Monday, September 25, 2017

How to Record an Audio Book – Narrator James Newcomb Speaks Out

This past spring, I was given the opportunity to record Matowak: Woman Who Cries by Joylene Nowell Butler.

My primary gig as it pertains to using my voice professionally is as a podcaster. I'm the host of a weekly podcast called MusicPreneur: Making Money Making Music as well as a daily podcast called Preneur Problems.

However, I decided to throw my name in the Audible ring and the publishers of Ms. Butler's book saw it fit to hire me to record it.

Recording an audiobook is very different from recording a podcast.

Recording a book requires a fairly strict observance of diction and pronunciation, not to mention understanding the nuances between the various characters - if it's a fictional book.

Being overly concerned with those things can be detractors from a podcast as audiences tend to prefer a more conversational, "warts and all" type of dialogue between the host and the guest.

My Process

Because I have a number of projects on my plate at any given moment, I chose to record Matowak in small portions.

Basically, I did one chapter per day. This includes recording the text, editing out my errors, mastering and uploading it into the Audible platform.

Over time, I developed a little system to expedite the editing process.

Anytime I made a mistake, I would make a "click" sound in my mouth. Since these sounds are distinct from my speaking voice, I'm able to see where these occur on my software. Rather than listening to the entire chapter, I'm able go directly to those spots and delete my mistakes.

Most recording software programs have features that allow you to mark where you'd like to edit. I prefer to simply make a noise with my mouth so as to not interrupt my flow while recording.

In retrospect, I believe I would have been better off recording the book in larger segments.

Recording only a chapter per day, I had to "get in the zone" every day for 30+ days. Had I arranged my schedule to allow 3-4 hour blocks of recording/editing/mastering/uploading, it could have been easier to stay in the proper frame of mind.

I also found it necessary to take breaks from recording. Focusing on correct pronunciation, diction, etc. is mentally tiresome. This is why I chose to edit/master/upload after each chapter, rather than try to record multiple chapters at once.

My equipment

It may surprise you to hear that my equipment is very minimal and inexpensive.

I recorded Matowak using my trusty ATR-2100, which you can find on Amazon for around $70. I've used the ATR-2100 in over 300 podcast episodes and consistently receive praise on the audio quality it produces.

I use Audacity recording software. It's a free download (google it) and is surprisingly user friendly. You may need a few tutorials (which I'm happy to provide if you're interested) but it is quite easy to use.

My "studio" is my master bedroom. Of course, it is carpeted and has some sound absorbing panels on the walls, but it is very minimalistic and effective.

I know of some podcasters and voice actors who record in their closets because the clothes absorb all the sound. Plus they're able to hide from their children!

What you can do to assist your voice actor

Perhaps you embrace modern technology and want to make your work available in as many mediums as possible.

Or you may believe that an audio version detracts from the intent of your book; you begrudgingly accept the need to produce an audio version because your publisher says you need to in order to keep up with the times.

Hey, I'm a musician and I work with musicians. I understand the need to preserve artistic purity and balance technology accordingly.

However, once you make the decision to make an audio version of your book, here are a few things you can do to produce a recording that honestly reflects - and even improves - your original intent with your work.

  1. Have a conversation with them. Set up a phone or Skype call. Explain the "if you didn't get all that, get this" core message you desire your readers to take away. Take the time to explain the personalities and nuances of your characters. A good voice actor wants to "get it right," and channel your intentions into the recording. Investing time upfront to explain these things will reap their rewards when the final product is finished. If you don't do this, they'll have no frame of reference and will inevitably interpret your work based on their own personal paradigm.
  2. Cultivate a relationship with them. This person is taking a considerable amount of time from their life and work to record your book. For example, a 12 hour audio book typically takes around 100 hours of labor to complete. If it's on a royalty share arrangement, they're doing so without a solid idea of how much they'll be compensated financially. Get to know them personally; allow them to get to know you. Open up a line of communication so that they'll feel comfortable approaching you when questions about how to interpret the book come up.
  3. Regard them as a collaborator, not as an employee. This person is putting a human voice to your words. The best way to get an authentic telling of your story is for your voice actor to feel as though they are personally invested in your work. Because, guess what? They are. When you erect that barrier of "I'm the author, you're the actor;" when you communicate only via a third party such as a publisher, the actor is going to feel like it's just another gig. They're going to quickly turn their impassioned attention to something else. Should you choose this approach, don't be surprised when they fail to meet your expectations.

Obviously, the best way to channel your intent as a writer in an audiobook is for you to do it yourself. ACX has many tutorials on how to DIY on a bootstrapped budget.

Should you decide you prefer a voice actor to record your book, perhaps these suggestions will help you in your endeavors!

James Newcomb 

Find James at MusicPreneur: Making Money Making Music and on Twitter

Find Mâtowak: Woman Who Cries at iTunes, Audible, and Amazon


nashvillecats2 said...

This was so interesting Diane, but being a person of not being technically minded it seems along way off to do. Thanks all the same for sharing this with us.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks again, James!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Interesting to hear how recording an audio book works. I would make way too many mistakes to be good at doing that, but love audio books in general.

Pat Hatt said...

Sure takes some doing indeed. Regarding all in the process as a collaborator would make it go smoother all around.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I hope this helps a lot of authors considering audio books.

The Cynical Sailor said...

Thanks for sharing, James. It was really interesting to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes of audio books. Cheers - Ellen

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

The clicking method makes perfect sense. Thank you for explaining all of this, James. It can’t have been easy pronouncing the many Cree words in Matowak.

Sandee said...

I'd never be able to pull this off. Just not in my wheelhouse.

It's great that there are so many resources though.

Have a fabulous day. ☺

Lynn La Vita said...

Thank you for explaining your process in easy to understand terms. I love the clicking idea and other insights into what works for you.

Karen Lange said...

This is interesting! It makes the process sound much more doable. It's fun too, to hear about how it worked with Joylene's book. Thanks so much for sharing.

Toi Thomas said...

I'm listening to this right now and am enjoying it. Good writing and good narration.
These are cool tips. Thanks for sharing them.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

It really is a lot of work. I don't think I could do it even if I could understand the technology.

Fundy Blue said...

I had no concept of how an audio book is made, so thank you for the thorough introduction, James. I read Jolene's "Matowak: Woman Who Cries" right after it came out and really enjoyed it. It's a great mystery. Thanks Nick for this great post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Thanks James for this really informative post on audio book recording - excellent to have such wise advice - cheers Hilary

Christine Rains said...

It's fascinating to learn all the little things that go into making audiobooks. Great advice!

Tyrean Martinson said...

I really appreciate your tips on recording and working with recording artists. This is one of those "I need to do that" areas that I keep putting off because it seems daunting. Your post definitely broke down some of my worry over it.

Michelle Wallace said...

Really informative!
Now I need the audio book experience...I haven't listened to one, yet.

H.R. Bennett said...

Thank you for sharing. I've been intending to make my stuff audio-book format as well, so I really appreciate the tips.

Tamara Narayan said...

Interesting. I'd love to narrate my own book someday. It's good to know the technology to do so isn't terribly complicated or expensive. After years of reading to my kids, I feel like I've had some good training toward such a project.