April 12th is the 6th anniversary of the publishing of my first audiobook ever! Quite frankly, it changed my life. I have since (narrating part time) finished 44 more books, and am always in some stage of recording for another. In the last six years I've made some mistakes and made some poor decisions. But I have learned, practiced, studied and grown, gaining a better understanding of my craft, my strengths, and my weaknesses. This July, I will be taking a huge leap of faith by trading in my day job and steady paycheck for the anxieties and bliss of pursuing my passion full time.
And it all started with that first book, six years ago. I'd like to share that first experience again by re-posting my blog entries from 2014. I hope you enjoy. And, please . . . .
WISH ME LUCK!!!!
My husband and I have recently started recording audio books. I have logged many (many) years of acting on stage and in film and Doug has put in an equally large number of years performing and recording music. We both love reading books and listening to audio books, so when the opportunity arose to narrate and produce an audio book, we thought, "Absolutely! This is right up our alley(s)".
I mean, how hard could it be, right? Little did we know . . . .
We're Recording an Audiobook!?!
Books have always been a passion of mine. My family moved a lot when I was young, so making friends was hard. My books became my best friends. In the summers, I would climb the nearest tree and sit for hours reading; imagining myself living the lives of the characters in my books. As I grew older, and busier, I no longer had hours for reading, but had to steal the time from my grown-up responsibilities, which ended with late nights staying up reading instead of sleeping. Needless to say, that made getting through the next day a sleepy challenge.
Then I discovered audiobooks. Wow! I can read and clean the bathroom? Or read while I drive to work? Or read and weed the garden? Heaven!
And then one day I realized, “I can read and share my passion with the world”. I wanted to narrate those audiobooks I loved to “read”. So, I started auditioning.
Now, I’m no stranger to rejection. I’ve been singing and acting on stage since I was seven years old, and I know how brutal the audition process can be. So, I didn’t expect much to happen at first. I was prepared for weeks, maybe months to go by before I was offered a book to narrate.
After a long night of recording and editing, I sent off my first audition, tried to tell myself not to expect anything, and went to bed. Six hours of fitful sleep later, I went downstairs to find a message waiting. They loved my audition and would I accept a contract to narrate and produce the book?
“I’ve been offered a contract. S**t! What do we do now?” I practically screamed to my husband, who was to be my director and engineer.
Excitement. Terror. Anticipation. Trepidation. Insecurity. Emotions were flying around inside of me like dust in a Kansas windstorm. I mean, I was as confident in my abilities as any actor (we can all be crushed for days, even weeks, at the whim of a scathing critic or director), but I’d never done anything quite like this before. This was true storytelling, an art in and of itself.
What if I really suck at this?!
I took a deep, calming breath and said to myself, “There’s only one way to find out.”
And thus began our journey into the world of audiobook production.
Can You Hear Me Now?
With the first hurdle cleared (landing the gig), the real work began. Now we had decisions to make. How do we set up the recording space? Which microphone do we use? Which pre-amp? Do we use a compressor? Which program will we record into and edit with? How do we map out a schedule? It seems with every question we answered, a new one materialized.
Fortunately, for me, we had my husband’s experience to guide us. As a musician, songwriter, and composer, he’s logged hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours recording, editing, and manipulating sound. He already had the basics we needed to produce a quality recording. The fact that his expertise was in music rather than the spoken word meant we had some adjusting to do; but for the most part, we had all the tools we needed.
We set up a spare bedroom as our sound booth. Old duvets lined the walls and hung in strategic positions to baffle the sound and muffle outside noises. After testing various microphone/pre-amp combinations, we settled on the one we liked the best. We set it up in a portable isolation box to isolate the sound even more. I brought in my water and green apple slices (which I’d been told I would need, but wasn’t really sure what to do with), sat down in my chair, my copy on the music stand in front of me, eager to finally get into the “fun” part.
I couldn’t see or hear my husband. He was in front of the computer in the room adjacent to mine, holding a copy of the manuscript in front of him so he could follow along for continuity.
“Are you ready?” he yelled.
“I said, are you ready?” he yelled, louder.
“Yes” I yelled back.
“Ow! You don’t have to yell! I can hear you through the headphones!”
We were off to a great start.
Planes, Trains, and Mouth Clicks
Once my husband’s ears stopped ringing from my unintentional aural assault, we went through the checklist.
Copy ready? Check. Microphone on (well, we tested that already . . . ) Computer up and running? Check. Refrigerator off? Check. Furnace off? Check. Dogs shut up in the back room? Check.
Let’s do this thing!
We had deliberately waited until evening, after most people had finished the day and gone inside to do whatever people do between supper and bed, hoping the outside noise would be at a minimum. All was peaceful and quiet. Perfect.
I took a sip of water and began the introduction. So far, so good.
On to the first chapter. I’d already read and reread the manuscript, made character notes, and marked spots that needed special attention when being read aloud. I took a deep, calming breath.
“Stop!” I hear from the next room.
“Don’t you hear that?”
I tilted my head and listened. Ah, jet noise. Our house is not in the direct flight path, but during certain wind or weather patterns, the air traffic is rerouted so that it passes near us. It’s not loud enough to notice during normal activities, but is quite obvious in the recording. I sighed and waited for it to pass.
“Okay, start again, Chapter One.”
“Chapt—no, it’s coming back.”
“Sounds like they’re in a pattern. We’ll have to wait till they pass.”
Two emails, a trip to the bathroom, and a water refill later, I finally sat back down in front of the microphone and listened. No jets.
We were well into the 7th or 8th page before the next jet interruption. Or was it a helicopter? “Patience is a virtue”, I said to myself. This was to become a phrase I would repeat daily.
Finally, we got into a rhythm, and I was getting into the performance of the characters, when again from the next room I hear, “What are you doing in there?”
“It sounds like you’re chewing or smacking.”
“Well, take a drink. Do something. It sounds awful.”
Ah, the green apple slices. That’s what they’re for. You can chew it; you can suck it; you can bite it but not chew it; you can chew it but not swallow it. The reports disagree on exactly how to best get that apple pectin working on your dry mouth, but green apple is universally touted on all the voice-over sites.
It didn’t work for me.
I tried water. I tried apple juice. I tried cinnamon. I tried drying my tongue. It got better, but it appears I am cursed with a noisy mouth. It would just have to be added to the list of things to edit out post-recording.
When the neighbor turned on his compressor, which he often does when working on his car, we called it a night.
Despite, jets, passing cars, my mouth smacking, and neighbor intrusions (there really weren’t any trains, but I thought it sounded good in the title), we made it through the first chapter.
Our feet were wet and we were ready for more.
If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be . . . . Where Are We???
Our first recording session was rough, but we eventually learned what days were high air traffic days and what times were best for outside noises.
With all of the technical issues under control, I was able to concentrate on performance. I’d already done my pre-recording work defining characters and accents and making notes regarding same.
Now, I thought this would be the easy part, since I’ve created hundreds of characters in my life on stage. And in some ways it was. But trying to keep track of twenty or more characters and voices is a bit like doing vocal gymnastics; often hopping, jumping and twisting from one voice to another in the space of a breath. There are characters from different countries, from different parts of countries, old and young, male and female, angry, stubborn, lost, excited . . . .
But, I remembered, we are recording. I can take time between characters if necessary. No need to rush or keep pace as I would in front of a live audience. We can edit out the pauses later. Even with this luxury, keeping the different accents and voices separate requires concentration and focus. Especially when there are several different characters speaking in the same scene.
My dear husband stopped me numerous times to point out that I had used the wrong voice for this character or that one. There was even once when I heard the all-too-familiar “Stop” from the next room. I believe the character I was reading was French.
“That was Irish, wasn’t it?” I said meekly.
“I think so.”
There weren’t even any Irish characters in this particular story. Too bad. I do a mean Irish accent, if I do say so myself.
We finally reached the end of our recording, and I emitted a sigh of satisfaction. Now all we had to do was edit and do some re-recording of spots missed. Easy for me, since the editing would fall upon my husband’s shoulders. I would read the manuscript twice with the recording to make sure we were word-for-word, but the rest of the work was his.
We had been told it takes about two to four hours to edit one finished hour of recording. I’m sure the people who gave this information had never worked with my husband. He has the best ear of anyone I know. And he doggedly listened to every millisecond with that ear; carving out all of the mouth sounds, clicks, background noises, and things that for the life of me I couldn’t hear, even when he told me what I was to listen for. I told him, “You have to lower the bar. If it’s too perfect, it won’t sound natural”. He tried, but I honestly think if we hadn’t had a deadline, he might still be editing that first book.
We met our deadline. It was a long, somewhat rocky journey, but we both came out at the end proud of what we’d done and with the desire to continue.
After sending off the completed audiobook, my husband looked at me and said, “We’ve finally found something we can do together.” I wrinkled my brow. “But we’re doing it in separate rooms,” I responded.
I will leave you with a few of the things we learned on our journey.
1. Patience is a virtue.
2. A soundproof vocal booth is my idea of HEAVEN!
3. Don’t lose the human element. It’s acceptable to be a step below perfection.
4. You can be intense without deafening the engineer.
5. Don’t overdo the accents. It’s more important the listeners understand the words than you impress them with your French accent.
6. Stay hydrated. It’s not enough to drink lots of water right before a session. It takes a day or two to get the vocal cords “oiled up”.
7. Patience is a virtue.
8. Don’t forget to turn the refrigerator BACK ON after the session is over.
9. Did I say, patience is a virtue?
My name is Karen. My passions are theatre and books, and I've finally found a way to combine the two. My venue: audio books.