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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  • 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:


  • 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!


    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. /

  • 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!


    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!)

    * * *


    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. /

  • 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. 

  • 26 Jul 2018 12:51 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    Well, here's something I wish I knew about earlier.  DRAFTABLE COMPARE is a free online (and downloadable app) which compares two versions of a pdf.'ve been prepping or working from a pdf manuscript you believed to be the final version, only to suddenly be sent a new copy that the publisher says is the actual FINAL version.


    Well, with Draftable Compare you can compare the two versions and see where the alterations are. Hopefully they will only be punctuation and layout, but I think we all know it will also be editorial, right?

    The online version is FREE, but if you prefer a more secure offline edition, there are apps available, which offer a 14 day free trial before asking a small fee.

    Might be something worth checking out?

  • 22 Jul 2018 3:59 PM | Helen Lloyd

    The world of audiobook narration has changed immensely even over the past three or four years - and a recent email from a colleague highlighted something I hadn't previously considered. There are an increasing number of established professional narrators who record audiobooks remotely - so despite having a significant number of reads to their credit, plus Earphone awards, Audie nominations and awards - and other significant gongs, there are many who have only ever recorded remotely. Being invited to record in a professional recording studio for the first time is pretty daunting - but perhaps even more so if you are used to flying solo. I know it was for me!

    The first audiobooks I narrated were recorded in a pro studio in the early 1980s! Technology has brought about huge changes in recent years, so I feel that a thirty-year-old experience barely counts. Of the fifty plus audiobooks that I have recorded in recent years, only three have been recorded in a professional studio with another person on the other side of the glass - and frankly, I was a bag of nerves on each and every occasion.

    Why? Why is it so daunting to work in a pro studio for the first time - even when you have a shed load of audiobook experience? What did I learn from the experience? What is good etiquette in a pro studio?

    My first trip into a pro studio in recent years was in 2016 to read a complex historical novel about Queen Anne. It was long - the total running time was estimated at 12.5 hours. The studio was booked for three and a half days, so although I now realise that is quite a generous allowance, at the time I felt considerable time-related pressure. Working on my own in my own space, as long as I meet the deadline, I can take breaks when I want. If it's not flowing, I can pause, do something different, get my act together and start again an hour later.  I can dictate a pace for myself - so I would probably spread a 12.5 hour book over a couple of weeks rather than three days; sometimes recording late at night or early in the morning, working when the mood takes me. Alongside concerns that I would not finish on time, I was also concerned that my voice would run out of steam when recording for seven hours a day for more than three consecutive days.

    Anyone who knows me knows that I can talk for England. so why was I worried? After all, when I was working in theatre, I was used to rehearsing for six or seven hours a day, then doing an evening performance - but that is a long time ago - and I was really not sure how stable my voice would be forty years on.  And of course being nervous isn't great for the voice; things tighten up and that can really put a strain of the vocal chords. Would my energy levels drop? Would I start sounding tired and husky? Would I be able to concentrate for that long at a stretch. These were real worries for me - and for a few days before I started, I really was having 'narrator nightmares'.  

    An added pressure was that it was very dense novel with lots of characters - and all were real people; there were lots of facts to absorb that would have an effect on the performance, this King had a stammer; this Prince had a thick German accent - and so on.  Added to this, the two princesses, Anne and her sister Mary were children at the beginning of the novel - and aged throughout. The book also contained excerpts from Anne's diary and many of her letters - written in the style of the period - and printed in italics - so it wasn't the easiest of reads. It was obvious that thorough preparation was even more important than usual.

    I always read any MS at least twice before I start narrating, but things do crop up during a read that need double checking, and I knew that it would hold everything up if I had to go searching for things online as I went along. So my prep was very thorough and I made a lot of notes. I was very lucky in that I was able to contact the producer in advance and we exchanged several emails and chatted about the style of the book and how various characters developed and might sound ... how much of a stammer - how much of a German accent and so on. 

    I was also concerned that I would be reading from a print copy of the MS. Normally I would be reading a digital version from my tablet - which would be annotated and marked up as needed. I don't actually highlight different characters in different colours which I know some narrators do, as I find it distracting, but I do make little notes about voices and accents on my tablet as I prep. But reading from a hard copy unwieldy in comparison and I was concerned about paper rustles, awkward page breaks and so on. 

    Once I had got over the first day, and met the required number of finished hours without any difficulty - and without my voice or energy levels disappearing or noticeably changing, I felt a lot happier and more confident going into the second day - and I am happy to say that I finished narrating an hour ahead of time and it all went very smoothly thanks to lovely folk at White House Sound in Leicestershire.

    So what did I learn along the way ... and what are my tips for anyone heading into a studio for the first time?

    In the days before going to the studio

    1. Proper preparation prevents a poor performance! I really can't emphasise enough how important preparation is for every read ... but it's even more important that you go into a pro studio with a thorough knowledge of the entire book; with any strange names, unfamiliar words and pronunciations, particularly any foreign words firmly researched and ready for use when needed.  
    2. Get character's clear before you start and make a short audio clip of each character's voice in advance.  When I am working remotely, I normally record a short MP3 clip characters as I go along so that if a character disappears for several chapters - or in the case of a series for several books - I can easily find them again. Collecting character clips as you go is not usually an option in a pro studio, so you need to make decisions before you start recording and keep your own audio memos of those voices. I recorded a short sample of all of the main characters onto my tablet - so that I could refer to them if the need arose during the recording. 
    3. If a page break falls at an awkward point on a print copy, write out the first line of the following page at the bottom of the previous one.  I found this a huge help. It means you can break to turn the page at a sensible point rather than mid phrase.
    4. Try to keep as much as possible as familiar as possible. We all prepare or mark up our texts in different ways - and I wouldn't advise changing your normal way of doing it just because you're in a pro studio. You don't want to suddenly be distracted by a whole load of new hieroglyphs on your text that you're not familiar with. Keeping everything as 'normal' as possible will lessen your feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. 
    5. Hydrate - and for a few days in advance, not just when in the studio. You need to start your hydration a couple of days before you start recording. It's no good grabbing a glass or two of water an hour before you sit down at the mic. Because I am recording almost every day, my hydration levels are normally pretty good - and I usually drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water a day. I find that room temperature water is best. Cold water tightens the vocal folds too much and changes my voice.
    6. Rest your voice and your body. You really can't burn the candle at both ends when you're working. A good sleep pattern over the few days before you head to the studio will ensure that you and your voice are not tired.  Avoid crowded spaces where you have to shout - do some gentle vocal exercises and relaxation exercises as well as tension is a vocal killer.
    7. Think about what you eat. I find that dairy products make my voice sound muffled and a bit claggy - chocolate is lethal - and I find that too much carbohydrate makes me feel a bit sluggish, curry and spicy food can irritate your vocal folds, so I try and keep off all these when I am working. And of course alcohol and talking too much in crowded bars is lethal. So - take it easy and lay off any food that could alter your sound. Your voice needs to be in tip-top condition - treat it with care.
    8. Go shopping for your lunch/es and plan ahead. Speaking of food - what you eat while at the studio is also important and planning ahead is key to ensuring you're not faced with limited choice. Having to go shopping during your lunch break is probably not a great idea - and a local corner shop or garage may have very little choice. Going to a busy cafe or restaurant is likely to take up rather a lot of time. Personally I prefer to try and stay focused, so the last thing I want to do is to head into a cafe or to a supermarket queue. 

    In the studio

    1. Don't forget the script - your notes, a notepad and pencil. Your tablet (i-pad) PLUS CHARGER. Sounds obvious I know - and remember to pop your tablet on charge during the lunch break.
    2. Because pro studios punch in edits - you have to wear headphones.  The way punch and roll / rock and roll works is that the engineer / producer / director, who is following the text while listening to you, will stop you if you make an error, or if anything sounds odd - or when in London, if a jumbo-jet flies over. They then scroll back in the recording to a point a few seconds before the bit that is going to be over recorded. They arm the audio, you then hear those few seconds playing through your headphones and then you start speaking - picking up from where you were at the point where you stop hearing the audio coming through your headphones; you're therefore recording over the original audio and over the error - giving a seamless read.  It's obviously vital that you use the same vocal level, tone, pitch, energy level, dynamic and so on, which is why you pick up having listened to the previous few seconds. Most professional narrators who work remotely do so using punch and roll / rock and roll for themselves in their home studio and will be familiar with this process. 
    3. Take your own headphones! Studio headphones are invariably too big for me and flop around and are generally uncomfortable - they can also be pretty tatty - so I always take my own. I am also familiar with how I sound through my own cans - and a different sound through a different make of headphones can be distracting.
    4. Remember to keep hydrated. You'll need a supply of water (room temperature works best for me; plus any juice or squash that you like to add). Try to take a sip whenever you stop recording which is more effective than downing a half pint at a time. I also drink tea (Black Earl Grey with honey when I am recording as I find milk alters my voice), and find coconut water good for hydration and stopping mouth noise. I think it's slight oiliness helps keep everything running smoothly. 
    5. Get to the studio at least half an before you're due to start recording. This will give you time to introduce yourself properly to the team you're working with. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Then give yourself some quiet time before you begin. Do some relaxation exercises - and a vocal warm up to prepare your vocal folds and get everything feeling aligned and comfortable. 
    6. For long form narration and long studio days, most narrators sit. So once you're settled, the studio engineer will adjust the mic position. Once that is set up it's important that you don't move the mic or move the chair - ask for a bit of tape to mark where the front legs are, so that I can when you have to move - you can be sure to put it back in the same position. Whether you're reading from a tablet or paper, there is normally a sloping surface for you to rest the MS on - and its position in relation to the mic and your chair and you needs to be comfortable so that you can read without having to hold your head at an awkward angle or turn away from the mic. 
    7. The engineer will then do a sound check and ask you to read a passage from the book so that the mixer / interface is set up for your unique sound rather than any one else's. The expectation is that your read will be within certain levels - and that you will have sufficient mic technique to be able to shout without shouting - whisper without vocally disappearing - and to move your mouth closer and further from the mic if required. 
    8. If you know that there are likely to be some loud bits ... or very quiet bits, now is a good time to mention it! You will also be able to hear yourself through your headphones during the set up - so if you sound too loud, or too soft during playback, then ask for the volume to be adjusted.
    9. Don't touch the mic! You may be used to tweaking everything when you're working solo - but in a studio it is not your job! The engineer / director will set everything up for you and you really mustn't change things. Your relationship to the mic must be constant and consistent - so if at any point you get up and move around try to do it without moving anything. If you accidentally knock or move the mic then tell the engineer / director - and they will come and re-set everything.
    10. Take a wrap or cardigan with you. I don't like working in an overheated studio personally. I prefer to feel slightly cold, so will turn off radiators and lower the temperature slightly. However, I do find that when sitting still (and sitting still is a necessity) my back gets cold and can stiffen up - so a shawl or cardigan draped over my shoulders and the back of my neck helps.
    11. To avoid tummy rumbles have some high protein, high energy snacks with you.   I am a terrible tummy-rumbler. I rumble when I am hungry and again after I have eaten if I leave too long a gap between nibbles. I always have a high protein snack in the booth which I nibble at regular intervals to prevent rumbles - and I also take a tub of chopped celery in with me as it helps keep the juices flowing and avoids a sticky mouth.
    12. Lip balm is an essential. Speaking of mouth noise, alongside hydration, celery - and a lot of people swear by green apples for mouth noise, lip balm is an absolute must. Vaseline works best for me - it's not too gloopy and slithery but is very effective at preventing lip smacks.
    13. Give a warning if you're going to clear your throat or blow your nose. The person on the other side of the glass from you will be listening through headphones at a fairly high level - and if you need to clear your throat or blow your nose, do warn them. Think about it ... do they really want to hear that at high volume in their ears. Yuk!
    14. Don't wear too much scent / aftershave and never spray yourself with perfume in the booth. There will be someone else using that studio after you ... and they may have allergies - or just not like your favourite pong. Perfume can really irritate the throat, so even if the next narrator in the booth loves 'Eau de Voix'  your scent it might have a detrimental effect on their voice.
    15. Remember you're hired to read the book - that's it! You're part of the team for sure and your contribution is valued - but you're not there to argue the point - particularly about anything technical.  Be sensible - If you're not happy with how you read a particular sentence, if the phrasing or accent doesn't sound quite right to your ears,  then speak up! Use your instincts - they're probably right. 
    16. Remember that when a director or producer gives you direction or a note, they're not being critical ... they're doing their job! Listen, act on their direction and move on. If you don't quite understand what they mean - ask. There is nothing to be gained by trying to second guess anything at this stage. 
    17. Good communication is very important from everyone involved. Talk to the people you're working with - if possible introduce yourself to them via email, or make a quick phone call before you actually get into the studio. Get to know them, discuss the options with them, by all means, but when in the studio keep the chatter and your opinions to the minimum. Studio time is expensive. 
    18. If you're not happy about something ... don't suffer in silence.  If the volume level coming through your headphones isn't comfortable, if you're too hot, too cold, need to go to the loo, need to cough, need to stretch - then say so. If you need to step away for a minute to gather yourself after a difficult section, that is OK too.
    19. Be professional and behave professionally.  You want to be invited back don't you? Be friendly but not overly familiar - and definitely don't spend the lunch break bragging or bitching.  
    20. Relax - Everyone is on your side wants to create the best audiobook possible.   

    Good luck - and have fun!  

  • 20 Jul 2018 12:57 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)


    In my role as an audiobook producer/editor/mastering engineer I continue to find it baffling that so many editors fail to understand the vital role they play in protecting the hearing of audiobook listeners. Unlike much modern music, audiobooks rarely get put through a final limiting phase, which means that if you've left any sudden 'explosively' loud peaks in your edit, these will be experienced by the listener.

    So, why is this something worth talking about? Well, consider for a minute that the majority of audiobook consumers listen using in-ear headphones, often whilst commuting, and also with the volume turned up, so they can enjoy the mellifluous vocal tones of your wonderful narrator. There's no 'air-gap' protection between the headphone driver and their ear-drum as with speakers or over-the-head headphones. The sound is direct...and if it suddenly 'explodes' in volume, you risk damaging their hearing...possibly permanently.

    Here's an example of what I am talking about...this is a edited file I was sent to master ready for distribution:

    There are a couple of things to note here:

    [1] The overall volume of the audio is too low...the editor should have raised the gain at least 3-4 dB BEFORE editing to ensure they could hear all the background noises, etc...

    [2] There's a great big EXPLOSION of sound in the middle which is approx. 10dB louder than the audio surrounding it.

    Now, as an editor, we have to bear in mind the context of this sudden loudness. In most instances the narrator is reading a character line where there is shouting, or expletives, or some other justifiable reason for the amplitude. Of course, a well set-up studio would have factored such increases in and used a soft but capable compressor across the vocals to [a] raise the overall gain and [b] control the sudden gain changes. In this instance the studio wasn't correctly setup, and so the editor has to deal with the issue. At least, in this case, there isn't any distortion caused as the maximum gain tops out at just under 0dB.

    Let's look at how the editor SHOULD have dealt with such an issue. First, a close-up of another area of contention later in the same file:

    Here we can see the surrounding audio is averaging peaks of -12dB but there is a sudden explosive gain jump to -2dB...a 10dB jump! They have left this for the mastering engineer (me) to deal with. I could just process the whole file through a compressor and end up with a file that looks fine, but sounds as though someone has aggressively bundled the peak audio in a hessian sack and thrown it in a river!

    Instead I use gain reduction, and my ears, to reduce the overall gain of the section to something more in line with the surrounding audio WITHOUT drastically altering the impact of the narrative:

    Notice there is still a 5dB change in gain, so the listener will still hear the impact of the narrator's choice to 'go loud', but it is a less aggressive gain jump, and protects their eardrums from the potential damage such a sudden and dramatic increase in volume could cause.

    Now I do the usual mastering processes, of bringing up the overall file volume using soft-knee compression and very careful limiting, and using some soft EQing to balance out the narrator's tone and the imperfection of the studio recording, and we end up with this:

    Now the overall average volume is around -7dB, with lows around -15dB with peaks at -3dB max (the client's spec...and good practice). We have dynamic range, but a stronger overall gain which means the listener doesn't need to turn up the volume of their device too much, and the 'explosive' section is in line with the audio around it whilst retaining its narrative impact.

    So, if you are editing audiobooks, do keep in mind that we are the gatekeepers of best-practise audio and the protectors of our listeners' eardrums. Just about all linear-editing software packages will allow you to highlight a section and reduce the gain...and if your DAW doesn't, then consider moving to one that does. DON'T rely on a mastering engineer to smooth over these issues as you may not have access to one...YOU may be the final stage before delivery. Consider your overall volume and try to stick to a rough rule of thumb that sudden gain increases should not be more than 5-6dB. Double check the client spec for peak values, and use your eyes as much as your ears...if it looks spikey and dangerous, it most probably is.


    Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and 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.

  • 20 Jul 2018 12:47 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)


    There are broad strokes and fine strokes in audiobook editing. The broad strokes are fixing editorial mistakes, correcting pacing, application of the client's technical specifications and so forth. Make these broad strokes smooth and accurate and you'll have a perfectly acceptable audiobook. But it is the fine strokes, the attention to tiny detail, which will elevate your audiobook production to the next level, away from the 'knock-em-out-quick' merchants and into the realms of 5 star ratings and potential awards!

    OK...whilst 5 star ratings are lovely, the whole winning awards thing shouldn't really be a day to day concern for an audiobook editor - let's be honest, it won't be you getting the award anyway, but the narrator or producer or publisher, and no one will recognise the endless hours of hard work and 'fine strokes' you put in to give the world this beautiful audio production. Few if any editors even get a credit! Nope, the poor old audiobook editor gets little, if any, praise in our industry, yet without them the world would be in for a shock when they heard their next audiobook (hint...that award-winning narrator isn't quite as well-paced and error-free as you might think!)

    However, that aside, there's no reason not to apply the fine strokes of audiobook editing whilst you paint with the broader ones. The right DAW can make all the difference here, but plugins and a bit of patience will help too! So, what am I talking about when I say the fine details matter? For me, this is where taking the time to really tidy up (but NOT sanitise) your audio is the proof of a genuinely top class audiobook editor. I'm talking about:

    • subtle but competent use of post-processing e.g. compression, EQ, noise-reduction
    • de-breathing and de-clicking BUT NOT the whole-scale removal of breaths and human noises
    • an appreciation of studio silence over generated silence
    • removal of leading and trailing breaths and the diminishing or tidying of mid-sentence breaths
    • the fixing of plosive sounds
    • the gentle removal or diminishing of throat and nasal sounds
    • seamless removal of trailing tongue/mouth/throat bumps

    Hang on...what's that last one? It is my most hated sound. It happens mostly in sentences where the final word ends with an 's' sound. Midway through the 's' you hear a CLUMP, or CLONK, or CLUG...a back-of-the-tongue GLOG. This happens to every narrator and can usually be alleviated by drinking water, but IT WILL AND DOES happen. Don't believe me? Here's an example:

    I've highlighted to make it easier to see. Urgh...I hate them. And I especially hate it when editors leave them in. Yes, it is a natural sound, and yes it means a second or two more effort to edit them out, but come on...they sound horrible!

    Amongst the many golden rules of audiobook production is to always aim NOT to leave in anything that could distract the listener, or pull them away from the immersive listening experience. I know that for some audiobook fans, background noises, loud breaths and various vocal noises are perfectly acceptable. But you know what, for me, to hit the gold standard, I think IF WE CAN REMOVE THEM WE SHOULD.

    So using a DAW such as Adobe Audition, where you can SEE the noise as much as hear it, there are some fast and simple ways to remove this erroneous wee bugger:

    By zooming in, we can see it in finer detail and in most cases just highlight over it and hit DELETE. It is within the trailing end of the 's' sound and so long as we listen across the edit afterwards to ensure we've not left a 'bump' all should be fine. It should look something like this:

    That's the fastest and easiest route. However, not all of these sounds can be removed so easily...often this way leaves some damage to the surrounding audio and you can hear a 'bump' or edit. In these instances SPECTRAL EDITING is your very best friend! Now, in DAWs such as Audition Spectral Editing is built in, and what a joy it is. Others, you may have to purchase a plug in, such as RX Isotope (some can be rather silly prices, sadly). So, let's have a look at the same noise in spectral mode:

    Pretty, eh? The joy of spectral editing is, once you get past the shock of the new, you can easily spot clicks and bumps and noises. Now, in spectral mode you can use a variety of tools to remove this naughty nasty noise:

    In the case of Audition there is the heal tool. I tend to use this the most, as it allows me to 'paint' over the noise and then it heals/removes only the unwanted sound without damaging the background and surrounding audio:

    As you can see, the noise is gone, our trailing 's' is smooth and complete and remains undamaged, both visually but most importantly, aurally.

    As an editor I pride myself on providing my clients with as clean and smooth a production as possible, within a reasonable time-frame. I realise at times we might not have the luxury of time and therefore have to choose how fine we go with our level of editing. But I hope that you can see how quick and simple it is to make repairs to such noises and how much nicer a listen our audiobooks can be for our listeners. Combining this technique with the others I listed earlier will result in superb sounding audiobooks, and whilst you may never get recognition in the form of a credit or an award, you, I and all our fellow editors will know that a good job was done well, and feel rightly proud of ourselves!

    AUDIOBOOK EDITORS - you are all truly amazing...awards and pay-rises all round!


    Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and 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.

  • 18 Jul 2018 5:51 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)


    Audiobook mastering is a fine art, ensuring good technical quality whilst allowing the narrator’s voice to enjoy a full dynamic range. Too often this part of the production process can cause problems, with audio being overly compressed/limited, too much gain added and distortion and other processing artifacts creeping in. So, here’s a brief, handy guide to how to get the best out of your mastering stage. It’s what we do every day for our clients, and our own audiobook titles. Remember…We Love Audio!

    Here’s how NOT to master an audiobook chapter. Notice the over use of gain leading to an aggressive dynamic range and a lot of transient peak distortion:

    Whilst not overly compressed or limited, the excessive use of gain when mastering has caused the peaks to go way beyond 0dB. Adding a limiter to this output process (e.g. -3dB) the end result ends up as this…squashed, distorted and muddy:

    Audiobooks need subtlety when mastering. Dynamic range and subtle EQ and limiter/compressor useage. Also, -3dB is a peak max, not an average.

    So, here we have taken that first file and put it through extensive restoration, de-peaking and tidying:

    As you can see we have a much nicer looking AND sounding wave form. The editor should have de-peaked a bit more as they edited the file, but overall it is healthy and sounding much nicer. The distortion is gone and the overall sound is less tiring on the ears.

    From this point, we can apply soft mastering processes. A slight EQ to remove some low end, plus a tiny bit of high end for brightness (these will change depending on the source recording, the studio/mic sound and the tonal quality of the narrator). After that we apply some soft compression and a maximiser (if required) with a -3dB limiter. THEN we experiment, bouncing down the file and checking the mix to ensure good quality throughout…no distortion or compression sounds, engaging but not noticeable EQ, etc…

    Once the files look/sound good, we go ahead and master the files, checking each as we go. Here’s the same file, now correctly mastered:

    As you can see we have good range up to the peak -3dB allowing for an engaging narration WITHOUT compression artifacts or distortion. NB in this instance we have mastered to the max level required by Audible UK, but you will need to adjust this to fit your or your client’s requirements.

    So 'mastering 101' for audiobooks:

    [1] subtlety in use of gain/EQ/compression/limiting

    [2] less is more, allow for dynamic range

    [3] Monitor the file after EVERY process…check your files

    [4] Use your EYES and your EARS

    [5] Use gain increase BEFORE editing not after

    And that’s it folks. Hope it was useful. We are here to help with any of your audiobook needs – from advice to production. Just drop us a line anytime.



    Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and 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.

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