Monday, September 07, 2015

Dilemmas of an Audio Book Narrator

Dilemma - there's a word for you.
There are many in our lives, some large (needing a new car), others small (like the space key on my Toshiba L755 constantly sticking.
I know many people who have come to me saying: "A friend says I have a really good voice and I should do audio books." Someone said it to me and for years I did not believe any of them! Then I did a workshop, and another and thought, why the heck not? I had no idea, so I went for it and did it!

Here are a few things/dilemmas you need to think about before looking at a 2nd career in book narration!
You may have the best voice, but how well can you read out loud? How accurate are you when you read, because when you do audio books, the words you record into a microphone need to be exactly the same words that are on the page.
Noisy neighbours?

Do you have a soundproof room?
Do you have a GOOD microphone? (I mean a professional mic. Not something picked up at Best Buy or the now defunct Radio Shack, recommended by a spotty teenager.)
Do you have a powerful computer? (A tablet will not do)
Can you isolate the sound of your computer so when you are recording the sound of the hard drive cannot be heard?
Are you on a busy street?
Does your neighbor come and go on a loud motorcycle, or frequently work on their muscle car or truck?
Do they often have parties?
Is there a garage band next door?
Do you have pets that will scratch or bark at the door whilst you work?
Does a neighbor have chickens?
Do you like in suburbia where in the summer there is the frequent sound of mowers?
In the winter, is there a lot of shoveling to do?
Do you have or want to invest in a good Digital Audio Workshop (DAW) such as StudioOne, Pro Tools, Audition  (an annual subscription for the latter)?
Do you want to learn new computer skills using said DAW to edit the work you record?

Window so your partner knowsyou are still working and not asleep!
There is a fair amount of investment of both time and money in this business. A professional sound proof booth will cost, at the very least for a plastic booth, upward of $400.00. A basic soundproofed and isolated studio 'room' (see left) will cost at least $2,000.00. And if you want to drop that money, you need the space to be able to put a TARDIS in your home!

I have been doing this for a few years now and I am still learning, a lot. One is: do not take on a large book for royalty only. I am currently recording (well, I would be if the mowers weren't running on this glorious Labor Day) what should be a 19 hour book. This should take me about four times that to record and edit - 76 hours, but that does not include time waiting for mowers to stop, cars to pass by, dogs to stop barking, rain to stop rushing down the gutters. If I got paid $100 per finished hour, that works out to $25.00 per hour - not including the mowers, dogs, etc. As a lump sum, it is not too shabby. Royalty split takes a LONG time to make that kind of money back, if ever on a book that length, unless it sells really well. It's a gamble. These are all the things one needs to take into consideration.

Other things to think about:
There are re-reads. When editing your own work, you will find you mis-said a word. Last night I misread grandpa as grandma. I caught it at the time, but one doesn't always hear these things as you record. You might think you don't do that, but think about the occasions when someone tells you: "you mean...". And you come back with, "that's what I said!" They then say: "No it wasn't!" The brain is a funny thing, or at least mine is! Maybe in the moment you mispronounce a word. Reading a story about the Czech Republic? Better start researching the words you are unfamiliar with!
The weather. You have a deadline and then there are three days of rain storms, or snow days and the kids need your attention.
You get sick, or lose your voice.
You need to be fit. Some sentences can be really long and you need a good set of lungs to read them! You will also need to look after your back as you sit at a microphone for hours on end. (Take breaks every two hours and stretch!)

To make a real career reading books is a rare thing. You have to be good, you have to work quickly and accurately so there is little to edit, or re-record. You need a good room to record in and make it sound dead - no sound bouncing off the walls. (Take all the towels and robes down in a bathroom and compare the sound with when the towels and robes are up all over the room, or compare an empty bathroom to your bedroom with the closet doors open.) If you don't have that, then you need to make and put up false walls to stop the sound, or most of it, from getting through and prevent sound reflection.

All the above are just things to consider. Dilemmas. I really enjoy what I do and have fun with it. I get to read books I would not normally choose to read. I get to read authors I have never heard of before. I get to discover amazing books like 'By Night Under the Stone Bridge" by Leo Perutz and "A Faithful Man" by Robert Elkin. The results are enjoyed by those who commission me to work for them. I enjoy doing the research on some books, or discovering I have been mispronouncing a word all my life (okay, that's not so much fun), or at least have a regional version of how a word would be said.

So this morning, this glorious Labor Day, instead of being shut up in my small office, dark from the sound-proofing, and stuffy for its doors being shut, recording this great book with marvelous characters, I get to sit outside listening to the hammer and saw of a project over the road, the mowers going off down the street, while drinking my tea in the shade and writing this blog as I watch a runner plod by with pain on his face, covered in sweat. (Now read that sentence out loud in one go!)

Happy Labor Day everyone!
(It's time for me to go indoors and record. The mowers have stopped and the project completed - I hope.)



Linda Goodman said...

Wonderful blog, Simon. I had no idea how much time, effort, and expense goes into recording an audio book. You have opened a lot of eyes. Thanks for the enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

This extensive list of considerations and potential pitfalls has been a most helpful guideline to a would-be novice voice actor like me. Many thanks! -Robert Davis Nitzschke