Category Archives: Actors + Studio Pros

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.

Want audiobook production tips in your inbox? Subscribe to the ACX Blog for the latest from Alex the Audio Scientist.

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.

 

File Management with Alex the Audio Scientist

ADBLCRE-ACX_Character_IconWe’re less than three weeks away from this year’s December 4th deadline to submit your audiobook productions for the best chance of being on sale this holiday season.

With that in mind, today’s lesson is about the file submission process. Being so close to the goal can lead to tunnel vision, but following the steps below, along with my other lessons, will  ensure that you don’t stumble at the finish line.

To set yourself up for success when submitting your finished audio, I suggest the following:

  • Export your entire audiobook to its own folder.
  • Name each file with its section number first, then the section name.
    • Ex: 00_Opening Credits, 01_Introduction, 02_Chapter-01, 03__Chapter-02, etc.
    • Stick to alphanumeric characters, dashes, and underscores. File names with other characters might cause upload issues on ACX.
  • After using this file naming convention, you should:
    • Drop all of your files into your audio player of choice (Winamp, VLC, iTunes, etc.)
    • Listen to the beginning of each file to ensure it has the correct credits and/or section header.
    • Listen to the end of each file to ensure it includes proper spacing and contains no narration from the next section.

Now that we’ve covered best practices, let’s look at some common issues that cause productions to be returned to the producer by our QA team, and how to rectify them.

Duplicate Audio

Your ACX audiobooks should match the text editions exactly, without repeated sections. Duplicate audio can happen for a few main reasons:

  • Part of a chapter/section is repeated in another section.
    • For example, an audiobook production contains opening credits at the start of both the first and second file. To avoid this, make sure each audio chapter/section matches the text exactly during the Edit/QC process. I also recommend checking the head and tail of each file after editing and mastering your audiobook to make sure they don’t contain duplicated audio, and to confirm that each starts with a section header and ends with the last sentence of that section.
  • A chapter/section is named properly, but uploaded twice to the production manager.
    • Consider a checklist for your production that lists all of the files, and checking off each file when it’s uploaded.
  • A chapter or section is named improperly, resulting in duplicate uploads with different file names.
    • This third issue occurs during the exporting process, when you output each chapter or section from your DAW as an MP3. Before you export each chapter/section, double-check that you are exporting the correct one. If you’ve got multiple sections in one project file, don’t forget to isolate the correct section for export, and be sure to select the next section after exporting the previous.
    • My favorite solution is to create a separate project/session file for each chapter/section within your DAW of choice. If you have a work folder that contains a project file for each section, your workflow will be smoother and easier when accessing/re-accessing an audiobook’s production. Having a separate project file for each section all but guarantees a section will be exported as two separate files.

Combined Chapters/Sections

App

Listening to an audiobook in the Audible app.

This is when two or more entire sections are combined into one file. ACX’s Audio Submission Requirements state: Each uploaded file must contain only one chapter or section. This requirement is in place for the sake of the listening experience. Navigation within an audiobook should be simple. If chapters one and two are combined in the same file, the listener won’t be able to skip to the latter on their device; they would be forced to navigate manually through one file in hopes of finding it.

This can also be solved during the export process.  As I noted previously, creating a separate project/session file for each chapter/section will ensure you’re not combining two separate pieces of audio.

Incorrect or Missing Chapter/Section Headers

Once again, this is about the best navigational experience for the listener. Having a section header for each chapter/section clearly marks its position within the audiobook. ACX’s Audio Submission Requirements make it clear: Each uploaded file must contain the section header, if contained within the text (e.g., “Prologue”, “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 2”). Making sure each file contains its correct header is as easy as checking it before and after you export the audio. I would also suggest checking it again before you upload each file, just to be safe.

Retail Audio Sample Errors

The retail audio sample for each audiobook has a great deal of influence on the purchasing decisions of Audible’s listeners. They should be instantly captivated by the performance and impressed with the production. Work with your Rights Holder to select a portion that highlights your performance and their storytelling. ACX’s requirements call for “a retail audio sample that is between one and five minutes long.

File_Submission_Sample_02

A red box highlights Huntress Moon’s retail audio sample.

Additionally, I strongly advise against including opening credits and/or music in your sample. This content is secondary to your actual performance, and potential listeners may not make it through to hear your narration.

Finally, make sure the sample includes no explicit language or material, as listeners of every age and sensibility can preview samples on Audible.

That’s today’s lesson. Following each of the tips above should result in a seamless upload and submission process, which means fewer headaches for you, your Rights Holder, and your potential listeners.

Want audiobook production tips in your inbox? Subscribe to The ACX Blog for the latest from Alex the Audio Scientist.

Mastering Audiobooks with Alex the Audio Scientist

Welcome back to Audio Science class!ADBLCRE-ACX_Character_Icon

Today’s lesson is going to be a little different from my others. Since I’m lucky enough to have such eager students, I often get questions about one of the more mystifying aspects of audiobook production: mastering. Today, I’ll answer the most common questions and give you a breakdown of the basics steps of the mastering process. But first, let’s review ACX’s Audio Submission Requirements:

Your submitted audiobook must:

Each uploaded audio file must:

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to those questions.

Q: Why do I need to master my audiobook productions?

A: Mastering is the the final step of post-production and the glue that brings the entire audiobook together. All chapters/sections are brought up to matching levels, which provides a smooth listening experience. Additionally, removing unwanted high and low frequencies can help reduce any hum or hiss that may be in a recording.

Q: Why do I need to follow all of these mastering requirements?

A: Audible offers each audiobook in a range of different audio formats to accommodate listeners on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. This means that audio quality will range from very high fidelity to lesser fidelities that equate to smaller file sizes and quicker downloads. Basically, if your RMS is between -18dB and -23dB RMS, with peaks at -3dB, you’ll achieve the optimal sound across all formats.

Q: What is RMS?

A: RMS has many functions, but for audiobooks it’s the value assigned to the overall volume level of an audio file. Audible will apply light dynamics processing once your audiobooks are submitted, so your production’s overall levels should not be too high or too low. For example, a production with a low RMS but loud peaks could end up with technical issues within the file, such as uneven narration levels, a high noise floor, etc.

Q: What is peaking?

ACX Peaks

Examples of peaks in an audiobook recording.

A: Peaks are the loudest part or parts of an audio file. If the script calls for a change from calm to excited, or from speaking to yelling, those excited or loud parts will most likely have the highest peaks. Our Audio Submission Requirements call for peaks to be under -3dB, which helps prevent distortion. If you have any 0dB peaks after mastering, you’ll need to adjust your limiter or normalizer settings and try again on your edited audio. If you have 0dB peaks before mastering, you’ll need to find out whether those peaks occurred during recording or after. If it happened during recording, you’ll need to lower your pre-amp’s level and re-record those lines of narration.

Q: What is an EQ?

A: An EQ (short for “equalizer”) is a tool that allows you to adjust the level of any frequency in an audio file. The typical frequency range that the human ear can detect is 20Hz to 20,000 kHz. The lower frequencies in this range are the bass/low range, while the middle is the mid-range, and high frequencies are the high range. Most EQ plug-ins will have high pass filter and a low pass filter. Using the high pass will remove any unwanted bass (low) frequencies that could have occurred during recording, such as the hum of your computer. A low pass will remove high frequency noises in your audio, like an air conditioner or microphone hiss. I strongly recommend applying EQ before you master, as unwanted high or low frequencies can have an impact on the next step in your mastering process – applying a limiter. Removing a low frequency hum allows the limiter to more easily adjust to the narration at hand.

Q: What is a limiter?

A: A limiter is a dynamics processor. Applying a limiter lowers any high peaks in your audio, which allows the volume of the narration to be more even throughout. This lets you bring up the overall volume of your audio, which may be necessary to meet ACX’s RMS requirement (-18dB RMS to -23dB RMS). For example, if your max peak level is -4dB but your overall RMS level is -27dB RMS, your audio will look similar to the image below:

(Click images to expand)

ACX Screenshot 1 (Highlights) - 10.15.16

In this case, you can use a limiter to lower all peaks by -3dB. Your max peak level would now be -7dB, as illustrated below.

ACX Screenshot 2

Since ACX’s peaks requirement is -3dB, you can now raise the overall level of the audio by +4dB. That would bring your RMS to -23dB RMS, which is within our required range. Your mastered audio would then look something like this:

ACX Screenshot 3

Now that we’ve gone over mastering as a concept, I think you’re ready to take a look at my Mastering Breakdown. It’s a great checklist to mark off each time you master an audiobook.

ALEX’S MASTERING BREAKDOWN

  • Assess all audio files to ensure no peaks or clipping exist in the audio.
  • Group all similar files together during the assessment so they can be processed at the same time.
  • Apply your “Mastering Chain” by using the following processes, in order:
    • Remove all unnecessary low and high frequencies by applying EQ to clean up the sound of your recordings and provide more headroom in order to boost your files levels effectively. This is a great way to minimize hum and hiss in an otherwise good recording!
    • Bring all files up to the proper dynamic levels as specified by the ACX Audio Submission Requirements page by using normalization, compression and/or limiting, and, if necessary, a final volume adjustment.
  • Listen to your audio after mastering to ensure the operation did not over-process or under-process the recordings. If the resultant audio is at one consistent volume with no change in dynamic level, you’ve likely over- If your audio has sudden spikes and drop offs (indicating it is too dynamic), you’ve under-processed.

That wraps up today’s lesson. I hope you all have a stronger understanding of audiobook mastering than when we started. Mastering your productions can seem daunting and technical, but once you know which aspects of your voice and recording space need to be accounted for, you’ll be able to apply the same processes over and over again with minimal changes. You’ll take your audiobook productions from good to great, and your listeners will appreciate the subtle improvements in sound quality you’ve achieved.

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Regarding Room Tone with Alex the Audio Scientist

Class is back in session! I hope you learned a lot from my previous video, All About Noise Floor. Today, I’ve got a lesson on Room Tone, including a neat trick to save you some valuable time in the editing stage. Watch the video below closely; there will be a quiz afterward, and the first person to get all four questions correct will get an honorable mention (including a link to their ACX profile) in my next post.

Did you get all that? I hope so, because it’s time for that quiz I mentioned. Leave your answers in the comments to show how much you learned.

  1. Audiobook room tone is defined as the _____ sound in your studio, and should be as close to perfect _____ as possible.
  2. Room tone has three uses in your audiobook production:
    1. __________
    2. __________
    3. __________
  3. The most effective way to utilize room tone in an efficient manner is to use your DAW’s _____ or _____ feature.
  4. When using Pro Tools, the paste special feature is _____ on a Mac and _____ on a PC.

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Editing and Spacing with Alex the Audio Scientist

ADBLCRE-ACX_Character_IconHi, folks! I hope you’re ready to learn, because today, I’d like to kick off fall audiobook production lessons with three facets of your post-recording process:

Editing, QC, and Spacing

Audiobook editing is both an art and a skill. The aim is to achieve a clean, professional-sounding audiobook that elevates the source material. It consists of a two-step process commonly referred to as “Editing and QC.”

 

Step 1: Editing:

  • Remove extraneous sounds from your recording (mouth noises, pops, keyboard clicks, etc.).
  • Modify the pace of narration, if necessary.
  • When appropriate, portions of the recording that are edited out are replaced with clean room tone.

Step 2: QC (Quality Control):

  • Listen to the audio while reading the manuscript to ensure they match exactly.
  • Mark down any errors (misreads, mispronunciations, or noises you can’t edit out) to a QC sheet, which will be used when you rerecord. You can find the QC sheet Audible Studios editors use here.

Once you’ve completed the QC step, you’ll rerecord the errors you’ve marked and re-insert them into your original audio files. These rerecorded sections of audio are sometimes called “pickups.”

A Pro Tools session featuring unedited, or “raw,” audio on top and edited audio below.

Editing Ratios

Audible Studios’ editors aim for a specific ratio of time spent on the edit or QC to the audiobook’s overall running time to ensure that these steps fall within the schedule and budget of the full production.

  • When editing, the ratio should be 3:1, or three hours spent editing for every one hour of recorded time.
  • For the QC process, the ratio should be 1.2:1, or 72 minutes of QC for every 60 minutes of recording.

If you find yourself working faster than this, I recommend a second edit and QC pass to make sure you haven’t missed an error. If you’re consistently taking longer than recommended, you may be focusing too much on certain aspects of the edit. Try listening to some samples and reading reviews on Audible to learn what really bothers listeners.

One way to stay within these guidelines is to speed up the playback in your DAW, so that you cover more ground than at the normal speed. While this may take some practice, it can help ensure that your editing is done quickly and correctly. If you go this route, I recommend you start at 1.2x speed, working your way up to 1.5x speed, as you get more comfortable.

To learn even more about the editing process, watch this video from the experts at Audible Studios.

Spacing

When it comes to spacing, ACX’s requirements help ensure that your audiobook productions stand shoulder to shoulder with all the titles on sale at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Our requirements state:

Each uploaded file must have between 0.5 and 1 second of room tone at the head, and between 1 and 5 seconds of room tone at the tail.

Why is this so important? Think of the spacing within your audiobook as the layout of words on pages and of pages within chapters of a print or eBook. Without proper spacing denoting the end of a scene or beginning of a new chapter, your listener could feel lost within the book, and the impact of your narration may be lessened. The easiest way to follow this requirement is to paste in the appropriate amount of clean room tone at the head and tail of each file.

I hope this gives you a good understanding of one of the most important aspects of audiobook production. Check out my other posts for more audiobook production education, and come back soon for more tips straight from The Audio Scientist.

Quick Tips for Editing and Spacing:

Make sure you have clean room tone. If you don’t, you could be creating more problems than you’re solving.

Record new room tone any time you change your microphone or studio settings. The old room tone may not match the sound of the new recording you are applying it to.

Always wear headphones. You need to be in an isolated environment to ensure the narration stays natural and any cut is seamless.

Get into the habit of marking everything. If you find a click, pop, noise, or QC error, make sure you mark the instance within your DAW! That way, when you go back to make the edits, you won’t have missed anything.

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