OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
I'm passionate about exploring every avenue for revenue streams from a book, and audio is a growing market.
This year, I collaborated with Veronica Giguere (narrator) and Gryphonwood Press (publisher) to produce Pentecost, Prophecy and Exodus in audio format and sell them on Audible and iTunes through ACX. In 2014, I am definitely looking to expand into further audio products.
You too can create a great audio book recording …
But you need to know how to choose or prepare your home studio, and how to plan and staff your production. In this article, audio engineer Andy Marlow from EBindery discusses the initial choices of recording environment, some different recording techniques, the choice of narrator (self-read or voiceover artist) and the options for distribution.
Noisy Breaths and Lip Smacks
First, let’s talk about noise.
It's the single biggest differentiator between a pro and amateur production. The aims of an audio book recording are to produce a clear and engaging recording that best shows off your book and has a consistent quality and volume levels. If you want your listener to ‘lose themselves' in the story, then the recording itself should not distract the listener with major volume changes, room noise, noisy breaths, lip ‘smacks' and page turns. Your audio project should both prepare for and edit out these distractions.
An important factor when recording is how much unwanted noise gets onto the final recording. You want as little as you can possibly get. The recording environment plays a large part in this.
Furniture and Flooring: It is surprising how much room furnishings will influence both the sound of the recording and how noisy the recording is. A wooden floored room with bare walls will sound very different (brighter and with more room sound) than a room with carpets, wall hangings and lots of furniture, which will sound deader and duller and have a less obvious influence on the direct signal getting to the microphone.
Electronic Noise: A cheap microphone plugged into a laptop in a kitchen will probably give you a noisy recording, not only from the noise that the cheap microphone makes itself, but also the noise of the computer fan. Don’t forget that fluorescent lights can add their own noise (they hum!)
Noisy Neighbours: Live in the country? You may be deaf to birdsong, but it will show up on your recording. It may fit some scenes–but be incongruous in others. And if you live in the city, it can be hard to avoid street noise–or even your neighbour's TV.
Creating a Pro Studio At Home
The main advantage of using a professional studio with proper recording rooms over a home studio is there will be very little unwanted noise in the recording, making a more intelligible, pleasant and engaging listening experience, reducing ‘drop-off’ of your listeners.
Studio recording booths are sound-sealed to significantly reduce or stop outside sounds getting recorded at the same time as the audio that you want, and that’s what differentiates them from your home environment.
Having said that, there are many things that you can do to try to improve a home recording.
Choose the Right Room: Recording in a carpeted room, with curtains pulled shut (to reduce the amount of hard reflective wall surfaces) will deaden the room sound, leaving more of the direct signal from the microphone getting to the recording.
Pick a Microphone To Suit: There are many ways to record and each will achieve different levels of quality–from a simple cheap microphone plugged directly into a computer to a proper studio with a choice of microphones and amplifiers.
Different microphones have a different sounds to them, some can be bright sounding, some duller, others warm sounding. One microphone’s characteristics may suit one person’s voice but not another’s. These differences can help give your book the tonal character that suits the book’s style. Microphones can cost anywhere between £30 into the tens of thousands of pounds. If you can afford to, do your research, and then buy the best microphone you can. Investigate resale value on eBay–this may be the route to a quality mic.
Staff Your Project to Ensure Quality
There are obvious financial advantages to recording and editing your audio book yourself, but these may be short lived and there are a lot of downsides as well.
The main disadvantage is that it is very hard to read a book and objectively analyse:
- The recording levels and quality (e.g. ‘plosives’, clean recording levels–no distortion)
- The pacing, voice tone and volume, and
- Consistency with the text, and continuity. Your audio needs proofing as much, if not more, than your text manuscript.
When someone else is engineering and proofing the recording, it frees the narrator to concentrate on the task at hand – which is to make the listener engage with the book and want to listen on. If you are narrating your own book in your home studio, at least try to recruit an objective friend to act as your proofer.
Give Yourself Time
An advantage of recording and editing with a pro studio is that an engineer will be much faster and more experienced at getting the correct sound, dealing with the actual recording process itself, editing the recording into chapters and converting the final files into the right formats to be released. If you're tackling this yourself, give plenty of time for learning and experimentation.
Think Before Narrating Yourself
Narrating your own book will be cheaper than paying an experienced voiceover artist, but it could be a false economy. The amount of time a professional will take to record a book will most likely be a lot quicker than a novice. Why?
A professional voice is a more known factor. An experienced voiceover artist will know what they can do with their voice, how it sounds, pacing (the speed that they talk at) and microphone technique (how to change head position to alter the volume and tone of the recording.)
Effective microphone techniques can be some of the hardest yet most effective skills for an audio book narrator to master. If you’re narrating your own book, what are the most important things to know?
Microphone Distance: Moving the head slightly away from the microphone for louder parts will even the level of the recording, and getting close to the microphone will give a more intimate and bassy sound (known as the proximity effect).
Head Angle: Changing the angle of the head in relation to the microphone will reduce p-pops or plosives. Saying words with ‘P's and, to lesser extent, ‘B's in, can send a lot of air at the microphone, creating a low frequency thump in the recording. This is known as a plosive.
To try this out yourself, put your hand in front of your mouth and say ‘pool'. You will feel the air hitting your hand. On the other hand, on saying the word ‘teeth' you won't feel the same air hit.
If a plosive is not dealt with either during recording or editing, and the recording is played back on a large or bassy system, the low end thump can be very noticeable. It also affects how loud the programme material can be as it uses up valuable ‘headroom’. Using a pop-shield can also help remedy this particular problem.
After Recording, What Next?
If you’re a UK writer, you may be aware that ( as of Dec 2013) ACX, the audiobook portal for entry to Audible and Amazon listings, is not yet available to you. Specifically, you need to be a US resident, as well as having the tax identification (TIN) that you may be familiar with if you’ve published on Kindle or CreateSpace. Audiobook distribution is pretty much tied up with Amazon and Audible, and there is currently no method to publish an audiobook to iTunes as an indie. However, there are ways to progress:
First, and recommended, is preparing your content for when ACX opens to a global customer base.
If/when ACX opens, you could consider opening an account either as an Audio Publisher or Author Narrator, and going to them with a finished audio product. This is particularly pertinent if you don’t want to, or can’t find a suitable partner for, a split royalty agreement. With a split royalty agreement, producers are looking for a proven book with evidence of strong marketing, so can be hard to find, unless you have a strong sales record. And if you have a strong sales record, you may prefer to fund production up front and retain all audio royalties.
Watch out for pricing.
ACX won’t publish audiobooks that are available as podcasts, or free for download elsewhere. When it comes to price setting it’s also out of your control: ACX will set the retail price, loosely based on the length of the audio.
ACX may also be closed to you if you're not writing fiction.
ACX aren’t interested in publishing content unsuited to audio–and by that they mean pretty much anything other than novels. So where does that leave an indie author of ‘other’ content, wanting to explore audio publishing? All is not lost. You can publish your work through CD Baby, for example, to be listed as Spoken Word. For an indie author with a good marketing campaign and network this may be a good option. Another option is recording and producing your work and selling it through your own website, either as a digital download, or a physical disk.
What do you think about audiobooks? Do you want to explore that as an independent author? Or do you have experiences you can share? Please do add a comment below.
Andy Marlow is an audio engineer with over 20 years commercial experience recording, teaching and producing for business, musicians and voice over artists, in a wide range of styles. Along the way he’s worked with Marc Almond, performed at Glastonbury, and engineered for commercial clients including Nike and Reebok.
Andy has a friendly studio in Brixton equipped to a very high standard. Combine narrating your own book with a trip to London, or let Andy source a voice artist and fully produce your audio book.
Email Andy to chat about your project – firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ebindery.co.uk to see our range of indie author services, which include typesetting for print. We're a small agency specialising in one-to-one attention in all aspects of indie pub.
If you want more on audiobooks, check out these interviews: