ACX Alumni at The Audies

There’s no set formula for finding success as an indie creator, but sometimes to see ahead towards where you’re going, it helps to take a look at those who have been where you are now. This year’s Audies saw wins from more than a few friends of ACX – authors and narrators who got their start on the platform or pros who have been featured in ACX educational programs throughout the years – and to inspire your journey forward as an independent creator, we’re looking to a few of our old friends to ask about their recent Audie wins. First up, authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, and their narrator Andi Arndt for Best Romance Audiobook, Dirty Letters.

What do you think you did that contributed the most to your win this year?

Vi Keeland & Penelope Ward: Two things make an audiobook stand out: exceptional narration and a unique story that allows the cast to shine in their performances. For Dirty Letters, we believe the heartfelt correspondence between our two characters at the beginning of the book allowed listeners to immediately connect with the unique personalities of the hero and heroine. Jacob Morgan’s portrayal of the charismatic British rock star, Griffin, and Andi Arndt’s portrayal of the quirky and awkward agoraphobic Luca were the perfect complement to each other. Not to mention, their amazing work voicing all of the different side characters truly gave the impression there was an ensemble cast rather than only two narrators doing all the work. 

Authors Vi Keeland & Penelope Ward

Andi Arndt: Oh my goodness, I have no idea! I’ve been lucky to enjoy a long and fruitful relationship with everyone involved in the project, from Brilliance Publishing, to authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, to co-narrator Jacob Morgan. Vi and Penelope had a very strong positive reaction to the way this particular book and audiobook turned out, and asked that it be put forward for consideration. But I prepped and recorded it the same way I approach all of my projects. Learn more about Andi’s production process here.

How can winning an Audie be used to help further your career?

Vi & Penelope: We feel like the benefits of wining an Audie are akin to other titles of distinction such as hitting a bestseller list.  These prestigious accolades tell a prospective purchaser that a book has been vetted. The Audie win provides a sort of validation that may encourage buyers to take a chance on a new-to-them author. In turn, if those buyers enjoy the work, they may also go on and buy backlist titles and become loyal readers of future books.  We’ve already experienced Dirty Letters climbing back up the charts the day after the Audie winners were announced! 

Narrator Andi Arndt

Andi: Beyond the marketing aspect of it, I take it as a challenge to renew my commitment to this work, to deepening my technique, stretching my abilities, and also giving myself permission to rest and refresh. With summer not far off, I’m thinking about things I want to do that are not work, to enjoy the life that audiobook narration has made possible. 

What advice would you give a new creator who wants to see their name among the finalists someday?

Vi & Penelope: This may sound obvious, but hire the right narrators for the right roles. Our hero is British, so we knew early on that we wanted Jacob Morgan who does a fabulous accent. Listen to multiple stories by each narrator to learn how versatile they are. Not every narrator with a beautiful voice and popularity is right for every role. 

Also, and this may be tough for creators who are just starting out and anxious to get their stories published, but make sure the audiobook is published simultaneously with eBooks and print. When you maximize your promotional efforts and treat audio as important as the other formats, audio will eventually become more important to your finances.

Andi: You never know which book is going to be the book. Details matter, so attend to them. 

Are you working on any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?

Vi & Penelope: We’re always working on multiple projects at once!  Next up, we have Not Pretending Anymore, voiced by Erin Mallon and Sebastian York. Erin is perfect for the project because she voices a young, conflicted heroine like no other. And Sebastian nails the sarcasm and wit of our hero. Not Pretending Anymore will release simultaneously with print and eBooks on April 12th.

Andi: Always! This week I’m working on the first book in Stella Gray’s new Charade series and Louise Bay’s new romance, a co-narration with Shane East. Both of these authors I either work with or connected with through ACX.

Congratulations to all this year’s fabulous Audies winners and nominees, and a big thanks to Vi, Penelope, and Andi for sharing a few words of wisdom about their wins. Stay tuned for more award-winning advice from industry pros and keep your eyes on the prize! We can’t wait to see more indie wins in the future.

An Update to Your Sales Dashboard

The newly enhanced Sales Dashboard on ACX is now live, offering more insight into the performance of your titles. Alongside overall audiobook sales, you can see additional transactions, including returns and Bounty performance.

New to your Sales Dashboard is a column for Qualified Returns – that is, any return made within seven days of purchase – with data available retroactive to January 1, 2021. You can also download reports of this data from your dashboard as a CSV or PDF. Also as of January 1, 2021, you will earn a royalty for returns made more than seven days after purchase, with the sale captured under the appropriate purchase type. The data reflected in the dashboard will similarly be available in your Earnings Reports for March 2021, which will be sent in April, and for future Earnings Reports going forward.

Click here while logged in to ACX to view your Sales Dashboard.

We hope this additional data helps provide the insights you need to make production and marketing decisions. For more ideas, we’ve put together this YouTube playlist featuring our favorite low-cost and no-cost audiobook marketing ideas.

Gearing Up for Audiobook Production: Part 2

Your voice and your microphone are only half the story. To successfully bring an audiobook project to life, you’ll also need an audio interface, high-fidelity headphones, and a digital audio workstation (DAW) for your home recording studio. Building off of Gearing Up For Audiobook Production Part 1, our second post in this two-part series will help you choose these often overlooked, yet equally essential, pieces in your recording kit.

Your Mic Needs a Powerhouse

If there’s one thing we’ve all taken away from high school science class, it’s that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Well, think of the audio interface as the powerhouse of your microphone. It serves as a power supply for condenser microphones and makes it possible to connect them to your computer for audiobook recording. Additionally, an audio interface will offer microphone preamplifiers, direct instrument inputs, digital converters, metering, headphone distribution, and digital signal processing (DSP).

When you’re choosing the right audio interface for your home studio, go for efficiency and simplicity. The most important feature to consider is connectivity: is your audio interface compatible with your computer ports? Macs and PCs will have different ports, from Thunderbolt to USB C and USB 3, to older versions like FireWire and USB 2.0. For the best sound and least latency, we recommend finding an interface that will connect to your computer port without an adapter. (If you can’t find an interface to match, this might just be another good reason to upgrade your computer.)

In addition to computer compatibility, an audio interface should also have at least a single microphone input jack, a gain knob, and headphone level control. Most interfaces will have additional features and dials, and some even come packaged with a DAW and additional editing tools; however, more isn’t always better, as more add-ons will increase the learning curve and could lead to reliability issues.

These are the audio interfaces we recommend for new and veteran audiobook producers:

Find these product recommendations and more on our Audio Interfaces Amazon Idea List.

Hear Yourself Loud and Clear

When it comes to audiobook recording and production, we recommend you use wired, over-the-ear headphones. We hear you, new Producers: why buy a new pair of headphones when your computer speakers or the earbuds that came with your new smartphone will do just fine? While these audio options are good for casual listening, they won’t capture all of the nuances in your voice and your recording. For instance, a small Bluetooth speaker in a large room might make it hard for you to hear a small variation in room tone. Or crackly earbuds could mask sibilance in your voice that may turn listeners off.

The right studio headphones will paint a clear and honest picture of your sound. They’ll also help you hear errors in your production and check that your audio meets our Submission Requirements. That’s why wired, over-ear headphones are best. Wireless/Bluetooth headphones should not be used as they can introduce interference and audio latency. Forego the extra $$$ and don’t shell out for noise cancelling or bass boosting features either, which could distort the true frequencies in your voice. Instead, ensure that your new ‘phones render highs, mids, and bass equally. You’ll also want to check that the ear pads, the part of the headphones that go over your ears, are comfortable enough to wear for marathon recording and mastering sessions.

Closed-Back Headphones

These headphones are best suited for narrating and recording your audiobook. The closed-back design means that the sound drivers and ear cups are covered on the outside, minimizing sound leakage as you record and offering natural sound isolation.

If you can only buy one pair of headphones, we recommend one of the following:

Find these product recommendations and more on our Closed-Back Headphones Amazon Idea List.

Open- and Semi-Open- Back Headphones

For more experienced audiobook producers and studio professionals, we suggest investing in a second pair of headphones to use exclusively for editing and mastering. Open-back and semi-open headphones are ideal for this, as their design faithfully renders a range of frequencies. Unlike closed-back headphones, these models leave the back sides of the ear cups uncovered, which boosts audio quality, but also has more sound leakage which makes them less-than-ideal for recording.

Find these product recommendations and more on our Semi-Open-Back Headphones Amazon Idea List.

DAW Things Considered

So you’ve got a great voice, a microphone, a pair of headphones, an audio interface, a computer, and a soundproof booth to record in. Yet none of the pieces of this puzzle will fit together until you have a digital audio workstation, or DAW for short. This type of software makes it possible to record, edit, and master your audiobook files.

Choosing a DAW

Most of us have used image editing software like Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Paint, or even Instagram Filters. DAWs are like the audio equivalent—they can augment the original content that you captured and fine tune the details. Like image editing software, there is a wide array of options, from free and simple programs to expensive workhorses built for the pros.

Since most DAWs are geared toward music production, more features and tools don’t necessarily mean one DAW is better than another for audiobook production. The best DAW will complement your work style and help you get professional quality sound without over-processing. (You don’t want your audiobook to sound like the audio equivalent of a bad Photoshop edit). The worst DAW will take too long to figure out and eat away at your productivity.

Audacity
This free program allows you to record and edit audio with basic functions. Our QA team likes Audacity’s noise reduction feature (used sparingly): Audacity will let you record up to five minutes of your ambient room sound and can tune it out of your recording. This DAW can also remove tonality in your voice, depending on your frequency and use.

Reaper
For producers just wetting their toes in audiobook production and even seasoned studio pros, we recommend REAPER. Of all the popular DAWs, it strikes the right balance between essential features, customization options, and budget. It costs $60 to use the discounted license, and you can try and evaluate the DAW for free for a 60-day period. To learn more about using REAPER to edit and master your production, check out our Don’t Fear the REAPER blog post.

Sound Forge
Sound Forge is used by Audible’s in-house audio engineers. It is a comprehensive digital audio suite, capable of producing high-quality end-to-end audio book productions. It comes included with iZotope Ozone 9 Elements (a mastering plugin) and RX 7 Elements (an audio restoration and repair plugin), both of which are powerful tools for audiobook production.

Adobe Audition
We would be remiss not to include this feature-loaded DAW on our list. Despite its name, Adobe Audition is your perfect partner at all stages of your production, from auditions to mastering. We especially love its noise reduction feature, but with great power comes great responsibility (and a high learning curve since each feature needs to be manually configured). For these reasons, we recommend this DAW to highly experienced studio pros. At $20.99 a month, it won’t break the bank, but the month-to-month will add up when you’re charting a years-long career in audiobook production.

ACX Audio Lab
Our free audio analysis tool is a DAW’s best friend. Use Audio Lab to get instant feedback on your sound at any and every stage of the production process, from calibrating new equipment to submitting auditions and checkpoints. To get started, upload your finished audio files and see how they measure up against ACX’s Audio Submission Requirements with metrics like RMS, peak levels, bit rate, and more. Then, use a DAW like the ones listed below to fix any errors in your production.

Garage Band
We’re mentioning this free Mac OS program here only to say this: don’t record, don’t edit, and don’t master your audiobook production with this software (please and thank you). Garage Band is made specifically for music production and lacks the appropriate tools used for editing and mastering in voice over. Voice over production can be done, but this platform is not conducive to punch-and-roll recording nor the surgical editing required for audiobook production.


That’s enough gear talk for now! We hope Part I and this Part II of our “Gearing Up For Audiobook Production” series have answered your questions about buying the right studio equipment for your narration career, whether you’re new to ACX or an AAP (Audible Approved Producer).

There’s just one small caveat: getting the right gear is only half the challenge. Now it’s up to you to take the reins and learn to use it wisely. Don’t worry—we won’t send you off alone. Check out 30 Minutes to a Better Sound by ACX University and George The Tech for even more gear chat and production pointers. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel for tips and inspiration on narration, performance, editing, and mastering.

Going Beyond the Book with Eric Jason Martin

Eric Jason Martin

Audio: the final frontier. These are the voyages of independent creators. Their mission: to dream up and build strange new worlds. To bring new life to characters and stories from the page—and beyond. To boldly take us where no ear has gone before! Our captain: Eric Jason Martin. Veteran ACX-ers might recognize this Audible Approved Producer from our 2018 post, Doubling Down on Audiobook Success, but not one to be pinned down by labels, this producer/director/narrator has just added another title to his name—author. Martin’s first novel, New Arcadia: Stage One came to audio yesterday, and this multi-cast adventure is full of A-list vocal talent, an original score, and a tasteful soundscape that gives you the feeling if you closed your eyes for a moment, you might just open them in 199X, in the arcade-inspired dystopian world of the story. We were lucky enough to snag a moment of this creative multi-hyphenate’s time to talk sound design, writing and casting his first novel, and the endless possibilities of audio.

What sparked the idea for this project?

Well, I really wanted to write a book! It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time—I’ve written some original audio productions in the last few years, but it was a little scary to consider sitting down and writing an entire novel, something that could sit on a shelf and have a bar code and a Dewey Decimal classification and all that cool stuff. I knew I had to write a GameLit or LitRPG novel to get started. I’ve been a fan of video games since I was little, and I’ve since come to understand their potential both in terms of play, and as a powerful learning tool. Playing Roller Coaster Tycoon back in the day was literally how I got into the business of themed entertainment, so it legitimately helped kick-start my career. These days, I narrate a lot in the GameLit/LitRPG genre, so it’s a world I know very well, and I’ve been thinking about using a “beat ‘em up” game as the subject for a story for a few years—the stories these games told were often about fighting criminals in a big bad city. I was really drawn to the idea of doing something with this world in literature.

What was the process for writing this story like, and how did being a narrator/ producer first influence your writing on this project? Did you already have a vision for the audio when you started?

When it came time to actually write the book, it happened very fast. I had already done a decent amount of work imagining the mechanics of a virtual game world like this, because I had developed another version of this project for audio a couple of years prior. Even though the finished story turned into something very different, it helped to have that base to work from. Once everything shut down last year, it got me thinking of this project in a new way. I started imagining this retro game city as a way to bring people together again in a virtual space—people who have been apart for a long time. So I starting writing over the summer, and it was very helpful to think of it as an audiobook. That “one weird little trick” helped me get over a lot of the fear of writing, because I already knew how to do audiobooks, so suddenly I was working from a place of confidence. Thinking of the project in audio also helped me picture certain performers for each role, performers that I actually wanted to cast in the audiobook version we would be recording. Once you can get that specific about a character or role, it takes something that can be really hard—creating compelling story and dialogue—and it makes it a little easier to do. Having narrated nearly 300 audiobooks, I also a had a clear sense of what would work in audio and what would not. I knew I’d be narrating the book as the main character, and that was another opportunity to revise the text, right there in the studio. If something didn’t sound right to my ear, I would change it as I was recording the narration. It’s usually a big no-no to stray from the recordable script… but if you’re the author, nobody can stop you!

Once it was written, what was the process of casting and recording/producing like?

The audiobook production moved very fast. I’d say from my first email to a performer, to the final mastering, it was about three months. That includes recording 19 performers, two incredible musicians writing a full original soundtrack, and a lean post- production team cutting it all together and adding effects. Again, it was easier having written the roles for specific people. I was nervous and didn’t have any expectations, but I was blown away that everybody agreed to be a part of this. It helped that they were all voice actors, so I figured they had home recording setups that would work, although I had options available in case I needed to get them equipment. Technology is so good these days that having a decent mic and recording in a quiet well-padded closet can get you pretty far. And if you have a quality post-production team, as we did here, you can make it all sound fairly uniform.

There are some pretty well-known names in the voice credits for this production – do you have any advice for authors nervous to ask big-name vocal talent to work on their projects?

Yes, be nice! And do everything you can to make it easy for people to say yes. They may not make a fortune doing your project. But if it’s quick, easy, and a lot of fun, and they’ll be with other great people whom they like and respect, that’s a lot harder to say no to. Be clear about the time commitment, make it as small as possible, and be flexible in scheduling, as much as you can.

Now Available on Audible.

This production has some great extra audio elements like an original score and sounds – how do you incorporate elements like that without overwhelming the listener or overshadowing the narration?

We were very careful in how we approached the sound design for this project. We worked with the team at Mumble Media to focus on the multi-cast recordings, as well as the original soundtrack, as the primary tools to communicate the story and scene. The old arcade sounds are a lot of fun, but a little of that goes a very long way in an audiobook format. The action could be exhausting if you heard an unending stream of punching and kicking and yelling. So we let the actors and narrator communicate a lot of the action in the performances, we were very sparing with sound effects, and we supplemented the action in places with the soundtrack to give it additional emotional impact. The great Lloyd Cole created our main theme, and it was such a thrill to be able to work with him, I’m a huge fan of his work. For New Arcadia, he has created a beautiful piece, ambient and propulsive and mysterious. He describes it as “Escape from New York meets Stranger Things, with a hint of Dune.” When we incorporated it into the audiobook, it became the de facto theme of the real world. The few times we leave the game world and go back to reality, you’ll hear different pieces of this theme as you re-emerge, which signals to the listener that we are transitioning to a very different place. Casey Trela is a fantastic composer, very versatile, and expert in the chiptune style of these retro games. He’s created some truly catchy tunes that serve the game story beautifully. He had the added challenge of creating special songs that evoke the world of “199X,” songs that sound like they’d actually be coming from your radio back then. These extra audio elements can really help build a strong sense of environment in an audio-only production where visual cues and backdrops are absent.

What makes this production special and how do you see productions like this one carrying audio storytelling forward?

It’s such a blast to bring great talent together on a production like this. I enjoy the traditional one book / one narrator approach very much (indeed, you can find me in my home studio a few days a week telling stories this way). That said, I think there’s a growing space and increasing demand for multi-cast productions, and we’re all just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Audio is great for many reasons, and one practical one is that the listener’s mind handles most of the big-budget effects and locations in your story. You can communicate complex stories much more quickly and cheaply with sound alone. It’s a very exciting and innovating time in this medium, and it’s a thrill to be a part of it all. When you work as relatively fast and cheaply as you can in audio, you can get a lot more done than you can in other mediums, meaning you can experiment and learn much faster in your craft. I’ve tried a lot of different things in my time creating these stories in audio, and have made some mistakes along the way. But even those mistakes were instructive, and I can see how they led directly to some of my biggest successes. So that’s why I embrace this lean and iterative style of working, and audio is an ideal vessel for that approach. You can do cool stuff in audio fairly easily and quickly, so maybe you should! Each project you take on and complete can become a stepping stone, every single one can teach you something or connect you with someone. And for this project, in many ways, it’s the apotheosis of all of the different things I’ve done up to this point. But it’s not the end, it’s a beginning. There’s lots more to do. I’m excited for you to hear what we’ve put together with New Arcadia: Stage One, AND I’m excited for what comes next.

Eric Jason Martin is a producer, director, voice performer, and author, based in Los Angeles. He is the AudioFile Earphones and Audie Award–winning narrator of over 275 audiobooks. He has developed several original audio productions, including directing the NY Times Bestsellers Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne’s original series Heads Will Roll, featuring Meryl Streep (Broadway Video/Audible), and Stinker Lets Loose!, starring Jon Hamm (Audible). His production of Mr. New Orleans, starring Westworld’s Louis Herthum, is a 2021 Audie Award nominee.

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.

An Update from ACX

We’re committed to making Audible and ACX the best experience it can be for our creative community, and we’ve heard your feedback. We have been hard at work building a new reporting system to reflect details on returns, including returned units by title. Starting March 2021, you’ll be able to see this data on your ACX Sales Dashboard. This data will also be included in your monthly financial statements for March 2021 and the following months. We appreciate your patience as we invest the time and resources to make these updates to the dashboard and our backend systems, so that we can expand reporting details for our thousands of creators. As of January 1, 2021, we are paying royalties on any return made more than 7 days after purchase.

We are also making other changes to our ACX policies to provide more flexibility, which we know is important to you. Effective February 1, ACX Rights Holders of DIY or Pay-for-Production titles that have been on sale for 90 or more days can convert their distribution type from exclusive to non-exclusive. In addition, all ACX Rights Holders will have the option to terminate after 90 days of distribution, but Rights Holders with Royalty Share or Royalty Share Plus deals must provide Producer consent when making their request. More details about this update will come in the payments letter that will be sent next week.

We wish you all the best in 2021.

GORUCK: A DIY Audiobook Adventure

In 2008, Jason and Emily McCarthy founded GORUCK with two goals: to create a backpack that could survive any environment, and to start a movement that shows people how to get the most out of a life where adventure calls and tomorrow is never promised. Jason joins us today to share how tackling those challenges set him up to self-produce an audiobook based on his experience.

When I began keeping a journal back in 2010, I had no idea that it would become my first book, How Not To Start A Backpack Company. I also didn’t know that I would go on to not only self-publish, but also self-record this very personal story in a small soundproofed room at our GORUCK Headquarters in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Turns out, producing an audiobook is a lot like rucking (aka walking with weight in a backpack). Both can be uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it, the better it gets over time. 

You see, in 2010 my life was a mess. I had just gotten out of the military, I was going through a divorce, and the US financial crisis was in full swing. Back then, GORUCK was little more than a hobby. I was broke and thought I had nothing to lose, so I hit the open road with my dog Java to visit all 48 contiguous states, to meet people and get into adventures. I thought we could sell a few backpacks, too.

Truth is, I lost a bunch of money, didn’t sell any backpacks, and ended up all alone. I had a great front row seat to watch my life burn down before my very eyes. The silver lining was that this trip became instrumental to me turning my life around, because I was motivated to not live in flames. The magical part of the journey came when I focused on building a community of people through rucking and the GORUCK Challenge — instead of just trying to sell gear. I believed in that people-first vision then and have followed it ever since. Ten years later, with thousands of GORUCK events and over $120MM in revenue behind us, what’s abundantly clear to me is that we would not be in business if we weren’t making a real impact on people’s lives, including our own. Serving others is the why that will always drive us forward.

In late 2019, Emily asked me if I had a specific photo – the one of Java in the GORUCK Truck in front of a herd of bison – to put on our Christmas card. I handed her my phone for her to find it as I headed to bed. After some digging, she found the photo and stumbled upon that journal that I had written during the summer of 2010 and completely forgotten about.

Emily stayed up most of the night reading, and the next morning, she came down to the kitchen and implored me to tell this story to the world. She described the journal as an unfiltered glimpse into my journey as an entrepreneur and human being. This was the GORUCK origin story that needed to be told. 

I started making the rounds to the publishers in New York. You meet in their office, they tell you what other books you need to copy to sell a few more copies of yours. You have no leverage because you’ve never sold a book. The publishers I chatted with wanted this story to be more of a business book with bullet points and to-do lists. Or they wanted it to be about how my life was like a bad country song where I had a broken heart and a dog and a bottle of whiskey. I wanted to one-up them and show both sides of building a business amidst personal chaos.

So, I decided to go directly to our audience, just like we did with our original backpack, GR1, way back when. Six months later, I self-published How Not To Start A Backpack Company with editorial help from my good friend and the original photographer from that summer 2010 trip, Alex Beck. It was really happening.

Within a few days of the launch, I got a message on Instagram from a member of our GORUCK Tough (GRT) community, Kat Lambrix of Audible Studios. She wanted to know if we planned to do an audio version of the book, because she and others would love to listen to it while rucking. She gave us some quick start tips that I’ve shared below, but her greatest advice, by far, was reminding me that this was my story, and I knew how to tell it best.

Tips for Successful Audiobook Recording

  • Speak half a beat slower than you think you need to. Remember that listeners don’t have the text in front of them, so they’ll need time to digest what it is you’re saying – especially if listening while training or rucking.
  • Read off of a tablet when recording. Avoid a laptop because your mic will pick up the fan noise.
  • Stay hydrated, and if you’re getting really clicky, try a few bites of a green apple.
  • Don’t eat anything new the night before you record. Your mic will pick up noises from your stomach!
  • When you take breaks, especially if you’re feeling like your energy is dragging, try a quick round of exercise to regain your focus.
  • Don’t worry about the first few pages. Record them without going back so you can get into the flow of recording. Then if you listen to it and feel like it doesn’t match the later parts of the book when you’re more comfortable behind the mic, go back and redo them.

Next thing I knew, Emily had bought a bag of green apples from the supermarket and said she’d hold down the fort with our three children. It was a surreal experience to lock myself in what we jokingly refer to as “The Champagne Room” at GORUCK HQ and reread the journal and emails I had written from my rock bottom. Emily narrated her part as well, and we both admitted afterward that tears were shed while revisiting the past.

Without ACX elevating the field of independent publishing, authors like me would have zero chance to tell our story in our way. For us, the goal was to create a calling card. Let’s get the story out there and see what people think. Self-publishing our book, and narrating the audiobook on ACX made that possible.

Above all I hope my story inspires others to NOT wait for the perfect time to follow their dreams, but just to get going and figure it out on the move.


Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Listen to Jason and Emily’s audio opus on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

Then, get ready to go ruck on your own journey—creating an audiobook with ACX allows you to put your story out there, engage your audience, and learn a lot along the way. Click here to get started.  

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.