So, you want to record Audiobooks....
I’ll start by explaining why Audiobooks was the right choice for me. As an actor with a hot-off-the-press B.A Theatre degree I was looking for ways to make money while staying creatively satisfied. I knew I wanted to avoid the typical waitressing or bartending job (been there, done that) because those jobs drain my creative energy in a detrimental way. So when I learned about ACX.com and the possibility of becoming an Audiobook Narrator/Producer I thought to myself… “Hey, I like listening to audiobooks, and I like the idea of working from home, maybe I should give this a go.” So right after graduation I set up my home studio, made a profile on ACX, and started auditioning.
Now before I scare you off and tell you why you shouldn’t do Audiobooks (it’s not for everyone), I want to tell you why I like it, and why it could work for you too. First, Audiobooks have helped me pay my bills (sort of… but it is a constant grind to keep it up month to month). Second, Audiobooks keep me creatively happy and healthy (it’s like I get to play all the characters in a super long play - it’s a dream!). Lastly, and most importantly, Audiobooks allow me to have a flexible schedule so I can harness and use my peak creative hours to attend auditions, record self tapes, leave town for long weekend shoots, join a theatre company, play music, and more. So, if you want to find that freedom in your life and make your own schedule so you can follow a variety of passions like me, I am here to tell you that with a lot of hard work it is possible (and worth it)… and here are some basic tips to get you started.
AND NOW FOR THE GOOD STUFF
**Before you start be honest with yourself
Step 1) Ask yourself a few questions.
Do I like reading?
Do I like reading out loud?
Do I like listening to audiobooks?
Do I have the vocal stamina to read for hours (2-6 hours per day) at a time?
Do I like stopping and looking up every word or phrase I don’t know how to pronounce?
Can I handle being in a small isolated space for hours at a time?
Do I have solid personal time management skills? (this one is an obstacle for me… but I am getting better)
These questions are imperative to ask yourself before you spend money on tech toys, and destroy your closet to make a soundproof recording space.
I recommend checking out this YouTube video that pro-narrator Sean Pratt made. He asks you to do a “test” to see if this work is right for you.
Did you pass the test?
Step 2) Time to set up your home studio.
There are countless ways to set up your home studio, and if you continue doing voice over work your studio will become an endless project of upgrades and tweaks (it’s part of the fun). But starting can be a costly endeavor where even the cheap route will put you out about $500.
Disclaimer - coming into Audiobooks I already had my home studio set up with some pretty sweet toys (Pro Tools, a Neumann mic, etc..) because I am a musician and I have been recording songs and collecting tech toys for years with my band. But I received some great recommendations from a SAG/AFTRA Voice Over seminar on how to set up a home studio from scratch with quality and price in mind, and I want to share some of those tips with you.
What you’ll need…
Audio Software (in the industry we call it DAW for Digital Audio Workstation)
There are SO MANY DAW OPTIONS so I am only going to name a few, but ultimately it’s about finding a DAW that feels intuitive and right for you… They all have their positives and negatives.
Audacity - Free.. Sooo free is cool
Twisted Wave - Cheap and intuitive
Reaper - Lots of pros like this one
Logic - Another one I have heard the pros recommend
Pro Tools - Industry standard, but not cheap
Microphone (Analog or USB)
If you’re new to recording you will probably want to start with a USB mic. A USB mic is cheaper and more convenient because it doesn’t require a separate audio interface or preamp to work.
At the SAG/AFTRA VO seminar they recommended the RODE-NT USB mic (available on Amazon for $169) for a high quality. affordable option.
Tip** Don’t get the Blue Snowball mic. I know they look cool, but the quality for recording audiobooks is not up to speed. That being said, I think Blue is a great company for Analog mics.
Analog mics are more common in the recording industry, and will usually get you a deeper/richer sound. But Analog mics require a separate audio interface and power (48v for condenser mics) to work. Analog mics come in Dynamic or Condenser styles.
I use an Analog Neumann.Berlin mic.
You can make a DIY pop filter with tights if you want (Google it), but if you would rather buy one, here is an option on Amazon for you.
I use the brand On Stage Stands, but it doesn’t really matter. I recommend finding a cheap stand that works for your space. You may want to place the mic stand on your desk or on the floor depending on your set up - so keep size in mind.
I use the Sony Dynamic Stereo Professional Headphones. They are great, but not the cheapest. If you’re starting out you may want to find a cheaper alternative.
Don’t use bluetooth headphone or Beats.
Perhaps on another post I will go further into tech talk, but there are others in the industry who are far more qualified to talk tech with you than I am. You can always email me if you have any specific questions.
Step 3) Record!
Play around on your DAW and familiarize yourself with the tech and basic functions. This. Will. Take. A. Long. Time.
Lynda.com is an AMAZING resource and has master class tutorials for any DAW. It’s free if you’re a student or if you have a Los Angeles Public Library card. Otherwise Lynda is $30 a month.
If you can’t start on Lynda, YouTube may have basic tutorials on how to use your DAW
Record some samples of yourself reading books you like (1-5 minutes)
Look for public domain books because you can include those clips as voice samples when you are ready to make your ACX profile. (although for ACX you can really post samples from any book… the publisher isn’t going to come after you for it - it’s just a sample after all)
Try a variety of genres… fiction, non-fiction, thriller, romance… find what you like and what you’re good at because it will come in handy later.
Learn Punch and Roll recording technique
Or at least learn what it means because some editors wont work with you if you don’t record using a punch and roll technique.
Audiobook masters Amanda Rose Smith and Don Baarns made this video about why the Pros use Punch and Roll Recording - Check it out HERE
Learn how to edit yourself
Ultimately you will want to hire this step out, but it’s still good to know how to do it while you are learning your DAW.
Learn how to master
This is another step you will ultimately want to hire out because it saves you time.. and as an audiobook narrator time = money.
During this step is a good time to hire a coach to help you with pacing, characters, vocal stamina, and anything else you may need help with.
The Indie Audiobook and Narrators Facebook Page put together a great list of coaches HERE
Keep in mind that during this step there is so much to learn. You will spend weeks, months, years, a lifetime mastering recording technique. Don’t be afraid. Try. Fail. And Try Again. (I sure did…) You will find your flow.
Step 4) Time to create your profile on ACX!!!
What is ACX???
Good question! ACX is a website, and it stands for Audiobook Creation Exchange. It’s a popular platform where indie publishing houses and authors, better known as RIGHTS HOLDERS (RH) in the industry, go to turn their books into audiobooks.
ACX audiobooks are sold on Audible.com, Amazon, and iTunes.
Learn more by visiting the ACX website here
ACX is not the only way to get into Audiobooks, but it’s definitely the best option for the beginner.
Have I scared you off yet?
You Still want to learn more?
Step 5) Misc
Be sure to listen to audiobooks.
If you want to get into this field you need to learn the pace and rhythm of a good audiobook recording.
*tip— dramatic silence is just as important as the pace of your speech.
*tip— don’t go too fast. (beginners - including myself - tend to do this)
The New York Times puts out a list of the Top 10 Books on Audible.com every month. Keep up with the current trends and hot publishing houses by keeping an eye on this list.
The basic and most important file formats are WAV (uncompressed, full quality) and MP3 (compressed, bit size reduced). You will need to be familiar with both for audiobooks and ACX.
Don’t sell yourself short just because you are new. You have worked hard and you deserve to be paid for your work.
Someone said this to me and I want to pass this onto you… there is no “beginner discount.” The industry standard is $250 PFH …. I will repeat… YOU SHOULD BE GETTING PAID AT LEAST $250 PER FINISHED HOUR ON YOUR PROJECTS!
It’s bad for the industry overall when you accept a project below $200 PFH. RH’s will think that’s the norm and will never want to pay fair wages for their narrators again.. That is why you should not accept $50 PFH or even $100 PFH projects. They are bad for the industry.
Now I have heard people say that they accepted jobs early on in their careers for $100 PFH. I did not. But if you feel like you really need to get a few out of the way just know that the $100 PFH projects give you (approximately) minimum wage pay for your work.
You will notice on ACX there are ROYALTY SHARE (RS) deals.
While these usually ARE NOT worth your time, there are exceptions.
Coach Sean Pratt has a webinar available on how to pick the “right projects” (and other webinars) HERE
Quick tips I learned for RS projects (I have done a couple… but not enough to decide if I will continue down the RS path)
1) Look at the AMAZON SALES RANK (is it in the millions? 100,000’s? PASS)
2) Learn how to negotiate a “hybrid deal.”
If I work RS I ONLY accept hybrid deals - that’s where the RH pays for my editing/proofing/mastering costs because time = money and editing/proofing/mastering takes a lot of time. I will do another post all about the art of the hybrid deal another time. It’s invaluable to learn this if you want to try RS projects.
If you want to go the RS route know that it’s risky, but there are tons of opportunities for it on ACX. If you pick the right projects you may get a nice 50/50 payout on the project for 7 years.
I have heard RS normally doesn’t show any promising payment results until you have somewhere between 25-35 RS titles under your belt.
It takes 2-4 hours on average to complete 1 hour of finished audio or even longer if you’re a beginner. I was super slow when I started. It’s ok. Take your time.
Only record a MAX of 5 MINUTES for your auditions on ACX.
RH will often post a full chapter but there is no need to record that much. They will be able to tell if you’re right for the project within the first 5 minutes… more likely they will know within the first 30 seconds…
This is an isolating job that takes a lot of time and energy to get started in. It’s not for everyone. Be honest with yourself before you begin. But if you have made it this far I believe in you… and welcome to the world of Audiobooks!!!
You might be wondering to yourself why the heck I make this blog post. I am only 7 months into the Audiobook world, a total newbie, but during that time I have had a lot of friends and strangers ask me how to get into the Audiobook Biz.
I spent hours, weeks, months, doing this research (and I continue to learn more everyday) so I decided I wanted to write down and share some of my favorite tips with you.
I have to give a special shoutout to the Facebook Group Indie (ACX and others) Audiobook Narrators and Producers. Once you get your ACX profile up JOIN THIS GROUP and READ ALL THE FAQs. Most of what I learned for this post is from spending hours and hours digging in that group. The VO world is small, but it’s a supportive and loving community that I am proud to be a part of.