Recording the Audiobook

This is my list of things for a new narrator to consider during the recording process of making an audiobook.

Keep in mind that the overall goal is to record high quality audio, free of background noises, and to deliver a narration that is comfortable, clear, and consistent. Then, if you’re working with an editor, they will splice together the best takes, further minimize mouth noises, adjust breaths, levels, EQ, etc. And when all that’s done and proofed, there will probably be at least a few sections that need to be re-recorded. The final QC involves making sure specs are in order for loudness, noise floor, and delivery formats.

This is not an exhaustive guide. It cannot fully cover everything that there is to learn about narration, the recording process, or how to use audio software. I intend for this to be a simple guide that will give basic recommendations for the process.

If you are the author…

Keep in mind that if you are an author and are narrating your own audiobook for the first time, it will likely take at least twice as long as it would for a professional seasoned narrator. The delivery will likely not be as natural, and the editing process will also be significantly longer. This is all because even though narration sounds simple, it’s all about the nuance of delivering a narration performance that captures and delivers well. It might be simple, but it’s not easy. For this reason, many in the audiobook production industry will tell authors not to narrate their own work. If you ask them about the possibility of an author becoming a narrator, they will simply say, “don’t.”

There is a reason for that sentiment. However, I’ve also enjoyed many books read by the author – especially non-fiction work where I am already familiar with the author’s voice from their career as a speaker, teacher, or public figure. But again, I’ve also listened to a few author-read audiobooks that would have been better served by a professional narrator. My personal take is that if you’re an author and are willing to put in the time, money, and effort to produce a quality audiobook, then go for it. Be aware of what it takes to get it right, and be open to feedback. And also be open to the possibility that someone else may deliver the material better than you.

Technical Considerations:

  • Record to mono WAV files at 48K, 24bit.
    • Higher quality files are fine.
    • If the recording setup only has 44.1K at 24bit available, that also works.
  • For audiobooks, it is ideal to record in a room that is as soundproof as possible and with as few reflective surfaces as possible.
    • By soundproof, I mean a space where outside noises don’t get through – such as a car driving by, people talking in other rooms, footsteps down the hall, HVAC, etc.
      • If HVAC is an issue, many people choose to turn off their Heating/Cooling systems right before starting the recording session.
    • By few reflective surfaces, I mean an acoustically “dead” space where there is little to no natural echo from walls, floors, ceilings. In a studio, this is typically done with acoustic panels being placed on a majority of the walls and parts of the ceiling. In makeshift studios, some people hang blankets on walls or use walk-in closets.
  • If you have the option to test mics, find a mic that works well with your voice. Use a pop filter, and find a mic placement that minimizes plosives and mouth noise. In a well-treated room, a Large Diaphragm Condenser mic is usually a better choice than a dynamic mic. Also in a well-treated room, you can have mic placement further away which will help with levels, and minimizing plosives.
  • Make your recording setup stable so the sound doesn’t change between recording sessions.
    • Once you have a good setup and have dialed in the sound, some find it helpful to take a picture of the setup or even make specific notes about mic placement, how the chair was positioned, where the notes are that you’re reading from, etc.
    • Keep the setup the same even after recording the initial sessions for the book. It is highly probable that there will be a few places that need to be re-recorded after the editing process is in progress.
  • Record 10-30 seconds of silence at the beginning of each section. This will help in creating a room tone sample that can help in the editing process.
  • Name your files in a consistent manner that identify which section it is – Credits, title, chapter, etc.

Performance Considerations:

  • Keep in mind that an audiobook is a much different format than being on stage, or even a vocalist. In an audiobook, there is nothing masking background sounds, adding any kind of dimension, or giving the listener an alternate point of focus. It’s just a single voice – and often being listened to in earbuds or in the car. As such, it becomes our goal to record a good delivery/performance with as little distractions as possible, and to keep the sound as consistent as possible.
  • Consider a version of the manuscript with a larger font and line spacing that is easier to read.
  • Be aware of sentences that might need to be adjusted for an audiobook listener as opposed to a traditional reader. For example, a sentence that says “as you read this book” might translate better when changed to “as you listen to this book.”
  • Be aware of background noises in the recording booth. Papers make sounds, keyboards, chairs, desks, and even clothes make sounds. Choose your chairs and clothes with care.
  • If you’re reading from a paper manuscript, be aware of turning pages. Don’t turn pages while reading. Instead have 2 pages side by side and find a place where there is a natural break to stop and adjust the pages. Reading from a tablet or an iPad can make silent page-turns possible.
  • Record in sessions that have a good start/end point (i.e. end a session by ending a chapter).
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of liquids during the day, although you don’t necessarily want to be taking drinks of water constantly throughout the session. Too much moisture in the mouth can lead to more mouth noise in the narration.
  • Warm up your voice. This can be as simple as a conversation. But it can also be advanced as specific vocal warm-ups for narrators and voiceover actors.
  • Don’t be in a hurry.
  • Relax and take a deep breath before starting a take.
  • Leave several seconds of space in between chapter headings or sections.
  • Don’t stress your voice by sessions that are too long. Instead schedule shorter, consistent times over several days. For example, recording from 10am-noon each day for 4 days is better than trying to knock out 8 hours of recording in one day.
  • Identify “pickups”, which are places where you are re-recording a section
    • If not using punch and roll, use a dog clicker to mark pickups.
    • Clapping your hands twice can also work to mark pickups.
    • Marking the pickups will help make the editing process smoother.

Bonus links

  • The sound of a video interview vs. an audiobook: I like this video clip as it shows the difference in sound that you want in an audiobook vs. an interview. The interview is in a room that is untreated versus the short clip that shows the narrator in the studio. You also get an idea for potential mic placement and how a nice condenser mic sounds in a properly treated room.

Do you have tips or ideas for helping new audiobook narrators? Drop me a line.

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