Put yourself in the shoes of the listener.
If you were listening to your audio book, what would you expect? Or alternatively, what would make that experience less than ideal? I feel there are three universal values.
Can you clearly hear and understand the audio book narrative and the author’s key messages?
The narrator’s cadence (rhythm), pacing, pausing, annunciation and intonation are fundamental to conveying the content and maintaining the listener’s interest. And let’s face it, you want to feel comfortable with someone who will be ‘in your ear’ for 4 hours or more!
This is where the care you have taken during the recording and editing processes really pay off.
You have ensured the smallest amount of background noise and distractions, being careful to exclude interruptions like: computer hum, adaptors or keyboard clicks, air conditioners, dogs barking, passing aircraft, washing machines, shifting around in the narrators chair and the various clicks, pops, heavy breaths, throat clearing and of course pronunciation mistakes and re-reads. It’s quite a list.
The editing process is not for the faint of heart, requires lots of patience and long hours of active listening – a three hour finished audio book may take up to nine hours to edit! And you are not just editing for the sake of a quality recording, the audio book online retailers have strict guidelines on ‘noise floors’, volume peaks and overall sound.
Again, put you yourself in the ears of your listener.
How would you respond to jumps or dips in narrative volume, fuzzy sounding ‘S’s’, ‘Sh’ that sounds like ‘th’, a booming sound on the ‘P’s’ or static distorted sounds when the narrator loudly emphasises a word or trails off inaudibly? It will probably reduce, if not destroy your enjoyment and ability to focus on the story being told.
Are you likely to ‘write it off’ and just purchase the next audio book in the author’s series, and how likely are you to positively rate and share this experience? Pity really… you have already invested in excess of 12 hours in your audio book project to this point. There is a final, yet more subtle issue around listening consistency.
‘Room noise’ is nothing more than the sound of the room in which you are recording. Isn’t that silence? Not quite! Even after the greatest of pains have been taken to limit every extraneous sound, there will still remain a faint hiss or hum (usually a property of the microphone). Room noise permeates the entire recording – whether the narrator is speaking or pausing. “Sounds easy, we just remove it, yeah?” Not so fast.
You can experiment by replacing a speaking pause with absolute silence. Play the clip including the silence with narrative either side. Can you hear it? Trick question!
You will find that you are hearing or more accurately, noticing the absolute silence. It sounds unnatural in the break between the narrative because the ‘room noise’ (still present under the narrative) is missing. You are hearing a silence that actually represents an interruption to the narrative and will be perceived as a distracting difference to the listener.
Most important editing trick ever: when editing your audio, ensure you replace cuts with room noise. And on an even finer point, when removing a breath intake, don’t delete it, but instead replace it with room noise of the same duration. That way you won’t interrupt the rhythm of the narrator. It will sound strange if your narrator speaks an entire paragraph without a pause, so take out the breaths, but don’t take out the time!
Dave Stokes at author2audio is an audio book producer and industry commentator.