Books Aloud

Recording an audiobook

Have you ever read a story to your child, or someone else? Have you ever read it for four hours? And then repeated that for four days in a row? Well that’s what it can be like recording an audiobook!

I’m currently half way through recording the audiobook version of Against The Current and, although it’s fun, it is also tough going.

It’s not my first audiobook – in 2006 I recorded a short children’s story to CD (that’s a short story for children, not a story for vertically-challenged kiddies…) – but by comparison that was a doddle. This is a marathon!

As a former broadcaster in radio and television I’m very used to spending time behind a microphone, and it’s true that I’ve taken part in 24-hour telethons, but even those were in relatively short spurts. To read a 380-page book out loud and maintain the required levels of excitement, tension, humour, and – in this case – the occasional French accent, is an extreme storytelling challenge.

Which is why I elected to do it in three four-hour sessions, except that today, at the end of the second session, I’m still only halfway through the book, so a fourth session looms.

In hindsight I should have arranged the studio recordings on alternate days so that my poor throat could have a chance to recover, or maybe arrange eight two-hour sessions to spread the load further. But having not done any out-loud reading of this length before I wasn’t sure how it would go. It’s okay though, I'm coping, and a glass of medicinal Chardonnay after each session helps :-)

The process

The process is quite straightforward, and I know that some authors have recorded their own books on recorders in their own homes, perhaps in a bedroom or study. I’ve even found so-called ‘professional’ audiobook narrators who do recordings at their homes, but I have to say they sound like it too: tinny, ‘lively’ (as echo-y sound is known in the trade), and sometimes with background noises such as dogs, trains or cars. Not very professional.

Which is why I chose to go to a professional recording studio. These vary hugely in their charges. One place quoted my over £4,000 to do the job, whereas I am getting it done for about a tenth of that, yet still with a very professional sound engineer.

If I’d had to engage a professional actor or voice-over artist – or worse, a celebrity – then the cost of course would have been much much greater, but it’s a matter of pride to me to do it myself, and I am lucky to have had professional broadcast training.

A sound engineer and a proper studio environment is, in my opinion, essential if you’re to get a good quality product, and you expect people to pay good money for your audiobook. So if you’re thinking of doing something similar, do some research first and find a willing audio engineer.

In order to estimate how long it will take to record your book, try reading three or four sample chapters out loud and time each one. Average them out, then multiply by the total number of chapters and you will have a rough idea how long it might take. I say ‘rough’ and ‘might’ because every time you make a mistake (and there will be plenty!) the recording has to be stopped and restarted. Plus, it’s entirely possible that your completed recording will still need tidying up after you’ve finished, for example ‘de-breathing’, where the sound engineer edits out all your large intakes of breath, or other extraneous sounds (such as your tummy rumbling!), or it might call for lots of editing and a full sound mix.

You may also want to add opening and closing theme music, and perhaps a short musical ‘sting’ between chapters; all of which adds to the time, and cost.

I’ve got a 30-second opening and closing theme, with a five-second sting between each chapter. I paid for this music online from a royalty-free soundtrack company, so it has been sold to me with the rights to use it for the audiobook up to 1,000 times. But don’t worry, these don’t have to cost much at all; mine was just £14.

If the projected cost of your audiobook looks like being too much, consider going for sponsorship, or maybe even crowdfunding. I haven’t (yet) – let’s just see how long my finished product takes!

For a sample from Chapter 18, where I have a 'close shave with death,' listen to this!

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