Have you ever wondered what a narrator goes through when recording an audio book? I certainly did, and my narrator, Kevin E. Green has been kind enough to answer a few questions posted by my interviewer Mark Schultz, the WordRefiner who many of you probably know. I added in a few questions, myself!

MERCEDES:

How much time does it take to produce an average hour of audio?

KEVIN:

The first recording can take around twice as long as the finished product, so that’s about 2 hours per hour finished. Then comes editing which takes another two hours, then mastering (getting the levels right for ACX) another 10 minutes, and finally proof listening of the finished file to make sure I’ve not missed anything – extraneous noises, incorrect pauses, so that’s around 5 hours per finished hour, plus the hour I take to read the book first (essential!)

MERCEDES:

How do you make corrections? Do you have to start the whole section over or can you insert short phrases?

KEVIN:

When recording I use what is called ‘punch and roll’ which most narrators use.  It enables me to stop the recording when I make a mistake, roll the cursor back to the phrase/sentence before the mistake and hit record again. This enables me to record the correct version over the top of the mistake.   When editing the finished file, I use a different DAW (digital audio workstation) for editing only.  It’s easier to edit in this one than the recording DAW.  I can re-record any mistakes in a separate file and copy them into the master file.    It can be tricky matching the voice tone though, so it can take several takes before the sound matches the original.  Funnily enough, it’s easier to match an accented character than my main narration voice, as that can change slightly over the course of a chapter (especially if it’s a long chapter).  Very occasionally I can slot a single word into a phrase, depending on pauses within the phrase.

MERCEDES:

What is the ideal chapter length for an audio book?

KEVIN:

I think the ideal chapter length (for me anyway) is around 20-25 minutes.  Any longer than that and my voice can start to go off – especially if there is loud dialogue or heavy accents in the chapter, as that can begin to make my throat sore.  Straight narration with no accents is a lot easier, 40-50 minutes before I start to feel it.  I don’t like taking a rest halfway through as my natural voice can change slightly.

MARK:

Kevin, have you always wanted to do this type of work? How did you get started being a voice actor? What is the term you use if that is not correct?

KEVIN:

Well, I started actually recording audiobooks a few years before I took early retirement from work, but I always loved reading aloud to my two sons when they were young. I read Lord of the Rings in its entirety twice, once for each boy as they were 5 years apart in age, doing all the voices.
I started recording for Librivox, the public domain free site which volunteers record for fun. It’s a great site to learn the craft. Then I moved on to Audible/ACX for Amazon and started making a little money, and I am now on Bee Audio and Findaway Voices books as well. And yes, voice actor is the correct term.

MARK:

Librivox sounds very interesting. What steps should a person take who wants to learn the art of voice acting? What advice would you give to someone who has a desire, but no experience?

KEVIN:

If someone wants to start in narration, they should have some acting experience to start with. After that, a voice coach would be good, and then plenty of practice on Librivox where you can learn a lot about techniques and the technology required to record a good quality recording. There is a website called Gravy for the Brain which is an excellent resource and has a lot of teaching resources for voice over actors, including mentoring. Becoming a good voice actor/narrator is not quick or easy and has a steep learning curve when it comes to the technology, and making a reasonable living at it is a long way down the line.

MARK:

You are on Audible, Bee Audio and Findaway Voices. For an author, what are the primary differences they should be aware of between these platforms? What are the differences for a voice actor?

KEVIN:

Yes I am on all three platforms, but ACX is my main source of work. The difference between them is that ACX offers up titles which any narrator can audition for, whereas the other two rely on the author to select a voice from the various narrators’ voice samples on their websites. The narrator then gets offered the book if selected without having to audition. Unfortunately 95% of their work is in the US, so we in the UK get very little work from them. After a narrator is reasonably well established, there are also repeat books from the same author if the author likes your work. This can bypass the ACX audition system as well, and just goes straight to production.

MARK:

Is it hard to create different voices?
What kind of clues do you look for to guide the creation of a voice?
How do you keep your voices straight?
Do you make yourself an audio cheat sheet?

KEVIN:

Yes it can be tricky to create different voices.
The most problematical is where there are a number of similar characters (gender, age etc) in the same scene, and trying to make each voice distinct from the others – there is only so much one set of vocal chords can do!
I tend to have a stock of around a dozen voices which have evolved over the years and I use those in most books. Other voices I have to make up and try to fit them to the type of person I see in my mind, unless the author has been very generous and described the physicality and geographical origin of the character, and even better how their voice sounds! Females are difficult obviously, but I have a passable low register female voice which I can notch up in tone to give a different character. Books with three sisters are a nightmare!
I keep an audio file of about 10 seconds of each voice which I keep on hand to constantly refer to as characters change in the dialogue. I don’t mark up the scripts with different colors as some narrators do, as I don’t find it a lot of help, and it’s very time consuming. I might just as well use that time to re-record passages if necessary.
Just as an example, Mercedes’ recent book that I recorded ‘A King under Siege’ had 38 main characters, and nearly as many incidental characters who only had a few lines. When you get half a dozen in a council meeting for instance, it takes a long time to keep referring back to the audio file to make sure you’re using the correct voice for each character. ‘Heir to a Prophecy’ wasn’t as bad, as there were only about a dozen main characters, and fortunately a lot of them were either Scottish, Welsh or French as well as English which helps a great deal in using distinctive and identifiable voices..

MARK:

How many hours a day and in one stretch can you do voice acting?

KEVIN:

On a good day, I spend about 4-5 hours in my recording booth. Around half of those will be actual recording. I can manage about 1-1/2 hours solid speaking before my voice starts to go off. A couple of hours rest and I can probably do the same again. Fortunately most chapters aren’t that long, and I take about an hour of recording for a finished half-hour chapter. The rest of the time is spent on editing, mastering and then proof listening to the final file.

MARK:

What kind of equipment do you use for recording?
What equipment should a beginner buy to get started in the business?

KEVIN:

I use an Audiotechnica mic, model 4040, and a Presonus audio interface, a Studio 26. They plug into a standard microsoft PC.
A beginner could get going at a basic level with a laptop and a USB mike, using the free software Audacity. That’s how I started (not a laptop in my case, the PC). It’s pretty much down to budget. A USB mike would cost between £50 and £100 and if you’ve got a laptop or PC that’s all you need. Obviously a quiet space – some people use a cupboard lined with coats or blankets to deaden the sound. As you get better you can upgrade to a more professional setup like mine.

For the full interview with Word Refiner, click HERE

Heir To A Prophecy Sample Audio Link: