The Making of an Audio Book

recording gear CLICK HERE to hear the title opening of CONNECTED, the Audio Book

When the nice people at Cherry Hill Publishing approached me last year, asking if they could publish an audio book version of Connected, I had little experience of this rich and rapidly growing format, or what the publication process would entail. So when given the choice of letting them choose an actor to narrate my book, or reading it myself, I decided to give it a go.

How hard could it be? I thought. Throughout my career in IT, I’d done a fair bit of public speaking and have several times recorded the narration to on-line product demonstrations. Besides, I used to read to my daughters when they were little and they never complained (except when it was bed-time and they wanted me to continue). So I signed both author and narrator contracts, and a few days later took delivery of all the necessary professional recording gear (see photo above), all courtesy of Cherry Hill Publishing.

Unfortunately, the quality of the microphone was so good, I soon realised that any recording made in the city apartment I was inhabiting at the time, would inevitably contain  traffic noise. And since this noise, while not especially loud, was changing and unpredictable, it proved impossible to completely filter out electronically.

This, combined with the premature birth of our twins, and our subsequent move from Birmingham to Falmouth in March this year, all conspired to postpone the start of recording until around May. Now of course, although our new location in Cornwall was blissfully quiet (except for when the seagulls hold their AGM on our roof) the same is not always true of our twin babies (8 months old today – or 5, if you count from when they should have been born). This meant that I had just a few short windows each day, in which to somehow record all 26 chapters of my book in time for a major promotion this summer.

Technically, although there’s clearly a fair bit of production magic still to be performed by the guys at Cherry Hill, there’s not much to it from the point of view of the narrator. The Editors Keys SL300 USB condenser mic plugs directly into the PC and is immediately recognised by the software ( I used Audacity running on Linux) without any need to go looking for drivers.

      

The pop filter takes away all the unpleasant artefacts of putting one’s lips close to a mic, and the portable vocal booth nicely counteracted the echo in my dining room, which would otherwise have given the recording a certain “hollow” quality.

I then read through it, pausing and repeating any sentences which didn’t come out right until I reached the end of each chapter. I found this more efficient than trying to edit on the fly, since that tended to reduce the continuity of tone in my voice. Following this, I would then listen to the recording, deleting all the unwanted repetitions, as well as any coughs, sniffs or distractingly heavy breathing. Although straightforward enough, this stage is surprisingly time-consuming.

The second challenge / decision I soon faced was how to differentiate the various characters in my novel – and in particular, how much should I attempt, if at all, to change my voice for each. In the time since signing with Cherry Hill, I had of course taken the opportunity to join up with Audible.co.uk and download a number of audio books in order to learn how it should be done properly. The first I chose was Middlemarch by George Elliot, read by Juliet Stevenson.

Stevenson, who of course is an extremely fine actor, changes her voice so well for the huge cast of characters who pop in and out of this great classic, that it’s sometimes hard to imagine they’re all coming from the same person – especially with the male characters.

My second choice was Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, read by Jeremy Irons. With this I was particularly interested to hear how Irons would tackle the voicing of the eponymous “nymphet”. At first, Irons’ rendering of Lolita’s voice sounded to me a little forced, but with Nabokov’s frankly gorgeous use of the English language, and Irons’ skill as an actor, I very soon got caught up in the prose and totally forgot the fact that a 12-year-old girl was being voiced by a middle-aged man. Incidentally, if you download just one audio book in your entire life, I would thoroughly recommend you choose this one – it’s just sublime.

At this point, I was seriously wondering whether I had sufficient acting skill to effectively modulate my voice for all the characters in Connected – especially since I had chosen to endow some of them with various accents, something I’ve always struggled to imitate convincingly.

But then I came across Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, read by Matt Dillon. Based on the tone of his voice, you would think Dillon a perfect choice for this great Beat Generation classic, which is narrated entirely by the protagonist, Sal Paradise, a New Jersey Italian American youth, looking for kicks as he travels across the states with his friend, Dean Moriarty. And yet, whether intentional or not, Dillon’s voice remains so unchanging and monotonous, I frequently found myself losing interest (if not the will to live), in spite of the awesome quality of the writing.

After this, somewhat relieved, I realised that while I clearly lack the talent of stars like Stevenson and Irons, a little variety of tone and pitch injected into my reading would definitely be a good thing – and certainly preferable to a Dillonesque rendition.

I’m not quite sure how well I succeeded in this regard, but the people at Cherry Hill Publishing seem very pleased and hopefully, when it’s launched, some time within the next few weeks, their customers will be too.

 LISTEN TO THE TITLE INTRO and let me know what you think.

 

Connected audio cover

 

 

 

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Author, musician, science nut, & IT marketing pro. My first novel, CONNECTED, is a mystery thriller with a touch of speculative science & philosophy.

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8 Replies to “The Making of an Audio Book”

  1. Simon I was very pleased to read this blog post because it explained the ups and downs of recording an audio book. I am a professional voice artist but never read an audiobook as a voice artist / narrator. So when I saw your post and was offered the chance to read an audiobook I jumped at the chance. It was a big project with 50 chapters in all. I wasn’t offered equipment like you were but this was because the acoustics were already OK in my case.

    I have done other kinds of voice over work and my mic is of good quality and for your information you can modify the microphones so that your standard mic can then become like a $4,000 mic. The recording process and editing process was not a problem for me but as you rightly said getting the voices right is what is needed the most. You could have a very bad microphone with crackles and pops but if the voices were not slightly different in tone, pitch and so on, then Yes! could make for a monotonous read.

    I class doing a narration of a book, equivalent to climbing a mountain. With each page that goes by, it is like seeing what you think is the top of the mountain only to need to go over many more hills to finally see the summit (the end of the book). It is a journey and I commend anyone who does this with no voice over or narration experience, it is a skill and a skill that can be mastered.

    Good luck with the ‘Connected’ audio book. I recorded ‘The Mistaken’ with Cherry Hill, I hope people like my read.

    Curious how your audio book is doing and have the reactions been mainly positive to your reading style and male and female voices?

  2. But the vocal booth looks so cool! 😉

    Thank you for adding the links to this article – you are a lovely guy 🙂

    I’m glad the twins are doing well. I bet you can’t wait to start reading them stories – maybe you’ll write them yourself!

  3. But the vocal booth looks so cool! 😉

    Thank you for adding the Amazon links into this article – you really are a lovely guy. 🙂

    I’m glad the twins are doing well! I bet you can’t wait to start reading them stories – maybe you will write them yourself!

  4. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for this very informative blog post. I hope to start recording my novels soon, but this info is also very useful for my podcasting endeavours!

    You have a delightful voice – perfect for broadcasting! It’s very clear and a pleasure to listen to. I will definitely be downloading this version of your book. I’m looking forward to hearing how you deal with the voices of the female characters, as this is something I’ve been wondering about (the male characters for me, obviously!)

    I wish you lots of luck with the audiobook, and also with the summer promotion of Connected.

    Best wishes, Julie

    1. Thanks Julie,
      Yes, I tried all sorts of voices for the various characters before settling on the ones I finally used. For the females, I mostly just raised the pitch a half-octave or so – not so high that it sounds silly, but hopefully just enough to differentiate them from the others. I didn’t do much in the way of accents, since I’ve never really been able to do them convincingly. For the Indian neurologist, I mostly just slowed it down and altered intonation / placement of stresses. For the Russian, I just went with a clipped, cruel-sounding voice – not because all Russians sound cruel of course, but because this character happens to be so:) For Doug and Peter, I mostly used the same voice – my own, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem since they rarely speak to one another. Where they do, I tried to make Doug sound younger, but I’m not sure how well I succeeded there.
      Regarding your podcast, having listened to some, I would definitely recommend a better USB mic. The one I was sent, which retails at about £100 and includes shock-mount and cable, is excellent,but even a £20 / £30 USB mic should improve results dramatically. The content is fine, but the sound quality lets it down a tad.

      1. Thanks for the tips Simon – I’ll experiment with my characters’ voices before I start. I have a German female character in one book, and an American guy in the other, so I will take your advice and find ways of portraying those voices without actually doing the accents (badly!).

        That’s great you’ve listened to the Rational Wisdom podcast – thank you! I agree that the sound quality isn’t great at the moment. I’ve recently bought a better mic, and I used it in the latest episode, so that might help a little. But I will definitely heed your advice and invest in some good, quality recording equipment for my books. £150 isn’t that much of an investment if it means people can actually hear what I’m saying!

        I hope all is well with the twins! 🙂

        Julie

        1. If you record in a room with curtains and soft furnishings, you should get away without the vocal booth, so your expense will just be the mic and pop filter – so about £115 – £120 if you go for the SL300 mic. I’ve added links to them on Amazon UK into the original article, in case you decide to order them.
          And yes, the twins are doing really well, thanks:)

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