MF 296 : The equipment and work environment for recording an audiobook
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
This week, we take a look at the technical aspects to recording an audiobook, starting with the right equipment and environment. More at www.bemovingforward.com.
The difference between recording for a publisher and as a solo
Last week, we went over the workflow for recording an audiobook. I mostly focused on doing this as a freelance or solo artist. However, know that if you get hired by a publisher to be the VO talent for a book that the process will be very different.
First, the contracts will likely be standard for all VO talent with little wiggle room. There may be some negotiation related to pay and scheduling but the copyright releases, including your use of samples for promotion purposes, will probably be standard clauses that have been drafted by their lawyers.
Second, recording an audiobook for a publisher will be a full-day, short term gig. Once you are hired and have the schedule in place, you will be directed to go to a studio, either one owned by the publisher or one that works with the publisher where you will work with a director and/or a sound engineer. The location may or may not be local so work with the publisher to negotiate things like travel expenses ahead of time. They will have all of the equipment set up so you don’t have to worry about the technical aspects. Just focus on your performance and practice as much as you can leading up to the recording date. In terms of workflow schedule, it will be done all at once either one full day or several, depending on the length of the book.
As a solo or freelance artist, you will be handling everything on your own. You have to negotiate the terms with the author as I covered last week, including workflow, delivery dates, pay, and copyright releases. One thing you should also negotiate is a license to use samples of the work to help promote yourself as an artist for future work. This is usually standard but make sure it’s covered.
As I’m not giving legal advice on this podcast or blog, I recommend you speak with an attorney or do some research and find standard forms that you can use to create contracts they specify the agreed upon terms and protect your rights.
Audible’s requirements to pitch yourself as a VO talent
You will need to submit:
Two-minute MP3 sample of audiobook narration.
List of prior books you’ve narrated (if applicable).
Website (if applicable).
Contact info, including location.
Check it out the full information and requirments here.
Equipment and set up for recording an audiobook
If you’re going the solo / freelance route, you’ll have to make sure you have the right equipment and the right environment to record and audiobook. It won’t be as simple as speaking into your phone on a recorder app. In fact, I strongly caution you against using your phone for this. You’re simply not going to get great sound quality and you’ll find it more of a technical headache than a time saver. Let’s go over some of the fundamental pieces.
Audible ACX’s QA requirements for audiobook files
Before you begin, review Audible ACX’s quality assurance (QA) requirements for audiobook files. The full list is here.
As mentioned above, avoid using a smartphone for this. I don’t know of anyone who has used a smartphone to record an audiobook. Is it possible? Perhaps. Is it worth trying for your first book? No. You’re likely to run into technical and sound quality issues that will create unusable files and waste a lot of time and effort.
A tablet may be ok, specifically an IPad. They’ve come a long way since the early days. However, a tablet will limit the software options as we’ll discuss a little later.
For audiobooks, I recommend the tried and true. A computer. Laptop or desktop. Fortunately, you don’t need anything super fancy or powerful. Just make sure you have enough storage for the files. You should also have a failsafe, either an external drive or cloud storage to back up the files as you record them. For Angelo’s book, I Am a Professional Metalhead, I used my trusty Macbook pro which is now 6 years old. It worked fine. For backup, I used Microsoft OneDrive, which also served as a hub for Angelo to review the files and give me feedback.
Next, you’ll want to invest in a high grade microphone. Do not use your built-in microphone on your computer, phone or tablet. You’re simply not going to get high quality sound and the background noise will sound like a train station during rush hour.
Also, I recommend you avoid cheap microphones. Recording an audiobook is a serious endeavor and Audible, which is the mainstay hub has very strict quality control hurdles the files must pass before they will be published. Cheap mics, especially ones with 3.5 mm jacks are perfectly fine for podcasts, videos and other projects but for audiobooks spend a few more bucks to invest in something better.
I won’t go into a list of mics except to say you should think about either one with a XLR jack, which is a high power audio connector and will require some kind of adaptor or sound mixer to interface with your computer or a high-grade USB mic if you want something that’s plug and play.
If you’re curious as to what I used for Angelo’s book, it was the ATR 2100 USB mic. It’s a workhorse that I use for the podcast and is great for reducing background noise while zeroing in on the speaker’s voice. I recommend investing a few more dollars if you can to get a package that includes a pop guard (noise filter) and an arm stand.
The ATR 2100 is great if you’re on a budget but it is not the best mic on the market. I did find that I had to make adjustments on the software end to ensure that the voice was pronounced enough and to eliminate white noise from the sound files. However, I was able to produce files that were accepted by Audible.
When it comes recording the audiobook, there are three options. Two of these are free and are the standard ones that many audiobook VO artists for recording audiobooks. Even many professional studios will use these.
GarageBand: native to Apple IOS and OS. If you have an Macbook or Mac desktop, it’s already native. It’s also available as a standard on IPads and IPhones, though as we discussed, I strongly caution you against recording audiobooks on mobile devices.
Audacity: available for Apple OS and Windows. This is freeware (yes, free) that is excellent for recording audio projects, including podcasts and audiobooks. It is currently only available for Mac computers and is not available for IPads or IPhones as mobile apps. So if you plan to use Audacity, you will need to use a laptop or desktop.
Adobe Audition: I’m not as familiar with this platform but it’s a cloud-based audiobook platform that’s part of the famous Adobe suite. It’s a subscription-based platform but many swear by it. It should be fine for audiobooks too.
For Angelo’s book, I ended up recording the audiobook on Audacity. Next week, I’ll share why along with the specific power settings that I used to tailor it for Audible.
This will probably be the trickiest part to figure out. Ideally, if you have access to a sound studio, you’re good to go. This will be the case if you get hired by a publisher that regularly releases audiobooks and has the budget and access to professional studios and recording equipment. But if you’re a freelancer and on a budget, this is not a viable option.
You can spend a few dollars to invest in a mini sound studio booth, which are available on Amazon. Some professional artists spend thousands to build complete sound booths in their homes, which resemble futuristic telephone booths.
However, if you’re starting out, I recommend you be conservative about what you spend. You’ve already spent money on a high-grade mic so don’t go too crazy on the sound booths. You can create a good environment using simple materials or even just finding a well-soundproofed room with no reverb in your home. For further sound insulation, you can use egg crates, foam insulation that you can buy cheap to line your walls or recording area. The idea is to have an environment that maximizes your voice and minimizes external noise. Try different areas in your home. Some people use their clothes closet, which can be a great room for podcasts. Since recording an audiobook is more time-intensive, that may or may not work for you.
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