. Congrats, J.L.!

Now, on to the lesson. And be sure to stick around for today’s quiz, as I’ll once again honor the first commenter to earn a 100% in my next post.

Pencils down! It’s time for our quiz. Leave your answers in the comments below for a chance at a mention in a future blog post.

  1. A microphone’s polar pattern indicates _______.
  2. What are the three basic polar patterns a microphone can have?
    1. _______
    2. _______
    3. _______
  3. What polar pattern is preferred for audiobook recording?
  4. If your microphone is positioned too close to your mouth, you may end up with excessive _______ and _______ in your recording.

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Best of the Blog: 2015

We’re back to close out 2015 by highlighting some of our best pieces of the year. Some will educate, some will inspire, all should remind you of the awesome opportunity audiobooks present as we look towards 2016.

For Producers:

Mastering Audiobooks with Alex the Audio Scientist – Our resident audio expert brought his “A” game to the blog this year, educating producers on a range of recording and production topics. This post tackles one of the more intimidating aspects of post-production with an illustrated, step by step guide.

ACX University Presents: Finding Your Voice: Part 1 – This May, we hosted our third annual ACX University, which offered 70 producers in-person courses on audiobook production and performance. All of the sessions are available to watch on our YouTube channel, including this performance intensive featuring Audible Studios producers and Audie Award-winning narrator Ellen Archer of Orange Is the New Black.

ACX Storytellers: Anna Parker-Naples – One of our first UK producers shares her inspiring journey from the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to self-made audiobook success.

Five Things Every Audiobook Beginner Should Know – Voiceover actor and coach Gary Terzza offers a crash course for those new to audiobook acting and producing.

Archive: This Week in Links – Our weekly look at the best audiobook-related links from around the internet provided a range of perspectives, advice, and entertainment. We featured over 150 links for producers, so take a scroll through some of the best the voiceover industry had to offer in 2015.

For Rights Holders:

Market Smarter, Not Harder: The Personal Touch – Author Ryan Winfield dove deep on the ways he invested his time and reinvested his audiobook earnings to forge a personal connection with his listeners that paid off in the form of a loyal fan base.

You Kept Your Audiobook Rights – Now What? – Three top authors discuss the varying benefits of self-publishing your audiobooks or selling the rights to an audio publisher like Audible Studios.

ACX Storytellers: Joanna Penn – The “author entrepreneur” offered an inside look at what a writer who want to narrate their own work need to know to succeed.

Creating Your Custom Audible 30-Day Free Trial LinkAuthors (and producers!) can learn how to create a powerful marketing tool for their audiobooks – a custom landing page on Audible.com featuring any of your ACX projects.

ACX Storytellers: Sandra Edwards and Regina Duke – Two ACX authors share their takes on the value of a mentor/mentee relationship, as well as their top tips for audiobook publishing and marketing success.