Confessions of an Audiobook Producer

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I’ve been producing audiobooks for over a decade now, hundreds upon hundreds of the things. From dramatic to comedic, romantic to historic. It’s been a blast and the audio adventure continues with new titles and new narrators. Over the years I’ve had the joy and pleasure of working with a wealth of narrators, all of whom brought their own skills and talents to the production…I’ve learned a lot from them. But there are occasions when…well…

Now, as my own audiobook production house pushes into it’s new two-studio future (www.ladbrokeaudio.com), I thought it might be useful to reminisce on some of the oddities of audiobook narration from the producer’s point of view that I’ve experienced. All of these are genuine things that have happened to me and that always surprise:

Getting Preppy With It – prepping your manuscript is, of course, a no-brainer. The depth of prep is up to you, but at least a skim-read and then a full-read is good practice, making notes or mark-ups on characters, voices, pronunciations, etc… as you go. I know this sounds obvious, but turning up at a studio and telling the producer/engineer that you’ve not read the book in advance is the fastest way to give them a heart-attack. Claiming you can sight-read an audiobook will nearly always get you the ‘raised eyebrow of extreme doubt’.

Always Take Your Tablets – The same applies to turning up without a copy of the script / an ipad/tablet to read from. I’ve had both these happen, sometimes at the same time! I always have spare studio tablets on hand just in case (hey, we’ve all forgotten stuff in the rush to leave the house in the morning) but it always shocks me when someone arrives and breezily asks about how they are going to read the script. Really? You were booked weeks ago and in that time never once thought to ask about a printed script, or why you were sent a pdf? And do please use a tablet large enough to read from. If you have poor eyesight, using a tiny Kindle isn’t going to make your day (or mine) any easier!

Experiential Data – ah, the joy of being told your narrator has audiobook experience, and they rock up on day one and snappily say this is their first ever audiobook and how do they go about it, then? Fabulous…time to teach, and pray they are good enough to get through the production without [a] doubling the recording time and [b] killing your editor with endless hours of fixing. Honestly, I’ve had this happen numerous times. It isn’t the narrator’s fault, but the agent who either lied, or didn’t know, or mixed up audiobooks with commercial VO work. If you’ve never read an audiobook before and get a booking, please ask your agent to put you in touch with the studio/producer so you can ask lots of questions in advance and get advice on how to prep for the session.

Dedicated Follower of Fashion – ah the pleasures of noisy clothing. Yes, your lovely shirt, blouse, jacket or trousers DO make you look fantastic…but notice how much noise they make when you move? It gets a tad embarrassing when as producer I have to ask you to remove another level of clothing because you are crackling/rumpling/snushing/etc… every time you move an arm or leg. Which leads me to…

You’ve Got To Move It Move It – well, actually, I’d rather you didn’t. Actors…they are trained to be physically expressive and boy do they do it brilliantly. BUT…you are in a small studio with a great mic…every hand, arm, neck, leg, foot movement is going to be picked up and you’ll either have to re-do the line or some poor over-worked editor will have to try to edit it out. Focus on being a tree…a very very still tree…a petrified tree perhaps. SMALL hand movements are fine…but remember you aren’t on stage now, we need everything to be as quiet as possible…EXCEPT…

The Lone Voice is Loudest – why is it that actors, trained to project their voices, nearly all get so quiet when put in a small room in front of a microphone? You can speak up, you know?! Obviously shouting is not usually required, but your narrator voice needs to be of a good, strong and consistent level. If a character is whispering in dialogue, the narration doesn’t need to also be whispery. Bring the volume back up (or down if the dialogue is loud and shouty). If in doubt, turn down the volume of your headphones – loud cans will make you think you are louder than you are. Hopefully your producer/engineer will point this out to you…but them simply turning up the gain on your mic doesn’t solve the problem…give us of those acting beans, show us what you’ve got!

Well, next article I’ll have to try and list some of the many ways we producers and engineers can #fail – none of us is perfect. But even with everything said above, I absolutely LOVE making audiobooks, and working with incredibly talented narrators, editors and checkers. Let’s keep experiencing this audio adventure together!

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.

www.ladbrokeaudio.com – proud to be a Croydon business!

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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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