Category Archives: Producer Tips

Gearing Up for Audiobook Production: Part 1

Your voice is a complex storytelling instrument. That’s why you need the right studio equipment to record each change in tone and range of vocal frequencies. In part one of this two-part guide, we’ll help you choose the best microphone and microphone essentials for recording and producing your first audiobook—or your 50th. Then, in part two, we’ll dive into the best audio interfaces, headphones, and studio accessories to pair with your microphone.

Real Talk: Microphones

Think clarity, fidelity, and sensitivity. When you’re narrating an audiobook, you’re having an intimate conversation with eager listeners. They want to hear your voice, free of distortion, artificial vocal effects, and extraneous noises. A built-in laptop microphone or gaming headset just won’t cut it. On the other hand, don’t stress about buying the most expensive high-end gear.

Listeners won’t care if you used a Sony C-800G or a Neumann U 87 microphone, but they will remember how your voice made them feel.

They’ll also remember your neighbors arguing in the background while you narrated that tender love scene, so make sure you’re setting up your microphone in a soundproof recording space.

Cardioid Polar Pattern
Image Source: Galek76. No changes were made to the original file.

Another key factor that affects how well your microphone will “hear” your voice (and anything in the background), is its polar pattern. Some polar patterns, like multi-directional, will pick up sound waves from all directions, while on the other end of the spectrum, a unidirectional pattern will only pick up sound from one specific area of the microphone head. For audiobook recording with just one sound source (your voice), we recommend using a microphone with a cardioid polar pattern (pictured at right). Microphones with this pattern will only pick up sound that’s directly in front of it and filter out noise coming in to the sides and back.

Below, we’ll walk you through the best microphones for audiobook production and their advantages and disadvantages. We suggest using this list as a guide to inform your own research and, when possible, we recommend going to your local music store (following all local Covid guidelines) or finding a supplier that allows free in-home trials to test out the microphones and see which ones best fit your voice and narration style.

Condenser Microphones

These are the most popular microphones for recording audiobooks. As some of the most sensitive microphones, they’re tuned to capture the frequencies and nuances of the human voice, and typically feature the cardioid polar pattern we recommended above.

What sets condenser microphones apart from other mics is their engineering. All microphones have a diaphragm, a flexible internal membrane that vibrates when sound waves hit it, but only condenser microphones have a charged metal plate behind the diaphragm. This feature gives condenser microphones their signature bright, and sensitive, sound. Furthermore, condenser microphones have varying diaphragm sizes. Large diaphragms can make your voice sound richer, more vibrant, and give it that “larger-than-life” voiceover quality, while small diaphragms are adept for musical instruments.

The condenser microphones we’ve selected below are balanced and ideal for a range of budgets:

  • The Rode NT1 is one of the best all-around and quietest microphones on the market.
  • Models like the MXL Mics 770 and the AKG Pro Audio C214 have on-off switches to ignore low frequency noise, which helps clarify vocals with deeper tones.
  • The Audio Technica AT2020PK Pack includes accessories like an adjustable boom arm and headphones.
  • Last but not least, Neumann microphones are heralded as the holy grail for professional recording studios.

Find these product recommendations and more on our Condenser Microphones Amazon Idea List.

Be sure to check the product descriptions before purchasing, as some of these microphones do not include an XLR cable or mount. Furthermore, all condenser microphones will need an external power source to work, which can typically be provided by an audio interface.

USB Microphones

For narrators just starting out, USB-powered microphones can be a cost-effective alternative to condenser microphones which need additional gear like an audio interface, cables, and mic stand to work. The USB microphones we’ve included below feature a cardioid pattern and a condenser capsule, so you’ll still have access to that signature bright sound that condenser microphones are known for. Each model in our selection also comes with a tabletop microphone stand.

Additionally, these USB mics are plug-and-play, meaning you can connect them to your computer and start recording right away. Be sure that you double check your computer ports to ensure proper connectivity; you may have to purchase a compatible cable or adapter.

  • The Blue Snowball iCE microphone is a good budget-friendly option, while the Rode NT offers more control over your audio with a built-in pop filter and switchable low-latency monitoring mode.
  • The Audio-Technica ATR2500x model has a low-mass diaphragm for excellent frequency response.
  • Lastly, the Samsung G-Tract Pro has a built-in audio interface and is very versatile, allowing you to switch between three polar patterns, and even works well with musical instruments.

Find these product recommendations on our USB Microphones Amazon Idea List.

Dynamic Microphones

Earlier, we said that condenser microphones are the most popular microphones for voice recording, but the catch is that they work best in soundproof spaces. City dwellers, we hear you—it’s challenging to create a recording studio in your apartment, much less completely soundproof it. That’s why we suggest going with a dynamic microphone in less than ideal recording environments.

Think of dynamic microphones as the distant cousin to the super-sensitive condenser mic. Dynamic microphones won’t capture all sounds, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Maybe the highs and lows of your voice just sound better with a dynamic microphone. Or maybe you’ve just gotten the band back together and need a mic that’s great for audiobook recording and live performance.

We picked these dynamic microphones for their sound quality and suitability for novices and professionals alike. All of these mics feature a cardioid polar pattern, and most include an internal pop filter for mouth noise reduction, and a built-in shock mount to reduce vibration.

  • The AT2100x is the only one on our list which doesn’t have a pop filter or shock-mount, but it balances this out with its low price point and ability to connect to your computer directly as a USB mic, and your audio interface with an XLR cable.
  • The Shure SM58S is a great starter mic with an on-off switch and frequency response tailored for vocals.
  • If you’re worried about extraneous background noise, get the MXL BCD-1 which has side rejection that increases sound isolation.
  • Models like the Rode Pod Mic, Shure SM7B, and Electro-Voice RE-20 will have a flat, wide-range frequency response for clean and natural sound production.
  • Narrators looking for a higher-end solution will love the Sennheiser MD441-U with excellent feedback rejection and sound quality.

Find these product recommendations and more on our Dynamic Microphones Amazon Idea List.

As we noted above, check the product descriptions before purchasing as some of these microphones do not include an XLR cable or mount. Furthermore, all dynamic microphones will need an external power source to work.

Microphone Essentials

Stands

You don’t want to be holding your microphone each time you record. Your sound will be inconsistent, your hand movements may get picked up by your microphone, and to be totally transparent, your arms will get sore after hours of studio time (no matter how often you go to the gym). A stable microphone stand will make all those problems disappear.

There are many different stands on the market, so make sure that you get one that’s compatible with your microphone size and weight. For instance, most condenser microphones need a shock mount in order to attach to a stand (check that the shock mount diameter is compatible with the size of your mic). You should also get a stand that best suits your recording style. Some stands will only work when placed on top of a table, and you’re sitting down; others range from three to seven feet tall and are made to use while standing up.

Find these product recommendations and more on our Microphone Stands Amazon Idea List.

Filters

If your microphone doesn’t already include one, you should definitely get a pop filter. When set up properly in front of your microphone, they will filter out sibilance and plosives, i.e. extra “hiss” and “pop” sounds that come from your mouth while recording. An added bonus is that pop filters will help you manage your distance from the microphone.

Another essential add-on is the isolation shield. These are like compact acoustic panels that get attached to the back of the microphone and block out ambient noise.

Find these product recommendations and more on our Microphone Filters Amazon Idea List. Be sure to check that the pop filter and isolation shield you choose are compatible with your specific microphone and recording setup.

Cables

Some, but not all, microphones come with an XLR cable in the box. These cables are designed to connect your microphone to an external audio interface, which is then connected to your computer via USB. You’ll want a balanced XLR cable with an insulated or braided cover to shield it from electromagnetic noise/interference and to increase sound fidelity. We’ve listed our top picks below with a range of options for beginner, intermediate, and professional narrators.

Find these product recommendations and more on our Microphone Cables Amazon Idea List.

And… mic drop!

Just kidding! You should never drop your microphone, unless it’s as rugged as the Shure SM58. (Even then, you still shouldn’t drop your microphone).

Pop Quiz: Choose the word in parentheses that best completes each phrase.
The Shure SM58 is a dynamic microphone, which means it picks up sound with (more OR less) precision than a condenser mic and is suitable for (noisy OR soundproof) studio environments.

Answers: Click and drag your cursor to highlight the hidden text in the brackets below.
[ less precision, noisy studio environments ]

Now that you know what to look for when buying a voice recording microphone, check out part 2 of our “Gearing Up” series to see which audio interface, DAW, and headphones will complete your ideal setup. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for updates!

A Studio of One’s Own

Every audiobook Producer needs a space that they can call their own—a space where they can harness the hypnotic power of their voice and keep the outside world, well, outside. In the first post of this three-part series, we’ll show you how to set up your recording studio and walk you through the essentials, from layout and soundproofing to selecting the right gear.

It’s all about location

You have to customize your studio to best fit your space, whether that’s a tiny house in the mountains, a crowded high rise in Manhattan, a condo by the beach, or a house with high ceilings in the suburbs. Some of the best home recording studios are built in a closet, with a designated desk for post-production in another room. Other producers soundproof their office, living room, or even bedroom.

When choosing your studio space, consider:

Are there any windows? More windows means more unexpected noise, especially if they face the street. Thick curtains can help block out many noises (but not construction sounds like jackhammers).

Do you want to record standing up or sitting down? Both ways work; it’s just a matter of how you’re most comfortable performing. Each will require a different amount of space and type of microphone stand.

How much space will there be between you, the microphone, and the walls? A microphone is best set up at a point no further than 40% away from the front wall, half-way between the side walls, and 60% away from the back wall.

What kind of floor do you have: carpeted, tile, or hardwood? Carpet is ideal for sound insulation, and you can always buy a thick rug or isolation pad (more on that later).

How high are the ceilings? You’ll have to add soundproofing to the ceiling, too, so you want to be able to reach it.

Another important factor to consider is whether or not there’s an open power outlet near your designated space. To minimize any faint electric buzzing noises, you’ll want to plug all your gear into one surge protector, in one outlet.

The sound of silence

So you’ve picked the quietest room in your house, away from street-facing windows, noisy refrigerators, and your overly enthusiastic children. Bear with us—this space is not as quiet as you think. Close your eyes and listen. Then listen closer. You might start hearing your AC unit on the other side of your house. A plane flying overhead. Your upstairs neighbors stomping around.

Without proper soundproofing, all of these sounds and more will be readily picked up by your sensitive voice-recording microphone and jolt listeners out of their immersive audiobook experience. Don’t worry, our tips below will help ensure that your audio meets our Submission Requirements before it ever reaches your audience’s eager ears.

DIY soundproofing and acoustic treatment

  • Walls and Ceiling: Block out external noise and dampen vibrations by covering your walls and ceiling with acoustic panels, egg-crate mattress covers, carpets, or even thick moving blankets, duvet covers, or curtains. If you’re using fabric insulation, leave a bit of space between each panel so the sound of your voice can be diffused a little and won’t sound flat (sometimes fabric absorbs sounds almost too well).
  • Door: Treat the studio side of your door the same way as your walls and ceiling. You want to make sure that all cracks are covered, and you also want to be able to get in and out easily. We recommend using a plastic door sweep or a long, dense pillow to cover the crack between the door and the floor when you’re recording.
  • Floor: If your studio space is not already carpeted, buy a thick rug to cover your entire floor. In addition to blocking out noise and eliminating vibrations, recording on carpet will help mask low end frequencies emitted by your equipment. If carpet isn’t doing the trick, or you have some wiggle room in your budget, you can opt for isolation pads to cover your floor.
  • Furniture: Fully stocked bookcases placed in corners of your studio can help with acoustic treatment because they diffuse sound waves. Additionally, if you want to record sitting down, you should look for a desk that’s stable and large enough to hold your microphone, computer, and accessories; your chair should be the right height for your desk, comfortable, and not squeak (even if you’re narrating a horror audiobook).

For more inspiration on your studio set-up, take a virtual visit to the DIY recording studios of three Audible Approved Producers.

Find these product recommendations on our Studio Soundproofing Amazon Idea List.

Reducing noise with the right electronics

  • Microphone isolation shield: In addition to the soundproofing steps we’ve mentioned above, you may want to mount an isolation shield to your microphone to absorb any additional vibrations from your walls and floor. Be sure to follow the instructions when attaching the filter to your microphone, as mounting it too close to the microphone won’t do much in terms of sound absorption.
  • Computer: Another source of noise is your computer, specifically its fan and hard disk. We recommend using a low-power computer with an SSD drive and no fans, like the Microsoft Surface Pro, or very quiet fans like the Macbook Air. Another bonus for upgrading your computer is faster audio processing and editing. Note: check that your computer ports are compatible with your audio interface.
  • Lighting: You can make your space as bright or as dim as you want, but stay clear from fluorescent light bulbs, which can produce radio interference. Wall dimmers can also make a low buzzing noise when turned on. Instead, we recommend a desktop or standing lamp with LED bulbs which are quiet, energy efficient, and won’t add extra heat to your space.

Find these product recommendations on our Studio Accessories Amazon Idea List.

Choosing your recording studio gear

Just like your acoustic treatment has to be customized to fit your space, your studio gear should be tailored to your unique voice and environment. We won’t go into all of those factors here (check out Gearing Up For Audiobook Production Part 1 for more information), but we’ll introduce you to everything you need to get started.

To record an audiobook, you’ll need a way to capture your voice (a microphone), a way to transfer and save your sound (typically an audio interface connected to your computer), a way to listen to your recording (headphones best replicate the audiobook listening experience), and a way to record and edit your sound files (software called a digital audio workstation or DAW).

Starter packs

We’ve selected the starter packs below for their ease of use and professional-grade quality. They include a studio condenser microphone, which is the most popular type of microphone used in audiobook recording; an audio interface; headphones; necessary cables; a DAW; and a selection of accessories like microphone stands and a pop filter to screen out popping noises during recording.

Find these product recommendations on our Audiobook Recording Starter Packs Amazon Idea List.

Make yourself at home

Soundproofing your studio and using quality equipment will get you off to a solid start in producing amazing audiobooks. The most critical element is you: your voice, how you use it, and your ability to capture and master it to produce stories that will engage your listeners. So make yourself at home, get comfortable using your new equipment, and check out our Performance: The Craft of Narration video playlist to hone your voiceover skills.

For more information, check out these Production Pointers from Audible Approved Producers and keep honing your craft.

Best of the Blog: 2020 Edition

With the help of some super-talented ACX creators, we’ve shared some great audiobook production, publishing, and marketing advice in 2020. Today, we’re closing out the year with a look at some of our favorite posts and videos.

Award-Worthy Advice from Indie Voices These rockstar indie creators represented the ACX community at the Audio Publisher Association’s Audie Awards this year. Get to know them and go behind the scenes of their award-winning work—then get inspired to create your own award-winning production in 2021.

Performance Masterclass ft. Khristine Hvam & Ryan Bess Winnick [VIDEO] There’s a lot to learn when it comes to audiobook performance, and the best actors never stop improving their craft. Here’s your chance to be a fly on the wall during a coaching session that covers pacing your performance, setting the scene, and understanding how physicality and preparation can enhance your narration.

Raise Your Voice: Narrator Erin Mallon Takes on Authorship Ever wondered what it’s like to be a Renaissance woman in publishing? Look no further than this Q&A with multi-hyphenate Erin Mallon, an actor-turned-narrator-turned-writer whose genre-bending work takes audio storytelling to the next level (think: meta comedic audio play).

Time Well Spent 2020 brought new challenges in time management and working from home. While it’s too early to know what 2021 will bring, we’re confident that entrepreneur Sarina Bowen’s tips on setting goals, developing good habits, and being consistent and will set you up for success.

Expanding Your Range: The Making of an Audiobook Musical [VIDEO] Now’s the perfect time to resolve to break new ground with your audiobook productions in 2021. Get inspired to try something new by learning how the cast of an audiobook musical put it all together, from the initial idea to the final edit.

Hannibal Hills: Lessons from the First Three Years Part I and Part II It’s never too late to launch your career in audiobook production. Take it from Audible Approved Producer Hannibal Hills, who went from self-starter to self-mastery in 3 years. In this article, he shares practical advice for sharpening your skills, building your brand, and telling the stories that are true to you.    

Love Is in the Airwaves Here’s to gal-mances everywhere! Follow along as New York Times best-selling romance authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward gush about each other’s audiobooks and share their process for casting and communicating with narrators, especially for dual narration and duet narration projects.


We can’t wait to see where your audiobook career will take you in 2021.    

Warm Up Your Voice with Caitlin Kelly’s Recipe For Success

As we transition from sweater season to full-on winter, warming up takes on a whole new meaning. We’ve got just the thing to carry you through the cold days and keep your voice in tip-top shape: Caitlin Kelly’s special tea, perfect for any season. As an Audible Approved Producer who has narrated over 200 audiobooks, she knows the importance of vocal health and credits this recipe for soothing her vocal chords before recording sessions. For best results, pair it with Caitlin’s tips and techniques for audiobook producers, featured on ACX University.

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!

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 200 books. To hear more from Caitlin, check out her site, www.CaitlinKellyVO.com.

Sound Check: Audio Lab Launches on ACX

Earlier this year, we launched Audio Analysis — a web tool that gives ACX Producers instant feedback on their production audio files, allowing them to identify and correct technical issues before submitting their projects for review. Audio Analysis improves the workflow for Producers during a production, but we want all ACX Producers to feel confident about their sound before they even submit their first audition, so we created Audio Lab. Simply upload your audio files and Audio Lab gives you immediate feedback on how they measure up to our Audio Submission Requirements on seven important metrics, including peak value and RMS. We’re excited about the potential this tool offers for new and seasoned Producers alike, so we thought we’d break down how you can use Audio Lab effectively to hone your sound like a pro.

Who can use Audio Lab?

Audio Lab is open to any ACX user – if you have an account with ACX, you can upload files for analysis on Audio Lab. New producers can create an ACX account and start using it to test their sound progress as they learn to gauge when they’re ready to start auditioning. Seasoned producers can use it to test and calibrate new gear to meet our submission requirements.

How do I use it?

It’s easy! Just upload your audio files to the Audio Lab page – you can find it under the “Production Resources” tab on ACX – and the system will give you immediate feedback on how your files measure up to our submission requirements on RMS, peak value, bitrate, bitrate method, and sample rate. The results are only visible to you.

What sort of files should I use?

Audio Lab is built to analyze any spoken word MP3 audio files, but we recommend uploading files that you’ve recorded, edited, and mastered to our submission requirements as you would if you were producing an audiobook, even if you’re just reading test passages from a favorite book. This will give you the best sense of how production-ready your sound is, and will let you know what you need to adjust to pass QA.

When do I use it?

Anytime you have audio you want to test! Here are just a few times you might find it useful:

  • Use it to test samples for your profile when you first join ACX
  • Use it to make sure you’re ready to take on audiobook projects
  • Before auditioning for a specific project
  • When you’re mid-project, to test your audio before sending it to the Rights Holder for approval
  • Whenever you change your equipment or studio space

Why should I use it?

Periodically testing your files with Audio Lab – whether you’re a new narrator or an ACX veteran – ensures you enter into every contract with the confidence that you can deliver a great production.

We hope that Audio Lab offers the Producer community the resources you need to craft awesome productions. If you’re new to ACX or to audiobook production in general, and you’re looking for more resources to help you narrate, record, produce, and distribute great sounding audiobooks, be sure to browse this blog for more tips, visit our YouTube channel, and check out our Audio Terminology Glossary to get up to speed.


An Update to Audio Analysis

Earlier this year, ACX launched the Audio Analysis tool for Production Manager, a new feature that allows Producers and DIY Authors to upload audio files and receive immediate feedback in a report identifying seven of the most common production issues—all before submitting the project to Quality Assurance.

We hope you’ve been exploring the new feature and are finding it to be a helpful tool in your production process. Now that you’ve had a little time to get comfortable with Audio Analysis, we’re making an adjustment to the ACX submission process: starting today, some accounts will see the new experience, and by May 4, all titles will be required to resolve any issues identified by Audio Analysis before they are able to submit for review.

Need help making corrections? The Audio Analysis tool provides a full report on all your audio files, with details on the issues that need addressing, and links to specific ACX Submission Guidelines and Reference Guides that can help you address them. And as always, if you need more guidance or assistance in getting your files QA-ready, the ACX blog and YouTube channel are at your disposal with further resources on recording, editing, mastering, and more.

Hannibal Hills: Lessons from the First Three Years Part 2

Last week, we heard from Audible Approved Producer Hannibal Hills on how he built a successful narration career from square one in three years. If you’re new to narration or thinking about taking it full-time and wondering where to start, be sure to catch up on the first part of this narrative and learn how to set a solid foundation for yourself. And now, with the help of our narrator, we continue on our journey…

Investing in Editing, Coaching, and Mentoring

Hannibal Hills in his booth

Like any growing business, your narration career may reach a point where you can afford to hire outside help to so your business can continue to grow. I have now reached the point where I outsource my editing so I can focus solely on narration. Earlier in my career, I felt the need to save on the pennies and stay in control of the whole process. But when income started to come in steadily, being behind the mic became the most valuable use of my time, and the increased output I was able to achieve from outsourcing easily counterbalanced the cost.

Performance coaching was another investment whose value I cannot overstate. Early on, I was beyond fortunate to connect with the great Sean Pratt, and he has been a true mentoring light as I moved from narration as a side-job to a full-time career. Coaching with a true expert is the single most important investment you can make in your narration career. The knowledge and advice they share can save years of trial and (mostly) error, and be the very difference between long-term success and failure.

Choosing the Right Projects

Choosing the right projects is every bit as important as having the performance skills or the right equipment. Sean, whose excellent book, To Be or Wanna Be: The Top Ten Differences Between a Successful Actor and a Starving Artist is a trove of clear wisdom, has given me countless useful pieces of advice and challenges to learn through. An example of the wisdom a coach like Sean can offer can be found in his famous three questions: Of each project ask yourself: will it pay, will it be good for my career, and will it be fun. If all three are true, that project is a clear good choice. If only two are a yes, it should only be accepted if you can comfortably live without the third. If only one (or none) is true you should never accept the project. This simple test is a golden barometer for a narrator in all stages of their career. 

I am now careful to evaluate every project I am offered or consider auditioning for—not only for value, but for scheduling. Overbooking is an easy trap to fall into in the early years, but spreadsheets are just as good for calculating reasonable monthly output as they are for projecting income. Don’t undervalue your time and work. When you have only a few books to your name and are starting to realize how much you still have to learn, impostor syndrome can bend your will to accept projects that aren’t right for you and poor rates of return. Though it is hard, you mustn’t stop believing you are worth the accepted industry rates. Too many hours working hard while knowing you are being underpaid will eventually start to poison your heart, smother your passion, hurt your performance, and eventually make you regret your career choice altogether. A good coach will help you to continue to believe in the value of what you do.

Finding My Voice and Building My Identity

With the right home setup, a process you feel confident in, ongoing training that produces real improvement in your performance, and a steadily growing output of titles, it very quickly becomes clear the sort of titles that best suit your voice. I worked to resist the temptation to be an “everyman.” One of Sean’s most valuable contributions to my career was helping me define my niche and refine my identity and brand—externally but also internally, in my performance and approach. I now look for projects that suit that brand. This personal “flavor” can be applied across both fiction and non-fiction, and in my case to horror, comedy, classic literature, and more colorful, opinionated non-fiction. Every narrator will have their own flavor that comes from their own heart and passions, and this should be embraced rather than denied. I have found that taking on projects that appeal to me as a person, and which match my own personality and tastes, makes for a far more fulfilling professional life. My most successful projects have been achieved through forging relationships of trust and mutual understanding, where they know you believe in their work, and trust you to make the right creative choices to best bring their words off the page. 

Occasionally, I have taken off-brand projects, sometimes because the money and opportunity were tempting, or because I wanted to experiment with a new genre outside my core brand. For these projects, I have several alternate names—a pseudonym or “nom de vox”—so that my brand remains clear, and I can work anonymously if needed.

Learning and Looking Forward

In creating recent box sets with long-term collaborators—the authors of the books—I have had to revisit some of my very early work. It was fascinating to see how far I have come, and how much coaching has helped me improve. It is good to be reminded of the lessons I needed to know then, so I keep them at heart moving forward. Even if we are not proud of our early work, we should be glad that it helped us take another step toward where we are today.

Goal-setting is essential for moving your career forward. I have two key reminders I look to every day—the first is a small whiteboard of my goals for the year. Some I have already achieved, others still need a lot of work, but they are there in plain sight. Each goal I set can be measured in a very real way, from royalty units sold to number of books completed. The goals cover all areas, and each one nudges some aspect for my narration career ahead one more step—and when it does, it is toasted (perhaps with a glass of something with my wife), erased, and replaced with another goal just a little more challenging. 

The Shared Adventure of Audiobooks

The second thing I come back to each day is our community: the indie audiobook narrators Facebook group, narrators I have met through mutual coaching, and those I’ve reached out to via email because I simply admire their work. Many authors and small publishers have also become friends through our collaboration, and I meet with many regularly on Zoom to discuss market trends and new project ideas.

Few industries have such a supportive, positive community of helpful cheerleaders, friends, joke-sharers, listeners, and advisors. We all want to see success in the others and cheer when we do, because we know that there is room for us all, that so many unique voices each have a place, and that what is right for me may be rightly different to what is right for you. We also know that together we are creating libraries of lasting enjoyment for millions of listeners. This really is an industry where dedication, honesty, manners, fairness, trustworthiness, and sharing are the qualities that build success. This is a job where the good guys and dedicated spirits really do win. It may have taken almost 46 years, but I found a home—one where each book brings to life a new adventure to be shared.

Hannibal Hills is the narrator of more than 40 titles. This ‘darkly sophisticated British storyteller’ can be found lending his voice to many a horror, mystery, or thriller novel.

Are you a narration newbie inspired by this career journey? An audiobook veteran who can add some sage wisdom of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

Feedback Without Distortion: Audio Analysis is Here

Today, the ACX team is excited to announce the launch of a new feature available in Production Manager: it can analyze all your audio files, let you know if they meet ACX Standards, and give you a precise report on the changes that need to be made, all before you ever submit your project to QA—it’s the Audio Analysis Tool!

This feature will be accessible to producers and DIY authors on all new ACX projects. Now when you upload audio to ACX—starting with the 15-minute checkpoint—you’ll get an immediate report on seven common audio issues:

RMSSample Rate
Peak LevelsMixed Channels
BitrateDuplicate Files
Bitrate Method

That means no more waiting for the book to go through QA to learn you have one file in stereo and having to resubmit the whole project over again. Now you can find out right away and quickly make the required adjustments. The report contains precise indications on what needs to be adjusted and by how much, with links to helpful resources on how to do it. Don’t worry—all ACX audiobooks will get a final listen from our QA team before going on sale, and they’ll be on the lookout for spacing, noise floor, and other issues that can’t be detected by the tool—only now the process will be able to move a little easier, with smoother production timelines for all.

To give you some time to get used to this new feature, we’re accepting all audiobook submissions, even if Audio Analysis identifies errors within your files. When the feature launches fully, any issues detected by Audio Analysis will need to be corrected before the project can be submitted for Quality Assurance. This initial phase will give you time to identify recurring issues in your productions and make the necessary adjustments to your workflow without impacting your ability to submit audio and receive QA feedback.

We’re excited for this feature and we hope you are, too—we hope the earlier feedback and additional insights will help you improve you skills and setup, and result in a smoother production experience for all. And as always, if you have any questions about the feature, the answers can be found in our Help Center.

The Best of the Blog 2019: The Re-Gift of Knowledge

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!

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.