Audiobooks – Let’s Not Edit Out the Editors

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So, I’ve got a bit of a high horse to get up on. Or maybe its an orange box at Speakers Corner. Or, since we work in audio, possibly it is a Neumann mic plugged into a massive PA system that blares out across the land.

Audiobooks are big business. We know this because mainstream media has started taking notice of our industry and a slew of articles proclaiming audiobooks as the new ‘hip’ medium have sprung up all over the media-sphere. From lists of the “10 Best Audiobooks to Jog to”, to “How Major Actors Are Now Doing Audiobooks” (erm, because they are paid to do so!), journalists and bloggers are extolling the virtues of audiobooks everywhere. Huzzah and yay.

And within our industry, there are events and gatherings, where the great and mighty of the industry gather to talk loudly at each other in sweaty rooms with lovely drinks and nibbles. Speeches are made, backs are patted. Everyone is thanked…the conversations go:

 

“The authors? Oh yes, we wouldn’t be anywhere without the authors!”

 

“Publishers supporting audiobooks and investing more into promotion and sales? Oh how fantastic of them!”

 

“Narrators are to be celebrated and praised. They bring the words to life, they paint pictures with their voices! And how amazing that Hollywood superstars are now reading audiobooks…sorry, no, of course they are being paid well, that’s not the point.”

 

“Narrators are saving the publishing industry…”

 

I can’t argue. All of the above are absolute superstars of the audiobook world. We simply wouldn’t exist without the authors and writers, their astonishing tales and stupendous stories. I absolutely bow before their creative genius. And the publishers (both print and audio) are throwing more into audiobooks than ever before. Services like Audible and iTunes have revolutionised the market and the move to digital/download has allowed more and more people, through their mobile devices, to dive into the astonishing world of audio. And I can never heap enough praise on the narrators. These are truly gifted people who I have the pleasure of working with as a producer every day. Many are close friends. They bring style, skill, expertise, experience, character, knowledge, finely-tuned instincts and passion to every title they read. Their talent brings the words alive, and their stamina sees them through long, long sessions – single voice audiobook recording is a truly unique and difficult form of performance!

Yes, indeed, all of the above SHOULD be praised and thanked. Well done. Jolly well done, one and all. Thank you for your dedication and enthusiasm.

But hang about. Surely we’ve missed some people out, haven’t we? Yes, we have. And as the articles and interviews and speeches flow, these unnamed ones remain in darkness and shadow.

You see, unlike in the 1960s and 70s, when people like David Jacobs would read a book LIVE on national BBC radio (“If I made a mistake I’d just keep going and try to remember not to swear” he once told me as I sat in awe of his ability), audiobooks are not a one-person performance. When a professional audiobook (not an ACX self-record jobby) is produced, there is a producer/director involved. They assist the narrator in their performance, tone, style, characterisation and consistency. They are more often than not also the studio engineer nowadays, so they run the technical side of things, ensuring a quality source recording. They will also mark up the script to show where errors have been made and multiple takes occurred…oh yes, this isn’t LIVE, this is recorded, and no-one is perfect, narrators DO make mistakes. Some make very few, others make quite a lot. Some have perfect timing and pacing, whilst others…well, let’s just say they require a little help.

And this is where we come to audiobook editors. A small army of dedicated, experienced and passionate editors across the world sit in small rooms in front of computers and take the raw studio recordings and turn them into audio gold. They remove the fluffs and mistakes, fix the errors and stumbles, clean up the breaths and burps, movement noises and shuffling feet. They repair pacing and tonal issues and produce technically compliant, beautifully sounding audiobook files. Without them, even the greatest voiced narrator on the planet, would end up shocking their admiring listeners with their raw recordings. These people work extremely long hours for OK but not great pay. An average audiobook takes a minimum of twice the recording time to edit (depending on if it was recording straight or rock’n’roll)…often a lot longer if there are multiple retakes, complex pacing issues or it is just one of those ridiculously difficult to read books that takes forever.

As an example, I once had a book which took the narrator 14 hours to record. He has an amazing voice, great characterisation and is a joy to spend time with. But, for various reasons, he needed a lot of retakes and pickups and his pacing within sentences and paragraphs was off. The editor spent almost 30 hours fixing the raw files and we ended up with a book that had a final run-time of 7.5 hours. A month or so after it had been released I saw numerous positive and glowing reviews from listeners, all of who praised the narrator for his flowing style, wondrous pacing and accurate performance. He deserved praise certainly, as I said, he has a fantastic voice and put a lot of energy and passion into the performance. But he sounded so flawless because of the producer working hard with him in the studio and MOST IMPORTANTLY the editor working tirelessly to create a beautiful completed audiobook.

So what do I want? I’d like the industry, the media and my colleagues to give some recognition to the editors (and other technical staff- yes, I know there is an occasional Audiobook Producer of the year award). I’d like a narrator, when interviewed, to give a few thoughts on thanking the editor and producer for helping them to create this wonderful product. I’d love the publishers to offer producers and editors credits on their webpages and online stores. I’d like the unions that represent the actors and authors to remember the technical side of things. And I’d like the speeches made at events to include a thank you to EVERYONE who collaborates to produce an audiobook. Of course it is important to highlight the fact that you got Angelina Jolie to read a classic (bet you won’t say how much more you paid her than you pay a day-to-day jobbing narrator, though!) because it is these BIG NAMES who will draw in the new listeners and build subscriptions and customer loyalty. But please, at the end of your monologue on the power of audio, your speech on the importance of authors, your interview on your enthusiasm for audiobooks…please please please, give a tiny little shout out to the editors at least. Without them, we simply wouldn’t have any audiobooks to shout about!

Here are some editors I want to give praise to:

Steve Croft, Morrison Ellis, Christian Gates, David Darlington, Mark Restuccia, Sarah Grun, Adrian Thownsend, Dougal Patmore

Maybe someone could sort out an Audiobook Editor Award, QCer Award, etc…just a thought!

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About the Author:

Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and audiobook publisher Spokenworld Audio. He has 30 years experience in radio and audio, is an international award-winning producer/director/writer and loves nothing more than making audio for all ages.
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