Tag Archives: audio scientist

How to Succeed at Audiobook Production: Part 2

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.

Andrew_250x320Editing 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.

Editing Breakdown

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.
  • Modifying the pacing of the narration.
  • Dividing the chapters into individual files, and preparing their heads and tails to ACX’s Audio Submission Requirements.
  • Noting errors which may necessitate a re-record.

The QC involves:

  • 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 filesWhile 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 2, which covers audiobook mastering, here.

How to Succeed at Audiobook Production: Part 1

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.

Andrew_250x320Achieving 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.

File Management with Andrew The Audio Scientist

ACX’s resident audio scientist first joined us on the blog last month, when he discussed the theory and best practices for encoding audio. Today, he’s back to discuss the bedrock of any successful audiobook production: file management.

File Backup and Preservation

Andrew_250x320Anybody who has produced a lengthy audiobook will tell you that it can be rather arduous. After hours of prep work, days of recording your narration, and several additional days of editing, QC and mastering, the last thing you want to have happen is a disastrous and sudden loss of all your hard work.

As a former Audible Studios engineer, it didn’t take long for me to realize the importance of backing up my work. While it may be obvious to some producers that data backup is important, learning file storage and archiving methods appropriate for audiobooks is key to your project’s success. Today, I’d like to go over some best practices for data preservation and how you can help prevent any tragic file loss for your next ACX production.

5 Keys to Proper File Management

  1. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE. Make a habit of saving your work every five minutes. It takes almost no time at all and will ensure that, if data loss occurs, you will be able to recover most of your current work. The keyboard shortcut to save is almost always “Ctrl+S” in a Windows program, and “Command+S” in a Mac program (command is the “⌘” key on your Mac keyboard).
  2. Each chapter’s audio file should be backed up upon completion of each stage of production:
    1. Completed Recording Backup – The WAV or AIFF file containing the completed raw recording of your chapter.
    2. Completed Edits Backup – The WAV or AIFF file containing the completed edits to your recorded audio.
    3. Mastered Audio Backup – The WAV or AIFF audio file created after putting the Completed Edits Backup file through your mastering chain.
    4. Encoded Masters – The Mastered Audio Backup file that has been encoded to MP3 for ACX submission. This is your final, retail-ready audio.
  3. At the end of each day of production, you should make a backup of your DAW session, making sure the filename contains the day’s date.
  4. Each time you make a backup of your work, it is strongly recommended that you store the files in two storage locations. (We recommend doing automatic backups to an external hard drive as well as cloud storage. More on that in a bit!)
  5. Until you are ready to encode and submit your audio to ACX, back up all audio as WAV or AIFF files. No chapter file should be backed up as an MP3 unless it is 100% complete and ready for ACX submission. Making changes directly to an MP3 will lower the audio quality of your final production.

The above practices are important habits to form. Should you ever need to make changes to your files or fix an error found by our audio QA team, having consistent backups at each stage of your production will ensure that changes can be easily committed. For instance, if you master a chapter file only to discover that you want to re-record a particular line of dialog, doing so would be as easy as opening up your chapter’s Completed Edits Backup file and re-recording the line. Without this file, you will be forced to record and master your new dialog to a different file and paste it on top of your old Mastered Audio Backup file. Things can get messy!

Data Storage Options

File preservation is important, but it is undoubtedly a hassle. Luckily, file storage is more versatile, cheap, and reliable than ever before. We producers can take advantage of not just excellent portable hard drives, but specialized software and online backup services as well! We recommend the options below.

Portable External Hard Drive – The easiest and quickest file storage solution is to simply purchase an external hard drive. We love the Seagate Expansion drive series, which has a 1TB option priced at only $64.99. Cheap and easy to use, these drives should be on the shopping list of every beginning ACX producer. However, using it can be a bit clunky, as you must organize all of your files manually.

Backup Scheduling Software – Luckily, there exists software for both Windows and Macintosh platforms that aid file backup. We strongly recommend that Mac users utilize the built-in Time Machine feature on OSX to automatically back up and organize your files on your external hard drive. For Windows, I love the free FBackup by Softland. Both of these tools are easy to use and can be configured to automatically back up your files to external locations every night, or even every time the file is modified.

Cloud Storage – Amazon, ACX’s parent company, knows as well as anyone how important reliable storage solutions are for consumers. AWS, Amazon’s online web storage platform, is the leading “cloud storage” solution on the web. What is cloud storage exactly? In essence, it is a series of interconnected servers which safely handle and store massive amounts of data for customers of all stripes. Amazon provides this service to consumers for free as Amazon Cloud Drive. Upon signing up, all users receive 5GB of free storage! Using Amazon Cloud Drive in conjunction with the free Cloud Drive App, you can automatically back up your files to the Amazon Cloud Drive network without needing to lift a finger. Once you finish installing the Cloud Drive App, simply follow the on-screen instructions to set up your computer for automatic nightly backups.

In following these best-practices, you may save yourself and your rights holder from a potential disaster, and you will be putting your best foot forward by amply protecting both your hard work and your rights holder’s intellectual property.

What is your file management and backup process? Do you use any of the methods Andrew recommends above?

Encoding Audio with Andrew the Audio Scientist

Today, we’re debuting a new blog feature from the ACX Audio Team. Our resident audio scientist will be stopping by occasionally to tackle a different technical aspect of audiobook production. For his inaugural post, Andrew takes a look at the process of encoding your audio and introduces a new resource to aid in your productions.

Decoding Encoding

Andrew_250x320Today I want to talk about one of the nerdiest aspects of audiobook production: your audio files. I’m addressing this now because we’ve recently added a helpful audio encoding guide to ACX, and I want to make sure producers understand the concept and can use it to create audio that will meet our encoding requirements.

As the last step in the audiobook production process, audio encoding tends to get overlooked, and it’s easy to understand why. After spending hours producing an audiobook – from recording, to proofing, editing, and mastering – it can be easy to forget to tick the right check boxes and configure the necessary settings in your encoding software. But overlooking this step could block the file from successfully uploading, or cause the files to be rejected during our Quality Assurance check.

What is encoding? It’s the process of converting your uncompressed audio files into a format more suitable for certain applications. For example, most digital audio workstations (DAW’s) will output files by default, and each of your audiobook’s WAV files may end up being several hundred megabytes in size. This is fine for audio production environments, but it’s not an ideal format for uploading your files to an external location (like ACX), so we require users to encode their audio with the MP3 audio codec. This process compresses the data in your file, reducing size and allowing for faster uploads without severely degrading the sound quality.

The ACX Audio Encoding Guide

We want Audible’s customers to have the best possible listening experience, and we don’t want any ACX title to be held up because it contains files that don’t meet our requirements. This brings us back to our new audio encoding guide, which should help you navigate these tricky waters. The techniques used work on both Windows and Macintosh platforms, and if followed correctly, will encode your audio into standards that meet the ACX Audio Submission Requirements.

I’d like to end my premier blog post with one final note: at the end of the day, all digital audio is data. It’s made up of the same zeroes and ones that comprise an eBook’s manuscript, the ACX website, and everything else in the digital world. The integrity of this data is critical to your audiobook’s success. Keeping this thought in the back of your mind while producing your next audiobook may very well lead to an even better final production.

Kindly,

Andrew, the ACX Audio Scientist.