AUDIOBOOK PRODUCTION TECHNIQUE ARTICLE
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 bug-bear...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!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.