Tag Archives: audio producion

An incredibly witty title that will entice visitors to my site

So here we are at that time of the week when it’s blog time again. This week I have been out and about a bit but suddenly, on Thursday morning, to my delight and joy, I woke up with a brain. Hello Mary! Welcome back.

Net result I am now close to 3k up on three different projects. Yes I was able to do that real Grown Up Professional Author thing of working on a project for an hour or so until I’d had enough and then going onto another one … three times. Ooo. There are few things better for the all round well-being than when I manage to get some writing done.

Other exciting things, I put the addresses of everyone who’d done the question for Too Good To Be True into the randomiser and contacted the winner. She was delighted, which is always gratifying, and when I gave her a choice of the ritzy Hamgeean Misfit Cup or one of the new Humbertisms set. She said surprise me, so I surprised her with a wipe my conkers mug. To my delight she’s really chuffed. Woot.

This was also the week when I discovered that Zazzle do a teapot. Um … yeh. So naturally we now have this …

For more details about that, just click this link https://www.zazzle.co.uk/im_a_little-180930934370375055.

Naturally, because Zazzle puts the name of everything on the listing I’ve just called it I’m a little … and Zazzle has added, ‘teapot’ which, of course, I find completely hilarious because I’m incredibly mature.

Hear’s some audio news …

Oh ho ho. Did you see what I did there? Yes, other joyous news this week, Gareth is recording Too Good To Be True.

Excuse me while I laugh with manic glee.

Mwahahahahahahrgh! Mah hwahahahahahaahrgh! Mwahahaahrgh!

Thank you.

There is something amazing about listening to someone else bringing the words I have written to life. It’s always a joy, but the more stories I read in forums about audio where people have picked the wrong narrator and aren’t getting on, or the narrator is refusing to do any changes, or the author is being a prig to the narrator, the more I thank my lucky stars. Gareth is a consummate professional but at the same time, not in a scary overly formal manner. He just does stuff when he says he will and if he can’t he tells you why and gives you a revised estimate of when he’ll do it. And he’s decent cove and amusing, and of course, he’s polite enough to laugh at my jokes which always helps.

As we speak, we are up to Chapter 16, the denouement of which caused me to laugh rather suddenly and spray my keyboard with coffee. Oops.

One of the best bits of the process is how each book seems to improve on the last. I don’t think it’s my imagination. I suppose recording audio could be like writing in that you’re always, kind of, in the learning phase and improving but I guess we never notice our own journeys in these things so it’s quite an eye opener to see someone else’s close up. Obviously, I’d expect him to be tinkering with his production efficiency to get the maximum out of his time; you know, the way he works or sends the chapters over, when he does the alts (as they come, or at the end) whether he stands up or sits down to record and stuff like that. And he has. But he’s also found a way to fine-tune the acting, which is a bit of an eye-opener because, frankly, I didn’t think that could be any better than it already was.

OK, so it might just be that he’s more confident with the tech and the process, meaning that his performance is more relaxed, but it seems that Gareth is not content with a product that is merely top-drawer and that his ultimate aim is to get beyond, that, to the top of the whole unit, where his work will sit, resplendent, with the mirror and the hair brushes. What he has done of Too Good To Be True so far is golden, I’m so chuffed with it. From my own point of view, I do think it’s the best thing I’ve written but Gareth is certainly doing it justice. I cannot wait until it comes out and those of you that do audio can have a listen to what he’s done with it. Sometimes you can hear the smile in his voice when he’s reading the bits he finds funny which gives the whole thing an unexpected intimacy and warmth which is great.

Other things, still on audiobooks … when I proof them, I usually listen to the chapters a couple of times, first just to get a feel for the voices, the flow and the narration generally and to get into it I suppose. Then I listen with a fine tooth comb to try and winkle out any misreadings or mistakes. Although Gareth hardly ever makes any, and if there are, more often than not it’s differences in pronunciation. Yes, I obsess over my books as badly when someone else is reading the bloody things as when I write them. Never mind that’s all part of being an author, or at least, part of being this one. This Wednesday, I had some new chapters, so that was a woot as I got to listen to them in the car on the way down to Mum’s.

When I arrived, Mum was in cracking form. I always play it by ear when I visit her. Sometimes, when I turn up she doesn’t really clock it so well but stays in the drawing room with the telly on. Those days, often, she will be too tired to do a whole visit and come lunchtime her words are slury and she’s nodding off. When that happens I pop in and say hello and then do an hour’s detecting and come back in just before 12.00. Other times, she comes out to greet me while I’m still faffing about getting my stuff from the car. If she does this it’s always a good day and so I don’t do any metal detecting. I know she’ll go the distance so I chat to her instead.

Another technique is to bring some gardening homework. She has an arthritic knee which gives way on her so she falls a lot. It’s no fun but it’s also dented her confidence a bit so she isn’t comfortable going out to the greenhouse on her own – we’re not comfortable letting her either. She loves pottering in there, though, she has a perching stool so she can sit and tend to her plants and it’s warm so there’s not the worry that she’ll get cold. Usually the gardening team help her but both the main ones have cancer at the moment and aren’t able to come. The third is keeping the lawns as short as he can and he and the carers are also watering the pots round the outside of the house, the greenhouse and the raised veg beds near the house. There’s another veg garden which we’ve let go this year because watering them takes a while and it’s not really fair to ask the care team to do that or the single garden team member – who is only doing it in his spare time anyway.

One of the pheasants at Mum’s there are two.

I’ve volunteered to grow extra plants so I can bring a few bits and bobs down to Mum’s, tomatoes, four or five broccoli plants, some cut-and-come-again salad maybe, courgettes, cucumbers and some climbing French beans. All those can be planted in the raised beds and watered easily by the carers. If it gets warm enough I can also get Mum out to the raised beds and she can help me sew carrots and lettuces … although we may need more netting as we’ll have the pheasants to contend with.

A few weeks ago, I took a tray of broccoli plants down there and told Mum that her homework was to plant them into pots. I got a big tray and some pots from the greenhouse which I filled with compost and she planted them all. Then I took four home and left five for her. Mum definitely has green fingers. Those four broccoli plants are happier and healthier than anything I’ve potted on so far. That was a huge success so last week I took down some tomato plants – although sadly I hadn’t any homework she could do other than looking after them – but she insisted they be put in the drawing room where she could keep a proper eye on them. This week I’m going to bring a seed tray and some climbing French bean seeds. Mine aren’t growing at all and the ones that have come up are unbelievably weak and feeble so I thought we could see if she has a bit more success.

We set up a big soaking tray on a table with a waterproof cloth at the end of the drawing room for the tomato plants so I can sit her up there and we can plant beans this week. It’s been great doing this because I know she enjoys it and I think it makes her a lot more chirpy. She loves a bit of gardening. It’s probably not quite the done thing but I reckon that if she can’t get to the garden, it will do no harm to bring the garden to her … it’s a pity it’s an antique table but unfortunately all the second-hand, junk room furniture Mum and Dad bought when they got married is now antique. Oops.

Anyway, last week, as I arranged the tomatoes in the tray on the table she was chatting away and she mentioned that she loved my books and asked if I’d written any more. She also admitted that she can’t follow them but thought it might be easier in audio. Could I set it up so she could listen? To be honest, I don’t think she could cope with MP3 files when I’m not there, although I might add them to the tablet I got her to do Zoom church on. But setting that aside, I can play her the odd extract when I go and see her. I told her that I had some with me if she wanted to listen now.

She seemed genuinely delighted at the idea so I played her the chapter from Too Good To Be True with Goldy McSpim – another one where Gareth has excelled himself – and she loved it and wanted to listen to some more. So then I played her the chapter which follows on, with a bunch of surly Grongles doing a house-to-house search while The Pan of Hamgee hides from them and she loved that too.

Her verdict was, ‘Well, darling! That’s as good as anything you’d hear on Radio Four.’ Which is what she usually says, but it was lovely because she was able to follow it and enjoy it. And because for the moment, she knows I’m an author again and that she loved the books I wrote and read them all. So all in all a happy week.

Right. Now I have to go and paint a wall. Two walls actually. A bientot.

One … two free …

Three things … first one free, if you haven’t read any of the K’Barthan Extras series about The Pan of Hamgee’s adventures working for Big Merv the first one, Small Beginnings, is free everywhere except Amazon. Feel free to click the report a lower price button there and ping them a link to Kobo or wherever if you want to. I have been meaning to get them to price match but as I explained last week … On the upside if you enter the code 3SB at check out you can download it free from my site. If you’re on for that you can find links to all retailers here.

Second thing; and second freebie. If you haven’t already done so and you want to hear the first ever audiobook that Gareth narrated for me. Actually, I think it was the first one he ever narrated for anyone that he was prepared to share publicly. He did a great job, as ever. Anyway, if you want to hear it, you can download it for free from my author’s direct account and also from Apple Books and Kobo for the rest of the month. Links to that can be found here.

Third thing. This is the last reminder that, if you haven’t done the K’Barthan invective quiz, now is the time. At the moment we have two out-and-out leaders but the rest is absolutely touch and go. Vote for your favourite! Or add one I’ve forgotten. You can find that here.

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Careful with that ACX Eugene … #audiblegate

I was watching a programme about Pink Floyd last night and I’m afraid I couldn’t help myself.

Right. This week a suspension of the usual service to bring you a message about audiobooks.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that my books are out in audio. You will also know that in the pantheon of THINGS which MTM loves the audiobooks are very, very shiny. Because entirely serendipitously, I’ve ended up with an absolutely blinding product. A thing of mind-boggling quality. This is not how life tends to happen to me unless I put in a lot of work. The unicorn farted and I walked right into the purple sparkly gas on this one. Lucky me.

Like most folks, I’ve put the audiobooks on Audible. I didn’t go exclusive because I’m not very keen on that sort of thing so they are available everywhere. I use a company called Findaway Voices for most of it. I upload my books to them and they distribute them everywhere else so I don’t have to. Also, the books are on Kobo, where I upload them direct, and on ACX which is Audible’s sister company. I think ACX distributes to a couple of other places, including iBooks which Findaway will also send your books to. However, Findaway pay between 35 and 55% royalties (depending where the book is going) it’s 40% to apple, I think, and ACX pay me a flat rate of 25% to punish me for not going exclusively with Audible. This is called leveraging people’s desperation and greed to achieve a monopoly. It works very well, too. It’s a big part of the reason why Amazon is Amazon.

On my Audible/ACX dashboard there’s a little chart which shows sales. One day, I refreshed it to see how my sales were doing and noticed that the entry for total books had dropped from 58 to 57. Yet I’d sold some more books over night. Hang on, I thought. That can’t be right. Now as you lot know, I’m a bit challenged with numbers. We won’t go off at a tangent on the Baldrick ‘some beans/very small stew’ sketch but that’s about the level I’m at. It’s called discalculia and 99% of cases still go undiagnosed because it tends to pair with smartness in some other direction that leaves people simply assuming you are right-brained … or is it left-brained? Yeh, anyway, moving on.

The result is that, knowing my weakness, I look at the numbers on anything very carefully and slowly. It’s like I’m this weird dichotomy between the thickest fucker on earth and extremely switched on. I probably check the numbers far more closely than I would if I could actually … you know … add them up or understand them the way other humans can.

So I looked at my charts. Total books sold 57, and I thought, Hang on there were 58 yesterday and I’ve sold another one but ended up with a smaller number of all over sales. How the fuck did I manage that?

Naturally, being me, I started digging and this is what I discovered:

Right now, Audible is encouraging some customers to exchange books they’ve read and enjoyed and get a full refund or another credit. They can do that on any book for up to a year after they first downloaded and listened to it. Clearly that’s brilliant for customers.

However, what Audible omit to tell readers is that every time they exchange a book, Audible claws back any royalties they’ve paid from the people who produced it: the author and narrator. That’s right, the people carrying the cost of Audible’s largesse are, well … us actually.

Also it’s important to note that these are not large royalties. I explained about the exclusive versus non-exclusive tier. One my books is a 63 hour box set. Gareth and I earn about$3.00 to share between us each time someone reads it on a single credit, except we don’t because 60% of readers ‘exchange’ the book and we earn nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Thanks to author, Cory Doctorow for this graphic.

Audible argues that letting people return books they have listened to right through, for up to 365 days after purchase gives customers the freedom to try out books they might never normally have tried. Judging by the numbers of people listening to my box set, that may well be true. Audible also say there are stringent checks in place to ensure there is no abuse.

However, experiments carried out by authors signing up, listening to, and returning books would suggest that you can exchange at least six Audiobooks a month before they switch it so you have to phone them up or message them. And after that point you can continue to exchange more books, just not at the click of a button.

Is this system open to abuse? Yes. Hugely. There are posts all over the web explaining how to use a single credit to get free books from Audible by exchanging them, and having your credit returned, again and again. So far, one experiment has hit 28 books returned in less than a month. Maybe those checks aren’t quite so stringent, then.

As one of the people making the books, I have to confess it is a bit demoralising for authors like me to see something we’ve created selling really well, like hot cakes even, but be paid as if it isn’t.

How can I help people to understand?

Imagine you look at your bank statement and discover that you have only been paid half your wages for the month. What do you do? You go to the boss.

‘What’s going on, Boss?’ you ask.

‘Oh,’ says the Boss. ‘I’ve donated your work for those days. I want potential customers to be able to try out our company for free so from now on, for some days in each month you’ll be working for nothing. I won’t tell you how many days it will be; it could be half or more, or less. You’ll be able to get an idea from your timesheet and wages at the end of each month. That’s OK isn’t it?’

Clearly, if I have bills to pay and rent to meet it isn’t going to be OK. At all.

Audiobooks cost. Whether that payment is in cash, per book, or time: days spent in a hot attic sat at a computer wrangling words or acting your socks off into a microphone for a royalty split, whichever way it’s done, the cost is extensive. It’s especially demoralising when half those royalties never materialise. I have no idea, month on month whether I’ll be earning from Audible or actually have that many return royalties deducted that it will bring my payment down to zero. September’s report had minus numbers for two books but a third made up enough to cover it. Furthermore there is no breakdown of the numbers. They simply deduct returns from my sales total and give me a figure at the end of the month. There are ways to buck the system and find out how many books were returned but there’s nothing transparent; nothing obvious or sensible like a column for total gross sales, another for returns, and a third for net sales.

Hundreds of authors and narrators have been writing and asking for this information but we are stonewalled or fobbed off with nonsensical boilerplate responses or promises to escalate it to The Business Team, after which nothing ever materialises.

Despite being an off shoot of Amazon; a company which has one of the most sophisticated sales algorithms that has ever existed, Audible and their content supplying arm, ACX, are unable to supply us with basic information.

It doesn’t inspire confidence. Hopefully ACX and Audible will listen and we will be able to work something out with them. We know they tell listeners who ask them that we signed up for this because those listeners have told us. It’s entirely untrue. There is nothing in our contract about half our sales being returned for nothing, if there was our books would not be there because it’s not a viable business model for us. I’ve seen comments to the effect that there seems to be a drop in the number of new books to listen to on Audible this situation may explain why.

Certainly, until the situation improves I can’t put any more books on there.

Cory Doctorov picked up on this and posted on twitter about it. And now the Romance Writers of America, the Science Fiction Writers of America, the Author’s Guild, the Alliance of Independent Authors and many more have put their weight behind us. The Alliance has downgraded Audible’s working partner rating to ‘caution’. Meanwhile, many industry bodies have clubbed together and made a public announcement about Audible. Along with the announcement is a letter damning their actions and demanding change. Please feel free to sign it. You can find that here:

https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/sign-our-letter-and-tell-audible-to-stop-charging-authors-for-returns/

Make no mistake none of the authors involved in this are against returns. If someone has stumped up for a book and they think the writing is abysmal and the narrator sounds like a corn crake with a bad throat, they are perfectly within your rights to return it. Indeed, they should.

But if they’ve listened to an entire book right through, and returned it months afterwards, that isn’t a book they loathed. So, if anyone reading this does Audible, when all those pop ups appear urging you to exchange your credit for another book, please think before making an ‘exchange’ and denying us, the creators, our means to make a living. Furthermore, please also think about signing the letter from the Author’s Guild. Here’s the link. It’s pretty strong. I think we could say, the gloves are off.

Sign Our Letter and Tell Audible to Stop Charging Authors for Returns

Susan May, leader of the authors kicking back against this has also done an excellent blog post here:

https://www.susanmaywriter.net/single-post/audiblegate-the-incredible-story-of-missing-sales

__________________________________

If you want to listen to audiobooks for free …

You can listen to a lot of audiobooks for nothing by borrowing them from your local Library. Just check the app or ask your librarian. Not only do you get to listen to the book for free, but the libraries pay authors for any books that are borrowed. Win-win. Audiobooks are also sold by Kobo, Google Play, iBooks, Chirp, Scribd and many, many more.

Alternatively, you can purchase my audiobooks from my online shop here:

K’Barthan Series:

https://payhip.com/HUP/collection/kbarthan-series-audio

K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit

https://payhip.com/HUP/collection/kbarthan-shorts-audio

More details about all my audiobooks can be found here:

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio.html

 

And there’s that link again: https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/sign-our-letter-and-tell-audible-to-stop-charging-authors-for-returns/

 

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Filed under General Wittering

How does it work? Audiobooks.

Today I thought it would be interesting to do a what-are-the-duck’s-legs-doing-underneath style post about audiobooks. Obviously, I know jiff all about audiobooks or producing them so the best place to start is with someone who does; Gareth, The Voice Of K’Barth Davies. This means I also get to post some of the extensive interview he did, which is going to be delivered in several parts to audiobook listeners on my mailing list. Also, because after pestering him with that many questions, frankly, I think the least I can do is share his answers with as many people as possible.

Boing …

Most of you know how it all started, I’m sure, but for those who don’t, I got an email, out of the blue, in July 2019 from Gareth, with a link to Unlucky Dip recorded on audio. Obviously the email was funny so he had me at ‘hello’ – although it was actually  ‘greetings and salutations’ if I remember correctly – but the recording was brilliant as well. Bonus! I had no clue who he was so I had a look at his website.

He was, indeed, an actor and acted for a living, without doing anything else. This, I suspected, made him impressively bloody minded and, if he could earn enough not to die of starvation, probably quite good at acting.

Gareth cooking audiobooks …

It looked like he had a sense of humour (always a bonus) a bit of a line in pantomime villains (well, he was going to be reading Lord Vernon, wasn’t he?) and it seems he can also jump very high in the air.

In subsequent conversations, I discovered that he is a even bigger sci-fi nerd than I am, which takes a bit of doing.

One of the jolly side effects of this project has been that meeting of the spuds aspect! Put it like this, he kept rabbits at one point and one of them was called Wicket – after the Ewok, naturally. He was a children’s entertainer for many years and you need something to pull out of the … well … I think it was a house rather than a hat but you get the picture.

He can do funny, which is fairly essential for reading my stuff and he is very modest about his achievements. I suspect he’s a lot more distinguished than he makes out.

Having decided the project was go, both of us were feeling our way a bit at the beginning. He hadn’t done a commissioned book before and I … well audio was definitely on my radar but I’d looked at the prices and chalked it up as something to do in my dreams for now. So I hadn’t read up on it or anything and consequently, I hadn’t a fucking clue what I was doing (now I have read up on it I still haven’t a fucking clue but that’s by-the-by). Gareth made relatively few actual mistakes, even on these first books most of the errors I picked up were my own typos. Sheesh.

We were both quite nervous, after recording the first novel, Gareth sent the link to me with the rider, ‘Basically, I’m just hoping for any reaction other than “what the hell have you done!?!”‘

There was also something that went slightly skew whiff with the set up on the third and fourth books because he was experimenting with the sound set up. He did explain it, I think it was called ‘sound gate’ if I recall. Then it was my turn to be nervous, principally, about the weird nature of the feedback I was giving him.

When he’s not illuminated in green or dressed up in costume Gareth looks like this.

Since my only experience of audiobooks was still restricted to Radio 4s A Book At Bedtime it did feel weird marking up a document going, ‘8 minutes 10 seconds you breathed in a weird way there and I heard it!’ I was a bit unsure as to whether I was helpfully pointing out things or being an anally retentive wanker. As someone who is not at all comfortable with the notion of overt wankerdom, I did keep asking, to check. It was probably quite annoying, but Gareth cheerfully continued to reassure me … quite a lot … that it was the former, not the latter!

He has now recorded a lot more audio, including seven of my books, I get the impression that he has definitely evolved a working process that suits him. Clearly, no two people are the same but I hope you will get a general feel for what the process involves and what a narrator does.

As I understand it, Gareth proofs all his own stuff. Some narrators don’t though, so they have to pay someone else to do that for them, usually at an hourly rate. That’s how the costs of audio end up sounding very high. The minute you start to unravel what goes into producing a book you (general ‘you’ here, clearly) start to change your view. Narrating an audio book is way, way more complicated than just sitting (or standing) in front of a microphone and reading stuff aloud as Gareth’s answers show.

Anyway, enough wittering on already. Here he is answering my questions about audio book production.

Gareth on producing audiobooks…

Right oh. First question. You warned me you’d take a while to produce the K’Barthan books but actually I thought you worked impressively fast. How long can you read at a stretch before you lose the will to live have to give your voice a rest?

I work a bit differently now than I did when reading the K’Barth series (I have learned!) For those, I read the whole book through, sent it to you for notes, then rerecorded, edited and mastered the finished piece. That meant that I would just be reading for as much of the day as I had quiet. Which meant, on days where the house was completely empty – if everyone was away for a few days – I could record for many hours. We were up against a very hard deadline to finish the initial reading of the last book because I was leaving the country on tour. I recorded maybe 12 hours each day over a long weekend and I finished reading that at around midnight on Sunday! That’s probably the closest I’ve come to losing the will to live …

Now, I record, edit and master a section each day – that gives the author more manageable chunks to listen to and, on the off-chance a chapter has no notes then it’s finished. Generally speaking, for each hour of finished material, it takes at least two hours to record it, slightly less to edit. So I currently aim to get around 1.5-2 hours done each day, which is roughly 3-4 hours recording and maybe 3 editing. When recording, I tend to work by chapter. So, unless it’s a very short chapter, I’ll take a break; walk around a bit, sit in my comfy chair and – always – go to the loo: you are constantly drinking water when recording.

There was a long stretch at the start of book three where the male MC has a sore throat and Gareth read that with a croaky voice, which was genius. One of the most fun parts of the process is that, if I leave him room to work, this is the kind of thing he does. He did confess to being very relieved when he got to the point where the sore throat is mentioned as having gone. Likewise, I do give some guidance on the voices I want, but mainly because he can do a lot more accents than he thinks he can – and with a gentle (I hope it’s gentle) prompt he can produce a very varied cast of characters, often with just the tiniest tweaks on the same basic set of vocal parameters.

On a side note, that’s also wise advice about the weeing, we know what Billy Connolly said about never passing up the opportunity to use the loo.

Next question …

Do you do voice training and if so, how much? Do you have to do the voice equivalent of warm up stretches before you start reading. Or any other special measures (!) like … I dunno … standing up to read? (that sounds weird but I do it all the time on the phone when I want to make a complaint, or a business call, or pretend I’m a grown up … and I can’t speak and think sitting down sorry. Tangent.). Are there some days where you know your voice is just not going to play ball? Says Mary attempting to break the record for the longest question ever asked.

Oh, there’s a lot there and I feel I might end up giving you an even longer answer than the last one! Yes, I definitely do some vocal warm ups. For starters, I always want to have at least two hours between getting up and starting to record (which isn’t hard cos I’m not a morning person and it takes me ages to get going, anyway). Then, when I’ve got the laptop and mic and everything set up I start warming the voice with some humming, then soft vowel sounds then moving on to phrases I learned 20 years ago at drama school! This isn’t a long process, we’re talking a few minutes rather than half an hour or something, but it’s just until I feel things are fairly loose and I’m not pushing or straining. Then I run through a series of tongue twisters – because tripping over consonants when you’re in mid-flow is deeply irritating and annoyingly frequent!

There are days when you realise your voice isn’t really with it, but you only really know for sure when you’ve started. I’ve had maybe two days where, maybe half an hour in to recording, I’ve stopped and packed it in for the day.

But it’s odd that you mention standing up. I have read everything so far sitting down, but in a session with my singing teacher recently (over zoom, naturally) we found that my system is actually more relaxed and my voice more open when I’m standing, so I’ll be trying that out next – though whether it’s something listeners would be able to pick up on or whether its just for my own benefit remains to be seen…

Gareth’s first standing up book – I think – is Nothing To See Here which we signed off yesterday, as I type this. 🙂

Does your voice change over the course of the day and how do you deal with that when you’re reading audio to a deadline?

Yes, it does change, but maybe not in the way you might expect. Rather than the sound of the voice changing it tends to be more the mental shifting that gets reflected in the way you read. The clearest example of what I mean is that I noticed (to my embarrassment) that chapters I’d recorded first in the day tended to be slightly slower paced than those recorded later – hopefully not in an obvious ‘that’s weird’ way but certainly enough that I started to hear when editing. When you become aware of something like that, you can try to counter it.

In general, I suppose one of the benefits of both voice training and the practical experience I’ve had over the years is that I have a kind of ‘work mode’ so that no matter where or when or what’s going on I do default to that which keeps the voice pretty consistent.

In the 70 or so hours of recorded material Gareth has produced about K’Barth there’s only been two occasions when his voice didn’t play ball, one time he was ill. He was busy being The Fat Controller at Thomas World – a job description that still causes me an unreasonable amount of mirth – sorry Gareth. He was working through the run up to Christmas 2019. The weather was vile; cold and rainy. I should imagine that working outdoors, in the freezing rain, in a soggy fat suit, is a fairly good way to catch pneumonia. I think he felt quite rough for a week. One other occasion, his voice was just tired and not playing ball the exact way he described in the previous answer, so he had to wait until the next day. All in all he’s very consistent, which is handy. Next question …

How do you keep track of what voice you are doing for whom, do they slide a bit from time to time … or do you have an ‘are you nervous son’* for everyone!

* – Gareth told me that to do the accent for Big Merv he would always do one particular line out of Unlucky Dip when BM slaps a giant hand on The Pan’s shoulder and goes, ‘Are you nervous son?’

When I started The Wrong Stuff (book 2) I set up a separate tab on my recording programme. I transferred clips from book one onto it and then added recordings of new characters as they came in. That way I had a quick reference point to go to if I got confused – this was a lifesaver when it came to books 3 and 4. There are several chapters there with eight or more characters in, including many new ones; so I’d think ‘Damn! Which resistance officer is which?’, go and have a listen and then carry on.

Sliding? Yes! Two pairing especially come to mind. The Pan and Ruth, as our central pair, are both more neutral voices so sometimes their dialogue could blend too closely. Also the first few chapters between Deirdre and Snoofle – I kept giving them each other’s accent! But some characters did develop their own reference to help out! Aside from Big Merv’s ‘You nervous son?’, the best is Gladys; whose voice is accompanied by a forward and back shaky right hand! Every single line!

So now I’m wondering whether the hand moves faster if Gladys is talking quickly! I should have asked him.

How do you make up for the lack of audience to keep the buzz and energy in your performance when you record?

That’s not really something I’ve particularly thought about. Obviously for live theatre or concerts or street shows, the audience is a major factor. But there’s also plenty of acting work that happens without one, even in my career which has been predominantly theatre. Even in rehearsals for live shows you’re working for performance level so working without an audience, or rather, working as if there’s an audience is fairly common. It’s mostly just about staying focused on what you’re doing, which is obviously tiring in itself and one reason for frequent breaks!

When I’m recording books, my focus tends to be on the microphone, and the audience I’m thinking about is myself (will I accept that when I’m editing? If not, let’s redo it now) and the author (am I delivering something close to what they had in mind?).

The audio thing … it looks like it takes a hell of a long time to learn; making the booth, learning the tech, choosing the mic, editing out the trains (Gareth lives near a railway line) and mastering the … well … mastering … How long did it take you to achieve book readiness, so to speak?

This is one of those things where, to get to an acceptable level is not too hard, but then you keep learning and making improvements. My booth is basically a corner of my room with a spare mattress behind me (with a very nice Star Wars Lego cover on (next to a Lego Han Solo it says ‘Han shot first), towels on the various surfaces around me and sheets draped in front. I’ve now upgraded so I can remove the sheets.

Gareth’s recording corner, note StarWars tat on top of the sheeted … cupboard? Shelves? That’s probably all the Warhammer figures under there.

I am not remotely tech savvy so that was definitely the thing that slowed me down at first. I followed a guide (specifically for audiobooks) in setting up and using the software I bought. Even now, I barely scratch the surface of all the things that program does and I’m probably ignorant about 95% of it – but I mostly know how to do the things I need it for.

It probably took me two or three months to get comfortable with it, and much of that time was spent playing around recording Unlucky Dip, the short story, and getting that right. Certainly by the time I’d finished the first full book in the K’Barthan Series I felt pretty confident – though I was still referring back to my notes for the mastering process.

Since then I’ve invested in a better microphone and some very clever editing software that makes that process much, much easier! But there are still things I want to learn more about so I can keep improving.

That bit about learning what you need to know to get started completely resonates with me. I’m like that with Facebook ads, I bought a brilliant course a few years ago, learned enough to get them to work and now that’s what I do. There is so much more I could do, and a lot more I want to do, but there’s only so much time and those things come under the other 95%. Mwahahahargh! Sorry, next question.

How many actual hours do you reckon you work for a finished hour of audio?

Oops, I should have read ahead! I half answered this question above. In actual practical terms, for recording and editing, I’d say I’m currently at around 3-4 hours per finished hour. The usual estimate for audiobooks is around 3 hours, so I still have some room for improvement.

That does not, however, include the preparation time. I like to read the book once through just to read it, get the overall story and tone. Then read it through a second time making notes. Technical notes like the start and end page numbers for each chapter and which new characters are introduced when. And performance notes about the characters and any particular points I might need to be aware of when reading. And any questions I have for the author; such as checking pronunciations (we learned that the hard way when I went back and rerecorded every instance of ‘Blurpon’ in Few are Chosen…) their thoughts on character voices and – knowing that typos tend to slip through the tightest knot – even questioning bits of text if I think there might be an error.

Then there’s figuring out the voices. For some books it can be a simple thing of pitch or intonation. Then, there are books like the K’Barthan Series ………..

(Obviously, I loved it. Even when I was desperately running out of ideas towards the end!)

OMG the Blurpon thing! We were both so green at the start. I still feel a bit kind of … wandering in the dark sometimes but Gareth definitely has a process now. Not that he was ever anything other than a consummate professional. He has always come over as efficient and unflappable – and if anything did go wrong, like the Fat Controller flu episode – he kept me updated on progress. But I digress, next question.

Is there anything we authors can do when speccing up the audio job, that would be helpful – apart from the really obvious things like, remembering to tell you how all the made up words are pronounced (doh! Although you got them all right bar one anyway).

There’s that Blurpon again! (I really should read ahead…)

Accents is one (though, having just read ahead (finally) I’ll save that for the last question). But overall, I suppose knowing how much of an input you want, and being aware that there’s a limit to how close to your perfect reading any reader can get.

Some authors (like yourself) have very clear ideas in their heads about how characters sound or how certain phrases should be said, so it’s good to know that going in. Other authors have a more, ‘I’ve written it but you’re reading it, so just let me hear it’ approach. And some are in the middle ground. None is right or wrong, none is better than another. As long as that awareness that its someone else reading it is there. A friend of mine read one audiobook, but the author was so on his case about getting sentences exactly the way she heard them in her head, that he hasn’t done any more!

That’s unbelievably sad about the narrator who was scared off by the micro managing author. I think that, as an author, some of us are micro managing, which is fine. But if an author wants their book exactly the way it is in their head, and will brook no movement from that, the only option is to read it themselves rather than hire someone else. I know a couple of authors who feel this, have accepted it and are, indeed planning to read their own. The rest of us … there needs to be some give. Right at the beginning, Gareth made a point of explaining that, while he would give anything a shot – except a Liverpudlian accent – I needed to understand that all the voicing is being done by one person’s voice and the limits are set by what, exactly, that voice can physically do.

For all the caveat, many characters in the K’Barthan Series sound exactly the way they do in my head; Ada, The Pan of Hamgee, Lord Vernon, Ruth (intonation, tone etc), Big Merv to name the main ones. He also got Sir Robin Get bang on but we used that for Professor N’Aversion because the voice he suggested for for Sir Robin was so much better than the one I specced. In the general narration, he also has exactly the kind of voice I would have looked for had he not approached me. I consider myself extremely lucky in that. I think if The Pan, Ruth, Big Merv and Lord Vernon had been too different, I might have struggled … possibly … I dunno. But there is so much more to this than how the characters sound in inner space.

One of the joys of books is that they are living things in a way no other art form is. Because every other art form is presented to you in its interpreted form by a conductor, producer, director or whatever, but a book is something each reader interprets for themselves. Every single person’s head cinema is different. That’s what makes reading so wonderful, you can imagine it from the author’s cues but that’s just the basic framework; a lot of the rest is up to you, the reader. The way Gareth reads some words is different to the way I do, the intonation on some bits isn’t the same. I love that. It’s like a window into someone else’s thinking; how he sees it and hears it. As a nosey author, that kind of thing intrigues me hugely.

Surely, the overall tone and feel the narrator creates for each book is way more important than the minutiae. Is the way the characters interact true to the original – do their relationships come over, their feelings, their dreams their desires (where applicable) the chemistry between them, or lack of it … For me, there is so much more to it than soundy-likey voices.

Er hem, sorry. Went off on one there. Where was I? Ah yes, last and final question.

Is there anything you would categorically refuse to do as part of an audiobook narration, if asked? Or is it just the Liverpudlian accent? Mwahahahargh!

I can’t think of anything. My standard answer of ‘I won’t do nudity’ isn’t really relevant here.

But accents are where it gets potentially tricky. I’m reasonably good with accents, but I’m not one of those phenomenal accent sponge people. (I made that up, but you know what I mean.) But if there’s an accent required, I’ll do my best. The book I’ve just read had a South African character for a few lines. I did my best as a kind of placeholder while I finished the rest of the book, then went and researched and practised and tried to improve and went back and rerecorded it. It was better but certainly not brilliant. Then I was told that a future book in the series was set in South Africa. So I’m putting in more practise now…

But saying no? While I’m prepared to have a go at most accents, I’m a white European, so if an author came to me with a book set in, say, Asia, with a cast principally made up of Asians, I would suggest they find someone more appropriate to the task!

So there you go … A massive thank you to Gareth for taking the time to answer all my inane questions. I hope his take on doing audio or at least his answers to my questions about it, helps to give you a feel for what’s involved. And if you want to find out more about Gareth, you can visit his website here.

Also, one of the best chapters he did was one in Few Are Chosen, you can listen to that on soundcloud here.

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Oh and if you’d like to listen to Gareth’s work, why not try one of my audiobooks? OK not this one because we only signed it off yesterday so it’ll be a month or so before it appears online … and it probably won’t appear on Audible until next year. But anyhoo if you want a listen there are two ways to do so for nothing:

Thing one: If your local library uses Hoopla, Overdrive and Odilo so you should be able to find them on many local library apps – just ask your librarian if they aren’t obvious as some libraries have to buy a copy and you have to borrow it one at a time, others do a thing where multiple people can listen at once and I get paid per check out. The point is, they pay me but you get to listen for free.

Thing two: if you just want to see what it’s like, you can listen to an entire 90 minute story for free if you decide to join my Readers’ Group. A story that isn’t available anywhere else. You also get to listen to Unlucky Dip, the 30 minute short, for free as well.

Alternatively, for a list of my audiobooks, and links to buy from me, direct, or from the main stores, go here.

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