Top tips for a successful voice career
Recording Audiobooks is a whole different ball game from doing any other kind of voice work. Each hour of finished audio will require a considerable amount of work: you must pre-read the entire book, research pronunciation and names, perhaps even learn some words in another language, develop character voices and accents… and then interpret and accurately record the entire book. Most experienced audiobook narrators will do around three hours’ work (including research and pre-read time) to produce each hour of finished audio–but some take considerably more time, especially if they are not accurate readers, are not punching in re-takes over errors or noise as they record, or are not adept at self editing.
Traditionally audiobooks have been recorded in pro studios, but advances in cloud connection and digital technology along with the costs involved in running a pro studio are transforming the landscape. There is a growing awareness among publishers that many narrators have a professional set-up in their own homes that delivers comparable audio quality to that produced in a pro-studio. At the same time, publishers are trying to reduce costs and the home studio environment, providing that it is carefully managed and well equipped, is a much less expensive alternative to the traditional model. The flexibility that the home studio offers to both narrators and audiobook publishers is very appealing.
BeeAudio, now one of the busiest audiobook publishers in the US, estimates that home studio production in the UK is currently some three years behind America. There are very few professional narrators in the US who are not now producing at least some of their narrations independently in their own studios. It seems that the audiobook industry in the UK is now seeing the benefits of home studio recording and more and more top flight narrators in the UK are now embracing the flexibility of recording audiobooks at home.
The ‘experts’ will tell you that a dedicated soundproof booth is essential, that only the finest equipment will work properly. The reality is very different. There are narrators working successfully in converted cupboards and in garden sheds, one who records in a clothes cupboard with the walls covered in duvets; another who has adapted a corner of a garage. Such is the advance in digital technology that all you need is a laptop computer with a solid state drive (no fan noise) to handle the recording software, a Tablet from which you read a PDF of the script, a really good microphone and preamp, plus the recording and editing software. As a narrator progresses they often invest in better equipment but certainly you can achieve an acceptable level of quality with an outlay of around £2,000 – which would be your fee for a ten hour audiobook.
So, if you are doing audiobooks in your own studio, what kind of workload should you expect? Some audiobook publishers/producers will require that you do everything - record, proof, edit and master which requires a degree of technical skill far greater than is required in the self production of a corporate or commercial read. At BeeAudio, all audiobooks are professionally proofed before going forward for their final edit and mastering – but narrators are expected to deliver clean and accurate audio with no fluffs, errors, repeats and without extraneous noise - mechanical or human - so intrusive mouth clicks, loud breaths, passing aeroplanes, cars and barking dogs all need to be removed before sending home recorded audio for proofing and its final edit. Once the audio has been proofed, narrators also have to seamlessly record corrections that match their original recordings and that can be slotted seamlessly into place in the final edit.
Clunky and inaccurate editing, mouse clicks, cut off breaths, intrusive and repeated mouth noise, clipping the end or the beginning of a word, leaving in background noises, mismatching edits, using silence rather than room tone for edits, changing vocal tone when doing pickups, … all of these will detract from your performance and may even lose you the job!
How such high quality audio is achieved (and the amount of time it takes to achieve it) varies enormously and will depend on the way a narrator is working; whether they are punching in re-takes over errors as they go along (punch and roll) or are marking errors using a dog clicker or a similar visible and audible marker and then going back and self editing their material section by section.
If you do decide you want to work in audiobooks it is important that your home studio is comfortable enough to spend many hours in. Is it too cold or too warm to work in comfortably for extended periods? Does it come up to scratch technically? You don’t necessarily need a soundproof booth but you do need a quiet and acoustically treated dedicated recording space, with no echo, reverberation or sound bounce and you need to be familiar enough with your equipment and how it is set up, to be able to reproduce the same sound, at the same level day after day week after week. Sometimes with a gap of several weeks between recordings.
Working in audiobook narration is a huge commitment and is pretty time consuming. There are usually deadlines to meet and these can sometimes be very tight. This is a not something that can easily be fitted in after coming home from a day job … most audiobook narrators are full time narrators – it is not a hobby – and you need stamina as well as talent and imagination to record for hours on end … and to come up with the same quality day after day for perhaps a twenty hour book .. or even more challenging , for a series of books.
Are you prepared to do that? Audiobook narration is a special skill and a special desire, not everyone is suited to it. If you are not a passionate reader, if you don’t love books, if you are not also an accomplished actor with a flexible and compelling voice, then really and truly you shouldn’t be going down to route of trying to work in audiobooks.
A FINAL WORD:
Learn your strengths and weaknesses … think about what you’re really good at, what you excel in, and what you enjoy doing. If audiobooks are not something that interest you, if you struggle with long form narration, then that is not a sign of failure – it just means that audiobook work is not for you. Not all actors can sing … some can – and the ones who can’t tend not to audition for musicals, it doesn’t mean that they are not good actors in other fields! In my opinion you really should only audition for jobs and genres that you do have the skills for and also that you’re genuinely interested in. I think it is a great mistake to apply for every job going. It is a waste of both your time and the time of the person listening to your audio. You should be practising to audition, not auditioning for practice. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it count!
–Helen Lloyd ‘UK voice wrangler’ & narrator at BeeAudio.