Now 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.
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 with a length no longer than 120 minutes..
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:
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!
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.
Mastering 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.
Audiobook mastering involves a few major steps:
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.
Group all similar files together during the assessment so they can be processed at the same time.
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.
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:
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.
Typically, you should normalize your peaks to -6dB.
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.
Greetings! Andrew the Audio Scientist here, back with more advice for ACX producers. Today, I present the second part in my four-week video series, How to Succeed at Audiobook Production. Last week, I introduced The ACX Mile and covered best practices for the preparation and recording of your audiobook productions. This week, I’ll address editing your raw audiobook recordings.
Editing and QC
Before we get to the video below, I want to remind you of the key to producing reliably great sounding audiobooks: consistency. Establishing a routine you can return to time and again will set you up for success in the later stages of your productions and result in high quality final audio.
Editing an audiobook can be as demanding a task as recording one, but optimizing your editing practices can greatly reduce the workload. Let’s watch part two of How to Succeed at Audiobook Production, and after, review the editing tips I suggest below.
Audiobook editing is broken down into two phases: an audio editing stage, followed by a QC stage.
Audio editing involves:
Removal of extraneous and distracting noises from the audio.
Listening through the entire audiobook again to confirm the quality of the narration and the completion of the content.
Marking and verifying all errors identified as necessitating a re-record
Creating a QC packet to organize all errors.
Re-recording the phrases needing improvement and placing these new recordings into the edited audio.
Basic Editing Tips for Successful Audiobook Production
Mark your audio files – While recording narration, I recommend you place a marker at the beginning of each section or chapter of your audiobook in your DAW. This is helpful in verifying the completion of the recordings, and also gives an excellent point of reference to use in the QC stage of the editing process. While editing, place markers at all errors you’ve identified as requiring a re-record of the phrase/section in question. This makes the QC stage much easier. Click here for a sample QC sheet to help you note errors in your recording.
Always use headphones – Editing spoken word audio requires a good pair of headphones. In last week’s post, I alluded to the fact that most audiobook productions only contain two sounds: your voice, and your recording space. Pesky clicks, chair squeaks, and other external noises are more easily heard in audiobooks because they have nowhere to hide. These sounds can limit the listener’s immersion into the story, and thus diminish the listening experience. Luckily, professional headphones are more affordable than ever before. Check out the entry on headphones in the ACX Studio Gear series for recommendations.
Clean room tone is a must – Replacing gaps of silence with room tone is essential to a well-produced audiobook. Depending on your narration style and editing technique, you may also want to use room tone to modify the pacing of your read – an effective means of improving the clarity of your narration without needing to re-record the passage. However, if the room tone you’re using to perform this task contains noise of its own, then the entire editing process would be for naught. Be sure to listen back to your room tone at a high volume before editing it into your production to ensure it is sufficiently quiet.
Don’t be afraid to crank the volume – Because you have not mastered your audiobook yet, the dynamic range of your recording may require you to ride the volume of your headphone output. This is OK! You want to ensure every portion of audio is clear enough to discern the clicks and extraneous noises that are contained within the recording. Mastering will bring up the volume of your recording substantially, including all sounds not caught during the edit stage. If they aren’t removed at this stage of the production process, those noises will present significant difficulties later on.
Be mindful of your time – Experienced audiobook editors spend roughly three hours editing every hour of raw recorded audio. In addition, the QC process involves listening back to the entire book a second time. This equates to roughly 4 hours of work per hour of un-edited audio. If you are breezing through edits at a much quicker pace, then you may want to give your audio a second pass. Audiobooks are lengthy productions, so it’s in your production’s best interests to be thorough. On the other hand, if you find yourself obsessing with one issue, you may want to mark it and come back to it later. People have a tendency to be harder on themselves when they’re editing their own voice recordings, so it may be best to take a step back from the issue for a while and revisit it later. In any event, if you find yourself spending more than a minute on one issue with your audio, it may be best to simply re-record the line instead.
Read part 3, which covers audiobook mastering, here.
Welcome to another installation of Andrew the Audio Scientist’s insights on audiobook production! Today, I present the first part in my four-week video series, How to Succeed at Audiobook Production. Week 1 addresses the preparation and recording of a new ACX title. Coming up, we’ll cover editing, mastering, and delivering your audiobook productions.
Achieving Consistency in Audiobook Production
Ask any member of the ACX Quality Assurance team what the most important aspect of audiobook production is, and they’ll all give the same answer: consistency. Your time on ACX should be spent acquiring new acting gigs, not tinkering with the technical details of last-minute production issues. To help you achieve consistency and avoid pesky technical problems that could threaten the success of your productions, I’d like to share with you my presentation from the 2014 Narrator Knowledge Exchange, which details a new concept I’ve dubbed “The ACX Mile.”
The ACX Mile
To better understand the need for methodological production, I have broken down audiobook production into a comprehensible four-step procedure, which I lovingly refer to as The ACX Mile. When running a race on a track, a runner may not begin a new lap until he or she has fully completed the current lap. Consider the audiobook production process as a four-lap race, with an appropriate warm-up period preceding it:
Warm Up: Script and Studio Preparation
Lap One: Recording
Lap Two: Editing and QC
Lap Three: Mastering
Lap Four: Encoding and Delivery
Now, watch part one of How to Succeed at Audiobook Production, and after, review the pre-production and recording tips I address in the video.
Basic Recording Tips for Successful Audiobook Production
Draft a production schedule – An experienced ACX producer will spend roughly six hours in production for every hour of completed audio. This means , for a five hour title, an ACX producer should anticipate spending at least 30 hours on the successful production and completion of their title.
Perform a thorough script prep – Before recording, ensure you’ve read, notated, and fully understood every line of your title. Audiobooks are all about using your voice to tell your Rights Holder’s story, so fidelity to the title is a necessity. Send questions unanswered by your script prep to your Rights Holder, and don’t be afraid to do some research. Sites like AudioEloquence.com are great for determining the accepted pronunciations of foreign, historical, and other uncommon words.
Log your optimal settings – Once you’ve obtained a good microphone gain on your audio interface and positioned your microphone perfectly, mark the area with electrical tape so you have a reference. This way, on the following day of recording, you’ll be able to set your position and settings to the exact same positions as before.
Verify your room tone before recording – After setting your record levels, ensure you have recorded 30 seconds of clean room tone to analyze. Listen back to your recording with headphones, ensuring no undesirable sounds are contained within. If the sound is clean and quiet, you should be ready to record.
Back up your raw audio – If you have not established a file backup technique, see my previous post on File Management.
Noise reduction plugins can’t fix a bad recording – Utilizing plugins, such as noise and click reduction, is strongly discouraged. The improper use of such software may introduce new artifacts and undesirable sounds into your audiobook, and they are rarely effective at addressing the noise concerns of audiobooks.
If the room in which you’re recording is just too noisy, even after isolating your space, putting up acoustic panels to deaden reflections, and utilizing an in-line high-pass filter to reduce rumble and hum, it’s likely your recording space is not located in an ideal setting. The best solution may be to simply install your recording studio elsewhere. Such a step may seem drastic, but nothing is more important to a successful audiobook production than a great initial record.
It is important to keep in mind that, like a marathon, The ACX Mile is best run slow-and-steady. Very few audio errors can truly be “fixed in post,” so it is best to start off on the right foot, even if that makes the actual work a little more time-consuming. I suggest making an ideal and permanent recording setup a top priority. Luckily for you, great audiobooks consist of only two components: your narration, and the recording space. Get that step of the production process down pat, and the rest will come with a little perseverance and healthy amount of impassioned storytelling.
Read part 2, which covers audiobook editing and QC, here.
At the end of May, 50 ACX producers joined us for a day of learning and networking at our Newark, NJ offices. These lucky attendees were treated to a day of hands-on training in audiobook production techniques and performance skills, and had the chance to audition in person for Audible Studios’ award-winning production team.
Author Julie Ortolon and ACX head honcho Jason Ojalvo.
Best-selling author Julie Ortolon kicked off the day in a brief interview about her experience in the audiobook industry. Then, breakout sessions let attendees dive deep into performance and technical topics, featuring small-group instruction from the Audible Studios staff, and everyone got to audition for an Audible Studios producer before heading home.
Check out our video recap of the event, then tell us where you’d like to see our next Knowledge Exchange via the poll below.
We truly enjoyed spending the day with these wonderful producers and are already working on ways to make the next Knowledge Exchange even more fun and informative.
Bonus question: What would you like to learn about at the next Narrator Knowledge Exchange? Tell us in the comments!
Today we bring you part two of ACX producer Karen Commins‘ guide to audiobook marketing for narrators. Part one can be found here.
A Narrator’s Look at Audiobook Marketing – Part Two
The goal of marketing is to make your audiobooks more discoverable and to develop an audience. In part 1 of my discussion about marketing, we looked at reasons why audiobooks aren’t more widely accepted and three ways to create lasting connections to your audiobooks in the consumers’ minds. Today, we’ll look at four more ways to promote your audiobooks.
1. Be Detail Oriented.
Once your audiobook is released on Audible, check the listing for it on Amazon. It should appear on the same product page as the other editions of the title (paperback, eBook, and hardback).
Sometimes the audiobook is orphaned onto its own page. If that’s the case, send an email to Amazon from the Help/Contact Us page, succinctly list both edition pages, and ask them to combine the editions.
If the book is part of a series, you’ll want to ensure that the series link is used on Audible. I’ve had success in sending an email to Audible from this pageto request that the series link is added.
The easiest people to sell to are the ones who already are fans!
I also create a Google Alert for the topic of the book and/or do specialized searches so I can track mentions of it online, then I comment about the audio version on any blogs, forums, or other place where people are discussing the topic.
2. Be Real.
Many people tend to think of marketing as an online activity. However, some of your best results may occur when marketing directly to people in real life.
Tell everyone who asks you that you’re an audiobook narrator, whether you’re at a networking event or an informal gathering with family and friends. You can also volunteer to speak at writers’ meetings.
Here’s another real world marketing idea: except in the case of futuristic, sci-fi universes, most books are set somewhere. Can you market to people in that area?
As an example, my Dixie Diva cozy mystery series is set in Holly Springs, MS. In every book, the annual Pilgrimage, which is a tour of antebellum homes, is discussed at length, and some of the local businesses are key to the story lines.
Holly Springs, home of the Dixie Divas
My husband and I went to the Holly Springs Pilgrimage this year. I talked about the audiobooks to the people I met, got lots of great pictures and videos that I can use on my blog and in book trailers, and made a note on my event calendar to create a local newspaper ad and/or postcards in time for next year’s Pilgrimage.
You can also be real without leaving your home. In this terrific video, award-winning narrator and teacher Sean Pratt advises how you could, and why you should, use snail mail in your marketing efforts.
I use social media extensively to promote my audiobooks, and I’ve learned that different sites are good for different things.
Hashtag marketing (putting a ‘#’ in front of your key word, like #audiobook) can be your friend across many different sites. If you can find a relevant way to link your book to a current hashtag search term, like a newsmaker, TV show, or event, you have made it that much easier for new fans to find you and even share your content with their followers. Narrator and publisher Mike Vendetti often utilizes hashtags that tie in to a TV show.
Sometimes a news event will be a perfect tie-in to your audiobook’s story line.
Although I’ve only shown examples from Twitter, hashtags are searchable on:
People may contribute the most on the site they learned first. If I were starting now, I would probably start with Goodreads, since it is all about books! Here’s what I do to market my audiobooks on Goodreads:
First, I created a Goodreads author page, and I add the audiobook edition on Goodreads for each of my titles as they are released. You’ll see a link on the title page to add a new edition.
After filling out the form to create your edition, you can ask a librarian to combine the audiobook edition with the print and ebook editions in this librarian’s group. You’ll have to look for the current thread of Combine Request in the folder.
A member of Goodreads recently wrote: I’ve discovered Twitter as a means to let narrators know when I really enjoy what they do.
If you don’t want to be a broken loudspeaker on Twitter, you can find other audiobook enthusiasts easily by signing into Twitter and subscribing to my three comprehensive lists of audiobook tweeps. You’ll be able to stay focused on audiobooks and correspond with audiobook folks without following all of them individually. You’ll do well to visit these links.
SoundCloud is a great way to share audio files on social media and around the web. First, create an account, then upload your retail audio samples. Include the audiobook cover as the image, add tags, and link to your book on Audible in the “Buy“ link. You can then share those recordings on your web site, in blog posts, and other social sites. Note that you might need to pay for more storage depending on the number and length of samples you upload.
I was astonished to see that PostHypnotic Press has attracted over 900,000 followers on SoundCloud, and that number continues to grow! Publisher Carlyn Craig graciously offered this advice:
As for why we have so many followers, it seems to me that, as with other social media, the more you participate the more attention you get. It is first and foremost a place for creators to share their work, and as such, it does an admirable job. It offers great tools, like the “Embed” and “Share” tools. I love the Twitter media player, for instance, and we use SoundCloud to host all the audio on our site. I do try to be active every day, even if it is only to tweet a few SoundCloud samples.
I suspect that one reason for their tremendous success on SoundCloud is that they have created a number of playlists of genres or titles by author, like this one.
YouTube is another visual site. I don’t know that you’ll have much success if your video only shows a cover of the audiobook. I think people would quickly grow bored and find a true video.
I loved creating a couple of book trailer videos! I plan to create more since the videos are evergreen products that I can always use, especially with hashtags! Here is an example of a book trailer I’ve created:
Remember that social media sites are a constantly moving target. I also add my videos to my blog and my web site. Of all the places on the Internet, my blog and site are the only pieces of real estate that I own!
4. Be Productive
If the variety and means of marketing audiobooks seems overwhelming, just remember that the best way to have more natural reasons for promotion and rack up more sales is to produce more audiobooks. You gain momentum every time you have a new release!
What are your favorite site-specific social media marketing tactics? Share them with your colleagues below!
We’re back with more production advice from the experts at Audible Studios. Today, ACX presents editing and proofing an audiobook the Audible Studios way.
In the video found here, Audible Studios Post Production Associates Darren Vermaas and Brett Lubansky cover basic editing and proofing techniques, providing audio and visual examples along the way. Editing is both a technical skill and a craft, requiring attention to detail and an understanding of the proper flow and pacing of a great sounding audiobook. If you’re taking notes at home, make sure to pay attention to the following topics:
Popular self-recording techniques and how they factor into the editing workflow
Recommended DAW and headphone options
Pacing of various genres of audiobooks
What to listen for when proofing your audio (aka the QC pass)
Resources for ensuring proper pronunciation of words
Proper methods for marking and reinserting corrections or “pickups.”
If you’ve still got editing questions, put them in the comments below and let your fellow readers help you out!
Today, George Whittam of the New York-based Edge Studio joins us to offer his perspective on creating professional sounding audiobooks for ACX. In this informative video, he demystifies the technical process of recording audiobooks and sheds light on everything from what makes an acceptable noise floor, to DAW recommendations, to specific mastering techniques that meet our audio submission requirements. Take good notes here, because there’s a lot of helpful info ahead!
What was George’s most helpful piece of advice? Tell us in the comments!
If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know we’re huge fans of ACX author Hugh Howey. Hugh epitomizes the new breed of “hybrid” authors who combine traditional publication with “indie publishing,” and who work hard to maintain creative and financial independence as well as control over all of all of their formats. This entrepreneurial spirit has paid off for Hugh, who has become one of the most successful and respected indie authors in the business.
Of course, none of this would be possible without some incredible books. Books that have been optioned for a movie. Books that have become highly successful audiobooks. Hugh’s books have flourished in audio, with ACX producers such as Minnie Goode, and Max Miller giving voice to the characters of Wool, and Half Way Home.
Today, we bring you an exclusive interview for Hugh’s next title in the Wool series, Dust. Recorded at Brick Shop Audiobooks and voiced by Tim Gerard Reynolds, Dust completes Hugh’s Silo saga in a thrilling and satisfying fashion. Watch as Hugh and Tim discuss their thoughts on writing and voicing these stories, then head over to Audible to pre-order your copy of Dust, which will be available from Audible/ACX on October 1st!