Category Archives: Videos

This Week in Links: July 25 – 29

We reached the halfway point of the summer semester of #ACXU2016 with this Wednesday’s panel, our Studio Gear Review. We covered the four essential pieces of equipment in your recording chain, showcased budget and high end setups, and learned what Audible Studios uses to create their Grammy and Audie award-winning productions.

Watch the panel below, and join us Wednesday, August 3rd at 4pm ET for Hey, I Know You!: Creating and Maintaining Your Actor Brand.

For Producers:

The Studio Gear Series – The ACX Blog – Want to learn even more about audiobook home studios, recording chains, and production best practices? Read our previous posts on the topic here.

[VIDEO] The Conversational Read: Relax into Your Voice and Become Comfortable with It – via Voice-Over Xtra – How can you ease into a natural read and shake that “announcer” sound? Watch to find out.

The Worst Acting Advice Ever – Via Paul Strikwerda – What separates a professional from a wannabe behind the mic? The answer may be more basic than you think.

What Parts of Your Voiceover Business Can You Outsource? – via Victoria DeAnda – It’s the narrator’s eternal question: beyond voicing the material, how do you find the balance between doing it yourself and hiring help?

For Rights Holders:

Author Marketing Mastery #30: Seven Ways to Build Readership Using YouTube – via where writers win – Find seven ways to get attention on YouTube, along with some general hints for success.

How to Write Subtext in Dialogue – via Helping Writers Become Authors – Find out how to write masterful dialogue that comes alive in your narrator’s telling.

7 Easy Ways tob Connect with Readers – via The Write Practice – These days, more writers means a more competitive marketplace than ever for the eyes and ears of your fans. A successful author will actively think about how they earn their attention.

Stranger-Than-Fiction Writing Habits of 18 Famous Writers – via Writer’s Digest – This fun infographic offers a peek at the odds ways writers find their muse.

Microphones and Mic Technique with Alex the Audio Scientist

Welcome, students! For my first lesson of the new year, I’ll be focusing on a key piece of equipment in your studio – your microphone. The video below is chock full of helpful info, but before we get to that I want to give a quick shout-out to J.L. Rebeor, who was first to comment with all of the correct answers to my quiz last fall. You can check out her ACX profile here. Congrats, J.L.!

Now, on to the lesson. And be sure to stick around for today’s quiz, as I’ll once again honor the first commenter to earn a 100% in my next post.

Pencils down! It’s time for our quiz. Leave your answers in the comments below for a chance at a mention in a future blog post.

  1. A microphone’s polar pattern indicates _______.
  2. What are the three basic polar patterns a microphone can have?
    1. _______
    2. _______
    3. _______
  3. What polar pattern is preferred for audiobook recording?
  4. If your microphone is positioned too close to your mouth, you may end up with excessive _______ and _______ in your recording.

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

Regarding Room Tone with Alex the Audio Scientist

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

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

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

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

ACX University Presents: Finding Your Voice: Part 2

Last week, we shared part 1 of ACX University’s performance intensive, Finding Your Voice, featuring advice from Audible Studios’ Senior Director Mike Charzuk and Production Manager Kat Lambrix, as well as Audie-winning narrator Ellen Archer. Today we’re back with Part 2, which covers navigating the ins and outs of the source material. Watch the video below, then scroll down for the high-level takeaways.

Top Tips From Part 2

  • Staying True to the Material
    • Collaborating with your rights holder.
    • Handling material you don’t agree with.
    • Acting out uncomfortable scenes delicately.
  • Challenges in Narration
    • Pronunciations.
    • Dialogue.
    • Difficult accents.
    • Getting the giggles.
  • Key Takeaways
    • Take a hard look at your demographics, accents, and preferences to find your vocal strength.
    • Seek professional training when possible.
    • Honor the material despite personal challenges.
    • Have fun!

Thanks for watching! Check back next week for more audiobook production advice for actors. In the meantime, learn from ACX University’s other video lessons on our YouTube channel.

Like what you watched? Subscribe to the ACX blog to get updates every time we post!

ACX University Presents: Finding Your Voice: Part 1

In May, we invited 70 ACX producers to our offices in Newark, NJ for ACX University, a day of audiobook production and performance education and networking. Among the highlights, the day featured outstanding presentations from Audible Studio’s pros and Audie-Award winning actors.

Today, we’re featuring part one of the performance intensive Finding Your Voice, featuring Mike Charzuk and Kat Lambrix of Audible Studios, as well as Audie-winning narrator Ellen Archer. Watch the video below, then scroll down for our top takeaways.

Tops Tips From Part One

  • Know Your Voice. Learn:
    • The demographic you fall into.
    • The genres that are right for you.
    • The content that’s right for you.
    • The accents you’ve mastered.
  • Seek Professional Training.
    • Professional training can help you refine your demo and ACX samples.
    • The two main types of professional training:
      • Group classes.
      • Private lessons/coaching.
  • Learn about top-selling audiobook categories.
    • Mysteries and thrillers.
    • Business and self-help.
    • Romance and erotica.
      • Learn the differences between romance, erotica, and new adult.

Join us next week for the second part of this session. You can check out other informative sessions from ACX University on our YouTube channel.

Like what you watched? Subscribe to the ACX blog to get updates every time we post!

All About Noise Floor with Alex the Audio Scientist

We’d like to introduce you to the newest member of the ACX team, Alex the Audio Scientist. Alex has a degree in Audiobook Studies from ACX University, and he’ll be stopping by the blog from time to time to explain some key ADBLCRE-ACX_Character_Iconaspects of audiobook recording and production. So without further ado, take it away Alex!

Nice to Meet You!

Hi everyone I’m excited to share my knowledge of all things audiobooks and help you improve your ACX productions. Before today’s lesson, I hope you’ve read previous posts on this blog regarding home studio setup, because today I’ll cover a common problem with voice recording spaces: a high noise floor. Enjoy the video below, and take good notes – there’ll be a quiz afterward!

And we’re back. Ready for that quiz I mentioned? Let’s see how much you learned. Leave your answers in the comments below. The first person to get every answer correct will get a shout out in my next post!

  1. The noise floor is the ________ level of background noise in a recording, when no narration is taking place.
  2. A high noise floor in a home studio can be caused by ________, ________, ________, ________, or ________.
  3. Its best to address your noise floor issues during the ________ stage.
  4. I recommended using a ________ to remove unwanted frequencies, such as a low rumble.
  5. The appropriate frequency range to target the removal of this low rumble is usually between ________ and ________ Hz.
  6. The ACX Audio Submission Requirements call for a noise floor no higher than ________ dB RMS.

Five Things Every Audiobook Beginner Should Know

Gary Terzza is a UK-based voice over artist and coach who runs a popular voice over master class and has trained successful actors like recent guest blogger and Audible Approved Producer Anna Parker-Naples. Today, he joins us to offer a handful of helpful tips for audiobook newbies.

To Begin At the Beginning

Gary TerzzaMy first encounter with an audiobook was back in 1976. As a mediocre student I was going nowhere with my English literature studies, but an enterprising teacher opened my 16 year old ears to something quite remarkable – a box set of vinyl records of the play Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, with the ‘first voice’ part read by the sonorous Richard Burton. Have a listen to Mr. Burton’s narration below.

Suddenly, the Welsh actor’s distinctive and assured delivery brought this sleepy fishing village vividly to life. Here was one voice (Burton) becoming the same as the storyteller’s (Thomas) so that the two were indistinguishable.

From that day onwards I realised that a truly good voice actor speaks the writer’s words with total conviction.

Today I passionately believe this is at the core of all voice overs and is especially true in audiobooks.

So what should you be mindful of when embarking on your audiobook career? Here are five things to keep in mind as you progress.

1. Audiobooks Can Be Very, Very Long

Last year I received an urgent call from one of my voice over students. Sonia (not her real name) was panicking, and quite rightly so. She had never performed a voice over before, but an author had contacted her about reading a 110,000 word novel in the style of Jane Austen. She loved Austen, but 110,000 words frightened her, because it sounded like a lot.

Time HeadShe was right – it is. In fact that is approximately 11 hours of listening time or what we call ‘completed audio’.

“How can I do 11 hours of reading and recording all in one go?” she asked nervously. I responded with the good and bad news.

The good news was she did not have to do the whole read in one go. The bad, was that 11 hours of completed audio would take her 44 to 55 hours to record, edit and review. That equates to a couple of weeks’ work including essential breaks and weekends off.

“It was a baptism by fire,” she told me later “but very enjoyable.” In fact it took her nearer 70 hours to complete because of technical issues (she was grappling with unfamiliar software and hardware), but the author loved the end result.

The lesson? Never underestimate the amount of time it will take you to produce an audiobook. Not all projects are over 100,000 words (the average audiobook is about 9 hours long), but I would allow a ratio of 4 to 5 hours of your time for every completed hour of audio. Make sure you clear your calendar before starting.

2. Don’t Read the Book – Tell the Story

At first glance this may appear contradictory. Surely reading is storytelling? Well no, not quite.

Boy LibraryIf you have ever read a story to young children (especially as a parent) you will notice that you have a highly critical audience. If the characters do not sound convincing, your young listeners will soon let you know – in fact my eldest son was particularly critical of my delivery of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which I have to admit I would sometimes skip through nonchalantly.

I soon realised that I had to be genuine in my delivery; I had to believe in what I was saying 100%, because my son would soon let me know if I was just “going through the motions’.

Likewise, your listeners want you to narrate the story with complete conviction. Remember too, you are talking to them and not at them.

Like Richard Burton, you should completely immerse yourself in the story so that your voice doesn’t just sound like the author’s (metaphorically), but is inseparable from the author’s.

3. Choose Your Book Carefully

GelatoWhat do you like to read in your spare time? Do you prefer crime fiction, historical tales, or romantic novels perhaps? Imagine you absolutely hated science fiction, but were forced to read Arthur C. Clarke; well that is what it’s like if you get stuck narrating an audiobook that you don’t chime with.

In some areas of voice overs it does not matter if you like (or even understand) the subject matter. A 30 second radio commercial for toilet paper does not mean you have a predilection for all things bathroom related.

But an audiobook narration is different. You will be reading thousands upon thousands of words. Remember Sonia? She lived and breathed her author’s book for weeks and she probably even dreamt about the characters!

Carefully selecting a book you will enjoy is crucial.

So how can you make sure the project you are embarking on is for you?

Check out the book on Amazon. Every title profile on ACX has a link to the print/eBook edition on Amazon, and you don’t even have to make a purchase. Just open up the preview pages and have a read through. Can you hear the voice in your head? Do the words speak to you? If so, this could be a job worth taking on.

Perhaps you don’t like (or don’t yet have the chops for) doing character voices, in which case I advise you stick to nonfiction, or avoid novels that are peppered with a diverse range of vocal personalities.

If the book reads well, chances are you will enjoy the narration.

4. Know Your Author

Once you are in the happy position of accepting an offer on ACX, it is time to form a very special relationship. This is between you and the book’s original voice – the writer.

Reading RoomOn ACX, you’ll audition using pages from the book itself. Once you’ve been selected to narrate, you’ll produce a 15 minute portion of the book and submit it for the author’s or publisher’s approval before moving forward. She will then take a listen and make some critical observations.

  • Is the pace correct? Does the tempo need to be slower or faster?
  • How is the general tone? Is the narrator in tune with the spirit of the book?
  • Are there any mispronunciations of names or fictional places?
  • If there are characters, do they sound convincing?

The rights holder may then request some adjustments based on the answers to the questions above. Once you have been given the green light, stay in touch with your new client at regular intervals as she will want to be kept up to date. If you have a bad cold or anything else that might put you behind schedule let her know straight away.

Remember, cultivating a relationship based on respect and understanding is the best way to smooth any rough water you might encounter.

5. Be  A Producer

In the early days of your audiobook career you will likely be recording from home. That means taking on the role of editor, performer and producer – three hats on one head…. yours.

Getting the sound right is essential, so spend some time creating a home studio. It doesn’t have to be grand or expensive, just practical and comfortable. There are two basic aspects to domestic recording: the hardware and the acoustic space.

Old EquipThere are lots of options in terms of microphones. Check out ACX’s previous post on mics, or visit some of the voice over community groups on social networks such as Facebook , Linkedin and Google +. They are very helpful and supportive.

In terms of software, I recommend using Audacity. It is flexible, easy to use, has lots of training videos on YouTube, and best of all, it’s free. It is ideal for audiobooks and all your other voice over work.

Achieving the required ‘deadness’ in you room is a little more tricky. ACX has also covered the key elements of home studio construction, and you can read that post here. Your aim is to remove the inherent ambiance that every room possesses and create an echo free environment. This helps your voice sound direct and intimate – as long as you are close enough to the mic.

Starting out in the world of audiobooks need not be daunting. If remember these key points, stay focused, learn as much as you can and never give up, success could be on the next page.

What’s your top tip for audiobook beginners? 

This Week in Links: December 8 – 12

Here at Audible and ACX, we make sure to mix in a little fun with all the hard work of helping you make great audiobooks. Audible Studios’ engineer Orlando recently created and starred in the following music video highlighting some of the audiobook innovations Audible has to offer.

Enjoy his infectious performance, then check out the week’s best audiobook links below.

For Producers:

Being an Entrepreneur – via Your Work Is All I Talk About! – Check out Natasha’s year-end roundup of advice for voice actors.

What to Post & When to Post it on 9 Important Social Networks – via Business 2 Community – Whether marketing yourself or your titles, heed this advice for making the most of your social media efforts.

20 20: The Year in Audiobooks – via AudioFile MagazineAudioFile offers their extensive review of the best audiobooks of 2014.

Show This Blog to Anyone Wondering What To Get You For Christmas – via Voice Acting in Vegas – Great gift ideas for you and your VO friends.

For Rights Holders:

How to Never Worry About What to Write Again – via Goins, Writer – Learn to focus on voice, not subject.

Even More New Year’s Resolutions for Writers – via Writer Unboxed – Make a promise to yourself to improve in 2015.

5 Tips for Writing a Memoir – via Publishers Weekly – Are you looking to tell your own story? Heed this advice from author Will Boast.

You’re—I mean YOUR—Complete Grammarian Gift Guide – via LitReactor – Ideas for the grammar obsessive in your life.

 

 

 

How to Succeed at Audiobook Production: Part 4

Welcome back to How to Succeed at Audiobook Production. If you’ve been following this series, then you’ve read up on The ACX Mile, which helps you perfect the art of narration recording, perform a complete edit and QC your recorded audio, and learn audio mastering best practices. If you haven’t perused these posts, I recommend doing so before continuing on.

NoAndrew_250x320w that you’re caught up, let’s move on to the fourth and final part of my series: encoding and file delivery.

Rounding The Final Corner

Upon a successful master, your audiobook production is not quite finished. Keeping that in mind, watch the final video in our series, and review the key points I discuss after.

The Home Stretch

I recommend you perform another final QC pass on your audio before moving on to encoding and delivering your audio. After putting so much effort into your production, the last thing we want to do is send an audio review notice to fix missing chapters or out-of-order audio files. The post-mastering QC pass needn’t be as in-depth as what I recommend in the article on editing; it could be as simple as verifying the volume levels are meet our specifications, that the content is complete, and that the audio files are numbered and named in the proper order.

If everything looks ready, then we can begin the encoding process. I cover this in more detail in my post, Encoding Audio with Andrew the Audio Scientist, but I’ll summarize here. That post contains a link to our instructions detailing how to encode your audiobook to ACX specifications using the free and cross-platform fre:ac encoding software.

Keep ACX’s Encoding Requirements in Mind.

All files in your audiobook must:

Also be cognizant of ACX’s file-level requirements. The encoding options you choose can potentially cause the run-time or the file size to go over our specifications. Each file must contain a single chapter, be under 120 minutes in length, and be no larger than 170mb.

Crossing the Finish Line

Once you verify your audio complies with our MP3 encoding and file-level requirements, you’re ready to upload our audio to the ACX production manager! Here are some last-minute tips that could potentially save you from an audio review notice.

1. Be smart about your sample. The retail sample you provide will likely be a customer’s first glimpse into your work, so make this moment count! I recommend grabbing the audio from an early point in the book, so you don’t give away plot developments. Also, be mindful of the ACX sample requirements, which expressly prohibit erotic/mature content. If your book is on the wilder side, find a section that is appropriate for all audiences.

2. Double-check your book’s chapter order when uploading your files. Files arrive to ACX in the same order as they are uploaded to the Production Manager. Doing this last check will make the QA process simpler and faster, allowing us to get your title on sale more quickly.

3. Ensure your file names are clear and concise. To help ACX best understand your audio, I recommend naming your audio using a template such as:

  • 01-BookTitle-OPENING.mp3 <<Your book’s Opening credits.
  • 02-BookTitle-PROLOGUE.mp3
  • 03-BookTitle-CH1.mp3 <<Chapter one
  • 04-BookTitle-CH2-p1.mp3 <<Chapter two, part one
  • 05-BookTitle-CH2-p2.mp3 <<Chapter two, part two

Thank You

Since we are at the end of the How to Succeed at Audiobook Production series (but not the end of my regular contributions to the blog), I want to take this opportunity to thank our users, subscribers and readers for your loyal viewership.

But don’t worry, I’ll be back with more audiobook production tips soon. In the meantime, share your own with your fellow readers in the comments below!

How to Succeed at Audiobook Production: Part 3

Andrew the Audio Scientist here, and today I’m presenting part three of my How to Succeed at Audiobook Production series. Let’s dig into one of the most important, yet least understood aspects of audiobook production: Mastering. But before we tackle that, make sure you’ve done proper editing and QC passes on your raw audio. Check out last week’s post for more on those important steps, and read on for my advice on audiobook mastering.

Andrew_250x320Mastering the Art of Mastering

Before we get to the video below, I want to remind you of the key to producing reliably great sounding audiobooks, especially in the mastering stage: consistency.

Mastering is, in essence, the process of bringing your files closer to one another in terms of sound quality and dynamic range, so the listener will enjoy a book which sounds the same all the way through.

The most important thing to remember about mastering is that it is done not to make a poor recording sound good, but rather to make a good recording sound great. Mastering, like editing, is a key aspect of the perceived professionalism of your production. While the average customer is not thinking about the mastering of a title while listening, the boost of clarity and consistency your narration receives from a proper master cannot be ignored. So, while the process of mastering an audiobook may appear cryptic at first, it is essential to achieving an optimal sound quality for your production.

Now, let’s watch part three of How to Succeed at Audiobook Production, and after, review the mastering tips I suggest below.

Mastering Breakdown

Audiobook mastering involves a few major steps:

  1. Assess all audio files to ensure no peaks or clipping exist in the audio. A good recording and careful editing are both necessary to achieve this.
  2. Group all similar files together during the assessment so they can be processed at the same time.
  3. Bring each group of audio files into your DAW, and perform the following processes in the following order (this is referred to as your “mastering chain”):
    • Remove all unnecessary low and high frequencies to clean up the sound of your recordings and provide more headroom in order to boost your files levels effectively. This is a great way to minimize hum and hiss in an otherwise good recording!
    • Bring all files up to the proper dynamic levels as specified by the ACX Audio Submission Requirements page by using normalization, compression and/or limiting, and, if necessary, a final volume adjustment.
  4. Check the audio after mastering to ensure the operation did not over-process or under-process the recordings.

A common mastering chain for an ACX production is as follows:

Equalization/filtering

Remove low (80hz and lower) and high (16kHz and higher) frequencies by using a high-pass and low-pass filter, respectively. Set the high-pass filter to remove sounds below 80hz, and set the low-pass filter to remove sounds above 16kHz. If available, set the Q to the highest-possible setting for both filters. Usually, that setting is 24dB or 48dB per octave.

Normalization

Typically, you should normalize your peaks to -6dB.

Compression/Limiting

We recommend using a limiter, if available, instead of a compressor. Compression can achieve similar results, but it may also decrease the dynamic range of your vocal recording if used improperly. To properly utilize limiting on your files, start by setting your limiter’s maximum output to -3dB. Then, turn up the gain on your limiter until you have achieved a loud, clear, and consistent sound. Don’t boost the level too high. Otherwise, you may distort your voice, or bring up the noise floor of your recording too much. Remember: the better your recording and editing, the easier this process will be! If you have not yet read the first and second parts of this blog post series, I strongly recommend you do so. It can greatly reduce the workload involved in mastering your audiobook.

Tips for Each Step of the Mastering Process 

Before you begin mastering, record and edit the entire audiobook to completion. Then, make a final “completed edits backup,” – which I refer to in my prior blog post on file management – of each chapter. Maintaining a backup file is imperative, in case you discover any issues with the audio while mastering.

A good recording is everything. Prior to mastering, a well-recorded audio file will have an RMS value no greater than -28dB RMS and peaks at a level no higher than -12 dB This provides the headroom needed to boost the volume of your production without needing to compress the signal heavily. If your peaks are already nearing -3dB before mastering, make sure no loud noises remain in the audio. If no erroneous sounds are found, then it’s likely you recorded too loudly. This is why learning how to properly prepare for and record your narration is essential to performing a successful master.

Plugins cannot help an inconsistent or noisy recording. Some people attempt to fix deficiencies in their recordings or their editing by using noise reduction plugins and gates. Software like this can be effective if used properly, but more often than not, the use of such plugins will cause more harm than good on an audiobook production. I strongly recommended you take the time to focus on your recording environment, as well as your recording and editing techniques, so you do not need to resort to the use of such software. It will save you valuable time as well as money – those plugins can get expensive!

In order to group your audio files together effectively, leverage the audio measurement tools available in your DAW to find the audio files that are similar to one another. If you are an Audacity user, the “stats.ny” plugin will be essential to performing this task. See this thread from the Audacity forums for installation and use instructions.

Most DAWs have a similar capability, so if you are not aware of what tools can be used to achieve these actions in your particular software, contact the manufacturer to receive assistance in their use.

Double-check your masters. Use the same function on your DAW that you used to group your pre-mastered files in order to check your new mastered files. If your audio measurements fall within the ACX Audio Submission Requirements, you should be good to go, which brings us to our final step.

Verify the following ACX Audio Submission Requirements. Are all of your files’ peaks hitting around -3dB? Is each file’s average RMS between -18 and -23dB RMS? How audible is your noise floor at normal listening levels? There’s no shame in attempting a second master if you’ve found flaws in your new mastered files – that’s why you saved your Completed Edits Backup files after you completed your edits.

In truth, the most important mastering tip I can impart upon you, is to try, try again until you get it right! Mastering is very much a process of trial and error until you learn the tips and tricks that suit your production environment. Once you find settings for your mastering chain that work well for your voice and recording space, remember to save the configurations as presets so that you can easily reference them for your next ACX title. If you’ve established a consistent workflow for the recording and editing stages of audiobook production, then your mastering workflow will be a piece of cake!

Do you have mastering tips that Andrew didn’t cover here? Share them in the comments below, and join us next week for the fourth and final part of Andrew’s series: encoding and file delivery.