Audible 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:
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.
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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!
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
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.
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.
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.
A microphone’s polar pattern indicates _______.
What are the three basic polar patterns a microphone can have?
What polar pattern is preferred for audiobook recording?
If your microphone is positioned too close to your mouth, you may end up with excessive _______ and _______ in your recording.
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.
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.
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.
We’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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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?
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)
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.
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:
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” byusing 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.
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.
Audiobook room tone is defined as the _____ sound in your studio, and should be as close to perfect _____ as possible.
Room tone has three uses in your audiobook production:
The most effective way to utilize room tone in an efficient manner is to use your DAW’s _____ or _____ feature.
When using Pro Tools, the paste special feature is _____ on a Mac and _____ on a PC.
Hi, 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.
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.
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.
Last week, we shared part 1 of ACX University’s performance intensive, Finding Your Voice, featuring advice from Audible Studios’ Senior Director Mike Charzuk and Production Manager Kat Lambrix, as well as Audie-winning narrator Ellen Archer. Today we’re back with Part 2, which covers navigating the ins and outs of the source material. Watch the video below, then scroll down for the high-level takeaways.
Top Tips From Part 2
Staying True to the Material
Collaborating with your rights holder.
Handling material you don’t agree with.
Acting out uncomfortable scenes delicately.
Challenges in Narration
Getting the giggles.
Take a hard look at your demographics, accents, and preferences to find your vocal strength.
Seek professional training when possible.
Honor the material despite personal challenges.
Thanks for watching! Check back next week for more audiobook production advice for actors. In the meantime, learn from ACX University’s other video lessons on our YouTube channel.
In May, we invited 70 ACX producers to our offices in Newark, NJ for ACX University, a day of audiobook production and performance education and networking. Among the highlights, the day featured outstanding presentations from Audible Studio’s pros and Audie-Award winning actors.
Today, we’re featuring part one of the performance intensive Finding Your Voice, featuring Mike Charzuk and Kat Lambrix of Audible Studios, as well as Audie-winning narrator Ellen Archer. Watch the video below, then scroll down for our top takeaways.
Tops Tips From Part One
Know Your Voice. Learn:
The demographic you fall into.
The genres that are right for you.
The content that’s right for you.
The accents you’ve mastered.
Seek Professional Training.
Professional training can help you refine your demo and ACX samples.
The two main types of professional training:
Learn about top-selling audiobook categories.
Mysteries and thrillers.
Business and self-help.
Romance and erotica.
Learn the differences between romance, erotica, and new adult.
Join us next week for the second part of this session. You can check out other informative sessions from ACX University on our YouTube channel.