The Audiobook Recording
Have you ever wondered how audiobooks are made? And how to create an audiobook from scratch? How the voice is chosen? If they record it all in one sitting? If the author chooses the voice?
Maybe you’re interested in recording your own voice for an audiobook. Or, maybe you’re a publisher or author who would just like to know how we go about creating an audiobook. Well, whether these are your reasons or you’re just nosey, then all this and more will be discussed in our blog today.
Audio Content Creation
When we get approached by a publisher or author to make an audiobook, the first thing we must do is read the book.
This process for audiobook production is to read the book start to finish. This can take anything from three to five days. But, as well as reading the book, we also mark it up and make notes of all the characters, accents, pronunciations etc.
This is really important because reading the book will give us a good idea on which voice would be most suitable to cast.
It is also necessary for us to fully understand the story and characters ourselves. Because we will be supervising the narrator, so we need to know all the details of the story.
When editing, it’s important that we make an audiobook that we understand, so knowing the storyline is vital. Things like who the characters are, what is the story arc and how can we create this sound with the voice. This research is vitally important.
Sometimes when we read a book, you hear the voice in your head as you’re panning across the words on the page. You almost hear the audio version before you cast the voice.
However, it’s not always ideal to just cast one voice. When you create an audiobook some actors may initially agree to it, and then have to cancel due to filming projects being moved forward. Plus, even though we may love the voice, the publisher and or author may not be so keen. So, ideally, it’s best to showcase up to three voices.
When choosing the audiobook narrator, there are 3 important things to consider:
1). Voice style: The style of a voice has a big impact on the characterisation. We must consider whether their voice is gentle, strong, comical, serious etc.
2). Genre: Some narrators may be more accustomed to the style of specific genres e.g. sci-fi, romance, historical, murder mystery etc.
3). Accents: The narrator should be able to adapt to appropriate accents for the characters. Some narrators may not be able to put on various accents but are very skilled in their native accent.
Audiobooks are narrated by voices that can act out characters, but this isn’t just any old acting gig. Usually, within fiction, actors will be the narrator as well as all the many characters in the book, requiring multiple voices, ages, accents and personalities. The audiobook version of a book should bring the story to life.
This can be hard to do, even for veteran actors. As you have to maintain laser sharp concentration and stay perfectly still throughout the audiobook narration.
⇒ THE HARD TRUTH!
Not Everyone Can Create An Audiobook…
Or Even Read One.
Over the years we’ve worked with many actors who have realised it’s just not for them.
We have even seen some authors, especially those writing non-fiction attempt to record their own books. However, some change their minds very quickly, where as others find they have a natural talent and discipline for the work involved.
This is mainly because of the strict concentration and long days in the voice-over booth.
Even the most confident professional voice actor can feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of characters as well as the solitude and pressure of performing in front of a lone microphone. It really does test your lyrical metal to the max.
But WHY? Surely these people are trained actors and this is part of what they do?
Recording audiobooks requires a very specific skill set. Some actors have it, some don’t. Listed below is three of the biggest pitfalls that face new narrators.
1). Sight reading: Some actors really struggle with sight-reading and are used to learning lines or short monologues. To make an audiobook, they are required to read an entire book of different characters and scenes which can be a hard task. One that some actors just don’t feel comfortable with.
2). Microphone skills: Most actors stand on a stage or in front of a camera surrounded by other actors, film crews and a team of other people. To record audiobooks, it is just you and the microphone and this can be intimidating. You need to know how to read into a microphone and keep perfectly still whilst changing characters.
Movement of any kind creates noise on the microphone. And noise of any kind can detract from what’s being said in the book. But projection is also really important. If you speak too quietly people will miss what you’ve said, too loudly and we’ll be doing re-takes all day.
3). Confidence: The fast-pace character changes that are required when you make an audiobook does not always come easy. It’s not like reading a radio advert where you get 6 or 7 goes at reading one line. Plus, having an audio engineer present in the recording can sometimes add more pressure, because they are listening out for your mistakes.
Audiobooks can be anything between 50,000 and 130,000 words. If you’re getting stuck on words and want to re-read sections again and again, then the whole job can take ten times longer. Meaning, the job ends up costing more money to produce.
Now, whether you are good at sight reading or not, by the end of the day you will feel exhausted. Audiobook producers will always allow for breaks and lots of character changes. But, if you consistently struggle to get through every page, the whole process can become excruciatingly slow.
And, because you’re reading for long periods of time, your throat and back will start to hurt. Your brain will feel fried and you will probably not feel like talking until the next day.
Plus, spending the whole day in a voice-over booth with the occasional interruption to tell you that you’ve made a mistake may not be the best way to massage your ego. Still interested?
3). Get professional feedback – Find a local producer who you respect that will record your voice and give you some constructive feedback. If they feel your voice is good enough, then consider reading your own audiobook. But if you’ve struggled doing 30 minutes, it maybe worth leaving it to the experts.
Creating The Audio Version Of The Book
‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’.
Once the audiobook narrator has been decided on, both ourselves and the voice artist annotate the manuscript, discuss accents, consider how to translate the written tone and emotion into an audio format, and we may even experiment with some characterisation.
How Do You Annotate The Manuscript?
Actors will write symbols to remind them when to change accents or intonation for a specific character. And may also colour code certain text. They will circle exclamation points and question marks so that they don’t reach the end of the sentence and suddenly realise they should have sounded more excited or inquisitive.
It could be helpful to draw a line under a paragraph to remind themselves to pause before the next sub-section. If you’re using an iPad and annotating a script on Word document, then Microsoft have editing in-built within their App. But a great one that most people use in our industry is called iAnnotate. We believe there’s an App for it on Apple and other smart devices.
How Much Preparation Is Required?
The preparation may look different depending on the narrator but it is safe to say that all narrators benefit from knowing their characters and storyline well before they start recording.
Planning and preparation can save time during the recording as narrators are then more prepared and make less mistakes.
So, a good full read of the entire book is a must. Plus, if we’re working directly with an author, we’ll ask for a full list of all the characters, including ages, accents etc.
Why Is So Much Preparation Important?
Consistency. The characters, narration, and pronunciation must all be consistent throughout the book. If, for example there is a character with the name, Tomás, English speakers would pronounce this differently than Spanish or Welsh speakers, so the narrator and author would need to decide on one pronunciation. This is often overlooked by a lot of self recording voice actors. Which is the main benefit of having a professional producer.
If there isn’t consistency, it could sound like a completely different character. Something which is often overlooked by publishers, let alone authors.
So, before we book a recording day, it’s important that all the necessary preparation has been completed and agreed on with the publisher or author.
Listed below actor Richard Armitage explains his process on how he prepares for narrating audiobooks.
The Audiobook Production
Once all of the prior preparation has been done we can now comfortably invite our lovely narrator into the recording space to start recording the audiobook.
Setting Up The Recording Studio
We prepare the recording equipment and the recording software so that everything is set up for when the narrator arrives, so that they can start recording straight away. Preparation always helps to ensure a smooth process on the day.
PRO TIP: We don’t ever use a pop filter. The mic is always raised above the mouth by about 6/7 inches and is slightly turned away from the lips. When the voice then reads the script from their iPad or computer they usually look downward slightly. So, you should never have pops on your microphone. Especially if this is set up correctly.
But why? Why are we not using a pop filter? Quite simply, the mic will still pop if the mic is directly in front of you. And, using a pop filter will always block the view to the script. So, reset your mic and seating arrangements and see how it improves your talent’s delivery.
Our recording studio is acoustically treated and a sound proofed environment. Meaning, you record your audiobook in the perfect aesthetic location. With soft sound proofed walls and ceilings and mood lighting. The voice is then perfectly set up for a day of recording audio in a relaxed environment. All of this preparation and recording equipment ensures a high quality audiobook.
Once they are seated comfortably in the recording booth, annotated story and a glass of water to hand, the recording begins! Yes, there is a brief chat with the audiobook producer and a bit of microphone adjustment, but the recording begins almost immediately.
The recording process results in finished audio files which are then ready for editing and mixing.
How Long Does An Audiobook Take To Record?
The average book of around 80,000 words takes anything from 3 to 5 days to record in full. And some sentences or paragraphs may have to be re-recorded if there is a mistake that both the producer and narrator miss during recording. However, these are usually recorded after the book is edited, and are known as pickups.
Even experienced narrators will expect to return to the recording studio at a later time to re-record and ensure top quality audio and an accurate story.
Surely it’s a nice afternoon reading a book with a cuppa?
It is the ultimate multi-tasking challenge: reading ahead, keeping a steady pace, remembering which voice to use for which character, keeping your voice smooth and strong, accurately following the script and sitting perfectly still. What it isn’t is a quiet afternoon reading with a cuppa. It is a brain workout!
Does this brain workout mean I get brain breaks?
We take breaks often. Narrating is mentally exhausting, with a high level of concentration. And, the voice needs a break or else it can become strained and tired. This also gives the narrator a chance to stretch their legs and relax.
Surely the voice can move around whilst creating a character?
When recording an audiobook version of a book title, the voice is encouraged to stay absolutely still. They cannot be physically animated for their characterisation because the mic will pick up movement noises.
To help ensure the voice actor doesn’t move or make too much noise, we set up an iPad for them to read from, a much quieter option than turning pages in a book. The best quality audiobook will have no sign of a narrator shuffling around.
If the narrator is doing all the work, can the producer just take a break?
When we create an audiobook we don’t just let the voice do all the work on their own. The audio engineers will follow along with the story as they read, watch out for mistakes, make sure the audiobook narrator keeps a steady pace, and offer them a break if they feel their voice is tiring.
Most importantly, the audio engineer is there to also support them during the recording. Keep their spirits up, offer words of encouragement and sometimes advice on how to handle certain challenges. Like, tricky words, characters and pronunciations.
Editing: Creating A Well Produced Audiobook
The fun part! Editing the audiobook files once the narrator has done their job, is also known as a clinical clean, especially if you want to get a high quality audio production. The fine tuning of the sound to get a high quality audio book is absolutely imperative.
For this process we bring in all of the audio files together and start working through each chapter one at a time. If you’re a narrator who’s self recording, then this is probably a job you want to pass onto an editor. A separate set of ears and eyes will hear everything you missed.
What do you use to edit audiobooks?
Everybody has their own workstation, but we work on an editing software called Pro Tools, which enables us to create quick, reliable fast edits.
We use an iPad to read along with the recording and if a word is omitted or said incorrectly we need to make a note of it. The author doesn’t want the audio to be different from what they have taken the time to carefully write. So every word has to be checked and double checked.
What are you listening out for when you edit an audiobook?
We listen carefully for ‘clicks’ and ‘pops’. The voice can accidentally make these sounds very easily (especially if their voice is tired). The average listener might not hear these little sounds, but we clean up everything to the highest standards.
Even if no one else notices, we make sure the job sounds as good as possible. When we create an audiobook we listen out for other little sounds as well: unnecessary breaths, coughs, stutters, foot tapping, scratching etc. And anything that makes the background noise of the recording sound odd or stand out.
We also add natural silences where there might not have been, fades and make sure the narrator doesn’t speak too quickly by spacing out the narration so it’s clear, concise and at a steady pace with consistent character intonation.
How Important Is Editing An Audiobook?
To make an audiobook, there is a lot of careful concentration that goes into delivering the highest quality of audio to potential listeners. Audiobook listeners do not want to hear characters names pronounced wrongly or the sound of the narrator moving around and muffling what’s being said.
Editing is also the part where we double check everything. In some respects it’s quality control, where we make the final checks to any words, noises and mistakes.
What happens if you find mistakes that you can’t edit or clean up?
We reserve time for what’s known as pickups. It’s a recording day that is planned after we’ve edited everything. We invite the voice actor back in for an hour to read any mistakes. Then after this is completed, we update the entire production with the new changes.
What happens once the whole audiobook production is recorded and edited?
We master each chapter and make sure that all recording levels meet with audio submission requirements, which is -23dB and -18dB RMS. We also prepare one retail audio clip up to five minutes long, this retail audio sample is then used on the broadcast channel, be it Audible or Apple Books to promote the said audiobook.
This sample is not allowed to use any expletives, and usually doesn’t include chapter titles. The broadcast platforms are where you make your audiobook sales, so it’s an important final stage of the process.
How long does it take to complete an audiobook?
It’s based on how many words are in the book. But it usually takes 3 to 5 days to record a book of about 80,000 words and then another 14 to 21 days to edit it. But, prior to the recording there’s at least a week or two where you need to read and make notes on the book.
So, a good estimate is probably around 6 weeks, that said it’s always important to have a contingency plan for any delays, so a good estimate is probably 8 weeks.
How much does it cost to produce an audiobook?
Usually, audiobook producers will charge you based on the complete finished hours of the book. This cost usually includes everything, the studio time, voice costs and editing and mastering. Remember, this is not a small job. This is a huge undertaking of a long form production that can take many weeks and even months to produce.
Everyone tends to charge different prices, but a good guide price in the UK would be between £250 and £500 per full finished hour. The price may be more or less based on a few variables. The talent who is reading the book, how long the book is and if there’s any special effects or music being included in the audio.
As an example, if your book was 5 hours long and the price was £250 per finished hour, the full price would be £1,250.
If you contact a producer like ourselves, make sure you tell them how many words are in the book. Then they’ll be able to provide you with a realistic guide price for producing the audiobook.
Do I need cover art for my audiobook?
Yes, cover art for an audiobook captures the essence of the story, and reflects the mood of the book. The title and author’s name should be prominent and easy to read with a good image that sums up the story. The cover should be memorable too. Think about how the cover will look in different sizes and formats, such as online, physical, and promotional materials. Research other audiobooks in the same genre to see what elements are usually used. Try to make something unique that stands out, but also fits in with the genre. In the past we’ve worked with Martin at illuminati Design. But you may wish to create your own cover yourself.
Do you help with the distribution of the audiobook?
Normally, all publishers have their own distribution channels set up. However, some independent authors and smaller publishers may only publish the odd audiobook a year.
So, we would happily point them in the right direction and provide all necessary information for the best way to publish the audiobook. The publishing process is the easy bit, it’s just deciding where you want the book to be sold. Be it Audible or other broadcast platforms like Apple Books.
The finished audiobook is ready to download onto your phone or electronic device. Available from all major platform channels like Audible, Apple Books and many more. Make sure you allow for another two to three weeks for the audiobook to filter through onto all the channels.
Over the years we are very proud to have worked on hundreds of audiobooks. Hopefully this blog has explained our process and what’s involved if you came to ourselves or decided to record and create an audiobook.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog, plus if we can be of any further help on a future audiobook, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.
If you have further questions about this blog, then feel free to comment below.