Articles

Welcome to the ACA repository of helpful and interesting articles. WE aim to build a complete and thorough library of articles covering all aspects of the audiobook world, from editing and production techniques, to vocal advice and help with business affairs. If you have an article you think would be of interest to our community and are a member then please feel free to 'Add Post' and upload your amazing words (and pics!). If you aren't a member but have something you think would be of interest to our members, please get in touch and we'd love to talk.

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  • 7 Apr 2020 10:38 PM | Helen Lloyd

    I am sure that any of you who have profiles on Findaway Voices will be as appalled by the news that DeepZen (a British Company) has, in partnership with Findaway, brought the AI narrated audiobook a step closer, The first voice synthesised audiobooks were due to be proudly launched at The London Book Fair (which was cancelled), but they are now out there as the press release 'The Future of Audiobooks is AI' proudly boasts.

    These first publications are not truly AI, buy synthesised voices - whether harvested from unwitting narrators who have no idea that their voices have been stolen, or from people who have actually given permission, I have no idea, but either way, particularly at this moment, when studios have been forced to close and the industry is struggling to bring books to audio under social distancing rules, this development is doubly worrying.  I sincerely hope Equity and ACA will contact Findaway to express their concern.

    I have written to Findaway asking them to remove my profile from their website with immediate effect - and urge others to do the same.

    https://literallypublicrelations.wordpress.com/2020/03/02/the-future-of-audiobooks-is-ai/


    Helen.


     

  • 20 Mar 2020 10:07 PM | Helen Lloyd

    As expected APAC 2020 has been cancelled. I am putting together plans  for a virtual gathering and webinar for attendees in the UK. So if you were registered for APAC and I haven't already contacted you via Facebook, please ping me a message via my Facebook Page. Just search Helen Lloyd Audio.

    Thanks


    Helen



  • 14 Mar 2020 3:10 PM | Helen Lloyd

     An annual payment perk for audiobook narrators - Not to mention authors, illustrators, print editors, and even ghostwriters! 

    Every time anyone borrows a physical copy of a book (or an audiobook version on CD) from a public library in the UK or Ireland, the Public Lending Right comes into force and the majority of the creatives involved are paid a small fee every time a book to which they have contributed is taken out.  For audiobook narrators, the amount per book is small, but if a book is particularly popular and is borrowed regularly, it can amount to a tidy sum. So, if you haven't already registered yourself on the PLR site, then this information may be useful.

    The UK PLR scheme is administered by the British Library from its offices in Boston Spa. The PLR office also provides registration for the Irish PLR scheme on behalf of the Public Lending Remuneration office.

    Over 22,000 writers, illustrators, photographers, narrators, translators and editors who have contributed to books lent out by public libraries in the UK receive PLR payments each year. To qualify for payment, applicants must apply to register their books, audio-books, Ebooks and E-audio-books including downloads from platforms other than Audible who do not subscribe to the scheme.

    If you have contributed to a book which is lent out by public libraries in the UK and the Republic of Ireland and wish to apply to register for UK and Irish PLR schemes, There is a huge amount of information and guidance provided when you sign up for PLR on the website - here are the basics.

    Step 1 - Signing up to the PLR website

    Under the PLR system in the UK, payment is made from government funds to authors, illustrators and other contributors whose books are borrowed from public libraries. Payments are made annually on the basis of loans data collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK. The Irish Public Lending Remuneration (PLR) system covers all libraries in the Republic of Ireland and operates in a similar way.

    Applicants can find the relevant information required to register their titles, for example, the ISBN number and what format the book is, on their Royalty statement - or for audiobook narrators, by searching for their narrations on Amazon.co.uk, to find which are published as CD copies. Digital downloads from Audible are not eligible for payment.

    So, the first thing is to register online via The British Library website, www.bl.ul/plr

    You will be given access to register your titles with a personal login and password - you'll then see a form onto which you register eligible titles one by one.

    Step 2 - Find out which audiobooks are eligible.

    The next thing is to find out which audiobooks are released on CD - not all are - and some are initially only available on Audible as a digital download, but may subsequently be released on CD, so you need to check a couple of times a year just to make sure. You can find this out on Amazon.co.uk. Audible is not part of the scheme, so only audiobooks available outside Audible are eligible. Audiobook loans from libraries in any of these formats are eligible to be included in the scheme.

    • CD.
    • Cassette
    • MP3 Playaways (pre-loaded MP3 players which contain a single audio-book title – customer supplies headphones and battery)
    • MP3CD – (unabridged audio-books which can be played on home computers)
    • CD Roms which are the equivalent of a printed book produced in CD Rom format (eg a narrated version of a book or a pdf version of an ebook produced in CD Rom format)

    The following materials qualify for registration (if they are issued with ISBNs), however will not receive a payment (as they are subject to the same copyright law restrictions as ebooks):

    • .Digital download 
    • .Audio download
    • .E-Audio

    The following audio materials do not qualify for registration:

    • Amazon Audible downloads (digital downloads issued with ASINs)
    • Dramatisations of TV or radio shows or audio material based on TV and radio shows which just contain actors performing their role with no narration in between
    • Recordings of conversations, speeches, interviews and comedy sketches
    • Interactive/Multimedia CD Roms which require additional software or interactive content in order to use the material. Under the terms of the scheme, this type of material is not deemed to be the equivalent of a printed book (eg software providing interactive access to teaching materials)

    So ... if you've recorded an eligible book that is for example available on CD then search Amazon using the book title. If it's available on CD, that information will be on the page. Click on the Audio CD tab on the books listing page: this will take you to the next page which gives details of the CD - including - right at the bottom of the CD information page, the ISBN numbers - for example: ISBN-10: 1250221129 or ISBN-13: 978 -1250221124

    You can use either ISBN-10 or ISBN-13 numbers to register the title.

    Step 3 - enter the information into your PLR profile

    Next you need to enter the relevant information onto your personal PLR profile page. You list the ISBN number, the book title, the name of the publisher, the year published and finally what percentage you are due to be paid. Narrators get 20% payment - payments are made annually in February for the entire previous year running from June to June.


  • 27 Feb 2020 12:51 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    I thought this might be of interest to some members:

    "If you are looking for a studio to hire in central Manchester, for any of your production needs, Reform Radio has recently launched Podcasting With Purpose. Our studios are broadcast standard, ideally located for transport links, and available at a very competitive rate. A non-profit station and social enterprise, all profits go back into our social mission, supporting young and vulnerable people into employment around Manchester."

    For more information, please visit:

    https://www.reformradio.co.uk/podcasting

    or email:

    podcasts@reformradio.co.uk


  • 18 Feb 2020 6:25 PM | Helen Lloyd

    Do you wonder whether your audio quality is as good as it can be? The audio quality I hear in some recording studios is a little dodgy at times - and I know that those of us who work remotely from personal studios are always keen to ensure that our audio quality is as near perfect as possible.

    Now, one of the best audio engineers and producers in the business, Don Baarns, who is widely known amongst those of us who frequent Audiobook related groups on LinkedIn and Facebook as being an expert in iZotope RX and other audio software, is offering his EXPERT EARS to review and evaluate recordings. You simply upload an audio clip of up to two minutes, and specify whether its audiobook, VO or Podcast, and Don willl analyse, review and report back on your audio quality. This is a fantastic opportunity from a generous and knowledgeable colleague ... currently this is free - so get in quick!  Just click EXPERT EARS

  • 13 Nov 2019 1:11 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    One of the ACA's first manifesto aims is to get publishers to adopt the use of a general prep/information sheet.  Who knows the inner most secrets and details of a new book? Yes the author and/or editor.  Key information that a narrator needs to know could and should be easy to compile and made available without the narrator or producer having to reach out for help.

    Our aim is to have this form become a key part of the commissioning process. At the point a title is commissioned for audio, the form is sent to the author/editor and they fill it out and it is returned to the narrator/producer IN ADVANCE of the prep time set aside.

    Please take a look and let us know your thoughts. The draft version can be found here:

    GOOGLE DRIVE LINK


  • 14 Feb 2019 3:50 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    Money, money, money...must be funny, right?! We love it, we hate it...we simply can't live without it. In the #audiobook world, the issue of fees is a fascinating and controversial one. Few people openly talk about fees, yet EVERYONE in the industry whispers about it, complains about it, queries it and tries to work it all out. Over the last year or so, the issue of narrator fees has become more and more prevalent in audiobook discussion groups, forums and pub chats. How much do you charge? Are there guideline prices? Why is such-and-such a company only offering so much? All good questions, and all deserving of simple, clear answers.

    HOWEVER...whilst unions such as Equity, and private organisations such as Gravy For The Brain are able to offer a basic guideline for audiobook fees, there is as yet no truly one-size-its-all set of guidelines for those working in the UK industry (how different things are in the USA!) And consider this...if fees are such a tough topic for narrators, with their union and groups to lobby on their behalf...what about the technical people? Who represents their needs when it comes to fees and payments? This is one of the reasons I launched the AUDIOBOOK CREATORS ALLIANCE in 2018...a single co-operative group that would represent the needs of narrators AND producers, engineers, editors, proofers, etc... We all find fees a struggle, so why not work together to get our voices heard?

    Let's get back to narrator fees. In a recent Facebook group discussion, I saw reference being made to a specific production house known for paying/offering low fees, and that it was believed that they no doubt paid their technical people higher fees because that's just the way things are. Hmmm? Well, I don't know of course, as I don't run that company, but I suspect I know who they are talking about and I would be shocked if they paid their technical staff higher fees (in 30 years being a technical person, I've NEVER been paid more than the talent, and NEVER found an employer who truly valued their technical staff). But then it dawned on me that no-one has openly revealed the costs of being a production house/third-party studio, and it is therefore easy for others in the industry to suspect we are the ones hoarding the dragon's gold (I promise you, we are not!)

    So, I'm going to break with tradition and show you the money...the reality of what we get from the publisher and how it breaks down. CAVEAT: this is what I get paid and what I pay (approx.) and I hope this is standard across the industry but I cannot guarantee it. Here we go:

    • We get paid, on average, £230 per finished hour to produce an audiobook
    • So a title that, once edited, is 10hrs long, earns us £2300
    • We pay narrators between £75 and £85pfh on average - so let's say for this title the narrator earns £80pfh x 10hrs = £800

    That leaves me with £1500 to pay the following:

    • Studio Cost (% of monthly rent, rates, costs, etc...) - £200 per day x 2.5 days = £500
    • Producer Fee - £120 per day x 2.5 days = £300
    • Editor Fee - £45pfh x 10hrs = £450
    • Proofer Fee - £10pfh x 10hrs = £100 (yes, proofers really get the sh***y end of the fees stick!)

    That adds up to £1350. Which leaves me £150 as a profit margin, which I have to use to cover business costs, accounting fees, subsistence, etc...

    So, as I hope you can see, no-one on the creative side of this industry is earning 'the big bucks' that journalists so love to tell us audiobooks are worth. I would LOVE to pay narrators, editors, producers and proofers a higher rate, but unless publishers offer us a better pfh rate, I simply cant do it. And that's when we even get the £230pfh rate. Some clients only pay £200pfh (I have even heard of £175pfh!)....admittedly this is rare, and may be linked to 'bulk deals' (only really works if EVERYONE involved gets all the work, otherwise the individual line item costs remain the same). There are also times when a book is extremely complex and the narrator requires a higher rate due to the sheer amount of specialised prep required, or we as the studio hire an expert to offer help with pronunciations or fine details - these can add upwards of £250 in costs, and then there goes the profit margin, and we are in loss!

    There is definitely money in audiobooks in the UK, not nearly as much as there is in the US though. Should we be getting paid more? Across the board I think we should. A small increase to £250pfh would allow studios to pay narrators a bit more, as well as editors, proofers, etc...

    And what should narrators be charging? Well, we hit a split here between studio narrators, and those who do home recording, and those who also do the first-pass editing. We are all our own business and have the right to charge whatever we please. Equally, the publishers have the right to pay what they want...unlike the US, we simply can't put in place required fee structures (more's the pity - who would have thought the US would be more socialist than the UK on such issues?!). But for me, from my experience, my guideline rates would be:

    • Narration Only (studio) - £70pfh min (first few books) up to £85pfh for experienced narrators
    • Narration Only (home) - £75pfh min
    • Narration + First Edit (home) - £90-100pfh min

    But of course, it is up to you. Don't lose out on a job because you are pushing for too much money...but do keep in mind the whole industry and try not to push down rates for the rest of us. The ACA will be pushing hard for fees and rates issues to be more publicly discussed in 2019...and that's for EVERYONE! We have to stop the slide into lower overall budgets, just in order to release more titles! Let's keep people employed and quality high. The UK audiobook industry is famous for it's quality products, and I for one and proud of it!

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and independent audiobook publisher Spokenworld Audio. He has 30 years experience in radio and audio, is an international award-winning producer/director/writer and loves nothing more than making audio for all ages. He is also an Earphones Award-winning audiobook narrator, as well as a sound designer and author. In summer 2018 he founded the Audiobook Creators Alliance.

    www.ladbrokeaudio.com / www.spokenworldaudio.com


  • 27 Sep 2018 3:17 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    Hello…I’m Mike R. Fone, your friendly neighbourhood microphone. You know, the super-gorgeous slab of metallic loveliness you spend so much time in front of. We spend a lot of quality time together, and I reckon we’re friends, right? So I’ve got a few insights to share with you…considering it bonding time!

    [1] Don’t Stand So (Close To Me)

    I love our time together, really I do, but you really don’t have to be quite so close to me. I’ve got some mad skills and can hear you and your gorgeous voice without you needing to be stroking your lips up against my grill (can’t blame you, I am rather gorgeous!) A good rule-of-thumb is to be a hand’s length away from me, and to be speaking just under me. When you need to do a spot of shouting, back off a bit and turn slightly off to one side. And when you need to whisper…well, just whisper…you really don’t need to lean in and caress me like that. If you lean in, you get louder and warmer…which sounds a bit odd, really!

    [2] Say It, Don’t Spray It

    I love a good rainy day, but airborne moisture in the recording booth isn’t something I’m a fan of. We all love to accessorise, don’t we? So would you mind slipping a nice protective wind-shield on me, and add a lovely tasty pop shield an inch-or-so in front of me? Spittle on my delicate innards will damage me, and affect the quality of your vocal recordings. So it is always best to double-bag me…wind-shield AND pop-shield. The additional benefit is these help cut down on plosives too!

    [3] You’ve Got To (Not) Move It, Move It

    Now you may not know this, but I am TOTALLY AMAZING and I can hear so many things. You’d be shocked at some of things I’ve heard…but worry not, I can keep your secrets! But when you are using me to record, I have to let EVERYTHING through, and this means, and I hate to ask this of you, that you need to sit still and be as quiet as possible. You actor types can be so amazingly expressive using your bodies…but when I am switched on, you need to stop all that and sit on your hands! And don’t forget to think about what clothing you are wearing, the sort of seat you are sitting on, how the headphone cable is dangling, and what you feet are up to. I can hear ALL OF IT, and so it is worth keeping it in mind.

    [4] Cleanliness is Close to…

    Every time you come and see my I get the joy of seeing you all spruced up, clean and gorgeous…you are quite the beauty! So, every week, would you mind giving me a little scrub behind the capsule? Well, what I mean is grab a small disinfectant spray and give my wind-shield and pop shield a wee spritz and spray. I personally like a spray with a little perfume to it. This will keep everything fresh and safe and means I won’t become home for any nasty bugs or germs.

    [5] Plug-In Baby

    I do so love being plugged in, and there’s a whole heap of sexy boxes you can insert my jack into. But for every great-sounding amplifier, compressor, audio interface, there are also many bad ones. Not that the boxes themselves are necessarily bad, but you do need to do a little research to ensure my hot date is a good match! Whether you choose the digital ‘plug-ins’ route, or the old-school outboard gear route, ask around, get the facts and I guarantee I’ll be hooking up in a way that will make you happy.

    That’s your lot for now…I’ve got to pop back into the booth and have a few terse words with an XLR cable about offering a more balanced opinion on audio matters! I’ll be waiting for your next award-winning vocal session…you bring the voice and I’ll supply the signal chain!

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Mike R. Fone works exclusively in Studio 1 at Ladbroke Audio in Croydon for Neil Gardner.

    Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and independent audiobook publisher Spokenworld Audio. He has 30 years experience in radio and audio, is an international award-winning producer/director/writer and loves nothing more than making audio for all ages. He is also an Earphones Award-winning audiobook narrator, as well as a sound designer and author. In summer 2018 he founded the Audiobook Creators Alliance .


  • 24 Sep 2018 3:25 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    The #audiobook world is chock full of narrators, has a fair sprinkling of #studios, a plethora of #producers, an enigma of #editors and a panoply of #proofers. We are all here, heads down, creating amazing audiobook adventures. Noses to the audio grindstone, pickaxing our way through the veins of invaluable words. As a producer, I’ve written about some of the things I have had to deal with when working with narrators, and I’ve given oodles of advice regarding the dark arts of editing and mastering. But there’s a mysterious presence that looms above us all…an audiobook deity that blesses us with its beneficence. This almighty being (in fact it is a pantheon of such beings) chooses who shall live and who shall perish, who shall be showered in riches and who shall be left a pauper on the shores of audiobook deliverance. They are…THE PUBLISHERS…and they are an experience unto themselves.

    So, let’s have a little run through a few things that I, as a producer/studio owner/narrator hope the publishing gods already know, and if not, don’t mind being told about!

    [1] Working 9-5

    Ah, the dream of a salaried life, 5 days a week, a monthly pay-packet…or is it a nightmare? For the majority of us on the creative side of the industry, the freelance and small-business life is the day to day reality. We have all the fun of working for ourselves, and all the hell of trying to schedule multiple clients, titles, jobs, etc… When hiring us, even though we will do and say almost anything (really, try me!) to get the gig, publishers should remember that we aren’t selling our souls 24/7. We will agree to a schedule, but it would help if that schedule understood that we will be working on other jobs as well, we have lives, families, cats, etc… We don’t work all day every day. Weekends aren’t to be expected. We want to hit the deadline, but maybe publishers could get in touch a wee bit earlier…give us a squidge more time to prep…not leave the delivery of the final manuscript until the day before recording.

    [2] Always Be Prep-ared

    You know who knows the most about a specific title? The author! And then, presumably, the book editor. So, when planning an audiobook edition of a wondrous new release, would it not be the simplest of tasks for the publisher to ask the author/editor to knock up a quick one-sheet containing useful info for the narrator. You know, things like character info (names/pronunciations, accents, key info), place names (again, pronunciations), language (yes, again, pronunciations for those odd words, made-up languages, etc…) and important plot info (e.g. don’t reveal that character A at the start of the book is actually the murderer!) This is especially handy when a new narrator is brought in mid-series. They simply don’t have the time to go back through previous audiobooks to find out which accents/pronunciations were used. But you know who DOES know this info…yup, it’s those wonderful authors and editors.

    [3] Time (Changes Everything)

    Not working in a publishing office, I’m not sure how time works there, but in audiobook creative-land, time is a linear resource, one with a set of finite parameters. Prep takes time…no, really, it does. Hiring a narrator to read a 700 page book and giving them just one week to prep it really doesn’t lead to good audiobooks (or healthy narrators!) For a start, they are almost definitely working on another title (or more), so that week in advance of the recording dates are probably not free days just waiting to be filled by prep. Also, if there are questions that need to be asked of the author/editor, then time is needed for that process to take place. I’ve had narrators staying up until 3am prepping a title they are recording the following week, and arriving at my studio like zombies, making Herculean efforts to bring their A-game to the session that day. There will always be last-minute jobs, of course, but could more time for prep be built into the publishing schedule…possibly a standard 14 day window?

    [4] It’s Only Words (and Words Are All I Have)

    “Could you prep from this version of the script and then record from the final version later?” – and my heart drops through my body, out my shoes and oozes away into the gutter. Why? Why does this have to happen so often? Here’s an honest question…how fast is a book physically manufactured and delivered to shops? Audiobooks seem to be expected to be prepped and produced in terribly short amounts of time. Are the physical books turned around in equally short times? They very well may be…and I’ll shut up (honest!) But really, I know deadlines and schedules are complex beasts to tame, but couldn’t publishers ensure that the ONLY version of a script we work from is the final signed off version, and that we get it in good time…surely it must be possible (and yes, I did just call you Shirley!)

    [5] Typing My Way Back To You, Babe

    I call them opto-scans, but there may be some more official term for them. You know what I mean, pdfs based off of old titles, where someone has scanned in the pages. They are ‘muddy’ and covered in small blemishes. The font is fuzzy and requires 10th level paladin squinting skills. How I dream of a business, a company with experts in typography and layout…a magical place where people have the time and expertise to re-type such manuscripts into beautiful, modern documents, with easy-to-read fonts and double-spaced text. If only such companies existed….hint hint, nudge nudge, know what I mean?

    A.K.A. please help us save our eyesight…no more opto-scanned pdfs!

    [6] No Means No!

    No…we can’t and won’t record from the print copy. No. Just stop it. Walk away and have a good long think (and a coffee…we’re not monsters here!) You are a publisher…you MUST have an electronic copy somewhere.

    [7] Obeying Orders

    Could we do something about the whole Purchase Order thing? Does it really need a small army of geographically disparate accountants, working to some arcane law in multiple time-zones, invoking the Dark Lady of Invoicing (and Aggravatingly Precise Email Requirements) to get us a PO for the job we’ve just done? And with titles where we’ve agreed a fixed fee, can we not get the PO (or multiple POs if a series) in advance…that way saving time invoicing at the point of delivery…saving publishers the hassle of us pestering them for that oh-so-desperately-needed-moolah! We need it…soooo badly. We have mortgages to pay, kids to clothe, cats to buy toys for (which they will ignore and play with the packaging box instead). Anything publishers could do to ease the process of POs and invoicing would be likened to a cooling balm on a nasty sunburn! Oh, and it shouldn’t take 60-90 days to pay…especially if the money is owed to a studio, who in turn owes money to the producer, editor and proofer!

    [8] Please DO NOT Ask For Credit, As Refusal Often Offends

    Start at the start, and end at the end…wise words for all of us working in the audiobook world. Starts and ends are key moments, and need special, thrilling, often-legally required words. We are talking credits (or billboards if you prefer to be all trans-Atlantic about it)…say it loud, say it proud…WE MADE THIS! So when booking a title in for production, publishers should definitely think about what credits need to be recorded. Having standardised templates is always a fantastically useful thing for studios and narrators to have on hand, or supplied at point of booking. And with that said, why do UK credits rarely, if ever, name the producer, studio or editor? Many US credits at least name the producer/director and studio. Surely in such a creatively co-operative industry we should name those involved in creating the end-product? We seem to have somehow adopted the odd BBC theory that listeners aren’t interested in hearing the names of those behind-the-mic. Well, maybe now would be a great time to do as our US cousins do, and add a few additional names in those sexy closing credits? We can even add in an Executive Producer credit for our lovely publisher – they are as important as we are, after all!

    * * *

    And, to be fair, that’s it…for now! Now any publishers reading this might be feeling a little punch drunk from all that, but you know what? Publishers are amazing! They are the source of all opportunity and income. They choose the titles, they fund the titles, they release the titles (they might also write the theme tune and sing the theme tune!). Without THE PUBLISHERS, we have nothing to produce, nothing to narrate. So whilst the list above might feel a little ‘pointed’, it really is just a list of things to have in the back of publishers’ minds when working with us creative types. The best managers are those who truly understand their employees, and the best publishers are those who treat their audiobook team as partners and colleagues. All we want to do is help publishers make amazing audio adventures…so forgive us our wee stresses and peccadillos…the freelance/outsourced/small business life can be draining and anxious. But throughout it all, we look to the publishers to feed our need to be creative, to help us pay our bills and live our lives. Publishers help us all to lead this magical audiobook life, and they are amazing. And you know what? Publishers should feel free to pop in to a studio session every now and again and see what’s going on…they will always be welcome, and I promise we won’t pester you about PO numbers (well, maybe every now and again!)

    * * *

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and independent audiobook publisher Spokenworld Audio. He has 30 years experience in radio and audio, is an international award-winning producer/director/writer and loves nothing more than making audio for all ages. He is also an Earphones Award-winning audiobook narrator, as well as a sound designer and author. In summer 2018 he founded the Audiobook Creators Alliance. 

    www.ladbrokeaudio.com / www.spokenworldaudio.com




  • 30 Jul 2018 5:20 PM | Helen Lloyd


    I have been recording audiobooks remotely from my personal professional recording space since 2013.  I have remotely recorded titles for Audible Studios, Harper Audio, Penguin Random House and Blackstone Publishing, Brilliance Audio and Disney Press in the US and for Audible Studios, Lamplight Audio, Quercus, Whole Story Audiobooks, Wave Sound Audio, Rosa, Author's Republic and Ukemi Audiobooks in the UK.  

    I have also recorded eight titles via ACX: four working remotely with US producers (Push Play Audio and Crossroads Press) and four as an independent producer and narrator.  Of the more than sixty titles that I have recorded since 2013, three have been recorded in a mainstream recording studio.  

    While remote recording is regarded by almost all US publishers and production companies as being the norm and on an equal footing with recording in a mainstream studio, this is not the case in the UK thought things are changing slowly. Publishers are slowly recognising the quality that narrators are able to deliver when working remotely and can appreciate the added flexibility that remote recording brings; and an increasing number of major publishers are beginning to explore the possibilities.

    Remote recording is not going to lead the Audiobook industry into the jaws of hell! 

    ​So what is expected of the narrator recording remotely - and how do those of us who regularly work remotely, safeguard technical quality and high production values - how do we ensure that our performances match what we deliver when recording in a mainstream recording studio?  

    The majority of Audiobook narrators in the US regularly record in a personal recording studio; and, although audiobooks are created in mainstream recording studios, particularly in NYC, there are numerous best-selling audiobooks (including many Audie-winning titles and Earphone winners) that have been recorded remotely.  And many UK based narrators are recording for US publishers as well - from their own facilities here in the UK.  

    I defy anyone to be able to tell which award-winning titles recorded by Simon Vance, Johnny Heller, Scott Brick, Peter Noble, Matthew Lloyd Davies, Billie Fullford Brown, Peter Wickham, Andi Arndt or Karen Cass were recorded remotely and which were recorded in a mainstream studio. 

    There is still considerable debate (and some disagreement) about the quality that can be achieved in a 'home studio' - in itself is a pejorative term.  Not all 'home studios are equal!  And yes - there are folk recording audiobooks from under a duvet with a USB mic who call themselves 'audiobook narrators' just as there are people who appear in the the village hall panto every Christmas who call themselves 'actors'.  

    I have heard so many disparaging comments about remote recording! I have been told that it just can't be done successfully; that it's impossible to produce audiobooks that meet the standard required - either technically or artistically when working solo.  Remote recording is also blamed for the lowering of rates, presumably because it is seen as offering encouragement to too many beginners and welcoming into the business people who are prepared to work for either very low fees or nothing at all up front - as in the case of Royalty Share.  However, in truth, remote recording often attracts a higher PFH rate than studio recording - and though RS is seen as the thin end of the wedge, in the US particularly where many more people buy audiobooks - an RS deal can be extremely lucrative for both author and narrator.

    Newspapers are full of articles about how audiobooks are saving the publishing industry. Is it any wonder that more and more people want a slice of the pie?  Technological advances have allowed many more people to access basic recording software and an entry level microphone - and there are a lot of people finding their feet in the industry by creating a profile on ACX  and recording titles for self-published and unrepresented authors, giving them access to the audiobook market.  Many US narrators report that the success of an audiobook produced independently on ACX or one of the other Indie platforms, has directly lead to the author being approched by a major publisher for their subsequent work - and they often take the narrator with them. Surely a win win situation? 

    It is not a level playing field and not all remote recording is equal!

    ​I, and many other full-time professional audiobook readers put considerable time, effort and money into the creation of a personal studio that is of professional quality, in most cases we work in a dedicated, isolated, acoustically treated and well equipped recording space. We have professional recording and editing software which we know how to use effectively and efficiently.  We may be working solo,  but our studios are carefully assessed by audio engineers every time we're cast by a publisher or producer with whom we haven't worked before. Many of us are also producers - creating original work for publishers such as Findaway and Spoken Realms as well as being Audible Approved Producers on ACX.  We are not a collection of 'hobbyists' recording with a USB mic and free software while buried under a duvet or two. 

    Not all home studios are equal! ​Neither are all narrators! 

    Another pair of ears on the other side of the glass is lovely and it's a treat to record with a director or producer who really knows their stuff - but equally, I love the independence of calling the shots for myself and working to my own timetable. I also know that some of my best work has been recorded remotely.

    Which brings me to the other major bone of contention - 'self directing'! 

    Many traditional narrators scream in horror at the very idea of it. Their perspective is that a narrator working solo without a producer. director or engineer on the other side of the other side of the glass can't possibly give a good performance or deliver a quality audiobook.  

    As I say another pair of ears is great - but Just as not all home studios are equal, neither are those 'other ears'.  As studio budgets are constantly under pressure, those ears may belong to someone who has had no sight of the MS before recording begins, they may have never read the book - and therefore have no idea of the tone, the setting, the characters, the emotional arc of the story, the author's intention, what its target audience is, its style  - or even what genre it is.  Reading only a short resume means that essentially they are working blind - and when that is the case, how can they possibly  direct or guide the narrator in any way?  How can someone who hasn't read the text be expected to contribute anything to the performance? How can they discuss anything with the narrator - who most definitely WILL have read the book before starting recording; will have researched pronunciations, place names, character voices and so on.  Continuity can also be an issue. There may be no continuity of 'ears' - the 'producer' may change half way through the recording, especially when a series of books is being recorded.  Given that scenario, (which though not applicable to every studio is certainly the situation in some) the narrator is to all intents and purposes 'self directing': the only things we're not doing in a mainstream studio is setting up the mic and pushing the buttons to stop and start recording. 


    When it comes to judging the quality of a performance, that is always subjective.  There is no real consensus as to what makes one narrator 'better' than another.  We all have our favourite narrators and those we dislike - and may not be able to pin down what exactly what it is that makes us prefer one rather than another.  It may be the tone of someone's voice, their inflection, their accent or their pacing. There is something indefinable that either endears us to a particular narrator or put us off them completely, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are either 'better' or 'worse'.  And we will make those personal judgments of all performances. So we either fall under a particular narrator's spell or we don't - the spell depends on the writing of course but also on the narrator's ability to create the magic.  A narrator who creates magic will create it whether or not they're working remotely or with a full production team.

    I think actors (and in the UK at least, the majority of audiobook narrators have a background in acting) have an innate awareness of what they are doing.  The finest theatre actors are always aware of what is gong on around them both on the stage and in the audience. They don't tread on a laugh, talk through a pause or break the atmosphere created by another actor.  They are always aware and self-aware, and although 'in the moment', they always remain in control. 

    The solo narrator develops this skill to another level - we hone the ability to be fully connected to the read while at the same time having a third ear which is listening in, keeping technical tabs on things if you like. Having recorded in a mainstream studio as well as remotely, I don't think I work very differently in either space, just because there is a producer on the other side of the glass I don't 'switch off' my self-awareness.  I always spot any flubs or when something doesn't sound quite right - I use my instinct no matter where I'm recording.

    The direction of travel is always there within the text itself!  We know instinctively when to change the pace, when to pause, how to use timing to get a laugh or to make someone cry, where the emphasis should be - and we know how to use our voices.  We also have trained our ears ... we listen to ourselves critically as well as creatively. When we're working solo, because we know there is no one else listening in as we record, believe me we are absolute perfectionists. We're super picky! 

    When working remotely we also have the luxury of time.  If we mess up, we can go back to square one if need be and do it again. We can record when we want - early mornings, late nights, when the kids are at school, when the family is asleep. We can take a day off when we're not in the mood. We can do the school run, sports day, lunch with friends, walk the dog and then make up the time at our leisure. 

    Working remotely is liberating and flexible and we rarely have to complete a eleven hour and twenty minute book in three days - as I did for one studio produced audiobook I did recently.

    Almost all the professional narrators who work remotely, record using punch and roll (rock and roll as it is also known in the UK). So the audio we deliver is clean audio with no repeats and usually very few errors.  When we finish recording the entire book, we hand the audio over to a professional audio-proofer before any editing is done. This proofer is part of the production team working for the publisher or production house - or if we're producing independently, we hire a professional audio-proofer ourselves. It is notoriously difficult to proof your own audio and its not something I would ever consider even tryingThe proofer identifies any errors that have slipped through (assuming we're all punching in corrections as we go) it's normally contractions - or there may be a mouth noise or tongue click in a particular word. We get a correction sheet - usually in an excel spreadsheet giving chapter, page number and time code as well as the details of the error and what we should have said - when working with US publishers they also provide an audio reference file containing the sections where any problem occurs with several seconds on either side. We record pick ups as required into a separate audio file matching tone, pace, character voices and so on so that there is no discernible difference in vocal quality, and then pass the corrections and the original audio to an editor who inserts the pickups  and does a fine edit and masters the audiobook for publication.  

    The differences are very small!

    We're working in our own space at our own pace, and are making some decisions about how the book should be read - just as in a mainstream studio.  We often have direct contact with the author - or can contact the author via the publisher and get  character notes and direction notes from the author. Surely a good thing?  

    We are self operating the recording software so are pressing the record button! 

    Punch and Roll (Rock and Roll) recording our normal way of working - and we use professional audio software.  Audio-proofing and editing is not part of the package - that's done in house by the publisher. What's not to like? 

    To ensure the quality of our work is consistently high, most of us, when working independently as producer, hire the proofer and audio editor, which is why Royalty Share is not a viable option for most of us - though in the US where sales are much higher, there are narrators making a very nice living from Royalty Share deals - far in excess of the fee they would be paid in a PFH deal - even at $400+ per finished hour. I know a lot of narrators who work remotely - and I have huge respect for their talent, commitment and professionalism.  I know they produce good work - but I also know that if you listen to a selection of samples posted on the ACX website that there is a lot of variation. 

    As I said before - not all narrators are equal - and neither are all personal studios - but as long as the publisher and production houses who hire remote narrators assess the quality of our personal studios and recording equipment - and our capability to self record, then what's not to like? 

    The option to work remotely as well as in a mainstream studio gives me access to the best of both worlds. 


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