5 Things to Try When You’ve Been Given Contradicting or Confusing Directions

I had a really good – and frustrating day – yesterday. I welcomed three new clients to the True Voice Productions family. That was great! And, as chance would have it,  all three of them reference the same selection in my Commercial Demo as the style read they preferred. It was the luxury car commercial. I completed the first job on the first try the first client. I completed The third job on the first try for the third client. But the second client… that took four takes.

I wish I could blame it on the script, but it is rarely the script’s fault. The script was long, and it recited a lot of facts; but a good voiceover should still be able to take that material and deliver it in the style read requested.

The difficulty I’ve come to understand is in how the style read was described. And this gets to the heart of the matter – perception. How are our messages (i.e., the script) end voice (i.e., style read and delivery) perceived?

“Perception is not just subjective, it’s individualized.”

Perception is not just subjective, it’s individualized.

The first client sent me the script and left the delivery to my discretion. Upon reviewing the delivery they commented that they were very glad that I did it like the car commercial because that was their favorite. So this was dumb luck on my part, the client hadn’t provided any direction or guidance on tone.  Not an uncommon practice in the voiceover business.

The second client asked for the script to be done in a “cheerful, hopeful, storytelling tone …a little more like the car commercial.” This is where I struggled because the direction seemed at odds with itself because the car commercial was not done in a cheerful, hopeful, or storytelling style.

The third client requested the script be read in the same style manner yes the car commercial. And then they went on two say, “the calm, cinematic voice.” This turned out to be very helpful to me. 

My perceptions:

First, the script was long and dare I say dry. It was a lot of recited facts.  The only storytelling elements were in the first and last paragraph. I am not offering this as an excuse, it was by no means a bad script. It wasn’t however intuitively leading me to the desired tone and delivery. 

Second, “cheerful, hopeful, storytelling” were – in my perception – in opposition to the style read of the car commercial. I went back and listened to the car commercial and looked at the production notes from when I recorded the car commercial.   The direction given at the time was to read the car commercial in a “sincere, warm, wise-mother tone – with a touch of melted chocolate mixed in.” 

Third, who were the audience and what was my role in this script?  I had been told how the script was to be used, but the audience had been described as anybody – adults, teens, children from all walks of life, all backgrounds – a variable congregation of public consumers.  All of whom where to hear me speak in a “cheerful, hopeful, storytelling” tone that was “sincere, warm, wise… with just a touch of melted chocolate mixed in?”


5 Things to Try When You’ve Been Given Contradicting or Confusing Directions


Write Down What You Think You Know

Write down what you think you know about the job. 

  • Who is the Buyer?
  • Is there any significance (product launch, upcoming event, etc.) to this order being done at this time?
  • Who’s the audience? 
  • What action/emotion is the author trying to get the audience to feel? 
  • How is the end piece being delivered to the audience?  Are their time constraints?

Get On The Phone With The Buyer

Nothing beats a real conversation.  Get on the phone, or on Zoom and have a conversation.  Text messages and emails do not convey the subtleties like voice.  That’s why we have a job!  Do what you can to talk to the Buyer and ask questions.

Kick Your Assumptions to the Curb

Go over your understanding of the job and make sure your perceptions, your own biases, haven’t snuck in.  I had just come off of 2 hours in the booth reading children’s books.  My head said “storytelling” was animated, colored with inflection and warmth.  Not what the Buyer had in mind.  The Buyer thought “storytelling” was a catchall style that applied to everything.

Know Your Audience 

The audience for this job was very broad – everyone.  Adult, teen, child alike.  But the audience got more narrow when we started looking at the desired response (emotion or action) from the audience.  While children would hear the audio, they were not the active listeners.  Adults in the group who were interested in the history of the organization would be.   

Build Connections

You form connections to people you talk to face-to-face every day.  Through a smile… a wave.  Through body language, touch, etc.  Alone in your booth, behind the mic, you need to do the same thing.  Whether you stand up and mime it out or imagine it in your head.  You have to connect to someone when you talk.  Here are some tips and tricks to getting that connection into you voice:

  • Pop a picture of your best friend up on your screen and talk to her.
  • Have a doll or stuff toy in the booth that you can talk to.
  • Read your line, close your eyes, and say it again.  You’ll be surprised at how this can add a natural, conversational tone to your voice.
  • Start the read with a false conversation.  Hey, Jessie…  “Brand X is the best selling product for …  It beats the competition 5-to-1!”  or Did you know… “In 1977, the Trans-Alaska pipeline pumped its first barrel of oil.”

Thinking Outside the Box

The Eclectic VO Podcast:

-TRANSCRIPT-

eLearning Trends in 2021 and beyond

According to eLearning Industry

  • 56% of companies are retooling their training programs
  • 62% of businesses are spending more money on training
  • Virtual eLearning has increased 16%

In 2017, 77% of companies used some type of virtual learning.  In 2020 that jumped to 98%.  Companies are faced with transitioning from paper-based training materials to the more modern, accessible (and dare I say more effective) eLearning.  And there are some new amazing curation and creation software tools to help them get the job done.

So what does this mean for the voice over professional? 

Well, it means more work.  But the type of work?  Yes, there will be hours and hours of audio to record, but if we truly want to serve our clients, we need to think outside the box just like they have to. 

Trends are leaning toward the increased use of micro-trainings. Short, on-point, topic- or even question-specific training that may only be 2-3 minutes long.  And there are some great tools like Lessonly and Pinpoint Workforce available to companies that allow them to do this.  They can now create, maintain, and distribute micro-trainings, checklist and policies to targeted audiences in their employee pool.  And they can push updates out through mobile apps.

Getting these tools setup is going to take a lot of organization and planning.   And it won’t always be appropriate for a company to bring in a voice over professional to provide new audio.  Sometimes, there just won’t be time, or there may be a strong company desire to have the training voiced in house.  So how can we help serve our clients who find themselves in this situation?

Gone are the days of classroom lectures.  Virtual learning has to be ear-catching in addition to eye-catching.  And it has to have good sound. 

I worked in the corporate world for more than 30 years – much of it spend as a project manager.  As a voice over professional I understand the technical side of audio production as well as the performance side.

So thinking outside the box… about the challenges my clients will face in the field of eLearning… I can help solve some of the problems you might face as you transition from a paper-based classroom to eLearning.  Yes, I can provide a great recording from your scripts, lifting your words from the page as the voice of the corporate narrator, co-work, or quirky character in role playing; but I can also

  • provide recording equipment and digital audio workstation software recommendations that are studio-tested, reliable, and won’t break the bank.
  • I can guide you through setup of either a permanent or temporary sound booth to give you an appropriate amount of sound treatment for low room noise and quality sound in your recordings.
  • I can train your trainers on proper recording techniques, how to address the microphone, mark mistakes, record pickups, and avoid annoying plosives, mouth noise and heavy breathing.
  • I can train your trainers – or provide outsource services – on how to edit, proof and master audio, how to insert pickups into existing tracks, leveling the sound; and how to sync audio to video.

So, if your company is just getting started in development of your eLearning program and you need a brand voice, call me.

Or, if you need a project manager-minded consultant to help you get started with the technical side… the performance side… or the post production side – call me.

And if you don’t know where you need help, but just feel like you could really use some… call me.  I’m happy to jump on a call and chat about what you’re working on.  It would be my pleasure.

The Eclectic VO Podcast

It occurred to me that a voice over professional writing blog posts was a bit “left of center.” This is a phrase I use when something is almost, but not quite, right or on the mark.

In thinking this through it comes in part from my eclectic nature. I am many things. One of which is a writer (author and playwright). But this blog is part of my professional voice over website. So… where’s my voice?

So I decided to add audio (i.e., a podcast). From now on my “blogs” will include audio and written word. Which also plays into last week’s post about Accessibility. (Yay, go me!)

I decided to brand my podcast “The Eclectic VO Podcast” because it really does truly describe me and it allows me to expand topics to my full (sometimes freaky) range of creative endeavors. After all, the purpose of a blog is for people to be able to get to know me and to start a few conversations along the way.

Welcome to…

The Eclectic VO Podcast

Do You – Three Tips for Authenticity The Eclectic VO Podcast

Three tips for autenticity and you… doing you.
  1. Do You – Three Tips for Authenticity
  2. Think Outside the Box
  3. 4 Benefits of Adding Voice Over to Your Employee Training
  4. The Voice of a Storyteller
  5. Thinking Outside the Box on VO for eLearning

Setting Goals

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

True confession time.  I subscribe to the DailyOM.  You can find it at dailyOM.com.  It’s a wonderful site of daily inspirational blogs and a great selection of  courses which you can pay for on a sliding scale. 

Today’s post focused on goals and two quotes really stood out for me.

“Our desires act as fuel, propelling us toward new horizons.”

and

“Goals are the dreams that we are willing to work for.”

I really like these quotes.  They ring true for me.  And another secret… I struggle with goals.  Okay, those of you who know me now can stop laughing.  And for those of you who don’t know me very well, I’ll let you in on the giggles.  I do a crazy, eclectic, insane amount of things.  I probably have 10 projects running at any one time. And there are probably 5 more bouncing around in the back of my head, ready to jump in and fill the first open spot when I finish one. 

I have always been an eclectic whirlwind of interests and energy.  My mother repeatedly told me, “You won’t be really great at anything if you don’t pick one thing.”  I hated that. 

My response was, “Why should I give up everything for just one thing?”

I know she was only trying to get me to focus my talents, but I was less focused on achievement than I was on exploration and understanding.  I wanted to know a thing.  I wanted to see all the pieces of the puzzle and understand how they fit together. How one piece influenced another.  I want to know how to do a thing and develop enough skill at it that I could see other applications for its use. 

What my mother was trying to teach me wasn’t to give things up but to take responsibility for my life.  That’s the true value of setting goals.

Take responsibility for your life. 

Choose what you want to do, who you want to be. 

Take some time to think about this.  It’s not as easy.  Take time to fully visualize what it is to be the person you want to be.  What does a day in the life of that new (or old) person look like?  How do you feel?  How do you move, and sound?  What does that day look like from beginning to end?  You wake up in the morning and do what?  You think what?  You feel what?  Then what comes next?

Take the time?  Visualize it.  Write a journal on it.  Set it aside and move on to the next thing or goal that you want to explore. 

I invite you to try this with me.  Taking the time to fully visualize you’re a goal is key to understanding what it is you truly want.  And it is the key to building a successful roadmap to get there.

So, to share yet another question that I have always disliked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Accessibility in eLearning

I ran across this great video/post on Accessibility Mindfulness by Los Angeles Pacific University.  The video is focused on presentation tools.  I’d like to expand on that discussion and discuss three more options for improving eLearning accessibility.

Voice Over

It’s not uncommon to have audio in an eLearning presentation, and we all know the benefits voice over brings to eLearning.

  • Improved attention spans
  • Increased message retention
  • Improved branding

But from an accessibility viewpoint it can do even more.  Think about the images you are including in your eLearning (or Corporate) videos…  Include a brief, mindful, description of the images in the script for improved accessibility.  The voice over professional can adjust their pitch and volume to drop the image narration in without disturbing the flow of your primary message or save it as a separate video file for accessibility.

Closed Captions / Transcripts

Did you know there are laws that govern the use of closed captioning for some businesses?  Here’s a link to the American with Disabilities Act laws for closed captioning. 

There are free and inexpensive tools available on the web to generate closed captioning for your videos.  If you load you videos onto your YouTube Channel, closed captioning if automatically generated using speech recognition technology.  They’re not perfect, but they’re close.  You can then edit the captions using instructions found here.

Other free tools include:

Looking for something a little more robust but not free?  Try Rev.

Language Services

Some of the captioning services above, such as Dotsub.com also offer language services.  If your business has a call center, then you’re probably already familiar with LanugageLine Solutions, the over-the-phone interpreting service.  If you’re a legal firm, you probably use some type of document translation service.

Liberty Language Services did a study and found that 8.6% of the US population did not have a firm grasp of the English language.  They may speak English well, but do they read it?  Will they be proficient enough to fully take in and understand the important messages you want to impart in your eLearning?

Depending on the demographics of your eLearning audience, you may want to consider creating alternate videos in other languages.  According to Babbel.com, the five most spoken languages (native speakers) are:

  • Mandarin Chinese           1.3 billion
  • Spanish                           450 million
  • English                            379 million
  • Hindi                               341 million
  • Arabic                              315 million

Many businesses use certified business translation services such as:

Sign Language

Please let me call out special attention within Language Services to sign language interpreters.  If you have even one employee who identifies as part of the Deaf community, I urge you to engage the services of a certified sign language interpreter for your all-company meetings, important briefings, and eLearning productions.

American Sign Language is a recognized natural language.  It has its own grammar, syntax, manner of expression, and regional dialects. It may be tempting to look within your own employee group and ask someone to translate.  Before you do that, think back to middle school or high school where you may have taken one or even two years of a foreign language.  Would you want to be asked to translate or interpret in that language for a native speaker?

A certified interpreter will have extensive knowledge and understanding of deafness, the deaf community, and Deaf culture.  They will also have specialized training and experience in other tools to enhance and ensure the accuracy of communication.

Here’s a link to a directory of Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI).

If you need a foreign language voice over please reach out.  It won’t be me.  (Just being honest.)  But I will do my best to reach into my network of voice over professionals to find a bilingual voice over artist you can talk with.

The #1 Challenge in Learning Audiobook Narration

Drum roll if you please…

Handling the Technical Side of Life

This can be daunting and overwhelming.  The scope of “technical” stuff in an audiobook can range from:

  • Purchasing the right equipment
  • Knowing if your recording space is quiet enough
  • Downloading digital audio workstations (DAW) and plug-ins
  • Getting the pre-amp settings and mic position and distance right
  • Setting the Gain without adding noise
  • Learning how to record and edit in your DAW
  • Recording pickups (corrections) and blending them in with the original audio file
  • Editing out clicks, breaths, page turns and other noises.
  • Training your ear

And that’s before you hit the weird stuff that you have to troubleshoot.

I’m not trying to scare anyone away from jumping on the voice over training.  It’s not impossible, it’s just – challenging because… you don’t know, what you don’t know – until you know it.

This is why I’m building out The Writers Audiobook Clinic (www.writersaudiobookclinic.com) as a resource for audiobook creation – just for writers.  I’ve already got a free video up on the site, The Audiobook Production Tour, that walks you through the production process and coaches you on how to work effectively with a narrator.  And a Quick Start Guide to Great Sound if you’re trying to get set up to record.  (Email me at Querida@truevoiceproductions.com and I can send you a copy.  It will be available on the website soon.)

And it’s why I created The Breakthrough Audiobook Narration Course – just for Writers.  We walk you through the process with a combination of pre-recorded lessons and live sessions where you can ask questions, get assistance and tackle both the artistic and technical side of life with a coach.

The next class starts in March.  Check it out.

Performance Anxiety

I have to be honest with you.  There’s a tie between the #2 challenge and the #1 challenge so I had to make a choice.  Because performance anxiety feeds self-doubt, I decided to place it in the number two position.

Performance anxiety feeds self-doubt and increases your stress and frustration.  Therefore I think it’s important to 1) acknowledge it and 2) name it.  It does happen to everyone.  And even when you think you’ve got it nailed down and things are great…  One flub, one criticize can derail your good mood and toss you back into the fires of performance anxiety.

So what can we do?

Step away.  Breathe.  Drink a cup of tea and try to look at the problem itself.  The real problem.  Have you ever done root cause analysis?  I did this a lot in my corporate life when I was doing business continuity and disaster recovery.  It’s not enough to think you know what the problem is – you really need to know what THE problem (root cause) is so you can truly address it.  Here’s some root cause statements that emerged from my survey:

Do I need to change my performance by the genre I am narrating in?

I’m going to say, “Yes, but…”  Here’s the yes.  In general children’s books (not young adult) can be voiced in a more upbeat tone and pace.  But not always.  In general inspirational books can be voiced in a more smooth, soft tone (closer to the mic) and flowing pace.  But not always. 

Are you getting the idea?  Your performance must always be guided by the material itself.  This is why reading the entire manuscript is important.  And why having a collaborative dialogue with the author is… well, priceless.

I don’t always know the right way to voice what was written, so what can I do?

Have you ever played the 7-word sentence game?  It’s one sentence with 7 different meanings depending on which word you stress in the sentence. 

“I never said he/she stole my money.”

Try it!  Say it 7 times putting stress on a different word each time.

The same thing applies to your reading.  My advice is to put different emphasis or stress on different words.  Think about what happened right before this character came on scene?  What is their base personality?  What is their mood right now?  Try softening a word you want to emphasize by speaking it more quietly.  Record all of these.  Try them out and see what feels right.  If you get it narrowed down and can’t decide, ask the author.

How can I manage breath, clicks and mouth noises?

Oh boy.  Can I be honest?  Sometimes you can’t.  There are lots of tips and tricks to try and I’ll tell you about them.  But I’m going to be honest and tell you that sometime, you just need to walk away and come back to it later.  My routine is to record in the morning, editing in the afternoon.  But sometimes I wake up with monkey mouth.  I don’t know what happened during the night but no amount of brushing my teeth, getting hydrated, etc., will get rid of the gasping breath, clicks or mouth noise.  That’s when I give up (temporarily) and go outside and dig in the dirt.  Gardening (or more accurately weeding) is my go to for getting out of my head.  Then I come back to it fresh.  Here are some tips to try:

Breath Control, Clicks, and Mouth Noise

  • Stay hydrated. Don’t start recording until two hours after you’ve woken up and started drinking.  (Water, flavored water – not coffee or soda.  They can actually dehydrate you.)
  • Don’t close your lips at the end of sentences.  Leaving your mouth slightly parted diminishing gasps and mouth noise.
  • Dress comfortably.  No lie.  I discovered that I can’t wear hip-hugger jeans in the studio.  It puts too much pressure on the wrong places and I find myself gasping.
  • Practice breathing.  Deep breath in through the mouth filling the diaphragm and then a slow, long exhale through the nose.  Do this as an early morning exercise before you even get out of bed.  This will also help build your endurance for those long sentences that never seem to end.
  • Make sure you use a pop filter and are staying 8-10” away from your microphone. 
  • Breath, then pause when you record.  It feels funny at first, but it’s great at spacing your breaths so you can delete or diminish them in editing and it helps avoid mouth noise at the beginning on sentences.  Breath in…  pause (with lips slightly open) for 1 second… then speak.

How do I slow down?  I tend to speed up or talk too fast.

Ditto.  Here we have a tell tale trait of a new Narrator.  I’ll admit.  Been there.  Done that.  I’m so sorry.  We all do it at some time or another.  In our excitement we rush. I’ve found two things help me avoid this.  Maybe they’ll help you too.

  • Read the material first.  In your head, for pleasure.  This helps set the pace and tone in your mind and will help guide your pace when you record.
  • Second, read to your best friend.  Not literally.  I know my best friend wouldn’t want to be tethered to my studio while I record.  Oh gawd, she’d kill me.  She hates non-fiction and I love it!  She’s a horror gal herself, and that just makes me giggle.  No, imagine that you are reading to your best friend.  Unless something really exciting is going on, you don’t rush when you’re talking to your best friend.  And if it is exciting – go ahead and rush.  You do not need to keep one, steady, droning rhythmic pace.  That is not natural.  And natural is what we’re going for.

How can I differentiate between the characters?

  • Know what the manuscript says about the character.  Suppose the manuscript says,

“Gramps was a grouch.  He never said anything without a snarl that twisted his southern drawl into something reminiscent of a snake about to bite.”

In this one line you can build a voice character for Gramps that is:

Gender –  male
Type – snarls
Accent – southern
Delivery – drawl, sharp
Motivation – predatory, defensive, poised to pounce

  • Keep it simple.  Your changes don’t have to go far from each other to sound different.  Dropping your pitch just one step on the scale can indicate male v female.  Raising your pitch and speeding up the pace just a touch can indicate youth.

If you are an author who is considering having your work published as an audiobook, please check out the Audiobook Production Tour video on the homepage of my website.  And checkout my portfolio to see if I’m the right voice for your story.

And, if you’ve got your heart set on recording your own audiobook but would like a guiding hand, check out The Writers Audiobook Clinic.

I’ll be back next week with the #1 Challenge in Learning Audiobook Narration.

The Learning Curve

Today we talk about the third greatest challenge Narrators face in learning Audiobook Narration.  And that is…

#3 – The Learning Curve 

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s steep. Most people tackle audiobooks right out of the gate when they get interested in voice over.  Many coaches encourage it, and I’d have to count myself among those. 

For one thing – if you survive your first audiobook, you’re definitely going to know if you want to stick with it and pursue working as a voice over.  (Blunt enough for ya?)  But you will also have won a battle and be well on your way to having some great skills to carry you forward.

Here’s why the learning curve is so steep.

  • You may not have a lot of training as a foundation.  Your first audiobook may feel like you’ve been tossed into the lake to learn how to swim.  It will involves a touch of panic, a modicum of nervous – dare I say “hysterical” giggles – and a whole lot of questions. 

“How do I (fill in the blank).” 

“What is that sound?” 

“Does my voice really sound like that?” 

“Is my sound quality really good enough?”

  • Your educational track includes a lot.  Remember the Time Management post?  There are a lot of steps involved.  And navigating those steps will require you to build skills.  The will include:
    • Time Management
    • Marketing (of yourself through your demos, of your audiobook if it’s a RS)
    • Customer Service Communications
    • Negotiations
    • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software skills
    • Recording
    • Voice Performance (including characterization)
    • Editing (OMG, the editing!)
    • Ear-Training (listening to yourself and the quality of your sound)
    • Sound Engineering (troubleshooting sound issues, sound leveling, mastering, etc.)

And perhaps the most important skills you’ll build are the 3 Ps.

Practice, patience, and persistence.

  • You don’t know, what you don’t know.  You will make mistakes.  Everyone does.  But the most frustrating thing for me when I first started was the worry.  You don’t know, what you don’t know, until you know it.

So why do we do this?  I’m sure everyone will have a different answer.  But for me, it’s simple.  There is magic in the journey.  And the journey is different with every story.  I get to discover some really wonderful stories.  And I get to discover so much about myself along the way.  So hang in there!

Gratefully yours,

Querida

P.S.: Next week, the second biggest challenge Audiobook Narrators face.

5 Challenges in Audiobook Narration

As promised, today I’m revealing the fourth greatest challenge Narrators face in learning Audiobook Narration.  And the winner is…

#4 – Time Management

Everyone who ever tries to record an audiobook for the first time is blown away by the amount of time it takes to produce the audiobook.  It takes a long time!  And that’s just a fact of life.  Why? You ask.  Well, there are a lot of moving parts.  Let’s take a look.

We start by knowing the word count of the book we’re going to record.  For our example, let’s say our book is a 65,500 word work of fiction. The average Narration speed is 150 wpm.  That means this book will be approximately 7 hours long.  This is referred to as the Per Finished Hours (PFH)

Now let’s look at the workflow:

  • Reading Through the Entire Book (7H)

You do this to get the feel for the characters, the tone of the book, and to make a mental note of any scenes that will need extra care or clarification from the Author/Right Holder (A/RH).

  • Prepping the Manuscript for Performance (10H)

Here you read through the manuscript again, but this time you’re digging into the details.  Make a list of any words pronunciations to lookup or ask the A/RH about.  Make a list of the characters and what you learn about them in the book so you can then create their unique voice for your reading.  Take note of any accents and study up on them if you’re not familiar.  Highlight characters in the manuscript (especially in conversations) so you can easy spot the change and adapt your voice when you record.

  • Recording a Sample for A/RH Review & Input (1H 30M)

Record 15 minutes of the book so the A/RH can get a confident feel for how the final narration will sound.  This can be a straight 15 minutes of the book or it can be 5 minutes of the book, then character bits, then bits from highly emotional/impactful scenes, etc., so the A/RH can get a confident feel for how the final narration will sound. 

  • Editing (10H 30M)

Editing the audio you have recorded takes by the most time.  In this step you’ll put on your sound engineer hat and choosing the best of optional line reads, cutting out mistakes, extemporaneous noises (barking dogs, clicks, etc.), and tightening the pace.  You’ll keep a list (file name, timestamp, and issue) of anything you missed or want to rerecord in Step 6.

  • Proofing (9H)

Grab the manuscript and hit play on your file.  Adjust pace as needed.  Make note on you Pick up List of lines you want to re-record, words you missed or just don’t like the sound of.  Listen through your headphones in a quiet area and turn the sound up comfortably loud level to really hear what your Listeners will hear.

  • Recording Pickups (2H)

Go back in your booth and record pickups.  Have the original file open so you can listen to pace, tone and pitch of your original delivery.  Record full sentences (or paragraphs) when you’re recording pickups.  It will make it much easier to edit into the original file and level your sound.  Go back to Step 5 and proof the files changes to make sure you have a smooth, unnoticeable transition where pickups are inserted.

  • Mastering (1H)

In this step you will again wear your Sound Engineer hat and balance and adjust the sound of all the files so there is a consistent, pleasant sound to the entire audiobook.  You will adjust sound to meet the platform requirements.  For ACX these standards are:

  • Room tone at the top (0.5-1.0 seconds) and tail (05.5.0 seconds)
  • RMS between -23dB and -18dB
  • Peak Value of -3dB
  • Maximum Noise Floor of -60dB
  • 192 kbps or high in an MP3 file format
  • Recorded at CBR of 44.1kHZ
  • Final Listen (7H)

Some people say this step is optional if you’re already done 1-7.  And I will admit, I skipped this step in my early days.  Don’t.  You might hear something you want to fix or need to fix.  And even if it’s perfect, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to celebrate.  My advice, get cup of coffee or tea, or crack open a bottle of wine… put your feet up and enjoy.  This is the Listener Experience.

  • Submission to Author/Right Holder (A/RH) for Final Review

When its perfect, send it back to the A/RH for review.  At this point, they should only be sending you “mission critical” updates.  An example from one of my audiobooks was the author telling me that the locals in Hurricane, Utah, pronounce their hometown as “Her-kin.”  Not something I knew or even thought about when reading the manuscript.

  • Go back and repeat Steps 6-9 for “mission critical” changes.

Just so you know, where you see the hour/minute notation after Steps 1-8, I’ve used averages found on the internet. In this example, our 7-hour audiobook took a minimum of 46.5 hours to produce.

These times can increase significantly for a new Narrator who is trying to learn the in’s and out’s of their digital audio workstation (DAW).  And the numbers improve as you gain experience and put into place systems, assistants, or outsourced help who share the workload (and the profits).

Next week, we’ll take a look at the third biggest challenge Narrators face in learning Audiobook Narration.

Happy Holidays.  Be safe.  See you soon!

Jumping the Hurdle of Self Doubt

PHOTO CREDIT: David Mark (www.pixabay.com)

Self-doubt is a universal emotional state.  It’s something everyone feels at one point or another in their life; and sometimes, it plagues us daily.  But it doesn’t have to.  Would it surprise you to know that there are pros and cons to self-doubt?   Some think it’s a survival skill that makes us more resilient and helps us do better.

PROs:  Self-doubt can motivate you to be more prepared at the start of a project.  The uncertainty that comes with self-doubt can keep us in the listening mode, absorbing all the tips and details of a discussion that we can turn over into a well-developed product, project or service.  It helps keep us humble.  The need to re-examine a completed job – to make sure it’s right – opens our mind to options and possibilities. 

CONs:  Self-doubt can get out of our control.  It can stop us in our tracks or even prevent us from moving on to the next step or even trying at all.  That’s a problem.

In a recent survey, some very brave Audiobook Narrators shared some of the self-doubts they felt when they first started out as Narrator.  Here are their thoughts and some tips on overcoming self-doubt with you.

“Am I doing this right?  I don’t seem to ever like the way I sound?” 

First of all – remember – if you were selected by the Author to voice their novel, your voice is perfect.  They’ve already listened to your audition and liked the way you sound – or they wouldn’t have selected you.

Second, I’d like to discuss why you may not like the way you sound.  This is a very, very common complaint of all new voiceover talents and on air broadcasters when they first start.  When you listen to someone else speak, you are hearing their voice come to you through your outer ear. When you speak, you are hearing yourself through your outer ear and from inside your body as the vibrations form sound move through an acoustical chamber (your skull) with a unique resonance no one else can hear.  This is better than stereo – this is 3D hearing!

So let me ask… Do people talk to you?  Do they enjoy talking to you?  Then there’s not really a problem. My advice is to keep going.  And keep listening to your audio through headphones as you record and edit.  Soon you will become accustomed to the “new” 2D “outside” sound of your voice. 

“I find myself doing this [insert word, sentence, phrase, or paragraph] over and over again.  What’s wrong with me?”

Absolutely nothing is wrong with you.  None us can do flawless reads all the time.  We all get tongue-tied.  Sometimes on sibilance (lots of “s” sounds).  Sometimes on alliterations (repeated sounds).  Very often on punctuation trip-ups.  And sometimes – just because.  I just hit one the other day that took me 12 tries to get through and it was one word!  It was a company name and I don’t want any bad mojo falling to them so I won’t give you their name; but I will say it was a matter of tripping over the word because of how it is shaped in the mouth.  It was a conjoined word – two words put together to form one new word.  The first half ended in a “th” sound and the last half started with an “pf” sound.  I couldn’t wrap my tongue around the “th-pf” sound without a hesitation between the halves.  My dog thought I was trying to invent a new way to whistle as I walked around the house practicing “th-pf” over and over again until I could do it.

When a word, sentence, phrase or paragraph trips you, mark the error, jump back to the beginning of the sentence and go again.  Listen to how the word is pronounced (www.pronounce.com) and repeat it until it sounds fluid in your mind and then on your tongue.  Do a warm-up of tongue twisters to loosen up your mouth and lean in to the articulation.  And my favorite tip – go back and read the last few sentences that lead up to the stumble in an outrageous, wacky character voice.  It works. And it makes me laugh. It kicks your mind out of frustration mode into something light…relaxed… even silly.  And that can make it easier. 

“I know I shouldn’t be the one to judge how it sounds because I’m too self-judgmental but I worry about what kind of experience the Listener will have.”

This is a big one.  And the hard truth of it is  – not every listener will enjoy your performance.  And that may or may not have anything to do with you.

Best advice – be prepared.  Preparing before recording is the best way to overcome uncertainly.  Have you read the entire manuscript?  What’s the overall tone?  Are any of the emotions in the book going to give you pause?  I’m serious about asking this because I’ve learned that I can’t scream.  I just don’t ever do it.  In real life.  On stage. Or in the booth.  My flight-fight-panic response is solidly in fight and I do it silently.  I will never be able to narrative horror.  I know my limitations.

Do you have a list on words, place names, etc., for which you need to clarify pronunciation?  Record the word and then the sentence that the word is in and send it to the Author/Rights Holder to get their approval or clarification on the pronunciation. Also, think about place names when you put this list together.  I had a fix come through in the final review of an audiobook when the Author told me that regionally, the town of Hurricane, Utah, is pronounced “Her-kin” and not “hur-uh-kein.”  Neither I nor my Proofer had any clue.

If there is a tricky character or a scene that you think could go in a few different directions, ask the Author/right holder what they have in mind for that scene.  Getting their guidance up builds confidence – for you both!  It shows you’re dedicated to the audiobook’s success and being very conscientious about your work.

Do anything you can to move forward.  Self-doubt is only a problem when it causes you to stop moving.  Lean in.  Lean so far forward you’re gonna fall over!  Instinct will have you putting a foot out to catch yourself. 

Remember – if the Author/Right Holder love it, your job is well done and the Universe will take care of the rest.

5 Challenges in Audiobook Narration

I recently surveyed hundreds of Narrators and asked them what their top challenge was when they first started to create audiobooks.  Their responses flooded in.  As I read through their comments, I found myself nodding in agreement.  I had felt these things too when I first started narrating!  Now I look back and am a little amazed that I got through it.  That we all did!

So first, I would like to say to all the audiobook narrators and author/narrators that find this post, “Congratulations.  I’m so proud of you.  You did it!”

Some of the stories were amazing, like the Narrator who tackled “The Holy Bible: King James Version” for his debut audiobook!  To say that was a “baptism by fire” was no joke.  He showed great patience, tenacity – and dare I say, devotion – in tackling that project. Not only is it 783,137 words long, but think about the preparation needed for proper pronunciation!

What I found when I finished reading was that the response boiled down to 5 major hurdles each Narrator has to overcome in one way or another.  Let’s take a look…

#5 – Self Doubt

Here’s some of the comments that were left. 

  • Am I doing this right?  I don’t seem to ever like the way I sound?” 
  • I find myself doing this [insert word, sentence, phrase, or paragraph] over and over again.  What’s wrong with me?”
  • “I know I shouldn’t be the one to judge how it sounds because I’m too self-judgmental but I worry about what kind of experience the Listener will have.”

Self-doubt is universal.  Everyone feels it.  But, how do you overcome it?  How do you push those doubts away and move forward?  Henrik Edberg published a great article on The PositivityBlog on November 4, 2020 on this topic, 13 Powerful Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt (So You Can Finally Move Forward in Life).  I’ve found many of these principles to be very helpful throughout my life.  Check it out!

And come back next week and I’ll provide some advice for getting past the hurdles the Narrators addressed in their comments above; and – I’ll tell you what the Fourth (#4) hurdle was in the survey.

In the meantime,  what are your tips for moving forward through self-doubt.