Tag Archives: production advice

Putting Your Best Sound Forward

We don’t need to tell you the importance of a good sounding audiobook, right? Audible’s listeners are accustomed to the best sounding books in the industry, and nothing will tank your title’s sales potential faster than a few bad reviews.

Like just about everything in life, getting things right from the start is essential to creating a great-sounding audiobook. Actors who are new to the world of audiobook production can make the mistake of thinking that a poor recording will get taken care of in the editing phase or smoothed out in post production. But the truth is the purpose of editing and mastering is not to make a poor recording sound good, but to make a good recording sound great! Join us as we outline the steps you can take to set yourself up for success on ACX.

Let’s start from the beginning: treating your recording space. There are numerous options, from permanent structures to baffling panels and blankets to sound dampening shields for your microphone. Whatever method works best for you, the key is to minimize ambient noise and insulate yourself from the dreaded A/C units, lawn mowers, and traffic that can be major distractions to a listener.

The next area of attention should be your recording chain. This is the most important place you can put your money, as good equipment is the bedrock of a good recording. Making sure you find the right mic for your voice, as well as aiming for the cleanest input signal possible means you will have much easier time and a much better recording down the line. A secret weapon in your fight against noise can be a simple in-line high pass filter, like this one from Shure. For around $50-$60, you can get a filter that “helps to eliminate electrical and mechanical noise in an audio system, such as 60Hz electrical hum from AC power lines, low-frequency rumble caused by wind noise or air conditioning system, and stage/floor noise transmitted to a microphone through the microphone stand.”

The final key to a good recording is consistency. It’s important to ensure that your voice and recording environment 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 hardware and software on day 1 of a production, and be sure to match them on subsequent days. When you sit down to begin the day’s session, listen back to a few minutes of the previous day’s audio and compare it to the sound you’re currently getting in your studio. Then make small adjustments to your settings based on environmental and vocal changes if necessary.

Actors familiar with TV and film may be used to working in an environment where one can shoot as much as possible and clean it up in editing and post. But with audiobooks, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A little work at the outset can help make sure that you’re on the path to a great sounding recording.

How do you achieve a consistently great sound in your studio?

This Week in Links: October 21 – 25

ACXers in temperate climates are starting to feel that first chill in the air. Autumn is upon us, and with it thoughts of holiday fun and the year’s end. As 2013 winds down, use the links below to inform and educate yourself as you embark on your final audiobook productions of the year.

Remember, now is the time to get those audiobooks recorded and uploaded to ACX for your best chance of having them live on Audible in time for the holiday season.

For Producers:

The 5 Things You Should Be Doing NOW to Close Out the Year – via Dave Courvoisier’s Voice Over Blog – As the year’s end draws near, Dave has a 5-point checklist that will help VO’s wrap things up right.

Whittam’s World Episode 8: Acoustical Treatments for your Home Studio – via Edge Studio’s Youtube Channel – Home studio master George Whittam talks soundproofing in this informative video

Bed, Bath and Beyond – via Finding My Voice – Justin S. Barrett gets philosophical about life away from the microphone.

Why Restaurants And Voice Over Talents Fail – via Marc Scott Voiceover – Marc sees popular TV show “Restaurant Impossible” as a metaphor for VO failure – and success!

For Rights Holders:

Conflict—Giving LIFE to Your Fiction – via Kristen Lamb’s Blog – “Bad decisions make GREAT fiction.” Kristen tells you how to work that adage to your advantage

How Writing “Small Stones” Hones the Writer’s Craft – via The Alliance of Independent Authors – “Novelist Satya Robyn explains the meaning, process and value of writing “small stones” – tiny observational pieces of poetry or prose detailing something close at hand.”

Passion, Purpose, and Power: A Pep-Talk For Writers – via The BookBaby Blog – In need of a pick-me-up? BookBaby’s got you covered

Did you find some great audiobooks links this week? Tell us all about ’em!

ACX Studio Gear Series: Home Studio Setup – Part 1

If you’re a regular reader of the ACX blog, you know we’ve been working our way through the list of items you’ll need for a professional sounding home recording studio. But what about the setup of the studio itself? Over the next few posts, we’ll be joined by expert and prolific producers from Audible Studios and ACX, who’ll offer their tips for the essential elements of home studio construction.

Today, we talk to ACX engineers, an author who built a home studio to narrate his own books, and our own Audible Studios staff about the importance of using high quality equipment and working with the noisy quirks of your unique recording space.

ACX: In your opinion, what are the most important elements of home studio construction?

Pete wVocal Booth_Small

Peter A. Rohan’s Queens, NY home studio

Peter A. Rohan, ACX Producer: You’ve got to start with the right equipment. Use a “quiet” mic that gives you the best frequency results for your voice.  Choose an interface with a good preamp that provides quality analog to digital (a/d) and digital to analog (d/a) conversion and that will not introduce a lot of noise. A budget mic and inferior interface can introduce an amount of noise and contribute to your overall noise floor.  I found that out the hard way, after exhausting all my energies in soundproofing and absorption only to find that it was the cheap mic that I was using that was generating most of my noise floor.

Darren Vermaas, Audible Studios Post-Production Associate:  Definately don’t skimp on the equipment.  Using proper gear in the first steps of recording is going to make your life a lot easier in the end.  Besides saving you time in post-production editing out noises and trying to figure out how to bring your overall noise floor down, it will simply make your book sound more professional.

Rob Granniss, Brick Shop Audiobooks: Get as good a mic, headphones, preamp and DAW as you can. Then get to know them as well as you can. Compare them with every other reference possible, including your laptop speakers, your cellphone, your audio geek friend’s sound system, etc. Listen to the same source material on each and note differences. Listen to your own recordings on those sources, as well as professionally produced recordings (voice as well as music if you’d like). The comparison isn’t to find what you like or what is “true” but rather to find what’s missing or is too enhanced about your own setup.

The "Brick Box," Brick Shop Audiobooks custom self recording studio, in Brooklyn, NY

The “Brick Box,” Brick Shop Audiobooks’ custom “self-record” studio, in Brooklyn, NY

Peter:  Also, be wary of cooling fans and keep them away from your mic.  Avoid recording with your laptop near the microphone or anything else with a cooling fan that turns on and off as the temperature fluctuates.

Darren: Get away from noises. That ticking clock, running refrigerator, dogs barking outside your window at the loud trucks driving by, and (of course) that fan running in your computer are all potential hazards.  These are all real things I’ve heard come through in recordings here. The last example is one of the most important to consider.

You will discover a lot of things about your room while you’re setting up a home studio.  Noises you’ve never paid mind to are going to start jumping out, and you’ll have to figure out how to deal with them.  When I needed to record vocals in my noisy 5 story apartment building with window AC units, you could find me hanging packing blankets and winter coats in my closet, positioning a microphone in there, and sweating it out while recording to make sure it sounded good. Not glamorous, and not comfortable, but it did sound good!

Stephen Woodfin’s home studio

Stephen Woodfin, ACX Author/Narrator:

Without a doubt the single best thing I did was to read and study the information on ACX about what is involved in the process of setting up a home studio.  I found that information practical and concise and used it as a blueprint each step along the way. I supplemented the ACX material by watching YouTube videos about the construction of home studios. In addition to watching videos, I read blogs and bought several books that provided more in depth discussions of audio production and equipment.  From these books I was able to determine which equipment was essential for my purposes and which optional. I also learned that it wasn’t necessary to buy the most expensive equipment available because there are economical ways to build a studio capable of producing first-rate audio without skimping.

Check back with us next week for more for more expert discussion on home studio setup!

What do you think is the most important aspect of building a home studio?

This Week in Links: October 7 – 11

We’re back with our latest installment of “This Week in Links.” We’ve rounded up our favorite videos and articles from around the audiobook world and listed them for you below. Enjoy some weekend reading, and embark on your next audiobook project as a better informed writer or producer!

For Rights Holders

10 Ways To Develop Confidence As A Writer – via Creative Thunder – “One sure way to become a writer is to write. Every day. With or without destination.”

How to Write a Great Death Scene – via Geek and Sundry Vlogs – Nika Harper offers her tips on write off a character.

How to Assign your Book to the Right Genre – via Chameleon Ink – “Getting the genre right further narrows down your target market and ensures that your book messaging addresses the right audience of readers.”

7 Guidelines For Writing a Nonfiction Book – via The BookBaby Blog – “For many would-be authors putting fingers to keys is the toughest part of the process. Here are seven suggestions to make it a little easier for you.”

For Producers

Mouth Noise – The Bane of a Voice Actor’s Life – via Anna Parker-Naples – Versatile voice actress talks about keeping mouth noise to a minimum.

Anatomy of a Movie Trailer – via Confessions of a Voiceover Artist – An interesting trip though the making of the audio portion of a movie trailer.

Time to Get That Perfect Mic – via Voice Over Garden – Jonathan Tilley offers his advice on what it takes to find the perfect fit for a lifetime of “quality jobs and stress free technical set up.”

Come back next week for more audiobook info, and share your favorite links form this week in the comments below!

Sneak Peak – ACX Audiobook Production Terms Glossary

How do you define success? Our latest effort to educate ACX actors and help them become better audiobook producers is an audio terminology glossary coming soon to the ACX website. But first, we wanted to give blog readers a sneak peek of a few key definitions.

  • Artifact:  Undesirable sounds around words, such as random, humming noises and metallic sounding breaths. Artifacts can be added to the original audio from excessive or incorrect noise reduction resulting from technical limitations.
  • Decibel (dB):  The standard unit of measurement used to represent sound volume or sound level. In the digital audio world, it is often assumed that when referring to “dB”, it actually refers to decibels relative to full scale (dBFS), where “0dBFS” represents the maximum possible digital level. This means that measurements in the digital audio realm are generally represented in negative values (-).
  • Edited Master:  Raw audio (unprocessed) that has gone through the editing/quality control pass (QC pass) stage. This form of audio has not been processed a.k.a. mastered, but has been edited and corrected (QC pass).
  • Headroom:  A term related to dynamic range expressed in decibels (dB), as the difference between the typical operating level, and the maximum operating level in an audio system. The maximum output level of a Digital Audible Workstation (DAW) is 0dB, though many DAWs have additional headroom built into the master fader which allows sound to be output between +3dBFS and +6dBFS. At Audible Studios, audiobook recordings are limited to a maximum peak of -3dB in order to leave headroom and avoid clipping (distortion caused by audio peaks exceeding 0dB). This limit allows for 3dB of headroom, leaving room for any surprise peaks that may occur when converting or exporting audiobooks to audible.com.
  • Limiter:  A type of compressor with a fast attack and release, and a fixed ratio of 20:1 or greater. The dynamic action effectively prevents the audio signal from rising above the output ceiling setting. See “Brickwall limiting” also.
  • Normalize:  The process of increasing all digital samples linearly, by the same amount, in order for the largest original sample to reach a given level, based on a peak or RMs value.

Which audiobook production terms do you think should be included in our glossary?

This Week in Links: September 30 – October 4

The end of the week means it’s once again time for our roundup of links from the online audiobook world. Informative and entertaining articles and videos abound for actors and authors, so get readin’ and join us next week for more audiobook excitement!

For Producers:

Hard To Believe… – Via Dave Courvoisier’s Voice Over Blog – 2013 is almost over, and Dave’s got a year-end checklist for voiceover actors.

…It’s the Principle of the Thing! – via Road To Introspection – Terry Daniels offers his perspective on the narrator as a small business.

Professional Home Recording Studio Tour, Advice, Tips, and Tricks – via Jordan Reynolds – Informative video tour of a professional home studio.

I’m The Original Voice Of SIRI – via CNN – The voice behind the iPhone’s virtual assistant is finally revealed.

For Rights Holders:

Writing A Series? Tips From A Superstar – Via CreateSpace – ACX author Bella Andre discusses the pros, cons, do’s and don’ts of writing a connected series.

Techniques and Tension in “Breaking Bad” – via Huff Post Books – “Any writer who wants to learn about the art of developing tension in a manuscript would do well to watch, and learn from, AMC’s Breaking Bad.” (Caution – spoilers within!)

Website Tips For Authors – via The Bookbaby Blog – BookBaby’s sister site, HostBaby, offers best-practices to smarten-up your online book marketing.

GalleyCat’s Freelance Editor Directory – via GalleyCat – “A free, automatically updated directory where editors can post their services and writers can seek freelance editors.”

Did you find some great audiobook related content this week? Leave your favorite links below!

Producer Advice from Kevin Pierce

ACX strives to help actors become entrepreneurs, by providing resources that allow voiceover actors to evolve into audiobook producers and marketers. Today we’ve got more advice from one of ACX’s chief entrepreneurs, Kevin Pierce. You may know Kevin as the producer with the most ACX titles available for sale on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Read on to find out how using ACX between other narration jobs turned into a deluge of audiobook production work.

Taking Care of Business

It was just about a year ago that I discovered ACX as I was looking for a way to “fill in the gap” between audiobook productions for another studio. Today, ACX is the source of most of my audiobook business.

For me, too much of the voiceover and narration business came in fits and starts — a flood and then an ebb. I was looking for a way to develop a steady flow of business.

In January, I jumped into ACX with both feet to find out whether I could make such a business of it — whether ACX was capable of supplying regular work at the volume I desired. Since then, I’ve been producing ACX titles non-stop, two to three finished hours per day, five or more days each week.

My ACX dashboard tells me I’m about to wrap up production on my 117th title through ACX. Roughly half of these were pay per-finished-hour, the other half were royalty-share. And of 300+ finished hours in my royalty-share portfolio, many have had an ACX production stipend. In a matter of just months, my royalty-share books have sold more than 5,000 copies and I’m adding new titles to the list every week. Just like a healthy stock portfolio, I have a few stellar performing titles and a couple handfuls of solid sellers that round things out.

Several things have helped:

  • ACX’s Title Search. Even when a project has my desired per-finished-hour rate or is a royalty share with production stipend, I only audition for those titles that I feel are right for my range and style. I can easily narrow down the 3,000 titles open for audition on ACX using the title search. And when projects are right, I audition for all of them.
  • Regular Communication. While the ACX system does a fine job of notifying rights-holders of next steps required of them the production process, I like to keep my rights-holders up to date on what’s going on in my production workflow.
  • Underpromise and overdeliver. At 2 to 3 finished hours per day, I can get through a project pretty quick. But by building some extra time in the production schedule to ensure nothing throws it off track, I often surprise rights-holders with an earlier-than-expected delivery of their final project.

With the per-finished-hour books and ACX stipends which pay upon a production’s completion, and the royalty and bonus checks which come every month, ACX has become much more than a way to fill in a gap between productions, it has become a full-time flow of audiobook production and a full-time business.

How has ACX allowed you to take  control of your voiceover career?

This Week in Links: September 23 – 27

This week, we’ve got food for mouths big and small. First up is 37 bite-sized pieces of advice for authors and rights holders. Actors and producers, on the other hand, can chew on in-depth info on studio gear and the craft of narration.

Enjoy this week’s main course, and come back for next week’s menu of delicious audiobook information.

For Rights Holders:

5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews – via DBW – Bad reviews can happen to good authors. Here’s what to do about them.

5 Mistakes That Will Doom Any Self-Published Book – via Blue Ink Review – Advice on making sure your self-published book looks and feels professional.

5 Focal Points For Writers Reading Books – via Blood-Red Pencil – “We can all learn from the pitfalls and brilliance of other writers—learn what not to do, what didn’t work, and what did.”

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling – via The BookBaby Blog – Easily digestible tips from the masters of animated stories.

For Producers

How Lee Daniels’ The Butler Serves Audiobook Narrators – via Paul Alan Ruben’s “Audio Book Narrators” – Grammy winning audiobook producer/director offers his in-depth take on the movie’s lessons for narrators.

SomeAudioGuy on EWABS Podcast with George Whittam and Dan Lenard! – via East-West Audio Body Shop – Industry experts talk studios, microphones, and voiceover business.

E.G. Daily’s Voice Impresses, As Does Her Other Career As A Voice Actor – via The Huffington Post – Voice actor of Rugrats and The Powerpuff Girls excels as a singer on The Voice.

Did you see any great links this week? Tell us below!

This Week in Links: September 16 – 20

This week’s link will appeal to all 5 of your senses. See the faces behind your favorite carton voices. Get a taste of a professional audiobook recording studio. Feel the paradox of the modern writer. Hear how an action star can help you pump up your social media pages. And don’t forget to stop and smell the roses as you follow your career path.

Engage your senses with our weekly links roundup, and check back with us next week for more audiobook goodness!

For Producers:

The Art of Seeing Things Differently – via Voice of Wisdom – Advice on staying interested & motivated in your career.

Breaking Into Audiobooks – via Brick Shop Audiobooks – Voice actors in the NY area should check out this audiobook seminar from this Audible Approved studio

ACX Studio Gear Series Part 2: DAWs – via The ACX Blog – Check out our rundown of the most popular DAWs on the market, as well as the discuccion in the comments.

I Know That Voice! – Here’s another great looking movie about the voiceover industry. This documentary looks at the unseen actors behind your favorite animated characters.

For Rights Holders:

The Vin Diesel School of Facebook – via Duolit – The SelfPub Team tells us how to grow your Facebook page as big as the action star’s muscles.

Hugh Howey’s ‘DUST’: The Cleverest Book Promotion I’ve Seen In Years – via Bestseller Labs – Draw marketing inspiration from the ACX authors successful strategies.

In Conversation With Neil Gaiman – via Book Riot – An in-depth interview with one of our favorite authors and the curator of the Neil Gaiman Presents audiobook label.

The Great Paradoxes of Writing – via Creative Writing with the Crimson League – Musings on the contradictory life of a writer.

Share your favorite links from this week below!

ACX Studio Gear Series Part 2: DAWs

We’re back with the next entry in our ACX Studio Gear series! We covered microphones and preamps in part 1, and today we’ll get into the recording software that you’ll use in conjunction with that hardware, as well as provide the pros and cons of some of the most popular options.

DAW Things Considered

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and we like the definition and history provided by Sweetwater:

[DAWs] are typically defined as having some ability to record, manipulate, and play back audio recordings or samples. In their early days DAWs were primarily considered editing stations. Material was taken from the primary recording media (usually tape) and dumped into one of these systems for editing, and then returned to the original media for the remainder of the project. Nowadays DAW’s can act as an entire recording studio with all mixing, processing, and mastering on one computer.

What To Buy

There are many DAWs available for purchase, and choosing the right one can feel overwhelming. It’s important to remember that many of these programs are created with music recording in mind, and you likely won’t need all the bells and whistles for your voiceover work.

Andrew Grathwohl, ACX‘s newest Audio Production Coordinator, has some advice on what to keep in mind when choosing a DAW:

The most important aspect of a DAW is that it is easy and efficient to use. It is wise to avoid any software that will eat away at your productivity. It’s also important to pick software with your workflow in mind. Some programs offer a lot of flexibility at the expense of ease of use, and others offer a straight-forward user experience at the expense of customization. If you’re the kind of person that likes to learn all of the shortcut keys to your programs and customize the layout of the various windows, you will likely prefer a different DAW than a person who likes a more intuitive experience.

With that in mind, lets go over the pros and cons of some of the more popular DAWs:

GarageBand by Apple

GarageBand_Logo

The Good

The Bad

  • Free to those who own Mac.
  • The interface is easy to learn and use.
  • Mac only.
  • Doesn’t include any of the tools you’ll need to master your recordings (a requirement for ACX).
  • Unlike some of the other DAWs we cover below, you can’t download any plugins to get around this.
The Verdict: Skip it.

Audacity (Open Source)

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The Good

The Bad

  • Free.
  • Available for Mac OS X and Windows.
  • Open source, so any software programmer can modify and improve the program for future versions.
  • Easy to lean and use (here’s a free, comprehensive online tutorial).
  • Doesn’t come with the ability to master your audio, though you can download VST plugins to get around this (see the bottom of this post for recommended plugins).
  • Does not have the ability to measure RMS values or peaks.
  • Saves files in .aup format, so you’ll need an encoder (like LAME) to convert to .mp3 format (another ACX requirement).
The Verdict: Decent basic software that will get the job done. Good for those on a very tight budget who are willing to do a little more work to get results.

Reaper by Cockos

reaper

The Good

The Bad

  • Low price ($60-$225, depending on which license you qualify for).
  • Free, “no risk” evaluation period.
  • Known for having a robust user community to support newbies and those who run into trouble.
  • Comprehensive program with many options that can be overwhelming for beginners.
  • Lack of dedicated audio editing window.
  • Some design choices have been omitted, requiring users to try out the interface customization process whether they want to or not.
The Verdict: Reaper is a good, powerful, well priced option for audiobook recording. Their forums can be a great help for those new to self recording, editing and post production.

Audition by AdobeAudition

The Good

The Bad

  • Fully capable DAW available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
  • The newest version is now a 64-bit application, which can mean faster processing.
  • Much lower upfront cost ($19.99/month for the software and the Creative Cloud membership)
  • Ability to pay for the software only when needed
  • Includes 20GB of cloud based storage.
  • You do not own a copy of Audition; $19.99/month only buys you a license to use the software for that month.
  • Your monthly payments will eventually eclipse the one time fee you would pay for other software on this list.
  • You have to depend on Adobe’s pricing policy; with other software you can choose not to upgrade if the cost is too high – you can work with your older version for many years. Creative Cloud requires you to pay for the subscription no matter how high the price rises.
The Verdict: The software itself will surely meet your audiobook production needs. The way you feel about Adobe Creative Cloud will determine if this DAW is right for you.

SoundForge by Sony

Soundforge

The Good

The Bad

  • Has all of the tools needed to master your audio, as well as perhaps the best noise reduction tool of any DAW on this list.
  • Allows for batch processing of files, which will save you time and effort when mastering.
  • Allows you to set custom keyboard commands.
  • User friendly and easy to learn (includes numerous “show me how” tutorials).
  • Mac version doesn’t include some of the most useful feature of the PC version (batch processing, customizable commands).
  • Uses a large amount of system resources.
  • At $400, it’s one of the most expensive DAWs on this list.
The Verdict: This software is user friendly and powerful, as long as you’re not on a Mac. Many of Audible Studios’ in-house editors use this to edit and master audiobooks. A good choice, if you can afford it.

WaveLab by Steinberg

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The Good

The Bad

  • Available for Mac OS X and Windows.
  • Among the most stable DAWs available.
  • Versatile license (can be installed on any number of different computers with only one license).
  • Capable of batch processing.
  • High learning curve.
  • Fairly complicated to use and not recommended for newbies.
  • Uses a large amount of system resources, so a powerful computer is required.
  • Tends to work best when paired with other high end audio hardware.
  • Expensive – new licenses cost $500.
The Verdict: A very powerful piece of software that, due to the price and learning curve, is best suited for seasoned pros.

ProTools by Avid

ProTools EX

The Good

The Bad

  • A powerful DAW that will work with Windows and Mac OS X.
  • Capable of meeting all of your audiobook recording, editing and post production needs.
  • Comes bundled with an Mbox, which will act as your preamp and audio interface.
  • Includes nearly all of the plugins needed to master your recordings.
  • ProTools Express doesn’t come with all the plugins you’ll need, specifically a brick wall limiter and noise reduction (though the full, more expensive version does).
  • One of the more expensive options on this list, though it does include the Mbox.
  • The availability of many different versions of ProTools may confuse users when making a purchase.
The Verdict: The linked Mbox and ProTools Express is, at $499, a good deal for someone setting up a studio who is in need of both a DAW and a preamp/interface.

Bonus Plugin Recommendations

Should you decide to go with one of the DAWs listed above as not coming bundled with some of the plugins needed to master your audiobooks, we’ve got  links to free plugins you can download, courtesy of Audible Studios Post Production Associate Darren Vermaas:

Acoustica Kjaerhus Classics Bundle – Includes a great EQ and Compressor for the low cost of nothing.  PC only.  (Note that the limiter included with this bundle is not good for your audiobook needs, as it doesn’t have output ceiling control.)

Audio Damage Rough Rider CompressorHas everything you need in a compressor, and it’s free! Mac and PC versions available.

4Front Technologies W1 LimiterCapable brick wall limiter for Mac and PC (Note – not compatible with ProTools/AAX)

Now that we’ve provided a roundup of some of the most popular options, you can make an informed decision as to which best fits your budget and needs. Keep your eyes peeled for part 3 in our series, which will cover home studio setup, coming soon!

What’s your DAW of choice? Why?