If you’ve been hired by an author, their rep, or a small publisher, you’ll find it helpful to send an information packet at the outset that establishes expectations for both sides. You can request that the author provide you with character descriptions and pronunciations of any made-up words, supply them with an outline of your workflow, and establish expectations for payment.
Otherwise, when working through ACX, many rights holders want you to upload chapters individually so that they can listen and critique them. As the producer, you should only upload the files of the complete, finished product. Revisions requested by the RH should be of a technical nature, such as a mis-read or mispronunciation, rather than those based on artistic or stylistic choices.
This type of situation often becomes one of micro-management where the rights holder acts as a director after the fact.
The rights holder is not the director unless they are willing to pay real-time studio hours and offer their guidance as the recording sessions progress. Even then, the author usually has not had any training in acting or directing and might not be able to communicate nuanced changes to the narrator.
The steps listed below outline the industry standard approach for the production process. While they aren’t rules set in stone, this workflow makes each step its most efficient.
Anyone who tells you things like “there are no rules” or “do whatever works for you” or “do whatever you feel comfortable with” or “don’t listen to the naysayers” is someone who wants to justify their own routine, ignores these industry best practices, and does not work for big audio publishers. If you hope to become a professional narrator, you will want to follow professional standards on independent productions.
1) Narrator pre-reads ENTIRE book and does prep before ever setting foot in the recording booth.
1A) On ACX and Findaway Voices, the narrator records and uploads the first 15 minutes so that the narrator and rights holder can ensure they agree on tone and characterizations. This first 15 minutes does not have to occur at the beginning of the book. It can be any segment. Some audio publishers also have instituted this preliminary checkpoint.
2) Narrator records entire book, preferably using punch and roll technique, and making all acting choices. Depending on your deadline, you may need to hand off the narration to the editor on a daily basis so that their work stays just behind yours. This situation is more common when you are working for an audio publisher,
3) Editor edits the entire book for pacing, noise reduction, and volume consistency. The goal is to enhance the performance, not change it. Many editors also do proofing.
4) Proofer listens and notes errors with a timecode for the editor (noises) and narrator (misreads and mispronunciations) to fix.
5) The narrator rerecords their items found by the proofer in the previous step, which are known as pick-ups.
6) The narrator sends all the pickups (usually in a single file) to the editor, who seamlessly inserts the new recordings into the appropriate places in the original audio.
7) Once the entire book is edited and proofed, the editor or mastering engineer masters the corrected audio files to achieve consistency of sound throughout the entire book.
8) That person then exports the mastered files to MP3s that adhere to the specifications and sends them back to the producer who hired them.
9) In independent projects, the narrator is the producer who then uploads the final, mastered MP3s to complete the project.
Some people start a new session for each chapter. Others use one session file for the entire book. Either option will work within the framework stated above. Real digital audio workstations (DAW) are formulated to do long-form recording.
When working with indie authors, narrators should outsource their post (steps 3, 4, and 6-8) so that the narrator can focus on the thing that makes them money: NARRATION.
Other resources on this topic:
- Budget 6.2 hours (not including prep time) in real time to create 1 finished hour as explained in this article.
- Narrator Tom Dheere presents an audiobook production checklist on his blog.
- Colin Firth beautifully expresses the division between the author and performer in this 1:10 video.
- Narrator Matt Godfrey discusses his thought process and actions during prep and recording sessions in this in-depth article.
- In this article, narrator James Romick explains punch and roll and includes links to videos demonstrating it in several DAWS.