5 Things You Might Not Know About Recording Audiobooks
Have you ever wondered what recording audiobooks is like? Prepare yourself to find out!
At Listening Books, our library is made up of audiobooks from publishers like Penguin and HarperCollins, as well as audiobooks we record in our studios. So, as well as audiobooks read by celebrities such as Stephen Fry, we also work with narrators who volunteer their time. If you’ve borrowed a Horrible Histories audiobook from our library, or swotted up before an exam with a York Notes A Level guide, then it was most likely made in our studios.
We’ve been recording audiobooks since the 1950s, so we’ve got lots of experience. Our audio producer Nik de Garis (who’s not been around since the 1950s) has given us a few insights into what goes into making a great audiobook.
1. Finding the Right Reader for the Right Book Is Really Difficult
I get given a lot of books to record. Some are side-splittingly funny, such as the Horrible Science series. Some are more straight forward, like GCSE and A Level text guides. With such a mix of unique books, it’s important that I match an appropriately distinctive voice with the text.
I recently recorded The Horrible Science of Everything, which contains a lot of cartoons, jokes, and important scientific facts that are all mixed together. I wanted to find someone to narrate the audiobook who would be able to read different characters and be very funny, but not lose the information. In the end I chose Greg Patmore, because he could do all these things! Press play on this clip to see whether you agree:
However great Greg was at recording this book, I probably wouldn’t choose him to record very somber Victorian poetry. Every book requires different skills. It can sometimes take a lot of time to consider everyone who contacts the charity to volunteer as a reader. Whatever type of book I am recording, I always want to choose the narrator who would be best equipped to bring it to life.
2. Recording Can Be A Lot of Fun (Even For a Serious Book)
Just because a book is very serious, doesn’t mean I don’t have fun recording it! I have a variety of readers who come in to the Listening Books studios from all walks of life. Regardless of who is sitting in the booth, I always make sure the reader is relaxed so that they can enjoy the process as much as I do. It’s important to remember that all our readers are volunteers giving up their spare time, so I want to make sure they have a great experience.
Very often, we get hilarious outtakes that never make it to the final audiobook! Here’s a clip from Emmy Rose using her best 1940s spy voice for our upcoming audiobook Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World:
Of course, we still work very hard when recording audiobooks too!
3. Audio Producers Don’t Sleep Very Well At Night
You probably didn’t know this about recording audiobooks. But, there are lots of little things that make an audio producers life very difficult. The first is page turns.
Have you ever been sitting in bed reading a book and noticed that there are lots of sentences that span two pages? No, probably not. However, when it is just a narrator, a book, and a microphone, every single page turn sounds extremely loud. It is hard to turn a page without making any noise, changing your tone of voice, or having to stop reading. The best readers are the ones who write in the next few words at the bottom of the page, which makes for a smoother recording.
The other thing is breathing.
Okay, that is a bit extreme. Everyone has to breathe eventually. But when you have a voice reading you a story through your headphones it can be a very intimate experience. The last thing a reader wants to hear is someone breathing loudly into their ear!
I class recorded breaths into two types: natural breathing and ugly breathing. A natural breath comes…well, naturally! It works with the words, helps the emphasis of the sentence, and shows that the reader is not a robot. An ugly breath doesn’t do any of those things, and may take a reader completely out of their escapism. All of these can be sorted in the editing stage, but the best narrators are able to breathe with the story, not distract from it.
4. Recording is A Marathon, Not A Sprint
Recording an audiobook can take a long time. Exactly how long depends on a number of things including: the experience of the narrator, the amount of preparation they have done, and the trickiness of the language in the book. Take The Religions Book that we have just recorded in the studios. The narrator, Polly Boyes, is a fantastic reader who has had a lot of experience reading into a microphone. She came well prepared with lots of notes. However, the language in the book was so tricky it was still difficult. How would you pronounce Cuauhxicalli? How about in using it in a sentence?
(It’s the name of a vessel the Aztecs used to put still-beating hearts into after a sacrifice…yuck!)
All of those factors mean an audiobook can take awhile to record. The Religions Book took just over 19 hours. That’s not including editing time!
All of this requires a reader to have great stamina to keep a consistent sound across the entire book. It also requires an audio producer to have stamina to listen to the recording and pick up on any mistakes!
5. An Audio Producer’s Job is To Make Everyone Sound Better
As strange as it might sound considering I have a classification system for breathing, I have no problem with readers making mistakes in the studio (promise!).
It’s impossible for anyone to be perfect for 8 hours of recording in a single day. As an audio producer, my role when recording audiobooks is to ensure there’s at least one good take of everything. Afterwards, it’s my job to cut it all together so that you can hear the best version of the book.
But, when it’s appropriate, I like to go beyond that. Particularly when it’s a children’s book it’s fun to use sound effects and music to enhance the experience of the book. When recording Murderous Maths: The Brain-Bending Basics, there were lots of cutaways to other characters that ended up sounding a bit like this:
An audiobook doesn’t have to just be one person reading a book aloud. If a book has lots of cartoons and jokes, then why shouldn’t the audiobook?
All of the audiobooks mentioned in this blog will be available soon from the Listening Books library.
If you think you would like to volunteer as a reader, then contact Nicholas de Garis by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.