Six Lessons from My First Audiobook Project

Summary

  1. It’s going to take longer to edit than you think.
  2. Set a limit on your recording and editing time.
  3. Vocal warm-ups are a MUST!
  4. Record all your audio first, then edit.
  5. Record in the most quiet environment possible.
  6. Have a method for tracking your progress.

Video

Intro

This week I finished completion on my first audiobook project. The gig was for a language learning service based in China to record 10 children’s books for elementary aged children. Each book ended up being about 2 hours of finished audio, so about 20 hours total.

What a journey it was. I have longed to get into audio projects including podcasts and audiobooks. I’ve had my voice talent services listed on Fiverr for a while now and a few months ago I was responding to buyer requests and not getting much back. Only a few gigs here and there.

Then, to my surprise, in August I got a message from a buyer to record and produce a series of audiobooks for a language service. At the time, I was surprised, anxious, and apprehensive about taking on the project. I had long suspected they had chosen another recording artist for the project since it was months before I heard back from them and was surprised to hear them.

I was anxious and apprehensive about taking on the project because it was so large and I had not done such a large project. Up until that point I had only recorded short audio projects. Nothing this large or extensive.

With the new regulations in China going into effect regarding online teaching, I graciously accepted the project. It would be good to have some extra income to be able to pay the bills.

But this project gave me a lot more than just money to pay the bills. It gave me some valuable lessons about recording and producing audio projects. Here’s some of what I learned.

I share in hopes it will help someone else or to satisfy your curiosity about what goes on behind the mic for an audiobook. These lessons are listed numerically, but the assignment of numbers is arbitrary — they’re not reflections of the importance of the lessons learned.

1. It’s going to take longer to edit than you think.

I had worked with editing audio for my podcasts for some time now so I had a general idea of how long it would take to edit the audio. And by edit I mean, check it’s quality, make sure there’s no background noises, remove weird mouth clicks or breath noises, and (if necessary) re-record.

I currently would say for every 1 minute of finished audio there’s about 5 minutes of recording and editing. Obviously, it will vary depending on the project, your performance, your recording environment, etc. But this is the average ratio I found with this project which helped me plan my working time accordingly.

2. Set a limit on your recording and editing time.

I found that I maxed out at about 6 hours per day. Usually, about 2 hours of recording and then 4 hours of editing. Beyond that it was too much for my voice and my eyes (there’s lots of screen time when it comes to edit). Others might be capable of more (or less) so if you’re a voice over artist starting out, experiment and figure out what works best for your situation.

3. Vocal warm-ups are a MUST!

This is probably the most valuable lesson I learned from this project. For the few books, I did NOT do any vocal warm-ups before I started recording. And I paid for it. My voice was tired and my vocal cords were sore. I had a nice wrasp to my voice afterward. I had to take a day to rest before getting back into the recording booth (i.e. the pillow fort I made for recording).

I’m not sure why I didn’t think about vocal warm-ups until after I started because I knew that the vocal cords or voice box in the human throat is a very delicate organ and can very easily be damaged even with speaking every day in normal circumstances. I’ve even listened to podcasts and watched YouTube videos that have expressed the importance of vocal warm-ups.

Anyway, the lesson here is to do your vocal warm-ups before doing any vocalizations for a long period of time. Whether it’s for recording, singing, giving a speech, or lecturing. I’m now an advocate for vocal warm-ups for everyone.

And they don’t have to take too much time. About 5-10 minutes. You can do it when you’re getting ready in the morning. Lately, I’ve been favoring doing my warm-ups first thing in the morning while doing the dishes. It makes the dishes more fun.

Here is the vocal warm-up routine I settled on:

Drink lots of water at room temperature before, during, and after recording sessions

1: Stretch mouth/tongue/jaw

  • Stretch mouth as wide open as possible (like yawning)
    • Stick your tongue out as far as possible
  • Gently massage your jaw, cheeks, and face

2: Lip Trills & Humming Octaves

  • Lip trills from low to high to warm up your range
  • Humming from low to high, try to really smooth out middle pitch

3: Focus breath (i.e. relax)

  • Take a deep, focused breath in and out
  • Breath all the way down to your core while staying relaxed
  • Repeat as many times until feeling relaxed

4: Tongue Trills

  • Role out your R’s to loosen things up
  • Try to go up and down the octaves as well

Source: https://youtu.be/slOvGW2FBs4

5: Phonetic Articulation
ABT EBT IBT OBT UBT
ACT ECT ICT OCT UCT
ADT EDT IDT ODT UDT
AFT EFT IFT OFT UFT
AGT EGT IGT OGT UGT
AHT EHT IHT OHT UHT
AJT EJT IJT OJT UJT
ALT ELT ILT OLT ULT
AMT EMT IMT OMT UMT
ANT ENT INT ONT UNT
APT EPT IPT OPT UPT
ART ERT IRT ORT URT
AST EST IST OST UST
ATT ETT ITT OTT UTT
AWT EWT IWT OWT UWT
AXT EXT IXT OXT UXT
AZT EZT IZT OZT UZT

Source: https://youtu.be/m8uKrqRXaxk

4. Record all your audio first, then edit.

When I started the project, I was recording a few chapters in the morning and editing them in the afternoon. At first, I thought this would be more efficient but given the size and the scope of the project it ended up slowing me down.

I later learned that I could record an entire book in about two hours and then edit the audio at a later date.

This is something that will probably vary with the audio project and the environment in which you record in. I share a studio apartment with my partner so having a designated recording time in the morning (i.e. my partner needs to leave or be quiet) and then editing in the afternoon/evening worked best for my living situation and my relationship. Again, here, experiment and find out what works best for you and your situation.

5. Record in the most quiet environment possible.

This probably could be number one and it’s a pretty obvious lesson that anyone could figure out so let me explain a little.

I don’t have a sound booth or a professional studio I record in. I record in a pillow and blanket fort I construct when I need to record. However, since this was going to be a longer project I decided to build that fort in a designated area instead of constructing each time I needed to record. This would make it easier to just plug-in and record.

I first decided on the corner of the TV table/stand/hutch instead of my usual spot on the desk. This opened the desk space for other uses because the pillow-blanket fort takes up the whole desk.

The initial setup of my pillow-fort studio.

However, by recording on the TV stand instead of the desk, a little bit of background noise from the street traffic, my breathing, and other sources go past the noise gate on my digital audio workspace (DAW). I paid for this later in the editing because I had to either re-record some segments or edit out noise in between every sentence spoken.

When I moved back to my original recording spot at the desk, much less background noise got past the noise gate. In fact, it was such a dramatic difference in editing that I was able to cut the editing time in half. Instead of editing out breaths or mouth clicks or whatever else in between each spoken sentence or word, it was more like editing them out in between each paragraph (if that!)

Again, this will vary depending on the recording space you’re using so experiment around and see how the acoustics of your space work. It surprised me what (and where) worked best, and you may be surprised too.

6. Have a method for tracking your progress.

I highly recommend you have a method to track your progress, especially for larger projects. I’m a huge fan of spreadsheets so that’s what I used, but I could easily see someone using sticky notes, a pad of paper, a whiteboard, or perhaps some more advanced tracking software for project management.

Whatever it is, have a way to track your progress so that you know if you’re going to meet the deadline. I used the spreadsheets to make calculations based on how long I estimated it would take me to record and edit. I calculated how many days it would take me to complete the project.

The spreadsheet for tracking my overall progress and estimating my time to completion.

This saved me halfway through the project because I realized I wasn’t working fast enough. To catch up, I had to take a day to record three books in a single day. Something I don’t recommend because I had to rest my voice for two days after that. Thankfully, I had plenty of editing to keep me busy during that time.

The spreadsheet for tracking the progress of an individual book.

So have a way to track your progress and make a plan. It will save you time, stress, and money in the long-run.


Thanks for reading

That’s what I learned from this audiobook project. I’m grateful for both the experience and the pay. I’m looking forward to the next project.

If you found this post helpful, let me know in the comments. If you have questions about audio projects, leave those in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

And if you’re looking for voice talent for your project, consider hiring me. You can learn about my services and listen to samples on the Voice page of my website.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, happy recording!


Published by Anthony

A creative soul expressing himself thru sci-fi stories, haiku, & podcasts. Podcast 🎙 host of Blinded by Science & The Haiku Pond. Visit my website to explore my creations: anthonynanfito.com.

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