Thursday, 15 October 2015

10 Worst Places to Record your Audiobook and Other Mistakes Narrators Make

Narrating audio books is not just about the microphone and the recording equipment, but the environment in which you record. Here is a list of the worst mistakes a narrator can make when setting up a place to record.

Acoustic foam
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I have recorded a number of audiobooks and have learned by trial and error how to get the best sound for my audiobook narration. Big mistakes are:

1 Do not record in a room with hard surfaces. This includes bathrooms, kitchens or any room that contains lots of mirrors and/or tiles. Harsh echoes will reverberate all over the place. The room should be a ‘dead’ room, where all echoes are eliminated by the use of acoustic foam or towels.

2 Do not record in a large room. You don’t want to sound like an orator within a large hall, addressing a congregation. The energy within your voice will also be lost. A closed studio will create intimacy to the recording.

Listen to the audio sample of Falling Awake describing a woman bluffing her way through a phone conversation with seedy moneylenders. Notice there are no echoes in the recording. The result is an intimate, studio feel.

Do I Need Soundproofing?

3 Do not record in a room with a high noise floor. The room may seem quiet at first, but sit in it for a minute or so and you may nose ambient noise, which will come from a number of sources: fridges, distant traffic, lawnmowers, perhaps a dog barking. A sensitive mic will pick up everything. Be aware of the noise floor in any room.

4 Don’t record in damp conditions. This will affect the performance of the mic, particularly a condenser, which must be kept in a dry place. I have had to re-record sections of my narration because the mic didn’t seem to perform so well on wet days.

5 Similarly, avoid rooms that are prone to temperature shifts, such as conservatories or outhouses, as this will affect the recording equipment. Cooling overnight will create condensation. Exceptions are if there is a period of settled weather and you are able to pack the kit away after recording.

6 Allow the mic to adjust to the studio conditions before recording. If it is kept in a cool place, allow the mic to adjust if the studio is relatively warm. I will give my mic about ten minutes after setting it up. If it comes with a dust cover, as my Rode does, place the cover over the mic. Of course, don’t forget to remove it before recording.

7 Don’t place the mic too close to any surface. Allow the mic to ‘breathe’. I learned this the hard way after placing my mic within a padded partition, hoping to buffer the sounds of distant traffic, and although this worked, my voice sounded too confined and lacked clarity.

The Recording Booth
8 Don’t record in an uncomfortable environment. Take time to set everything up properly. You need enough space to sit straight or stand up within the recording space. This will permit lung stretches when narrating. Have comfy cushions to sit on, a heater when it is cold, and most importantly, to place the script somewhere easily read and convenient.

The Question of Acoustic Foam

9 Don’t spend thousands on buying costly acoustic foam and sound-proofing. You can get great sound by improvisation. Use soft towels and duvets to kill echoes within your recording space and reserve the acoustic foam for the areas around the mic only. Few people can afford soundproofing, so I simply waited for the ‘quiet’ times, which was in the evenings. You will find that thick material will eradicate high frequency sounds, such as birdsong.

10 Even once the room has been decided on, trial the sockets via test recordings and listen for buzzing sounds that feed into the audio interface. Watch out for socket that shares power with other appliances in the house. Power surges from fridges or washing machines could cause unwanted feedback. If necessary, use an extension lead to plug into a more remote socket.

More Articles about Narrating Audiobooks

Tips about using noise removal
Worst places to record your audiobook

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Essential Equipment for Audio Book Narrating

Recording gear for narrating audiobooks need not be expensive to have great quality. Here is a list of my most important equipment that I use for vocal recording my talking books.

My Recording Kit
1 My computer with mouse and power cable. Any good computer will do. I have an Advent with Windows 10. Whilst recording, I always plug into the mains rather than relying upon auxiliary power, as you don’t want the power dying halfway through your recording.

2 Good headphones. Use the sort that goes over the ears, not into them. You can then hear all frequencies right down to the base. I use Sennheiser headphones.

3 Rode microphone with dust cover. It’s ok to go a little cheap on the headphones, but not the mic. The Rode is the most sensitive mic in the world and results in a nice, warm and rich sound.

4 XLR cable: The Rode mic is not connected directly to the computer, as the sound card in the typical pc is not up to the job of professional recording. Instead, an XLR cable is connected from the mic to an audio interface (explained next). This powers the mic.

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5 Scarlett Solo Audio Interface: The Rode XLR cable is connected to the Scarlett interface so that sound waves can be converted to digital, a language the computer can understand. The interface itself is connected to the computer via a USB port.

6 Mic stand: (not pictured as it is set up in the sound booth). The Rode studio package does not come with a stand, but I managed to get a stand quite cheaply from my local music shop.

7 Pop filter. The Rode NT1 A comes with its own cable and studio quality pop filter that eliminates plosives. Every narrator should have a pop filter.

8 External memory: I use Seagate one Terabyte. Sound files gobble up space, so I do not store sound files within my computer. I have 2 Seagates, one for backup.

9 The Script: I had my novels printed out on A4 sheets of paper, no smaller than 12pt so that I could read them easily. Some narrators like to read from a screen.

10 Interior light: Not every sound booth has its own interior light. I used a camping lamp when the light got poor in the evenings.

11 Free sound editing software: I use Audacity. You can download it from SourceForge. I also use Lame, which enables me to convert Wave files into MP3.

12 A sound booth. More about that on a separate article.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Four Audiobook Thrillers for One Audible Credit: 32 Hours of Listening to Eclipse Quartet

It is finally out! Eclipse Quartet: 4 full-length Psychological Thrillers is an audio bundle book exploring the murky side of the human psyche; blackmail, paranoia, psychosis and addiction. And for just one Audible credit!

Eclipse Quartet by Charles J Harwood for 1 Audible Credit

click to buy from Audible
These four thrillers took decades to write. Writing had to feel risky, a little dangerous and worth the telling. Now after countless edits, am proud these thrillers can be found on Kindle, paperback and large print. But I wanted to make my stories even more accessible, not only to listeners, but to listeners who wish to make each Audible credit count.

Thrillers on Audible

As an Audible customer myself, I put myself into the mind of the typical Audible member who pays a monthly subscription and came to the answer that I would like each Audible credit to work hard. This was why I decided to put all my four thrillers into one, large audio book lasting over 32 hours.

Of course, the thrillers are also available singly, to provide choice. But just imagine, getting four, full length thrillers for the price of one credit. Sounds good.

And it does sound good. Narrated by Rachel Shirley, take a listen to the synopsis from this unmissable thriller foursome, or read overview of each thriller below.

Gripping Psychological Thrillers at Cheap Prices

So without further ado, find a short blurb on what each thriller is about, opening with:

The Shuttered Room.

Jessica Fraser is rich and successful with a lovely son. She would appear to have everything, but then she is abducted and locked in an upstairs room by 3 thugs. In a failed escape attempt, she cuts a small hole in the bedroom floor from where she spies upon her captors’ everyday lives.

Spying is a good way to pass the time.

Until she starts playing mind games with her abductors.

Followed by Falling Awake

Gemma is left destitute when her husband mysteriously disappears leaving only a disturbing drawing as a clue to his whereabouts.

Desperate to save her home, Gemma takes up an evening commission, performing for an unseen voyeur who watches from the shadows.

But what sort of client is he? Gemma begins to question her role as a performer for someone she fears and loathes. A Hitchcock style thriller that delves into disturbing realms.

The Third Thriller, Nora

Nancy accepts a seductive proposal to accompany playboy millionaire, Vince on a walkabout from one of his nightclubs for a photo shoot. Little does she realize the nightmare that is about to unfold once she enters his limo.

A dirty bet, blood on a dagger and misplaced rage.

And finally, A Hard Lesson

Timid Sarah didn’t realize she is about to take on the worst pupil imaginable. He is anything but a young schoolchild requiring a little mentoring, but a full-grown thug with behavior difficulties and severe dyslexia.

And he belongs to a tightly-knit group headed by a psychopath.

She is about to uncover a can of worms not only within her pupil’s family, but the inner workings of his criminal clique.

Each novel found within Eclipse Quartet is on average 8 hours long.

Mistakes to Avoid in the First Chapter of your Audio Book

Just like the first page of a novel, the opening scene of an audio book can either hook the listener or spur him to do an Audible return, which is very easy. The first scene of an audio book is the second most important piece of recording after the audio retail sample. So what can the audio book producer do to ensure the listener does not return your audio book early?

How to Get Audio Book Sales

Okay, so your audio retail sample has piqued the interest of the reader enough to upload your audio book. But what about the first scene? There is a huge choice of audio books available, so the reader must be hooked straight after uploading. This means getting chapter one or the prologue as tight as possible. No waffle or verbal dithering is allowed. The following elements are vital:

The style of the narration, the narrative style, the dialogue (if any) and the action description. Added up, each makes a whole, which is only as good as its weakest point. This means tight prose, read by a compelling narrator that pushes curiosity upon the listener. The listener has to keep listening or the audio book could be returned. And Audible members can return any audio book within one year of purchase, no questions asked.

The opening scene of my audio book, A Hard Lesson by Charles J Harwood narrated by Rachel Shirley propels the listener straight into action via the viewpoint of Frank, who witnesses his friend, Kurt being physically abused by his uncle. Click to take a listen to the audio sample.

Straight away, questions present themselves. Why is the uncle angry with his nephew? Is all as it seems? What sort of relationship does Frank have with Kurt? What series of events led to this point? Within the fear that Frank experiences, there is a back story. The narrator paces the reading to convey the tension. Some words are clipped; others are preceded by a pause or a breath.

Compelling Scene Openers of Audio Books

Not every audio book has to hurl the listener into action. The opening can intrigue via an unusual narrative imparted by a soft voice. Perhaps a secret is about to be revealed or a meeting of people who have not seen each other since childhood. Perhaps something terribly embarrassing is about to happen or a unique problem needs solving. The listener should be piqued by curiosity – not so much by a mystery, but an irresistible urge to keep on listening.

How to Keep your Audio Book Interesting

What to omit is as vital as what to include, as a good narrator is also a story teller. Reading out a novel will often reveal problems within the text or the dialogue and a redraft will be necessary. Perhaps some sentences are too long or waffly, or the dialogue sounds stilted. Both must be addressed before recording.

But the best story in the world will sound uninteresting if not performed well by the narrator. Tension and suspense should be evident in the voice, as well as variations in pitch and tone. Narrating an audio book is all about story telling. Don’t give the listener any reason to switch the book off. And this means:

1 No annoying clicks and swallows from the narrator. A beautiful story can be spoiled by sloppy reading.
2 Good recording quality. Recording in a bathroom won’t do. And no one wants to hear the hush of traffic or echoes from wall tiles, it spoils the listener experience. ACX do a quality check, but these issues do sneak though.
3 No waffly words and wordy paragraphs. The listener can be a fickle audience. Don’t give him or her any reason to switch off, or your audio book could be returned.

How to Begin an Audio Book

If your audio book has a rash of returns, take a second look at the opening scene. Consider substituting it for another scene in the book. Perhaps the beginning is too slow. Cutting the first chapter or prologue can sometimes improve the novel, in that it pushes the listener further into the story. Look out for other issues, such as the recording quality or the narration. Re-recording the opening scene will often be worth the trouble.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Ten Mistakes Every Audio Book Narrator Must Avoid with Dialogue

Dialogue forms a vital part of audio book narration and getting it wrong could spell loss of book sales. Audio book narration is broadly split in two: describing the inner thoughts of characters, and then the dialogue. Both require a separate set of skills.

Take a listen to an excerpt from my audio book Falling Awake by Charles J Harwood narrated by Rachel Shirley comprising discourse between 2 characters: Gemma and Terry, her father in law. Gemma has exposed a ring of crooks that had almost killed her husband, but Gemma refuses to pursue the matter further with Terry. He feels let down by his daughter in law. Notice how we can easily tell who is speaking. Terry has a gruff voice with clipped edges. We can also hear the anguish in his voice. Gemma sounds slightly hoarse and contrite.

Audio Book Dialogue Mistakes

A book narrator might have a beautiful voice, but if she cannot get to grips the character voices, the audio book could get bad reviews or returns. Such issues include the following:

Speaking the character voices in the same voice as the general narration itself, so the listener cannot tell if anyone is speaking or not. Always make it clear whether someone is speaking in the narration.

Speaking character voices with the same voice, so the listener cannot tell who is speaking. Always differentiate between character voices via tone of voice, inflection or accent. This will add colour to the narration.

Not practicing the accents of different characters. For example not giving a supposed Scot or Aussie an accent at all, resulting in a lack of conviction in the reading. The secret to accents is to be subtle. Unless you are 100% confident with an accent (or you are a native), ladle it on as thick as you like. My mother came from London so I feel reasonably confident with the cockney accent.

Going too far with accents, resulting in a parody or a cartoonish sound to the character voice. No one wants to hear a Welsh person sounding like Ruth Maddox from Hi-de-Hi. (See above). Often, it is better to be subtle with accents you are not familiar with. Not every word spoken has to be coloured with an accent. Listening to YouTube clips of people with accents I am trying to emulate (particularly famous people) has helped.

Male narrators squeaking to emulate the voice of a little girl or females digging deep to reach the deep tones of a male character. If the pitch cannot be reached, don’t force it. Keep the voice within vocal range and aim for subtle. Keep it natural.

Listeners appreciate the extra effort of the narrator. Character voices can be differentiated other than the pitch and dialect. Some voices are gruff (like Terry’s) others are smooth, shrill, muffled or clipped. There are many ways a character voice can be unique.

Not injecting any expression into the words uttered. Dialogue spoken as though by a robot will not create compelling narrative. Sometimes I will put myself into the character’s shoes or to think of a situation I have been in to rouse the emotion sought after. This helps with character acting.

Mistakes to Avoid in Audio Book Narration: When the Narrator Reads too Fast or Slow

The most important thing about an audiobook is the words read out. The second most important thing about an audio book is the spaces between. Consideration should be given to the length of pauses and the pacing of the reading as the words are spoken.

How to Audio Book Narrate

A book that is read in a galloping pace throughout is the audible equivalent to being bludgeoned over the ears. Beautifully written prose is nothing if it is read like a robot or without feeling. This is why heeding the spaces between the words is so important.

Take a listen to this excerpt from my audio book the Shuttered Room by Charles J Harwood, narrated by Rachel Shirley. The main character, Jess has been abducted and is pursued through the woods. The slight shifts in pace reflects the suspense build-up as Jess hides in the woods. But we suspect something explosive is about to happen, and the acceleration in pace is saved for when it is needed.

Pacing the Book Reading

Often, I will read the script with pacing in mind, but often, pacing will require tweaking in the sound editing process. This means lengthening or shortening the silences between the wave patterns that are spoken aloud.

When it comes to audio book narration, the following needs bearing in mind:

When a sentence requires emphasis, a pause is often required. A character might reveal a secret, answer an important question or express deep emotion. Pauses are everything in such scenes. These longer-than-average pauses differentiate themselves from the rest of the narration.

When it comes to narrating action scenes, a faster pace is often required. This might be a chase, a gambling scene or a fight in the street.

When it comes to suspense, shifts in pace are often required. The moment before an explosive event might be slow, and then quicken once action commences.

Pacing in dialogue is another matter to consider. People speak in different speeds in different situations. A revelation of a secret might require emphasis between certain words and therefore pauses. A panicked person trying to communicate important information is likely to talk at a faster pace. Some characters might speak more slowly than others, and this can reflect who is speaking without having to use attributives.

How to Pace your Narration in an Audio Book

Instinct and the inner ear is important when fine-tuning the pacing of your audio book. It is also a good idea to listen to other audio books and pay attention to the pacing of the reading. Is yours faster than the norm? Does yours sound too slow after listening to a few audio books? Take a listen to lauded narrators with good reviews. How does your pacing sound by comparison? If undecided, I find it a good idea to do about three listening of each chapter. I always find a section of recording where the pause was far too short or where a piece of dialogue was rattled off too quickly. In such cases, I can adjust the pauses between the sentences or words.

Most recording software (I use Audacity) has a function where you can adjust the tempo of a recording without affecting the pitch. But use it sparingly. I will notch up or down the speed slightly. It can make all the difference to the spoken word. Always listen to the recording in context once the tweaking is done, to make sure it sounds right.

Be prepared to re-record the section if it continues to sounds wrong. The problem will continue to niggle, and will likely be picked up by the audio book listener.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Mistakes to Avoid in Writing the Audio Book Script: Read Before Audio Narrating

Reading a book aloud is different to reading the sentences within the head. When I began audio book production, I learned that my ‘word perfect’ novel needed yet another redraft. There are various reasons for redrafting your novels for the audio book market.

How to Prepare the Audio Book Script

Authors may redraft their novels for the audio book market for several reasons. These might be:

Certain sentences are too long. Reading long sentences without a breath is not only uncomfortable for the reader, but also the listener. Who wants to hear an endless sentence being read out to the last puff of air? Some audio book producers even edit out the pauses, which sounds wrong. I will cut a sentence in half, shorten it or add pauses via commas.

Tips for Audio Book Narrators

The writing style sounds overformal. The Queen’s English is vital in many cases, but over-correctness can stifle all expression from a reading. Words chosen for the inner thoughts of characters need to sound natural, human, so that the narrator can inject expression into the reading. Good narration is vital for audio book sales, but even the best narrator can do little with a script that permits no expression.

This short excerpt from one of my audio books, Nora by Charles J Harwood narrated by Rachel Shirley uses words to permit some expression into the heroine’s inner thoughts. Here, the main character, Nancy has broken into the home of Vince, a celebrity playboy. As she tampers with his security system, she suffers a flashback of the crashed limo that had almost been her coffin.

Avoid Repetition in a Novel

A receptive element within the text. This might be a recurring word or recurring sequence of words within a short space of time. It is surprising how much repetition can sneak into a novel until it is read aloud. I had some ‘weeding’ and rewording to do when I read passages aloud, not realising I have over-favoured words and phrases.

Character Dialogue Sounds Strained

Discourse within scenes do not sound convincing. This is a biggie. Watch out for character speech that sounds forced, unnatural or simply wrong. Putting words into a character’s mouth requires instinct and intuition. This means keeping faith to the lingo that a person would use, so that the listener knows who is speaking.

But crafting dialogue also means making it sound natural. Avoid forcing dialogue simply as a device to move the plot along. It will show up in the audio book recording. No one wants to listen to chitchat or stilted dialogue in an audio book.

Passages that Go On and On

Cut, cut and cut again if necessary. Some sentences don’t add anything or take too long to get to the point. Reading aloud means retaining the listener’s attention. Give the listener no reason to press ‘pause’ or worse, the off button. Keep the novel tight and moving along so that the listener is captivated and curious.

To Enable Whisperync for Voice

All corrections you make in your audio script must be reflected in your novel, or Audible’s Whispersync cannot be enabled. The technicians at ACX listen through your audio book recording to ensure the words are at least 98% faithful to the Kindle book. This means anyone purchasing your book can switch between reading and listening to it.