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How To Produce An Audiobook

Try to make your audiobook reading well-paced and easy to understand. You should be aiming to get it as close as possible to the standards employed in the professional audio industry to produce commercially available audiobooks. If you do not already have experience of audiobooks, it is important that you spend time listening to plenty of commercially produced audiobooks before you try to produce your own if you are the one who is going to be doing the narrating and/or the editing.

Format

Audiobooks should be recorded in 16 bit / 44.1 kHz wav file format. This is the same format and quality that is generally used to create CDs. When your audio file has been produced in this way, it should be saved as, or converted to, a 192kbps mp3 file.

Recording Method

Audiobooks are recorded by one of two methods:

1. Punch Record:

This is the usual way of recording. When a mistake is made, go back to the previous sentence, or to a suitable break before you made the mistake, and 'punch in'. That is, you start reading again from where you left off, or from a prior break. Don't punch in halfway through a breath sound or any other sound. Find a moment of silence where you can punch in. You want to keep the sound of the recording clean. Any 'chopped' sounds you produce will need to be fixed later.

One of the main advantages of using this method is that it makes the editing afterwards much quicker. Essentially you have already put together the audiobook during the recording. One of the disadvantages, of course, is that it takes a fair amount of audio production skill and experience to be able to 'punch' both correctly and cleanly if you are going to produce a recording that doesn't require a lot of possibly difficult editing afterwards.

2. Straight Record:

This is less common. When a mistake is made, you do not stop recording, but instead you (or whoever is reading) just goes back (while still recording continuously) and then starts reading again from the beginning of the sentence where the mistake was made, or from some suitable break before that point. Afterwards all the correct takes are edited together, the mistakes being edited out.

One of the advantages of doing the recording this way is that you get the audiobook recorded more quickly, but the disadvantage is that it will take much longer to edit the audiobook afterwards in comparison to the time it would take if you had done a punch record.

Room Tone

Room tone is 'the sound of silence' in the place where you are recording your audiobook. You record nothing other than the ambience, the silence, in the room or studio you are using for the recording.

Switch the mic on, keep silent, and record … nothing! You want a good, long stretch of this silent sound. You should do this at the end of every day of recording, using the same settings that you used to record your audiobook narration.

This sound is known as ‘dead air’. It will be used in the editing later on to mask noises, and to insert pauses, and to adjust the length of existing pauses, thereby altering the spacing between words, sentences, paragraphs, etc. This is how the pace of the narration can be altered to make it more pleasing to the ear.

Opening And Closing Credits

You have to record opening and closing credits for the book. The opening credits go at the very start of the audiobook, before the audiobook's main narration begins. The closing credits go at the end of the book, after the audiobook's main narration has finished. The credits should take the following form:

Opening Credit:

Say, “This is (title of audiobook), written by (name of author), narrated by (name of narrator).”

Closing Credit:

Say, “This has been (title of audiobook), written by (name of author), narrated by (name of narrator), copyright (year) by (name of copyright holder), production copyright (year it was recorded) by (name of production copyright holder)”.

Common Mistakes That Might Be Made During Recording

Non-Speech Sounds

You do not want any sounds (unless you are including or adding deliberate sound effects - FX) other than your narration. So make sure you have no sounds coming from your own movements (assuming you are the narrator). If there are noises such as you moving your chair or the microphone, or sounds coming from your clothing, or if there is the sound of paper being rustled, or picked up or put down, you should punch in or go back to a suitable point in the narration and continue reading from there, according to the technique you are using.

If you become aware of any extraneous sounds coming from other people in the room or studio, or from outside the recording space (such as police cars and ambulances, etc., going by, or sounds coming from people outside the recording space), again you must stop your narration and re-start it in the appropriate way.

Narration Problems

Reading Too Fast, Indistinctly, Or 'Garbling'

You want the listener to hear, understand and enjoy the narration. You will almost certainly need to read more slowly than you normally speak. Read the material out clearly. Say all the words that are in that material. Pronounce each word fully. Obviously this may not apply if you are pretending to be a character with a distinctive, perhaps regional, accent. But the point is that you must say everything as it is meant to be said.

Remember that all sorts of people listen to audiobooks, and they have different levels of comprehension. You need to satisfy all of them. Reading too fast can not only confuse and 'lose' listeners, but it can also lead you, as the narrator, to garble words. More seriously, you may miss out words, or even entire sentences and paragraphs. Excessive pace can lead you to lose track of where you are and where you should be in the narration.

Mistakes in the narration will involve you in having to re-read the work, or to waste time and effort in what would otherwise be unnecessary editing. The result of all this can only be to worsen, not improve, the overall quality of the audiobook.

Producing 'Plosives'

A 'plosive' is an unwanted popping sound which you sometimes hear when a word starting with the letter 'p', and also to a lesser extent with the letter 'b' and even with the letter 't', is pronounced too forcefully. The narrator's breath hits the mic too hard. Plosives sound bad and are annoying and therefore distracting for listeners. So if you are aware you have produced a plosive during the recording, you should stop and re-read and re-record that particular section, or go back and start reading again from before the plosive was produced.

To avoid plosives, you can adjust your position in relation to the mic, but also you should always be controlling the force with which you speak, particularly when you are aware that you are about to say a 'dangerous' word.

Distortion Produced From Setting Wrong Audio Levels

If you narrate too loudly, or you set the recording level so that it is too sensitive (i.e. you record at too high a level), the final recording will sound distorted, either in parts or in its entirety. The meter on your recording equipment should usually reveal this by going into the red or having some sort of indicator going beyond what is clearly marked as being an acceptable level. Even if you cannot hear any distortion, if you see this technical indicator, you should re-record that part of the narration, adjusting your position in relation to the mic, and/or altering the recording level on your recording equipment. If you do not do this, you may find that when you play back your faulty narration, it might well sound acceptable because your recording software and/or equipment deals with it in such a way that distortion is not audible. But when the final recording is produced in MP3 format, distortion can still be there when the audiobook is played on certain devices or over the internet. Therefore in practice, recording levels must always be metered and monitored carefully, and if the level does at any time go beyond what is acceptable or recommended, the narration must be recorded again with the levels kept within acceptable limits.

Problems With Consistency

The audiobook must be consistent throughout, and there should be no issues as far as continuity is concerned. One area in particular where problems car arise is when you, as the narrator, are trying to produce distinct character voices and accents. If you have any doubts about your consistency, but you do not feel you need to re-record, you should at least add markers to the recording, which is usually done using the recording software. If you can't add a marker in this way, you should note the time into the recording at which you began to feel doubts about your consistency. You can then deal with the problem, if there is one, in the editing. Better still, don't wait until the editing, but instead, when you have finished the day's recording, go back to the doubtful parts of your days narration, listen again to what you have produced, and if necessary you can re-read and record any necessary sections correctly.

The advantage of doing a listen-through in this way is that you can go back to where you first started using a character's distinctive 'voice' and then go forward to the part of the narration about which you have doubts. It is then possible, and easy, to compare the two to hear if there are any differences.

If you have a character that appears early on in the book, and then disappears for quite a while before reappearing later on, you can go back in the recording to where they first made an appearance and you can remind them about how you made them sound. Likewise with words that can be pronounced in more than one way, you can go back and check how a character pronounced that word earlier in the narration, so you can then ensure that it continues to be pronounced in the same way.

Editing

When the audiobook's recording has been completed, it then needs to be edited. It also has to be checked for quality. (This is sometimes known as 'QC', or quality control.)

1. Audio Files

You know the format for the recording and the final output. Books are usually separated into chapters, and likewise an audiobook should be recorded with each chapter in a separate file. For each file, the 'clock' or counter will start at zero. If there are forewords, introductions, dedications, postscripts, prologues, epilogues, etc., they should go in separate files, as should the opening and closing credits.

The finished, edited master for the audiobook will contain all these files, still separate from one another. They are never run together into one huge file.

Standards Demanded By Audiobook Sites

Standards may differ according to where, how and with whom you are going to place and sell and broadcast your audiobook, but the standards suggested by ACX give you some useful guidelines to work to. ACX are one of the big players, tying in with www.audible.com. It is worth browsing their website and seeing their guidelines for chapter length and size, how they should be divided up, when they may possibly be combined, and so on.

It is suggested that there should be 0.5 seconds at the head of every file, and 3.5 seconds at the tail. There should be 2.5 seconds after the narrator says, “This is chapter so-and-so,” or, “This is the introduction,” etc.

Dealing With Undesirable And Unnecessary Sounds

Often speakers produce an audible intake of breath when they are about to start speaking. If an audiobook narrator does this, these sounds should (usually) be removed. Sometimes they can be kept in if they are not too noticeable and do not distract from the listening experience. Occasionally, of course, they might be produced deliberately to add something to the mood or meaning of that particular part of the narration.

Any plosives, tongue clicking, lip-smack sounds, etc., should be removed.

Any extraneous, external noises that have crept into the recording and are not part of the narration itself should be removed. It is important what standard, what level of perfection, you are aiming for. Perfection, as they say, is the enemy of the good. The quality level must be acceptable, but how far beyond that level do you want to go? The law of diminishing returns can kick in here. What is more important than becoming over-fastidious is to be consistent. Set a baseline standard, never go below it, and set a point above it beyond which you will not waste time bothering to go.

It is worth remembering that if you over-edit an audiobook it may actually end up sounding 'doctored' and unnatural.

Use Of Room Tone

Clear room tone should always be in any space, pause, silence, etc. If you have tainted sound in any part of the recording that is not filled with the narration, replace it with the unadulterated room tone (dead air) that you deliberately recorded for this purpose.

Any unwanted, undesirable sounds should be replaced with room tone.

The Pace Of The Narration

Pacing is an art rather than a science, and it is partly down to what you believe is right, which should naturally also reflect what you believe the listener will find most satisfying. The narration should flow and sound natural. But also the mood and intent of the original book's author should be preserved. Of course the pace of the narration can change with the action and mood of the writing, but it should never go beyond certain limits where it might become either unintelligible or dreary.

If you know someone who listens to audiobooks, or someone who is involved in their production, it is potentially helpful if you can get them to listen to your work and give you their opinion of it.

Checking The Quality Of The Final Files

Every audiobook you produce should be checked for quality (quality controlled, or QC'd). The final audio files need to be listened to very carefully. This is your last chance to make any corrections, alterations or improvements. Bear in mind that even if you find the finished audiobook acceptable, a publisher, broadcaster, or any transmitter, seller or purchaser, may still say that it is not acceptable or that changes still need to be made.

During the quality control process, you may decide that some of the narration needs to be replaced, or extra narration inserted, in which case you will have to go back to the recording room/studio and do some more narration (remembering to record some more room tone for that particular session). Corrections should always be, and sound, as near to seamless as possible. Ideally the listener should not be able to hear any difference between edited/corrected and unedited/uncorrected material.

Mastering/Re-Mastering The Final Audio Files

When the book has been given its final edit and it has been QC’d, the final step (before it is submitted to wherever you intend it to go) is to master, and if necessary re-master, it. Mastering is where you adjust (sort of … fine tune) the sound, in terms of tones and levels and perhaps speed, in order to make sure the output audio files are as satisfactory and as 'listenable' as they can be, and that the audiobook has a pleasingly consistent quality throughout.

Again, the place you are probably best advised to go to is ACX. They, and similar people, might for example make technical recommendations, such as 'keep submitted files -23dB and -18dB RMS'. They may say 'peaks around -3dB'. 'Noise floor between -60dB and -50dB.' You may need to apply compression, perhaps with a certain attack/release ratio. You may need to use a hard limiter. You may want or need to apply equalization to the files (EQ them).

So you see that for this stage you need some technical knowledge and competence (or you need to know someone who has those things), and you should be familiar with whatever software and equipment you are using.

Once the files have been mastered, you keep the WAV files, but save or convert them to 192 Kbps MP3’s. (This, at least, is the file format required by ACX and many others.)

Some sites, such as ACX/audible.com, also require a sample that they can use in marketing your audiobook, allowing people to listen to some of it before deciding whether to buy, borrow or download it, so you will have to produce this as a separate file for them. Obviously you want to make this sample as 'appealing' as possible (it will probably be between a minimum of 1 minute and a maximum of 5 minutes long) because it is essentially your sales pitch for your product. Never include credits or any form of preamble in your sample. Get straight into some narration.

How Do You Find A Voice Artist If You Don’t Want To Read Your Audiobook Yourself?

Either go to ACX or a similar site, or do a search on the internet. Another way is to take audiobooks that you like, see who the reader is, and try to get in touch with them to see if they might be able and prepared to read your material. Otherwise go to a local drama/arts college or some local theater - amateur or professional - and see if someone there could do the narration for you.

Be aware that this can be an expensive route to go down. It's certainly much cheaper, and probably ultimately much more interesting, for you to do the narration of your own material yourself. Perhaps if your audiobooks sell well, you might then reasonably consider paying someone else to do the recordings for you.

Is It Really Worth Doing Audiobooks?

Presumably you mean financially? As far as personal satisfaction is concerned, only you can decide whether it is worthwhile. But audiobooks provide the 3rd biggest income stream that a writer can get (after film royalties and book royalties), so if you do get successful (or lucky?), producing audiobooks can prove financially worthwhile.

With your own work, it is probably a case of trying it and seeing what results you get. But certainly you should not dismiss it out of hand. Arguably, because there are far fewer audiobooks than hard-copy books or ebooks, you could benefit from having less competition, as well as serving a market that might be prepared to pay more for your material in audio form than other people are paying you for it in paper or ebook form.

The audiobook market is growing quite strongly.

Software To Use To Record An Audiobook

Unfortunately the only software I have experience of is Audacity, but it is good, popular, and, best of all, free. You can download it here. Otherwise, as usual, try doing a search on the internet, perhaps looking for 'audiobook recording software'.

Hardware Necessary To Record An Audiobook

You could just use any computer with a microphone, and a program such as Audacity. But probably you will want a reasonable quality microphone (even an inexpensive one should be good enough to do the job). You only need to record in mono. Stereo is something that you could perhaps experiment with later on, but really there is little need or justification for it with an audio book with a single narrator. The other thing is to out the sound from your computer (assuming you are using that rather than professional recording equipment) through any reasonable domestic hi-fi set-up. This is so that you are better able to hear the quality of your audio files, and to be able to pick up faults and inadequacies that need removing, correcting or improving.

You see then that it is now easy and cheap (essentially involving very little or no cost over and above what you have already spent in the normal course of things) to get on with recording your own audiobooks, It really is just a matter of making the attempt, and then submitting the results of it to a suitable outlet or outlets. Presumably you will be wanting to do that over the internet in some way. CD's seem to be 'dying a death', so probably you will not want to bother with that sort of output, but it is still a possibility.

Of course it may be that your interest in producing audio material is not commercial. You may just want to produce a store of bedtime stories for your kids or grandkids, or to convert magazines and newspapers into audio format for an elderly relative who can no longer read. Whatever your motivation, there is really nothing to stop you getting started straightaway.

Audio Books | How To


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