It’s been quite a year for the ACX community: ACX creators published over 30,000 audiobooks, aided by the launch of some exciting tools and features, like Royalty Share Plus and Enhanced Promo Codes. Thank you for continuing to elevate the field of independent publishing through your hard work and innovation. In this giving season, we’ve decided to honor the tradition of re-gifting by wrapping up a few of our favorite blog resources from 2019 and presenting them to you to help support your continued excellence. Enjoy… or re-joy!
Now Hear This: Promoting with SoundCloud: Audio samples are your best friend when it comes to marketing your audiobook—they’re a great way to grab a listener’s attention and leave them eager to purchase the audiobook. Check out this article for great ideas on leveraging this free audio platform to put those samples everywhere your audience is, so they’ll be sure to give them a listen.
Bonus: Want more content on low and no-cost social media promotion for your audiobooks? Check out this episode from ACX University.
Amy Daws on Her Authentic Social Media Self: Authenticity is the key to a devoted community of fans, and nobody knows that better than this author and social media maven who uses her own genuine energy, fun content, and regular engagement to keep her fans’ attention between new releases. Learn from her social media strategies and fan the flames in your own fan base.
Bonus: Want to hear more on engaging with your fans? This is the ACX University episode for you.
Lighting the Way: An Author’s Journey into Narration If you’re an indie author, you’re no stranger to doing it all yourself, so chances are you’ve considered narrating your own audiobook. Well, paranormal mystery author Mary Castillo decided to do just that for her series, and you can read her full account of the production process from a writer’s perspective here.
Bonus: Interested in narrating your own book? Learn more about the art of audiobook performance here.
Production Pointers from Audible Approved Producers Whether you’re a narration newbie or a production pro, it never hurts to hear from other independent Producers on how they’re getting the job done. In this Q&A with a few of 2019’s newest Audible Approved Producers (AAPs), you can read about their favorite gear, pre-recording rituals, and at-home studio setups—you might learn a thing or two to add to your own process!
Bonus: Looking for more tips, tricks, and technical advice for audiobook production? Check out this ACX University series from our QA team.
A Portrait of the Artist How do you make a big impression and catch the attention of the authors you want to work with? It all starts with a compelling, professional, comprehensive Producer profile. In this article, we walk you through creating an ACX profile that stands out with examples from some of our favorite AAPs.
Bonus: Looking for more advice on your audiobook production career? This ACX University episode is for you.
Whether you’re new to the blog or seeing these articles for the second time, we hope it renews your drive and enthusiasm for creating great audiobooks, and gives you some good ideas for propelling your passion and your work forward into a successful new year. Feel free to re-gift these to the indie author or producer on your list!
Listen here, ACX Producer—when’s the last time you updated that profile page of yours? Here on the blog, we can often be found extolling the importance of investing in your home studio, honing your editing and mastering skills, and publicizing your work on social media platforms. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight the value of your professional presence on ACX—your Producer profile! A curated, well-maintained profile will not only make it easier for Rights Holders to find you on ACX, it can help you stand out from the crowd and command the attention of authors and publishers on the hunt for talent like yours.
So, what are the elements of a successful profile? We’ve written a guide to giving your profile the makeover it deserves and sprinkled it with examples from some excellent Audible Approved Producers. Refer to the highlighted areas in the image below as you read along at home.
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A complete, professional-looking ACX profile should include an image, first and foremost (1). Many Producers choose a professional headshot or a picture of themselves having fun in the studio. Not all voiceover artists wish to provide a headshot, however; many feel that their physical appearance sets an expectation incongruent with the variety of vocal performance they’re able to deliver, and would prefer to let their voice speak for itself. In that case, we recommend a graphic or logo developed to represent your brand—Fiverr can be a great place to source one of these—or a picture of your studio without you in it.
There are two places for you to biographize yourself on your ACX profile: the one-line blurb that appears beneath your name, and the “About” section (2). The first is a great place to offer a zippy little intro that grabs the searcher’s attention. Draw some inspiration from these great one-liners:
Confident, Intellectual, Charismatic—The Darkly Sophisticated British Storyteller. (Hannibal Hills)
A smooth blend of professional sound with a personal touch! Bringing stories to life for over 15 years as a narrator and voiceover talent. (Heather Costa)
Then, there’s space under the “About” tab to add a longer bio (3). This is a place to give a comprehensive overview of how you got started, how long you’ve been narrating/producing, why you love it, what sorts of characters/projects you’re drawn to, your vocal range, repertoire, and any special skills you possess. For example, Kyle Tait highlights his extensive experience as a sports announcer. Listing this type of skill might seem irrelevant to audiobook production, but it can capture the attention of the author of a sports biography that wants to be confident their narrator is up to tackling the specific jargon and style of their book. Consider your unique skills and knowledge outside the world of audiobooks, and include anything that makes you stand out!
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We know it’s tempting to include samples of the great work you’ve done in short form VO, but compelling as they may be, they aren’t especially relevant to Rights Holders looking to hire you for an audiobook project. For your ACX Profile, it’s best to include audiobook samples (4). If you’re new to audiobooks and don’t have many (or any) productions under your belt, head over to Project Gutenberg and choose an appropriate piece from the 60,000 free public domain books on their site. Remember, you can always link to your website from your profile and include your other VO work there.
Next, be judicious when it comes to the number of samples on your profile: too few and your experience and range won’t be apparent, too many, and authors may find themselves overwhelmed and moving on before they give you a good listen. Choose just 5-7 of your best samples that showcase great production values, your range as a performer, and a variety of genres, character types, and dialects. Hannibal Hills and Suzanne Barbetta use their “Sample” sections to great effect, including samples from a wide variety of genres so prospective authors can hear their range as a performer and don’t have to imagine whether they’re up to the task. Pro Tip: you’ll notice these producers have named the samples according to the genres and/or vocal styles they represent. The author or publisher perusing your profile may be completely unfamiliar with the book titles listed in your repertoire, so help them out a little by describing the vocal skills and characteristics on display in each sample.
Think of this section (5) as your IMDB page on ACX—this is your space to list not only the audiobooks you’ve recorded, but the movies, television shows, theater productions, commercials, radio programs, or video games you or your voice has appeared in (yes, here we encourage you to include relevant non-audiobook work). We also find that successful Producers include related experience, education, and training, be it a master’s degree in theater or a vocal performance workshop they took. Many producers, such as Kyle Tait, also choose to list the gear they use in their home studio setup here so that authors know they have the tools to produce a great audiobook, whereas Suzanne Barbetta features her experience as a paralegal under “Special Skills” to impart her knowledge of legal terminology. Heather Costa lists all of her available audiobook titles under “Credits,” which not every Producer chooses to do, but the list is impressive and the effect is clear—you can tell at a glance she has plenty of experience and has been re-hired by several authors to narrate multiple titles in their catalog.
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Awards and Recognition
This is no place for humility, folks—this section (6) is your chance to brag a little! Show off your accomplishments and tell ‘em what the critics are saying—include any awards you’ve won or been nominated for, include ratings and reviews from listeners on Audible (like Hannibal Hills has done) or from authors who have been happy with your performance and delivery of the project, such as in Heather Costa’s profile. Most consumers don’t make an online purchase without reading the reviews first, so why should we assume shopping for an audiobook narrator should be any different?
Now that you know the ins and outs of a shining producer profile, don’t let it get dusty! Keep it current and up to date with your achievements, new releases, and professional development. Your producer profile is more than just your resume on ACX—there’s a good chance you won’t meet the authors you work with in person, and won’t have contact with them until they make the offer to produce their book, so think of your profile page as your resumé, audition, and interview, all rolled into one. Someone wise once said you only get one chance to make a first impression, so you’d better make it an impressive one, don’t you think?
Last week, we checked in with a few newly minted Audible Approved Producers to share some of the knowledge they’ve picked up throughout their career. Today, our production professionals tell us the benefits of listening to audiobooks produced by others and reveal what they wish they’d known at the start of their careers.
Q: Is there anything you’ve learned from listening to audiobooks by other producers?
Paul Stefano: Yes, everything! I have taken some coaching, but I learn mostly by listening to some of the greatest narrators out there: Johnny Heller, Andi Arndt, PJ Ochlan, Scott Brick, Sean Pratt, and Jeffrey Kafer. Every time I listen to a book from a master, I learn some new technique—a way to voice a character, how to approach a certain scene, or tone. I have learned much of what I do now just by listening to my peers.
Travis Baldree: When I listen to other audiobooks, I’m usually paying attention to performance. I zero in on pacing, how a narrator uses silence, and how they use their breathing as part of the performance. I love to hear the many different approaches to character work and accents and how they perform dialogue for different genders. On the engineering side, when I was first starting and fine-tuning my mastering stack, I actually bought a CD of an audiobook that had some enviable engineering. I pulled up the audio into a DAW, and had a look at the waveform in a spectral view so that I could see in detail what the noise floor looked like and how the compression affected the final waveform as a frame of reference. It’s still fascinating to listen to the different mastering from book to book for a given narrator, and to note how it complements their performance.
Heather Masters: YES! I’ve noticed a trend in tone among different genres, which helps me to be able to offer more variety in my reads. For example, romantic comedies are often read at a quick pace with a warm tone, whereas in sci-fi/fantasy, the pace tends to be a little slower, more contemplative, as you’re often world-building and giving the listener time to imagine. Becoming familiar with the style of the genres I love to narrate helps give me an edge in my auditions.
Rich Miller: I think I’ve learned a lot from listening to well-produced audiobooks, but it’s difficult to distill it down into concrete bullet points. For the most part, it’s about the performances: What did this narrator do to make me feel like they were telling me a story? Not just telling a story, but telling me a story.
Stephanie Quinn: I’ve learned about the flow and tempo needed for comfortable listening: not so fast that it’s hard to comprehend, but not so slow it’s annoying to listen to. Also, listening has helped me understand how much empty space is too much or too little between headings, sentences, paragraphs, sections, etc.
Marnye Young: Yes. I learned a lot about pacing and really allowing the text to breathe just like you do as an actor. I learned, as I had to learn as an actor, that not everything can have weight or nothing does. The character doesn’t know what they are going to say and that needs to come across in the storytelling. You are telling your listener this story for the first time and you must be just as surprised as your listener.
Aven Shore: Lots. Of course poor production matters—mispronunciations and mouth noises are distracting and devalue the product—but as a listener, I find that the performance trumps the production. The right performer telling the story well matters the most.
Q: What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were first starting out?
Aven Shore: So many things! The incredible importance of proofing required The importance of keeping audible breaths in your recording at an un-distracting level. That there is a great distance between adequate and good.
I stick with narrating because I LOVE it and it feels right for me, but in the beginning I didn’t anticipate the intensity of learning and commitment that was ahead of me. If a new narrator expects a fast, easy, lucrative career change, they’ve got a shock in store. Your return corresponds to your investment—in equipment, in knowledge, in professional advice, in time and dedication. The learning curve is astonishing, even overwhelming, and ongoing as the industry grows. So it’s important to be invested and dedicated.
Paul Stefano: I did a tremendous amount of research on the industry before I started. I wanted to make sure I knew exactly how to record and master well, and be able to perform on a mic before I recorded one word on my computer. I am still learning things every day, but I believe you can’t start in this business (or any for that matter) the right way if you don’t have a firm understanding before you put yourself out there as a professional.
Travis Baldree: The importance of a well-treated treated space! It’s hard to understand how critical this is as a novice, but consider reaching out to a professional audio engineer that offers evaluations of recording spaces and your recorded audio, and secure their services—it’s money well spent. You generally want a fairly small, enclosed room with any noisy elements (like your computer) removed, covered on the interior by reflection-absorbing material. For a lot of narrators that’s a small walk-in-closet with a load of winter coats or blankets surrounding them, a wireless keyboard & mouse, a tablet, and a monitor cable strung under the door. You want to minimize the reflection of your voice from the surfaces around you—it bounces right off of hard materials, which makes you sound like you’re talking into a Folgers can. Of course, there’s more to it than just some winter coats—the dimensions of your space, the materials, the height of the ceiling, and your particular voice all factor in. You’re trying to have your voice sound natural and neutral, and not like you’re recording in a box—even though you are!
As far as isolation goes, you’re probably never going to have a perfectly soundproof space. Narrators shake their fists at leaf blowers the world over. There’s a lot you can control, but you’re mostly aiming to reduce the noise, since you can’t completely eliminate it, with the expectation that you’ll still have to take a break sometimes when the garbage truck idles outside.
Rich Miller: How important building relationships is in this industry. Fortunately, there are a lot of great narrators and producers out there, so I actually enjoy building those relationships! In every business, people want to work with someone they know, like, and trust. Having a personal rapport with potential clients is very important, as is trust: people need to know that they can count on you to turn in a consistent product on time, sometimes with very tight deadlines. So get to know people—go to APAC; if you’re in the New York area, go to APA socials; reach out to individuals with questions; be professional, but be a real person, because the people you want to get to know want to know who you are before they’ll be willing to hire you.
Stephanie Quinn: Once you’re over the learning curve, it’s fun and you meet some super-cool people along the way.
Marnye Young: My worth! It sounds silly, but when I first started out I didn’t really understand that my skillset was worth something. I wasn’t a hack—I had an MFA from Yale and acting experience—but I thought “I know nothing and therefore I will charge nothing.” It is so important—do not undercut, short-change, or devalue yourself. If you are doing this and have made it this far, make sure that you charge what you are worth. Your talent, time, work ethic, and the heart that you bring to each project is worth a lot.
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.
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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.
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!
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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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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!
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.
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 audiobook 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.
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 writing 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.
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 on 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!
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 don’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.
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 Stinker 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.
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 can 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
☐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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q: 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.
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!
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.