Immersing Us in Another World

We caught up with Rhys Young of Hoot Studios to talk about audiobooks. Young has recorded and produced books for the likes of Stephen Pulestone, Neville Southhall, Sakura Fox, Penguin books and Audible to name but a few.


Audiobooks have become very popular because of how easy it is to access them. Whether it’s through Audiable, Scribd, Kobo or one of the many other audiobook services out there, it’s easier than ever to find your favourite book. “I think that lots of authors have now realised there is another source of revenue to be made by having an audio version of the book. If you’re an author with several hardback titles published and no audiobook to pair with each title then you’re missing a trick. In this day and age, lots of people seem to prefer to listen to audiobooks on the move, whether it’s commuting on the train or in the car. I personally like to listen to audiobooks whilst walking my dog in the mornings and evenings. I can start one chapter in the morning and pick up where I left off in the evening. It’s so easy and enjoyable.”


There are several important things to remember when recording an audiobook, but one of the most important has to be a consistent sounding recording. “Audiobooks can take several days to record especially if they’re over 100,000 words. During this time the recording sessions are going to be strung out over several days, so you’re going to want to do a few minutes of level and tone matching before you start working through the book otherwise chapters are going to sound inconsistent with each other. What I like to do is take a picture of the position the VO artist is comfortable in and that I’m happy with the sound. I’ll also mark the mic stand with a chinagraph pencil to know where to go back too if I’ve had another session in between the audiobook. I’ll also take a snap of the channel strip and pre amp to make sure all my analog settings are the same as before. Having these ready and exactly the same each time ensures the sound will stay consistent throughout the entire audiobook making post production much easier and quicker.” Another important thing to remember when recording an audiobook is making the VO artists comfortable. “The last thing you want is to start recording someone who is very nervous. A good recording engineer will understand the importance of getting the best from the VO artist. If you can quickly gage how to comfort and encourage any VO artist than it’s going to make the whole process of recording the audiobook much more fun. You’re going to work with each other for several days so finding a good working relationship is key.”


When an author approaches Young about recording an audiobook he likes to have a few things ready before he even hits record. “If there are a lot of characters within the book I like to have a character list on a spreadsheet or document. Why? This helps both me and the VO artist to reference the author’s notes on how he’d like each character to sound (Accents, tones and delivery). I also like to add an audio sample next to each name on the document so that both myself on the VO artist can remember how we made this character sound earlier on in the audiobook to make sure the accent and tone is consistent. I also like to have the script sent well in advance so that I can make any notes for myself, but more importantly it give the VO artist enough time to prepare. I’ve worked with several actors/actresses who like to colour code their characters. This visually prepares them and me to know who’s coming up in the next scene/paragraph.”


Young also invites authors in to supervise the 1st session either in person or remotely via Zoom or Source Connect Now. “I find this is a big help because it is their book after all and they know exactly what type of read they’re after. It would be a disaster to record and finish a book to then have the author/publisher say they didn’t like the read…..”


Young also thinks it’s important to have open discussions with the VO artist or their agent about scheduling. “I like to have a rule that 4 hours of recording, especially with interchanging characters are enough for one session before you can start to hear the VO artist flagging. I have worked with some publishers and they have requested 8 hour recording days which is fine for me as the recording engineer but it’s a very daunting though for a VO artist to power through an 8 hour day in my experience. If you can schedule a comfortable schedule with your VO artist and publisher then the overall finished product is going to be so much better and less stressful for everyone.”   


Young’s experience in audiobook recording has shown him that pronunciation of character names can be difficult. “I always like to have a spreadsheet or document with the author’s notes. I have one author who is kind enough to either record the pronunciation himself or includes a hyperlink to the pronunciations. I learnt this lesson the hard way on one of my first ever titles. One of the bad guys in the audiobook who featured quiet a lot had an eastern European name and both I and the VO artist with pronounced the characters name. We had to go back through each cue of the entire audiobook which took about half a day. Luckily I had my pre record checklist ready I mentioned earlier and the sound was consistent so recording quick drops in’s was easy and no one would’ve been able to tell the difference because the sound matched perfectly.” 


“I like to give authors as much inclusion from start to finish, especially the first 1/4 of the book to make sure the characters have been found and that he or she is happy with the read. At the end of each session I send over quick un-edited bounces to the author to check back before I start post just incase we need to re-record anything. I suppose it’s a Pre QC before post. When it comes to supporting the VO artist its essential to build a strong working relationship with them at an early stage; making them feel as comfortable as possible. It’s also important to spot when the VO artist is starting to get tired and be confident to call time out for the day or pick up the session the next day or a later date.”


When starting post on an audiobook its important to have all the settings ready to go on a preset channel strip. “Before I save the plug-in settings on the channel strip I need to EQ and add extra processing if needed (De-essing, compressor or harmonics) Once I’m happy with these setting I’ll save them as a preset then all I have to do every time I open a new chapter is open the preset and I can start focusing on the other elements of post.”


One task that saves a lot of time is the strip silence feature in ProTools. This strips all the silence in-between lines and sentences. Set the threshold and parameters you want to be stripped, select the whole track and in the editing and all the silence and unwanted breaths are gone. “I quickly do batch fades to all the clips on the track and then listen through the whole chapter making sure that no words have been clipped or important dramatic breaths have been removed. Once I’ve checked the whole chapter and made my edits if needed, it’s now time for the final touches. Sometimes I might apply Mouth de-click in RX8 to the clips if needed. I’ll also lay down a bed of room tone at a very low level to help mask the cuts I’ve made to the original. Then it’s a case of making sure the levels are to the desired deliverables and off it goes!”


So what is the difference between and audiobook and an audio drama? “There are a few main differences between and audiobook and audio drama. Audio dramas will sometimes have several actors and actresses bouncing off each other during the recording. Whilst reading and audiobook you're doing exactly that, you’re reading; with audio dramas even though they are scripted there’s a performance and connection with all the actors, sometimes even unscripted performances can be a welcome surprise. Lots of audio dramas that I’ve been involved with have also had other audio elements added in like music and sound effects. This would set the scene or guide the listener into a certain mood with music or sound effects. This isn’t always very common with audiobooks, personally I don’t like music or sound effects in audiobooks it’s too distracting. I really like the narrator to paint an image in my head with their read and performance. The really good ones make it sound easy!!”


When recording or working in post his favourite piece of kit for recording audiobooks has to be the Buzzaudio ARC 1.1 channel strip. “It’s by far the cleanest and smoothest channel strip I’ve ever used. When recording audiobooks in house I like to record with compression. It just speeds up the whole post production process up. If I’m happy with how I’ve set the compressor to react from the first session I leave it in. It’s a beautiful sounding opto-compressor. It’s super transparent in my opinion and really tames dynamic performances. Using the piece of kit we’ve already set a high bar when it comes to the quality of our recordings paired with a U87 it’s a perfect match.”



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