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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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  • 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.

    Imagine...you'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.

    Aaaaarrgghhhh!!!

    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?

    https://draftable.com/


  • 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)

    AUDIOBOOK PRODUCTION TECHNIQUE ARTICLE

    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.

    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.

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

    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.

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

    AUDIOBOOK PRODUCTION TECHNIQUE ARTICLE

    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.

    #WeLoveAudiobooks

    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.



  • 18 Jul 2018 1:43 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    So, I’ve got a bit of a high horse to get up on. Or maybe its an orange box at Speakers Corner. Or, since we work in audio, possibly it is a Neumann mic plugged into a massive PA system that blares out across the land.

    Audiobooks are big business. We know this because mainstream media has started taking notice of our industry and a slew of articles proclaiming audiobooks as the new ‘hip’ medium have sprung up all over the media-sphere. From lists of the “10 Best Audiobooks to Jog to”, to “How Major Actors Are Now Doing Audiobooks” (erm, because they are paid to do so!), journalists and bloggers are extolling the virtues of audiobooks everywhere. Huzzah and yay.

    And within our industry, there are events and gatherings, where the great and mighty of the industry gather to talk loudly at each other in sweaty rooms with lovely drinks and nibbles. Speeches are made, backs are patted. Everyone is thanked…the conversations go:

    “The authors? Oh yes, we wouldn’t be anywhere without the authors!”

    “Publishers supporting audiobooks and investing more into promotion and sales? Oh how fantastic of them!”

    “Narrators are to be celebrated and praised. They bring the words to life, they paint pictures with their voices! And how amazing that Hollywood superstars are now reading audiobooks…sorry, no, of course they are being paid well, that’s not the point.”

    “Narrators are saving the publishing industry…”

    I can’t argue. All of the above are absolute superstars of the audiobook world. We simply wouldn’t exist without the authors and writers, their astonishing tales and stupendous stories. I absolutely bow before their creative genius. And the publishers (both print and audio) are throwing more into audiobooks than ever before. Services like Audible and iTunes have revolutionised the market and the move to digital/download has allowed more and more people, through their mobile devices, to dive into the astonishing world of audio. And I can never heap enough praise on the narrators. These are truly gifted people who I have the pleasure of working with as a producer every day. Many are close friends. They bring style, skill, expertise, experience, character, knowledge, finely-tuned instincts and passion to every title they read. Their talent brings the words alive, and their stamina sees them through long, long sessions – single voice audiobook recording is a truly unique and difficult form of performance!

    Yes, indeed, all of the above SHOULD be praised and thanked. Well done. Jolly well done, one and all. Thank you for your dedication and enthusiasm.

    But hang about. Surely we’ve missed some people out, haven’t we? Yes, we have. And as the articles and interviews and speeches flow, these unnamed ones remain in darkness and shadow.


    You see, unlike in the 1960s and 70s, when people like David Jacobs would read a book LIVE on national BBC radio (“If I made a mistake I’d just keep going and try to remember not to swear” he once told me as I sat in awe of his ability), audiobooks are not a one-person performance. When a professional audiobook (not an ACX self-record jobby) is produced, there is a producer/director involved. They assist the narrator in their performance, tone, style, characterisation and consistency. They are more often than not also the studio engineer nowadays, so they run the technical side of things, ensuring a quality source recording. They will also mark up the script to show where errors have been made and multiple takes occurred…oh yes, this isn’t LIVE, this is recorded, and no-one is perfect, narrators DO make mistakes. Some make very few, others make quite a lot. Some have perfect timing and pacing, whilst others…well, let’s just say they require a little help.

    And this is where we come to audiobook editors. A small army of dedicated, experienced and passionate editors across the world sit in small rooms in front of computers and take the raw studio recordings and turn them into audio gold. They remove the fluffs and mistakes, fix the errors and stumbles, clean up the breaths and burps, movement noises and shuffling feet. They repair pacing and tonal issues and produce technically compliant, beautifully sounding audiobook files. Without them, even the greatest voiced narrator on the planet, would end up shocking their admiring listeners with their raw recordings. These people work extremely long hours for OK but not great pay. An average audiobook takes a minimum of twice the recording time to edit (depending on if it was recording straight or rock’n’roll)…often a lot longer if there are multiple retakes, complex pacing issues or it is just one of those ridiculously difficult to read books that takes forever.

    As an example, I once had a book which took the narrator 14 hours to record. He has an amazing voice, great characterisation and is a joy to spend time with. But, for various reasons, he needed a lot of retakes and pickups and his pacing within sentences and paragraphs was off. The editor spent almost 30 hours fixing the raw files and we ended up with a book that had a final run-time of 7.5 hours. A month or so after it had been released I saw numerous positive and glowing reviews from listeners, all of who praised the narrator for his flowing style, wondrous pacing and accurate performance. He deserved praise certainly, as I said, he has a fantastic voice and put a lot of energy and passion into the performance. But he sounded so flawless because of the producer working hard with him in the studio and MOST IMPORTANTLY the editor working tirelessly to create a beautiful completed audiobook.


    So what do I want? I’d like the industry, the media and my colleagues to give some recognition to the editors (and other technical staff- yes, I know there is an occasional Audiobook Producer of the year award). I’d like a narrator, when interviewed, to give a few thoughts on thanking the editor and producer for helping them to create this wonderful product. I’d love the publishers to offer producers and editors credits on their webpages and online stores. I’d like the unions that represent the actors and authors to remember the technical side of things. And I’d like the speeches made at events to include a thank you to EVERYONE who collaborates to produce an audiobook. Of course it is important to highlight the fact that you got Angelina Jolie to read a classic (bet you won’t say how much more you paid her than you pay a day-to-day jobbing narrator, though!) because it is these BIG NAMES who will draw in the new listeners and build subscriptions and customer loyalty. But please, at the end of your monologue on the power of audio, your speech on the importance of authors, your interview on your enthusiasm for audiobooks…please please please, give a tiny little shout out to the editors at least. Without them, we simply wouldn’t have any audiobooks to shout about!

    Here are some editors I want to give praise to:

    Steve Croft, Morrison Ellis, Christian Gates, David Darlington, Mark Restuccia, Sarah Grun, Adrian Thownsend, Dougal Patmore

    Maybe someone could sort out an Audiobook Editor Award, QCer Award, etc…just a thought!

    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.

  • 18 Jul 2018 1:31 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    I’ve been producing audiobooks for over a decade now, hundreds upon hundreds of the things. From dramatic to comedic, romantic to historic. It’s been a blast and the audio adventure continues with new titles and new narrators. Over the years I’ve had the joy and pleasure of working with a wealth of narrators, all of whom brought their own skills and talents to the production…I’ve learned a lot from them. But there are occasions when…well…

    Now, as my own audiobook production house pushes into it’s new two-studio future (www.ladbrokeaudio.com), I thought it might be useful to reminisce on some of the oddities of audiobook narration from the producer’s point of view that I’ve experienced. All of these are genuine things that have happened to me and that always surprise:

    Getting Preppy With It – prepping your manuscript is, of course, a no-brainer. The depth of prep is up to you, but at least a skim-read and then a full-read is good practice, making notes or mark-ups on characters, voices, pronunciations, etc… as you go. I know this sounds obvious, but turning up at a studio and telling the producer/engineer that you’ve not read the book in advance is the fastest way to give them a heart-attack. Claiming you can sight-read an audiobook will nearly always get you the ‘raised eyebrow of extreme doubt’.

    Always Take Your Tablets – The same applies to turning up without a copy of the script / an ipad/tablet to read from. I’ve had both these happen, sometimes at the same time! I always have spare studio tablets on hand just in case (hey, we’ve all forgotten stuff in the rush to leave the house in the morning) but it always shocks me when someone arrives and breezily asks about how they are going to read the script. Really? You were booked weeks ago and in that time never once thought to ask about a printed script, or why you were sent a pdf? And do please use a tablet large enough to read from. If you have poor eyesight, using a tiny Kindle isn’t going to make your day (or mine) any easier!

    Experiential Data – ah, the joy of being told your narrator has audiobook experience, and they rock up on day one and snappily say this is their first ever audiobook and how do they go about it, then? Fabulous…time to teach, and pray they are good enough to get through the production without [a] doubling the recording time and [b] killing your editor with endless hours of fixing. Honestly, I’ve had this happen numerous times. It isn’t the narrator’s fault, but the agent who either lied, or didn’t know, or mixed up audiobooks with commercial VO work. If you’ve never read an audiobook before and get a booking, please ask your agent to put you in touch with the studio/producer so you can ask lots of questions in advance and get advice on how to prep for the session.

    Dedicated Follower of Fashion – ah the pleasures of noisy clothing. Yes, your lovely shirt, blouse, jacket or trousers DO make you look fantastic…but notice how much noise they make when you move? It gets a tad embarrassing when as producer I have to ask you to remove another level of clothing because you are crackling/rumpling/snushing/etc… every time you move an arm or leg. Which leads me to…

    You’ve Got To Move It Move It – well, actually, I’d rather you didn’t. Actors…they are trained to be physically expressive and boy do they do it brilliantly. BUT…you are in a small studio with a great mic…every hand, arm, neck, leg, foot movement is going to be picked up and you’ll either have to re-do the line or some poor over-worked editor will have to try to edit it out. Focus on being a tree…a very very still tree…a petrified tree perhaps. SMALL hand movements are fine…but remember you aren’t on stage now, we need everything to be as quiet as possible…EXCEPT…

    The Lone Voice is Loudest – why is it that actors, trained to project their voices, nearly all get so quiet when put in a small room in front of a microphone? You can speak up, you know?! Obviously shouting is not usually required, but your narrator voice needs to be of a good, strong and consistent level. If a character is whispering in dialogue, the narration doesn’t need to also be whispery. Bring the volume back up (or down if the dialogue is loud and shouty). If in doubt, turn down the volume of your headphones – loud cans will make you think you are louder than you are. Hopefully your producer/engineer will point this out to you…but them simply turning up the gain on your mic doesn’t solve the problem…give us of those acting beans, show us what you’ve got!

    Well, next article I’ll have to try and list some of the many ways we producers and engineers can #fail – none of us is perfect. But even with everything said above, I absolutely LOVE making audiobooks, and working with incredibly talented narrators, editors and checkers. Let’s keep experiencing this audio adventure together!

    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.


  • 18 Jul 2018 11:44 AM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

    AUDIOBOOK PRODUCTION TECHNIQUES ARTICLE

    Another sexy #audiobook production topic for us to get our teeth into today. Come join me in my Red Room of Ear-pain, as I take a quick ‘n’ saucy look at the topic of silence. Our safe-word today will be NEUMANN.

    Silence, apparently it can be golden, and it can also be precious. For us in the audiobook world it is a thing to be hyper-vigilant of, oft-times wary of, and occasionally oblivious to. In the world of audio silence can be devastatingly powerful, or job-endingly embarrassing. Dead-air on radio is a no-no, so much so that leave 7+ seconds of it and all sorts of back-up systems kick in to fill that valuable airtime (one of my earliest jobs in commercial radio was creating back-up tapes for this very eventuality). In audiobooks, prolonged silences usually sound like someone has made a mistake in the editing process. Of course, in audio drama, or particularly-dramatic readings, a long silence can be a powerful statement. But in general, anything more than 3 seconds of silence is pretty much a no-no.

    But silence is much more than just the absence of sound. And the term ‘silence’ itself usually means something different to its dictionary definition. In audiobook production, when we say silence, we normally mean studio tone…that delicious background sound of a booth/studio/room unhindered by a narrator’s bodily functions and movements. That oh-so-precious commodity, the ‘quiet room’. Sound engineers and editors dream of it. They all have their own story of the halycon day when they were sent a pristine piece of studio tone. Ah yes, silence to wash away the everyday noises of a working booth!

    OK, enough waxing lyrical. Silence, or studio tone, is all-important. It is the ‘resting’ sound of your recording set-up, and it is a valuable tool for editors when tidying up recordings. But let us get one thing straight here…IT IS NOT TRUE SILENCE! No, we are not talking about automatically generated digital silence…pure 0dB or -infinifty sound. All DAWs can generated this for you, and it has its uses. We are talking about actual, recorded, studio sound. EVERY studio, booth, room, professional or home setup should have a 60 second room tone recording. Professional studios will usually record a fresh one for each session/title. THIS is what we use when editing the audiobook. THIS is what we use to tidy up movement and body noises. THIS is what we use to create top and tail silences.

    Let me show you the opening of a recent audiobook I produced and edited for a major publisher:


    So, here we see a 1 sec silence at the top of the file (as per the client’s spec) followed by the intro credits, and then a 3 sec silence (as per spec) followed by Chapter title and caption. All of these gaps/silences are ultra clean and taken from a 60 sec studio tone file created by the studio on the first day of recording.


    Here’s the start of that same file seen in spectral editing mode. You can see that the ‘silence’ actually has some fine audio to it. It is peaking at -75dB and is mostly comprised of lower-end frequencies…no air-con or fan noise in the upper register. Also, no clicks, bangs, or other noises.

    The reason behind using clean, quiet studio tone is so that there isn’t a ‘cliff edge’ transition between the narration and the silence. An over-reliance on generated digital silence, or the heavy-handed use of processing such as gates and noise reduction, can lead to very awkward sounding audiobooks, where you can clearly hear the ‘tone’ of the room behind the narrator, and it then suddenly disappear in the gaps, and then reappears when the narrator talks. Like this:


    It might look beautifully clean, but the listening experience is almost as bad as listening to an audiobook where none of the background noises and distractions have been cleaned up. In this particular studio, the room tone is pretty amazingly quiet, but even so, using digital/gated silence for gaps makes a pronounced and negative difference.

    So studio tone is the way to go. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t clean up the studio tone you are sent…remove imperfections and noises, EQ it slightly, or even use a soft noise-reduction…whatever it takes to create something that sounds great. To the average ear it should sound like silence, like nothing…but to our ears we should still be aware of its presence. Like high-end harmonics…without them we notice something is awry!

    With all that said, using silences the correct way is also imperative. Always check with your client what their tech spec is, but the usual (UK) guideline is:

    • 1 sec silence at TOP of file
    • 3 sec silence between intro credits and chapter heading
    • 2 sec silence between chapter heading and main text
    • 1 sec silence between sentences/paragraphs
    • 3 sec silence between paragraph breaks
    • 3 sec silence at end of final file BEFORE the closing credits
    • 2 sec silence at TAIL of file


    This isn’t set in stone, for example Audible UK uses these specs, but Audible US ask for .5 sec silence at the TOP of a file. Other publishers want longer or shorter gaps. And gaps between sentences and paragraphs are always open to artistic interpretation by both the narrator and the editor…nothing hard and fast there, just whatever fits the story, character and pacing. But IT IS IMPORTANT to be consistent. Something that has occurred a lot with various editors I’ve hired over the years is inconsistency with standardised gapping. I’ve given them the spec, yet the files still come back to me with .5 sec, or 1.2 sec or 2 sec gaps at the start; with 5 sec gaps at paragraph breaks; and with anything up to 10 sec gaps at the tail of files. It’s why I personally master and check EVERY audiobook that comes through Ladbroke Audio, so such inconsistencies are ironed out, and clients get what they have paid for.

    My process is to ‘Check-The-Spec’ before every edit job, write a note if I need to, and then after everything is done, all files have been mastered, checked and fixed…I then do a fast sweep through to double-check all the gapping is correct. It takes very little time, and also allows me a fast visual check of the files in case any part of the process has caused problems. Getting this small but important part of the production process right, is the difference between a professional end product and an amateur one. Many check listeners/QCers will also listen out for gapping issues if you ask them to.

    The TOP/TAIL stuff is editor 101, whilst the sentence/paragraph stuff is more open to artistic licence. But it is all 100% important, and something worth taking your time over.

    The words do all the talking, but in audiobooks the silences can shout the loudest!

    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.

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