Category Archives: Producer Tips

More Production Pointers from Audible Approved Producers

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 coverPaul 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 coverHeather 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 coverStephanie 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 coverAven 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 Travis Baldree coversecure 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 coverRich 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 coverMarnye 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.

Get more advice from top tier ACX Producers here.

 

Don’t Fear the REAPER

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

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

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

Customizing Your View

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

hide grid

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

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Commonly Used Tools

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

Playrate

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

playrate

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Nudge

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

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

nudge

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

Normalize

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

normalize

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RMS/Peak Analysis

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

analyze RMS

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Exporting MP3’s

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

Plug-ins and FX

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

save template

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

ReaEQ

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

Templates

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

favorites

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Try Before You Buy

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

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

Heading Into the Home Stretch

While it may seem like summer just ended, the 2014 December holidays will be here before you know it. With visions of production deadlines dancing alongside sugar plums in your head, here’s the info you’ll need to set yourself up for audiobook success as we near year’s end.

First, note that you’ll need to submit audiobook productions to ACX by December 5th to have the best chance of your title being available for sale by December 31st. What can producers and rights holders do to ensure a smooth production and a speedy trip through ACX’s QA process? Glad you asked!

Producers:

  • Submit your final audio in well advance of December 5 so your rights holder has time to listen and request changes if necessary.
  • Bone up on our Audio Submission Requirements to make sure you’re producing audio that meets our standards.
  • Speed through our QA check by producing professional sounding audiobooks. The three biggest issues that can derail your production in the QA stage are:
    • Mastering. Check out Andrew the Audio Scientist’s video to learn how to make your good productions sound great.
    • Editing. We’ve got two videos to help you out with this one. Get more advice from Andrew and learn how the Audible Studios team achieves seamless edits.
    • Encoding. Never fear, Andrew is here once again to help you get the hang of encoding and file delivery.

Rights Holders:Profitable_right

  • Schedule time around your due date to review your whole audiobook.
  • Read our post on reviewing your audio the Audible Studios way to make sure you listen critically and provide constructive feedback for your producer.
  • Make sure you’ve got your cover art squared away before your final audio is delivered. See our cover art requirements here.
  • Start thinking about promotion before your book is available for sale. Review Jessica from Audible’s Merchandising team’s tips for promoting your audiobook.

If you’ve got audiobook productions that you’re hoping to have on sale for the holiday season, follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goal. Then, you can focus on lining up projects for January and beyond!

Do you have a tip to help keep audiobook productions on track? Share it in the comments!