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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Audiobook Professionals

Are you an actor new to voiceover work? Maybe you’re a narrator looking to become an audiobook producer through ACX. However you came about your “newbie” status, we’re here to give you a run down of all the little things the veterans just seem to know. In an effort to save you from the pain and embarrassment of making the most basic audiobook production errors, we present the seven habits of highly effective audiobook professionals, aka The DUH! List

1. Don’t skimp on equipment. If you have poor sounding audio equipment, nothing else will matter to your potential clients. Not your talent, not your professionalism, not your beautiful head shot. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a good sound either.

2. Save your files. No, seriously, save your files. Frequently. If you have friends in the business, you’ll only have to ask a few to find one with a horror story about having to do an entire audiobook project over because their hard drive crashed or their files became corrupted. Save each iteration of your work along the way. Save after you record. Save after each edit and QC pass. Save before you EQ, mix, and master. And don’t just save locally – save to a cloud backup like Amazon Cloud Drive, in case your computer/hard drive is lost or stolen or vaporized by aliens.

3. Be Organized. This goes hand-in-hand with point 2. Come up with a file naming convention you like and stick with it from project to project. Keep files and folders organized on your computer. Keep your studio neat and your calendar straight. Being organized in every aspect of your business will help ensure that you and your files are where they need to be, when they need to be there.

4. Be Consistent. Make sure that your voice and your studio have a uniform sound from day to day and project to project. Pay attention to mic placement, temperature, and humidity, and work to keep them consistent. Note the settings on your studio equipment and software on the first day of a production, and match them on subsequent days. Schedule your recording at the same time of day, every day, if outside noises intrude in a periodic manner.

Consistency is an important part of performance as well, so listen back to a few minutes of the previous day’s (or previous project’s) audio before starting a new session, and compare it to the sound you’re currently getting in your studio. Then make small adjustments to your settings if necessary.

5. Respect Your Microphone. Your mic is your closest friend in the studio – you’re practically kissing! Sitting too close to the mic can make your audio sound muddy and cause plosives – sharp bursts of breath that result in a popping sound on the recording, often caused by the letters P, B, and T. Sitting too far from the mic will cause it to pick up too much of the room and not enough of your wonderful voice.

One trick for finding the right distance from the mic is to make a “hang ten” sign with one hand, placing your thumb on your chin and your pinky on the mic. That’s roughly how far away you should be. Be sure to repeat the lesson from point 4, and keep your distance and location relative to the mic steady as you record.

Finally, don’t forget that your microphone will pick up everything. Don’t wear loose jewelry or clothes that make noise when they brush against something. Take off that ticking analog watch, and keep your cell phone out of the booth. Incoming calls and texts can cause interference between your audio interface and your computer, and can be a major distraction for you as well.

6. Prep Your Script. There’s an age old tale that every narrator has heard at least once. A colleague with a busy schedule forgoes script prep and records the book “cold,” only to find out in the last chapter that one of the characters had a thick accent the entire time. D’oh! Save yourself the trouble and read through your scripts at least once before recording. This will allow you time to sort out character choices and do pronunciation research ahead of time. Trust us, you don’t want to stop recording every 5 seconds to look up a strange word you can’t pronounce.

Find a way to keep everything that informs your performance straight. Some narrators highlight. Some write in the margins. Some keep a spreadsheet with character voices, pronunciations and other performance notes. However you do it, find a method that works for you and stick to it. This ensures the recording process will go smoothly and efficiently.

7. Take Care of Your Instrument. You are the most important piece of equipment in your studio. Take care of your voice. Reduce intake of sugary drinks, as they cause bloating (which inhibits your ability to project from the diaphragm) and excess mucous in the mouth and throat (which will make you sound gross). Avoid alcohol before recording, as it can dry out the vocal chords. Too much caffeine will do the same, with the added drawback of causing a rushed-sounding read. And don’t smoke. We don’t even have to tell you why that’s such a bad thing for your voice, do we?

Finally, remember that audiobook production, as fun, artistically rewarding, and profitable as it can be, isn’t everything. Schedule “mental health” time. Take a walk. Zone out in front of the TV for a bit. Go to the gym. Get out into the real world before you go stir crazy in your studio. Keeping your body and mind healthy will ensure you’re focused on one thing in the studio: getting a great sounding read.

Following these basic tips will put you ahead of all the other rookies and set you on the path to a rewarding, successful audiobook career. And who knows, maybe someday you’ll be the one playfully yelling DUH! at an inexperienced colleague who had to learn something the hard way. Just make sure to be nice and show them this post so they don’t repeat their mistakes.

What tips would you put on your DUH! list? Help the next generation of audiobook pros in the comments!