Tag Archives: ACX

A Critical Ear: The ACX Reference Sample Pack

Hi! This is Brendan from the ACX QA Team. I’m here today to introduce our Reference Sample Pack, a new tool we’ve developed to illustrate how your audiobook should—and should not—sound during the various stages of production.

This tool will help you spot problems in your audio and give you an idea of the audio quality your listeners will be expecting from productions on Audible. We’ve also included files that can be used to calibrate your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for recording. Mastering level specifications, especially RMS, can be difficult to understand via text alone. What better way to learn what kind of audio “passes” ACX QA than to have passable files at hand for you to refer to and test on your own setup?

Getting Started

To use the Reference Sample Pack, download the zip file onto your computer. Unzip this folder and you will find nine WAV files that can be loaded into your DAW of choice. We processed, and in some cases distorted, the same raw file for each example, then divided the samples into two categories: files that can be used as good production targets, and files containing issues you should try to avoid.

What’s Inside

Start with our PDF guide, which contains exact details on what you should listen for while playing.

 

The “Good Production” Files

File 1: A Raw, Unedited File (good-production_01_raw-recording.wav)

This file has a few issues that need to be resolved before it can pass QA, the mouse clicks and excessive spacing at the start of the file for example, but nothing you hear can’t be resolved during the editing and mastering stages.

File 2: An Edited File (good-production_02_edited-recording.wav)

This next file contains the same performance, edited properly.

 

Notice the edits made between “Step 1” and “Step 2.” We trimmed the spacing (circled in purple) at the top of the file to half a second, and removed the mouse clicks and deep intake breaths (circled in yellow), replacing them with clean room tone.

Learning proper editing techniques can take some time, but I’ve found that the Alex the Audio Scientist blog post on editing and spacing is a helpful starting point. I even use the same QC sheet referenced in Alex’s post when I work on my own projects.

File 3: An Edited Master, Pre-Encoding (good-production_03_edited-mastered-recording.wav)

Ever wonder what a file that meets our Audio Submission Requirements, with peaks around -3dB and RMS levels between -18 and -23dB RMS, would look like in your DAW? This is it! Observe how consistent the peaks in this file are, then check where this file peaks on your meters. If your file is too dynamic or sounds a little muddy, you may need to utilize mastering tools like those detailed in Alex the Audio Scientist’s Mastering Audiobooks blog post

The “Avoid” Files

The “Avoid” files contain common problems you should steer clear of during production. Included here are:

  • A file that has been recorded at levels that are too low,
  • A file that’s been heavily gated,
  • A recording processed with heavy noise reduction, and
  • Files with Peak or RMS levels that do not meet our requirements.

You should not use these files to calibrate your system for recording. Rather, train your ears to notice these sounds as you work on your own files, and use these examples to understand the most common issues you may run into during production.

Try It Yourself

The sample pack also includes the script used during the recording of the samples. If you are testing out your levels before you begin a new project and want to compare your recordings to the “target” files in this pack, we recommend you use this script, which can be found on the last page of the file “ACX—Sample Guide.pdf.” Record your read of the script and compare your noise floor and peak level to the “Step 2” file. The closer you can get to matching the samples, the more confident you can be that you will pass QA inspection later on in the process.

Final Thoughts

It can be easy to get caught up in post-production, using too many plugins or tools when trying to meet specifications, or trying to fix poorly recorded audio that is beyond repair. At ACX, we believe the best time to address audio issues is before they make their way onto your recording. Training your ears to know when problems are occurring will be far more beneficial than having the latest noise removal or EQ plugins will ever be. The better you get at listening to yourself, the better your productions will sound to others.

Did you find the QA Team’s Reference Sample Pack helpful? Tell us in the comments below.

This Week in Links: December 4 – 8

For Rights Holders:

Increase Engagement in Your Marketing with Visuals – via The Book Designer – “You know the saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words? It may be true but what’s proven is that a photo is better than text when it comes to social media engagement.”

How Ordinary Authors Can Promote a Book Like a Great Author – via BookMarketingBuzzBlog – The difference between an “ordinary” author and a “great” author is often a simple change in your perspective. Find out how to elevate your attitude to get to great.

10 Critical Author Marketing Lessons We Can Learn from Apple – via where writers win – This handy infographic should give you some ideas for ways to successfully market your audiobook.

20 Best Songs for Writers and About Writing: The Ultimate Writing Mixtape – via Writers Digest – Set the tone in your writer’s room with this snappy mix of literary-focused tunes.

For Producers:

Marketing Seasons & Rhythms: When Are Best Times For The Voice Over Biz? – via Voice-Over Xtra – “All effective marketers in every business field know the calendar year and what they should do (OR NOT DO) for maximum effect each month.”

The Turning Point – via Paul Strikwerda – Are you working towards you own success, or just hoping good things will happen to you?

Don’t Let a Cold Wreck Your Holiday or Your Voice – via Dr. Ann Utterback – Crowds and confined spaces are breeding grounds for cold-causing germs. Learn how to combat them this holiday season, and spare yourself the literal headache of missed workdays.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators – via ACX – Learn from your peers as they share their reflections on a successful career in audiobook narration.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators—Part Four

On Sunday, as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, Audible announced the inaugural inductees of the Narrator Hall of Fame. This week, four ACX Producers receiving this honor share their reflections and their advice to future inductees. For our final installment, Simon Vance offers his thoughts.

I honestly never suspected I’d make it into any kind of Hall of Fame. That I have been inducted into Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame is beyond my wildest dreams, and I am so honored.

Hall of Famer Simon Vance

I was asked here if I had any advice for narrators just starting out. Well, I’ve been recording audiobooks for a long, long time. So long that I wouldn’t have the first clue how to get into this business if I wasn’t in it already! But I do know people who are the kinds of teachers I would go to and who can give excellent advice. They’re the people who have a good track record of experience themselves. Johnny Heller and Paul Alan Ruben are based in New York, and Scott Brick and are two narrators I trust on the west coast. Almost all these narrators (Paul Alan Ruben is a Grammy-winning director) will coach via Skype if you’re not in their city.

Once you’re underway, then I would advise you to keep Neil Gaiman’s three rules for success in your work life in mind:

  1. Be very good at what you do.
  2. Be pleasant to work with.
  3. Always deliver what you promise on time.

And bear in mind, he says (and I think it’s true) that you can survive on two out of the three. So, you may not be the best, but if you’re good to work with and you deliver on time, you’ll probably always find work.

Audiobook narration is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it can be a grueling marathon. It’s certainly not a sprint. But the rewards (maybe not always the financial, but certainly the spiritual rewards) can be amazing. If you’re lucky and you’re talented you might find both. This is a wonderful community to be a part of.

Congratulations to all the inductees, especially those who joined us this week! Read the full series here.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators—Part Three

This week, four ACX Producers who are among the 20 inaugural inductees into Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame join us to share their reflections and advice for their fellow narrators and producers. Today, Luke Daniels offers his thoughts.

Hall of Famer Luke Daniels

For almost a decade, I have been blessed to become a small part of the audiobook industry, and now I am extremely honored to be selected for Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame. I want to share this recognition with every other narrator, producer, proofer, casting director, designer, sales rep, engineer, and listener who labors in their own significant way to bring these stories to life. It’s all of us who have made this industry what it is today, and I am lucky to count myself among your ranks. As for Audible, thank you for being the lighthouse as we discover this new world.

Choice is the lynchpin of any journey, and I’ve been asked to share some of the decisions that I believe helped get me to this point.

  1. Listen to audiobooks! Listen to other narrators. Talk to people in the industry and listen to what they have to say. Gather information like its oxygen. Learn about all sides of the business. You’re not just a talk-monkey. Well, you are, but become a better one by being aware of what’s happening in the audiobook industry.
  2. You are your product. Tend to yourself. As a performer, your body is your instrument. Sitting still with intense focus in front of a screen is not great for our physical or mental health. Do other things. Get out. Experience life. It will inform you as a performer and help make you a more well-rounded product.
  3. Market yourself. Put yourself out there. Take chances. Build a fan base through social media. Help out your peers in the industry. Lift each other up, and we all rise to the top.

Thanks for all the hours of listening and for this incredible honor. I am truly grateful.

Want even more Luke? Read his recent Storytellers post, or find him on ACX, Facebook, Twitter, and—of course—Audible.

Get more advice from hall of fame inductees here, and join us on Friday for the final installment of our series, featuring Simon Vance.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators—Part Two

On Sunday, as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, Audible announced the inaugural inductees of the Narrator Hall of Fame. This week, four ACX Producers receiving this honor are sharing their reflections and their advice to future inductees. Today, we’re joined by Scott Brick.

Hall of Famer Scott Brick

Being told I’ve been elected to Audible’s Hall of Fame is easily the most surreal experience of my life. As a sports fan, I’ve grown up in awe of the men and women worthy to be designated Hall of Famers, but never anticipated the possibility of it happening in my life. And while I don’t feel even close to worthy, I am nevertheless grateful, hugely grateful for the honor. Like my peers, I didn’t come into this industry for accolades. We work in isolation, after all, reading alone in a room, unconnected to the listening audience.

And in some ways, I try to maintain that isolation. I think it helps me, I think it can help all of us. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice review like anyone else, but I try not to read them, because good or bad, they’re one person’s opinion. If you’ve spent any time in Hollywood, you’ve likely heard the saying, “Oh, he believes his own press.” Staying away from listener reviews or blog sites keeps me from doing that, but also protects me from getting bogged down by negativity.

Yes, ours is a profession that relies heavily on self-promotion, so it’s a fine line to walk, but I try to navigate it as best I can. I will absolutely post the occasional rave for a project I’ve worked on, but I do so primarily to help publicize the book, as well as to honor the author and the publisher, and show my appreciation for the faith they’ve shown in me. That’s both good manners and good business. Beyond that, though, I try not to pay attention. While speaking at a conference a few years ago, a fan approached me on the street and asked how many narration awards I’ve won, and I told her truthfully, “I don’t know.” I kinda don’t want to know, you know?

When I was in my twenties I got the chance to work with a well-known actor, and in a quiet moment I asked him which of his many roles was his favorite. His response? “My next one.” That taught me a valuable lesson and has been an example I’ve tried to follow. I have never once forgotten what it felt like to walk into Dove Audio in Beverly Hills all those years ago for my very first narration job—on June 10, 1999; yes, I wrote it down! Although I had already booked the job, I nevertheless knew that my work in the studio that day was an audition: I was auditioning for my next job, and I have been ever since.

Thank you, Audible. It’s been a lovely twenty years, and I am deeply grateful.

Scott Brick can be found at ScottBrick.net, and you can listen to one of his 683 audiobook roles on Audible.

Tomorrow, ACX Storyteller Luke Daniels stops by to share his thoughts.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators—Part One

On Sunday, as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, Audible announced the inaugural inductees of the Narrator Hall of Fame. The 20 members of this founding group were chosen by a panel of passionate listeners at Audible who spent many, many hours deliberating the merits of hundreds of talented performers based on the caliber of their work, the breadth of catalog, and listener feedback.

Among the honorees? Four ACX Producers! This week, they are sharing their reflections on the honor, and their advice to future inductees. Today, we kick things off with ACX University alumna Andi Arndt.

Hall of Famer Andi Arndt

When I got the call informing me that I had been voted into the inaugural “class” of the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame, I was in shock. I have only worked in audiobooks for the latter half of Audible’s 20 years. My fellow inductees have been, and continue to be, my role models, my teachers, my mentors. To be included among them is the highest honor I can imagine.

When I look back at the things that made a big difference along the way, a couple come to mind.

  1. Surround yourself with people who support you and believe in you. My dear husband Chris bought me a Dell Media Center computer for Christmas back in the 1990’s, and said he thought maybe I could use it for a home studio. That gift got me thinking about starting my own business, and along the way Chris and my daughters gave their blessing and encouragement as I traveled all over the country for workshops, conferences, and recording sessions, and as my increasing working hours complicated our family schedule. I know from talking with some of my coaching students and colleagues that not everyone has that kind of moral and financial support, and I absolutely do not take it for granted. This advice applies to people you hire as well; when I asked our family’s former tax accountant some questions about the tax implications of my then-new small business, he said “ask me that when you make over $10,000.” I felt like I’d been patted on the head and dismissed. We now have a great accountant who takes our questions seriously and helps us plan for the future with an eye toward growth.
  2. Show up for stuff. Go to workshops and keep up with your classmates and teachers. Go to industry events, big and small, a few times a year. Don’t worry about immediate results; focus on getting to know people that you will learn from and work with for years to come. You can do a lot from your home studio, via social media and email, but until you show up in person and start getting to know your clients and colleagues as people, you’ll have a hard time feeling as though you truly have access to the information and connections you need to get where you want to go.

Best wishes to you in your professional endeavors, and please join me in congratulating Audible on their two decades bringing the spoken word to ever-increasing audiences. Congratulations also to my fellow Narrator’s Hall of Fame inductees. Here’s to the future!

Andi Arndt is an Audible Approved Producer who’s voiced more than 180 titles on Audible. Find her on ACX, Facebook, and at her website.

Read reflections from Hall of Famers Scott Brick, Luke Daniels, and Simon Vance.

This Week in Links: October 16 – 20

It’s that time of year again. While you’re prepping for Halloween, we’re prepping for the upcoming December audiobook sales season. For the best chance for your book to be on sale in time for the 2017 holidays, we recommend your titles are approved and submitted to ACX by Friday, December 1, 2017.

Please also ensure your audiobook meets all of our Audio Submission Requirements before submitting, as your title may be delayed going on-sale if our QA team needs to reach out to you with questions. Watch our recent video on passing ACX QA, then check out our favorite links from the past week below.

For Producers:

Study Peter Coyote’s Compelling Narration In Ken Burns’ ‘The Vietnam War’ PBS Series – via Voice-Over Xtra – Listening to the narrator’s documentary and contrasting it against his audiobook performance can be an enlightening exercise.

Voiceovers, Napping, and Meditation – via Tom Dheere – “Whether it’s napping, mediating, exercise, yoga, or reading a book with a warm beverage, at some point during the day you should find time to recharge.”

The One Surefire Way to Find New Clients – via Dave Courvoisier – CourVO offers a surprisingly simple directive, for those willing to put in the effort.

The Agony Of Ignorance – via Paul Strikwerda – Read Paul’s advice for achieving “unconscious competence,” and why it’s better in the long run not to get spoon-fed easy answers.

For Rights Holders:

Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – October 2017 – via The Book Designer – Instead of hoping your friends will leave glowing reviews of your (audio)book, learn how to earn reviews from motivated readers and listeners.

Opinion: How Indie Authors Can Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Book Marketing – via Alli – “You wrote the story you needed to tell – now you need to ensure the people who need to hear it have the opportunity to do so.”

Utilize Your Blog as a Powerful Marketing Tool – via The Write Conversation – “A blog post infused with personality, well-written content, and benefit to the readers can cause them to follow your blog or explore your website. But first, you have to get them interested in your post.”

Using Physicality to Bring Your Characters (And Your Fiction) to Life – via Writer’s Digest – Add this one to the “give your narrator something awesome to say” folder.

This Week in Links: ACX University Edition

Yesterday, we wrapped up the 2017 semester of ACX University. This year’s event featured audiobook production, publishing, and marketing advice for ACX authors and actors. We broadcast enlightening conversations with bestselling authors, Audible Approved Producers, and the top minds from ACX and Audible Studios. You can watch all episodes below, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to get notified about future ACX videos.

For Producers:

Performance Perfection: Go Behind the Mic – via ACX – In this episode, Sarah Mollo – Christensen performs passages and receive corrections from award-winning director Kat Lambrix.

How to Pass ACX QA Every Time! – via ACX – In this episode, David and Brendan from the ACX QA team discuss editing, mastering, and spacing issues, causes and treatments for each issue, and some fixes for after the fact.

Ahead of the Curve: Prospecting for Pros – via ACX – Audible Approved Producers Steven Jay Cohen and Neil Hellegers share their secrets for how to maximize their profit and time by finding great projects both on and off the ACX platform.

Beyond the Booth: Monetizing Your Voice – via ACX – Join us for a discussion featuring Andi Arndt and Carin Gilfry on how conferences, voiceover coaching, and performance awards can help you boost your bottom line.

For Rights Holders:

Peace, Love, & Understanding Your Audio Partner – via ACX –  Join us as we talk to publishing duo Piers Platt and James Fouhey, an author and narrator who’ve created eight audiobooks together.

The Life of an Audiobook Publisher – via ACX – Follow bestseller Kym Grosso through the process of creating an audiobook from scratch, all the way to completing the finished audiobook.

If You Market, They Will Listen: Marketing 101 – via ACX – In this session featuring bestselling author Lauren Blakely and author marketing consultant Kate Tilton, you’ll learn audiobook-specific marketing tactics to attract reviews and sell more copies.

The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook – via ACX – Paul Stokes of AudiobookReviewer.com and Robin Whitten of AudioFile Magazine discuss  how they choose which audiobooks make their listen lists. From the performance to the cover art, they’ll share how to improve your submission and improve your chances of receiving reader and professional reviews.

 

Check Your Production Before You Wreck Your Production

Did you tune in last night for How to Pass QA Every Time, the fourth episode of ACX University 2017? David and Brendan from the ACX QA team joined us to discuss the top reasons your audiobook productions may get flagged during our QA process, how to avoid these errors, and what you can do to fix them after the fact. You can watch the full episode below, then check out our QA checklist that you can use to finalize your productions before hitting “I’m Done!”

The ACX QA “Top Five” Checklist

1. Properly Edit Your Audiobook

Here are some ways to set yourself up for success in the editing stage of your audiobook production:

Record in a quiet, non-reverberant room to minimize background noise.

Make sure there’s enough distance between your voice and the microphone to prevent pops, loud breaths, and unwanted vocal artifacts.

Use a dynamic microphone as opposed to a condenser when recording in a noisy environment. Some popular mic choices in this category include the Electro Voice RE20 and the Shure SM7B.

Use a pop filter placed in front of the microphone to help tame plosives and sibilance.

Learn and use the punch ‘n’ roll recording technique. Recording through an entire chapter in one take will often result in the file containing repeated lines, noises, and breaths that need to be edited out.

Record and save 30–60 seconds of clean room tone to use when editing out noises.

Utilize a QC sheet to identify and resolve any editing issues.

Sounds in your recording that should always be edited out include:

  • Narration with excessive mouth noise and vocal artifacts.
  • Clicks and pops located at the beginning of a file before the performance begins and at the end of a file after you’ve finished recording a chapter.
  • Long gaps of audio silence within the middle of a file.
  • Heavy background noise.

2. Encode Your Files According to ACX Guidelines

Make sure all of your audiobook files meet the following requirements before uploading them to ACX:

No files exceed 120 minutes in length or 170 mb in size.

All files must be recorded at a 44.1khkz sampling rate.

All files must be 192 kbs or higher MP3s, encoded at a constant bit rate (CBR), not variable bit rate (VBR).

All files within a given production must be either all stereo or all mono files.

3. Adhere to ACX’s RMS Requirements

Some tips to help you avoid RMS issues include:

During Recording:

Record at the proper volume. Your voice should peak around -12dB to -8dB. Adjust your pre-amp so that your voice peaks at this level, then keep it at that level. Set it and forget it.

If you need to adjust the level at which you’re hearing yourself while recording, adjust your monitor level, not your preamp.

Use proper mic technique to ensure your performance is within the appropriate volume range.

During Mastering:

Check file level statistics within your DAW to ensure you are meeting the ACX requirements. Group like files together in larger books to make mastering easier.

Use normalization and compression to even out your files. Don’t EQ after compression, as this could affect your final levels.

Keep your monitor level consistent during mastering.

4. Adequately Space Your Audio Files

Make sure you are editing with both fidelity to the manuscript and the listening experience in mind.

During the edit/QC stage, keep room tone handy to use when structuring files.

Leave one half second to 1 second of clean room tone at the beginning and between 1 and 5 seconds of clean room tone at the end of each file.

5. Correctly Order and Structure Audio Files

Ensure that all of your audiobook project’s files have been uploaded to ACX only once each, and in the proper order.

Make sure you’ve included the appropriate chapter/section headers at the start of each file.

Record each section or chapter in a separate track in your project file within your DAW.

Include the file order number along with the section name in your file name. This will help you keep track during upload. Example: 01_Tom Sawyer_Opening Credits.mp3, 02_Tom Sawyer_Acknowledgements.mp3, 03_Tom Sayer_Ch01.mp3, etc.

Print this blog post out and use it as a checklist to ensure you hit all of our QA team’s recommendations. Following the QA team’s advice will put you on the right path to speeding your production to “on-sale,” and will help ensure a satisfied Rights Holder and happy listeners for your audiobook.

 

Introducing the Audible.ca Distribution Channel!

Hot on the heels of announcing ACX opened its doors to Canadian authors, publishers, and narrators, Audible has announced the opening of Audible.ca. This means even more great news for ACX authors, because we’ve automatically enrolled your audiobook in this new distribution channel if you selected Worldwide distribution rights or included Canada as one of your distribution territories on ACX. You’ll continue earning the same great royalties paid monthly, while enjoying readership from a new class of listener.

All aboard with Audible!

Audible kicked off their dedicated Canadian digital storefront with a train trek from Toronto to Montreal, leading with readings of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale by Elisabeth Moss. Read all about it, or find more inspiration right here: Last week, we concluded Canadian author Susan Hayes’s audiobook diary on the ACX blog.

And what can you do to promote your audiobooks in this new marketplace?  Get ideas at ACX University, now in session, with tips and ideas for creating and promoting award-winning audiobooks.

Have questions? Visit our Help Center for answers.