Voice Actor's Notebook

The making of an audiobook – part 4

In this installment in The making of an audiobook series, I’m going to point out some very important little things you may not have thought about. You see, before you hit that record button, you’d better make sure everything is set up and ready to go (including yourself). Because if you don’t, it’s only more and more headaches down the road.

Let’s dig in!

Sit or stand?

Ok. Not the most glamourous way to start off. But this decision is very important. It’s important because you’ll have to keep this posture from the beginning to end of the whole recording process (i.e. the whole audiobook.) Most studios vary in sound quality, tonality, etc. depending on where the mic is placed. So if you start off sitting during the first few chapters (with the mic lower in your studio), then decide to switch to a standing posture because of back problems or other reasons (placing the mic higher in your studio), then your sound will change. And that’s no good.

For this audiobook I chose to stand. I stand for pretty much all of my narrations. It’s a purely personal choice that might be different for you. I stand because I feel that I can get deeper breaths much more easily than when I sit. Also, standing gives me almost full range of motion with my body. I’m a very physical voice actor and I need the freedom of movement.

Whichever you choose – sitting or standing – stay consistent and keep it that way throughout the whole audiobook.

Mic distance

After choosing whether to sit or stand, it’s important to then have a fairly accurate measurement of the distance between your mic and your mouth. Unlike shorter voice over jobs that can be completed with one stint in front of the mic, audiobooks require many recording sessions over the course of days, weeks, or even months to complete. Each time you step up to the mic, you must be as close as possible to the distance you were before (give or take an inch). This will ensure the consistency of your sound. And don’t forget that even during one recording session, you may need to step out of your booth to take a break, refill your room-temp water, or visit the closest “bladder relief” shelter.

Another point to keep in mind is that no matter how great of a reader you think you are, you’re going to make mistakes. And when you fix those mistakes you’ll have to jump back into the booth and find that magical distance again. (I’ll write a another post with some advice on how to fix mistakes so that the sound matches the surrounding audio you recorded earlier.)

Some people use a ruler to measure the distance. Some use the “hang loose” gesture (make a fist, then extend your thumb and little finger as wide as possible). And some cut a wooden dowel to the exact length they need. Whichever method you choose, just do it.

When to record

This really depends on the person. The most important thing to remember is that your voice needs to be fresh for the long narration that will follow. Most people’s voices are best in the morning since the vocal cords have had a good night’s sleep to rest and be ready.

But don’t start reading without at least using your voice a little to warm it up. A cold voice can be just as difficult to control as one that has been reading for hours. If you plan to do your recording in the morning, then at least read out loud for a few minutes. You could practice the character voices that will appear in the chapter or scan through the “good notes” you took during your first preparatory reading and practice those parts.

If recording in the morning isn’t an option for you, then make sure that you give your voice time to rest after whatever activity you needed to do in the morning.

Your recording environment

I feel like I shouldn’t need to say this, but please record in a quiet, noise-free environment! Nothing screams “ouch!” like a noisy environment. This includes recording in a room that has any kind of echo or “reverb”. Make your studio as quiet and as possible with a smooth sound. Nothing is more irritating than listening to an audiobook that sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom or a gymnasium.

Hang blankets. Hang clothes. Throw pillows all over the place. Do all of them! Just get the reverberations out of your sound and keep the outside noise outside.

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