The search for the 1:1 ratio: the audiobook producer’s dream

Audiobook narrators and producers are hungry for answers. There are so many questions, and so many changes in the industry right now. The evolution of text-to-speech technology. The move from pro recording studios to home studios. Dependable face-to-face networking conferences going virtual. The consolidation of big book publishers. The acquisition of independent audiobook entities by gigantic entertainment companies. The list goes on with so many things that narrators and audiobook producers can’t control.

But a small goal exists inside that chaos you can control. And that’s the idea of aiming for the 1:1 ratio. At Pozotron, our goal is to help our customers get as close to that 1:1 ratio as possible through best in class software tools. In this article, I’ll explain some of the issues you need to consider when aiming for a 1:1 ratio, along with tips to help you come closer to achieving it. 

Why the focus on ratios?

Money earned divided by time spent becomes your income budget. Spend 30 hours of your time to make $900, and you’ve made 30 dollars per hour. Spend 90 hours of your time to make $900, and you’ve made 10 dollars per hour. As an audiobook producer with a fixed compensation rate and variable time to get a job done, or a narrator that works for a per-finished-hour rate, you will live or die by the ratio. One of the most vital things you can do during project planning and analysis is to understand your relationships with your production ratio. Every tiny systematic improvement you make can be the deciding factor between continuing your career or not.

The 1:1 ratio is literally expressed as “for every hour you spend on an audiobook project, one commercially viable hour of audio is produced.” Note that a true 1:1 ratio is physically impossible! It’s a yardstick that implies perfection, and perfection isn’t real. However, pushing toward it is a legitimate way to keep driving yourself to improve and make the most of your time in the audiobook industry.

Learn from authorities on the subject

There are many authorities who go into detail about where ratios come from and what ideal ratios are. You’ll find them at narratorsroadmap.com, acx.com, and on many personal narrator blogs. Sometimes the advice is explicit, other times it’s couched as a range, depending on your experience level, equipment, and skill.

Split ratios up into two pieces – the inner ratio and the outer ratio. The inner ratio is everything that happens from the moment you hit the record button through the end of mastering, and includes recording, editing, proofing, and post-processing. The outer ratio is the prep time that goes into audiobook work and the transition time between elements of the production chain – for example, transferring files, sending and receiving email questions and answers, or any time waiting before you can do the next step in a sequence.

Think critically about the inner ratio

The inner ratio is the performance of the book and the technical elements around it. No person narrates perfectly in real-time. There are stumbles and mistakes and noises and the need to breathe, pause, do research, or think. 

To aim for the 1:1 ratio, find every tool, technique, piece of equipment, or process that creates comfort and consistency. Experiment to find the DAW (digital audio workstation) that lets you punch or roll or straight record how you want. Use software and hardware to become a power user to get away from messing with a mouse. Know what kinds of mistakes need edits or what noises can be handled with software later. Become intimately familiar with your mic and hardware interface and leverage your knowledge to improve efficiency. 

Expanding your thinking to the outer ratio

The outer ratio can be harder to measure and optimize, especially if you aren’t the only person in your production chain. Using collaboration tools or software that tightens your ability to scan, analyze, and share your projects is vital. Any part of the outer ratio that can be automated to take it off your brain will get you closer to that 1:1.

Six things that can destroy a ratio

On the other side of the 1:1 ratio are the disaster projects. Here are your classic ratio-bombs:

  • Mispronounced main character names or place names
  • Inability to promptly collaborate with decision-makers
  • Missing, forgotten, or overlooked details from the rightsholder or publisher, such as information about voice descriptions or accents
  • Recording the wrong version of a script (this happens more than you might think!)
  • Requiring time and physical setups for pickups when a narrator is no longer easily available
  • Files getting corrupted or going missing between systems or hard drives

If any of these things happen, ratios are destroyed, profit margins dissolve, timelines evaporate, and frustrations become volcanic. Before any audiobook project, skim this list to decide which of these might show up. And then use every tool possible to prevent them. There are audiobook production tools and software companies that solve each of these pain points.

What you can take to the booth

Not every part of making audiobooks is enjoyable. It is a grind. The administrative tasks. The technical aspects. Scheduling moving parts. 

What is fun for a narrator is working through a contract knowing you’ve prepared in a way that makes the performance seamless, connected, and enjoyable. What is fun for an audiobook producer is feeling that there’s a consistent pathway for production that everyone on a team is comfortable with, and gives dependable high-quality end results. What is fun for people in both of those positions is the satisfaction of creating valuable and engaging entertainment through storytelling. 

The dream of the 1:1 ratio is about maintaining focus on the performance and the emotional parts, the human elements, knowing there are tools and technology in place as support structures.

Contribute your stories and experiences

What are your feelings about using new ideas and ways of doing things to highlight the human talent side of audiobook production? Do you have any practical steps you’ve taken to make your personal workflows more efficient? For example, ways of using your DAW to suit your specific needs, or ways to use macros, or pieces of equipment that make your jobs easier. Every story told can be an ah-ha moment for someone else trying to find their way. We’d love to hear from you about your production experience and how Pozotron can help you approach that 1:1 ratio. 

Ryan Hicks is the Director of Outreach at Pozotron, a software company that focuses on helping narrators and production houses use technology to save time at every step of the audio production process. Pozotron’s AI-powered software suite will help you find efficiencies in project preparation, editing, proofing and QC to get as close to the 1:1 ratio as possible.