Tag Archives: audiobook production

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.

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.

 

On the Same Page: Communication for Audiobook Success

Yesterday, we premiered our debut episode of ACX University 2017, Peace, Love, and Understanding Your Audio Partner. Audible Approved Producer James Fouhey, and ACX Author Piers Platt, joined us to discuss their eight-books-strong creative partnership, and the details that go into making it a success both for them and their listeners. Today, they’re back with a recap of the tips you might not have caught on camera. Read on for their perspectives on the critical elements of audiobook production.

On Selecting the Right Narrator for Your Project

ACX Author Piers Platt

Piers: If you’re not already an audiobook fan, listen to samples of top-rated audiobooks in your genre to get a sense for what “good” sounds like, and feel free to reach out directly to some of those narrators to ask them to audition for your book, too.

James: Having a feel for how this medium has worked for other authors will help shape your expectations for your own title in a way that’s achievable for a narrator. It’s best to know what you like and don’t like about audiobooks before the project begins.

Piers: When you post your book for auditions on ACX, look for a narrator with some experience, and if they’ve got film/theater/TV training or credits, that’s a bonus.

James: The more experience a narrator has, the surer you can be that they can sustain the performance in the audition throughout an entire book.

Piers: Listen to all of the auditions that come in yourself, and pick your favorite 5-10. Then have several people you trust (ideally audiobook listeners) give you their opinion on which of those finalists to choose.

James: The more confidence you have in your narrator at the start, the easier it will be to give them the freedom they need to perform. Believing in your narrator’s ability as a professional will help you to collaborate.

On Setting Up Your ACX Title to Attract Top Talent

Piers: When creating your title profile, mention reasons why a Producer would want to work with you—have you published a lot of audiobooks, sold lots of copies, won any awards or accolades? If you have a robust marketing plan in place, if you plan on using the same narrator for the whole series, make sure to mention that as well.

Audible Approved Producer James Fouhey

James: How you go about describing this will help determine how many narrators are willing to put in the time to audition for you. The best narrators are professionals and want to work with authors who come across that way. Also, there’s nothing more enticing than a series audition, as those bring with them the potential to work on multiple books.

On Selecting an Audition Script

Piers: The portion of your book that you select as the audition script should have multiple characters talking and include a pivotal emotional moment. This will give you a sense of how they handle different characters (especially voices of the opposite gender or any foreign accents), how much they emote, whether they convey the book’s “tone,” etc.

James: This is critical. If well selected, the audition script can help you avoid many problems later on. Once you’re in production, re-recording swaths of the book that you’re unhappy with will cost the narrator time and money. Figure out beforehand what it is that you’re most worried about a narrator handling, and find a place for it in the audition.

On Starting—and Ending— the Production on the Right Foot

Piers: Once you select a Producer and agree to a contract, put together a guide to the important aspects of your title. This should include: how to pronounce all proper nouns (names and locations, for example), a short character cheat sheet with clear directions (protagonist should be gruff, but likable…femme fatale should be sultry, with a lower pitched voice for a woman, etc.). Pretend you’re a movie director and you’re giving your cast (narrator) instructions at this stage.

James: This is one of the things that sets Piers apart. He anticipates the narrator’s practical needs, has specific expectations, and gives the narrator tools to achieve them before the work begins.

Piers: Once your Producer has all the information they need, they’ll go off and produce your book. When they deliver the final audio, make sure to review it from start to finish. I like to speed up my file review process by downloading all the files from ACX and then listening to them at 1.25x or 1.5x speed. You can still catch any mistakes that way, but you get through it a lot faster.

James: Piers is great about reviewing the work in a timely manner, which is gratifying after all the care that goes into producing an audiobook. The technique of speeding up the audio for review is one that professionals use in quality control. Be careful speeding it up past 1.25x if it’s your first time.

Thinking of your creative partner’s needs from the outset of your audiobook production will help ensure you collaborate on a great-sounding audiobook that your fans will be excited to listen to. Try these tips for your next ACX production, then come back to the comments below to tell us how they helped.

Watch More

This Week in Links: August 21 – 25

Did you hear the news? ACX University is back for 2017, with eight episodes coming in September. This year, we’ve expanded our premiere audiobook education event to cover topics for authors and publishers in addition to actors and producers. Check out this year’s curriculum, meet the panelists, and catch up on past year’s lessons here. Make sure to follow us on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, where you can watch every episode of this year’s program for free!

For Producers:

Why George Guidall Is the Undisputed King of Audiobooks – via The New York Times – Learn audiobook performance theory from the venerated veteran.

Should You Neutralize Your Accent? – via Paul Strikwerda – “Even though it’s fun to do all kinds of accents and characters, nine out of ten times clients hire me because I sound like me, and not like someone else.”

Should You Ever Volunteer to Do Voice-Over for Free? – via Edge Studio – “One way to add to your experience is volunteer work. But should you volunteer to do voice work for free? There are pros and cons, so read on…”

The Still Small Voice – via Karen Commins – Find out how rediscovering the love for her childhood instrument reminded Karen how listening to that little voice inside can be important for your VO career.

For Rights Holders:

Making A Great Author Website In 16 Steps – via BookMarketingBuzzBlog – “First, look at your site from the eyes of those who would come to visit it…Second, ask yourself if you started from scratch, how different would a brand new site look in comparison to what you have?”

Brands to Avoid – via CreateSpace – When building your author brand, be authentic, and remember to highlight the positive aspects of yourself and your books.

4 Questions You Should Never Ask About Your Book – via Helping Writers Become Authors – “In short, good writing is not about finding the right answer. It’s about finding the right question.”

20 Inspiring Writing Podcasts to Subscribe to Right Now – via The Write Life – “For writers looking to bust writer’s block, hone their craft or spice up a boring commute, there’s no shortage of podcasts from amateurs and experts alike.”

This Week in Links: August 14 – 18

For Rights Holders:

4 Social Media Productivity Tips for Authors – via The Book Designer – “We all know that marketing takes time. Too much time, some might say. I insist that it needn’t take time away from your writing. Not if you adhere to some productivity tips.”

Learning to Listen: Tips to Help You Get Into Audiobooks – via BookRiot – Try passing this advice along to those readers you’re yet to convert into listeners.

5 Email Marketing Tips for Self-Published Authors – via where writers win – “Email marketing is a fantastic way to stay front of mind and to let your readers know about everything from competitions to new releases.”

This is The Reason Book Marketing is Exhausting You and How to Fix That – via BadRedhead – “Many writers are exhausted by book marketing — even those who haven’t released their book yet. Sometimes, simply the thought of where to begin can be enough to stop a writer from ever starting at all. What to do?”

For Producers:

Voiceovers And Your Problem – via Tom Dheere – Tom offers five things to listen for if you want to make it as a voice talent.

Allowing Your Voice-Over Niche to Evolve Over Time – via suchavoice – “I didn’t set out years ago with this niche as my goal, but through hard work and perseverance, I was able to find my path over time.”

A Networking & Publicity Tactic from My Savvy 12-year-old Daughter – via Natasha Marchewka – “Way too often, I experience others as closed off and disinterested in group situations that would allow for valuable networking and even camaraderie. Being open to connecting helps us grow our business and, further, can help us grow as people.”

Yes, You Can….But SHOULD You? – via Dave Courvoisier – How big is your wheelhouse, really? Dave guides you through realistically approaching auditions.

This Week in Links: July 31 – August 4

For Producers:

Got The Summertime Business Blues? Plant Seeds Early For The Long Game – via Voice-Over Xtra – It turns out there is a cure for the summertime blues, and it involves cultivating client relationships.

Breathe Easy This Summer – via Dr. Ann Utterback – Learn to narrate while standing with proper posture to deliver your best in-booth performance.

The Importance of Listening Skills for Voiceover Work – via Victoria DeAnda – “Listening, which is an integral aspect of any form of communication, helps any voice actor learn control, adapt to new styles, and become more confident overall.”

No Shortage of Advice – via Dave Courvoisier – Wondering if any of your past VO clients are ready to work with you again? Dave’s got an email marketing cheat sheet so you can reignite those relationships.

For Rights Holders:

5 Reasons Audiobook Sales Are Booming And How You Can Be Part Of This Growth – via Digital Book World – “Audiobooks are a hot ticket these days – currently the fastest growing piece of the publishing industry, audiobooks are on everyone’s mind and in everyone’s ears.”

Do You Market Your Book With Urgency? – via BookMarketingBuzzBlog – Learn nine ways you to ensure you’re not getting too lax or too crazy when promoting your book.

Use a Sex Angle to Flirt with the Media for Book Publicity – via The Book Designer – Hubba hubba! Can you find a creative way to get eyes and ears on your (audio)book?

The Platform Conundrum – via CreateSpace – Author Richard Ridley demystifies phrases like “A cross-platform strategy is the most optimal solution to create buzz about your book.”

This Week in Links: July 24 – 28

For Rights Holders:

What Are Authors Willing To Do To Get Publicity? – via BookMarketingBuzzBlog – “If you can’t find much to publicize about you or your book then you probably should rethink who is going to buy the book and what will move them to be interested.”

16 Ways to Make Your Setting a Character in Its Own Right – via Helping Writers Become Authors – Let your audiobook narrator chew on some scenery for a while.

Airtight Plotting Strategies – via CreateSpace – Every audiobook project starts as a writing project. Make sure you don’t lose the thread on your next one.

8 Tips to Keep in Your Mind When Seeking Book Reviews – via where writers win – Learn the smart way to get professionals to review your book, and keep in mind the ways these tips apply to your audiobook as well.

For Producers:

How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio? – via Paul Strikwerda – “In order to truly feel at home, happy, and safe in my claustrophobic recording cave, I had to add some items and make some adjustments to make life a lot healthier.”

How to be Productive During a (Voice-over) Vacation – via Natasha Marchewka – Read about smart ways to both relax and be productive in your time away from the booth.

A Reminder… – via Dave Courvoisier – Dave’s back with a 15-point reality check for voiceover newbies. Can you pass the test?

Voiceovers And Working With Authors – via Tom Dheere – Tom’s here to remind you that you might not always be working directly with the author of the book you’re recording, especially if you’re working with an audio publisher.