Creating Audiobooks: An Overview of the Production Process

Image of Arran and Dave

Based in Somerset, Audio Factory is an audiobook production company commissioned by independent authors and publishers in the UK, North America and Australia to create audio versions of their titles in collaboration with a team of narrators they work with on a regular basis. Audio Factory’s co-founder and in-house producer, Arran Dutton, works as a project manager across all audiobook productions and liaises directly with title rights holders throughout the process.

1. Casting

In most cases we are approached directly through our website by a rights holder (independent authors or publishers) who asks for a quote and an idea about how the process works. If they like what they hear and want to work with us then we’ll run auditions for a narrator that we’ll then present to the rights holder so they can make a choice.

We often cast our projects within a pool of narrators we regularly work with. We’ll make recommendations and provide samples upon receiving the following information:

  • Genre and synopsis.
  • An overview of main characters and setting in addition to any notes on specific accents.
  • The deadline for delivering final audiobook.

Once the rights holder has given us a list of narrators they’d like to audition, we’ll cut an audition piece from the manuscript that we feel will allow the rights holder to make a well informed decision. We’ll always find passages including main characters and those with specific voice requirements such as an accent.

2. Preparation

When reading the book our producers are creating a plan for the production, concentrating on the following:

  • Characters – Who they are, who they interact with and how they can be voiced.
  • Narrative structure – Personally, I like to think about the tempo of passages and emotion, looking at how the story transitions from page to page, so I can offer suggestions and guidance to the narrator if I need to.
  • Checking pronunciations including character and place names.
  • Highlighting issues where the text doesn’t cross over so well to audio and offering solutions.

I’ll act as a point of contact between Audio Factory and the rights holder and discuss issues and queries. We’re very keen for author involvement and ask publishers to involve them if possible so we can correspond over key creative decisions and the voicing and portrayal of characters.

After discussing character voicing with the author, I’ll send notes to the narrator so they can record dialogue samples for key characters in advance of the recording. The author can then review these and provide feedback so we can make tweaks before the first studio session.

3. Recording

Every audiobook production is different and the final duration of two books with the same word count can vary for a number of reasons including the narrator’s natural pacing and the construction of the narrative.

Regarding the latter, if you imagine a 2,000-word scene where a scared child walks through a haunted house, the narrator may look to slow down the delivery in order to build tension and suspense. As a result, that will be longer in duration than other 2,000-word passages in the book. We can’t judge based on word count, we can only ever estimate; our last two productions of 100,000-word titles came in at 10 hours and 11 hours 20 minutes.

Most of the narrators on our website deliver 30,000-35,000 words in a session so we’d book in 3.5 x 7 hour sessions for a 100,000-word book, which does of course include breaks.

Wherever possible we’ll record each chapter in order, though sometimes we may change for various reasons. One example: grouping all chapters with one particularly difficult accent together can make it easier for the narrator.

Whilst I have my notes, I only interject with performance notes if I feel a line or passage could be tackled differently and don’t necessarily have the final say! Other than that, I’m engineering the session and listening out for misreads and mispronounced words, extraneous noises and where the delivery isn’t quite right (mumbled words, wrong intonation etc.).

As we’re recording, I’ll be following the manuscript and making notes on it for the editor, sending content to them at regular intervals.

4. Post Production

The post production process includes the following:

  • Editing – without getting too in-depth, it’s taking the raw audio from studio sessions and following the producer’s notes and editor’s ears to remove anything that shouldn’t be in there to leave a clean read. This can include extraneous noises such as loud breaths, mouth clicks and even stomach rumbles.
  • Mixing – the mix process uses a combination of equalisation (EQ) to adjust the tonal characteristics of the narrator’s voice and audio compression to ensure a constant volume level throughout a chapter.
  • Mastering – this is the final step in the audio post production workflow. It uses compression, limiting and noise reduction to achieve a finished audio book that is consistent in volume and quality throughout to make for a pleasant listening experience for the consumer.
  • Proofing – we listen back through and highlight any issues such as misread lines, mispronounced words and noises we’ve missed and mark them up for a pick up session. Rights holders are offered the opportunity to do the same.
  • Pick up session – we review any issues highlighted during the proofing and hold a session with the voice artist where we make any re-records that are necessary. This is always scheduled at the start of the process.

5. File Delivery

The final audio (master files) are shared with the rights holder and directly to a distributor (ACX, Findaway Voices, Zebralution et al) in line with their delivery guidelines.

From here the audiobooks can be made available by online retailers within a matter of weeks and ready to be found by a whole new audience who can enjoy them through this exciting and increasingly popular medium.

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