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Monday, December 02, 2013

Want To Narrate Audiobooks? Time To Get Real

Being paid to read a book sounds wonderful doesn't it? In the ever expanding world of audiobooks a little storytelling could net you a nice tidy sum. But hang on a minute, is that all there is to it? As you might imagine, no it's not. Delivering an audiobook voice over requires a very special approach.

There is a tendency in voice overs to underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete a project. Books can be long, very long and so you will need to plan well ahead and organise your time well. A novel, for example, could be eighty thousand words or even longer. That's a lot of reading.

Let's do some number crunching. Our eighty thousand word tome is about eight hours of completed audio. This means it will take that number of hours to listen to the whole novel. I suggest working on a ratio of four to one, so for every one hour of reading it will take you four hours to complete. 

Before you start questioning my maths, just bear in mind that even if you were word perfect (and nobody is) and could read without fluffing or mispronouncing anything, the one hour of reading would take another hour just to listen back. Of course real life is quite different; you will need to prepare, record, edit and review so your four hours of time would get soaked up pretty quickly. 

And our eight hour book? We are looking at thirty two hours of your time ... that is a week's worth of commitment. You will need to clear your schedule and be prepared to work very hard. 

So stamina is essential. And lots of it.

If this doesn't phase you, then what about the recording environment? Unlike commercials, audiobooks require no voice treatment. The client normally wants raw voice without compression and most definitely without room echo. Also your studio (even if it is just your spare bedroom) should be whisper quiet and acoustically 'dead'. We don't want to hear next door's dog barking as you relate the tender moments of the main character and we certainly do not want that dreaded room reverberation making it sound like you are speaking in a church hall.

Therefore plenty of duvets, blankets or special acoustic foam are recommended. 

What about breathing? Many voice actors who are new to the scene mistakenly think they should remove all breaths.This is a big mistake. Imagine listening to a storyteller who never breathed at all! It would sound very disconcerting and quite weird. Instead just cut out a few very prominent ones, but leave most in. You should be aiming for a natural read. 

Finally we have characterisations. Audiobooks aren't videogames; you don't need to develop a diverse range of accents and take these to the extreme, but you often have to intimate that different characters have different voices and tones. Stay away from the kinds of book that you think you might struggle with. 

I definitely do not want to put you off, but before rushing headlong in to the audiobook market, think carefully about what being a narrator really entails.
Stop press: Here's some important news about audiobook fees payable from public libraries in the UK 

Gary Terzza is a Voice Over Coach based in London, England
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