Audiobook Narrators Recording Tips.
Audiobook narration: Too fast or slow? Wet or dry mouth? And who is listening?
Iain McKinna from Offbeat Audio in Edinburgh records and produces audio books for many of the UK’s leading book publishers. Whether you’re a novice at audiobook narration or a seasoned professional, these tips from Iain will help to improve your performance and make the experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Here at Offbeat we work to make the experience of recording an audiobook as enjoyable for the narrator as possible by providing a comfortable and creative atmosphere in the studio. We have introduced many authors and narrators to their first audiobook production for various publishers and self published authors and have identified most of the issues that arise in the studio.
The performance is of prime importance and if the narrator is enjoying the read then the chances are the listener will too, but if you are not prepared for the long process of recording an audiobook, a long read can be an arduous experience , so with that in mind and to make your recording sessions as enjoyable as possible, here are some useful tips to help you prepare for the session before you come into the studio.
STUDY THE SCRIPT
You can't wing it with an audiobook. Unless you are the author it's very important that you prepare and read the book thoroughly beforehand and check out any tricky pronunciations as well as conduct your character studies thoroughly in advance.
All the best singers warm up before an important recording session and audiobook narrators should be no different, and it's not just the voice you need to warm up but the body too!
Here's an excellent video on vocal warmups by VO guru Peter Baker.
The speed of your read is very important and a common problem is to narrate too fast.
When you are at Chapter 1 - page 1 of a long book it’s very tempting to start rushing through it when you realise how just much you have got in front of you to do. You have to resist this tendency and consciously pace yourself, otherwise your listener may be forced to rewind to try and keep up with the story and content and you will also find yourself tripping up and stumbling throughout the read.
Practice speaking much slower than you think you need to speak. Leave short gaps when you think it’s especially important for the listener to absorb what’s just been said. Focus on enunciation and pronunciation as this also help you to pace the read and will also reduce mouth issues, (more on this later).
It’s good to vary the speed a little where appropriate however to avoid sounding too monotonous.
On Audible some people listen back at the faster playback speed setting, (up to double speed). If you are already speaking quickly at the normal speed, this will become unintelligible when they are listening to a speeded up narration.
WATCH THIS VIDEO on some great tips by Patrick Fraley on breathing and controlling the speed of your narration using your breath.
Recording and listening back promotes instant learning and by practising in advance of the scheduled sessions you can be your own judge. Record on your phone or device and listen back critically, working this way is by far the best way to prepare.
Some people don't like to hear their own voice, but you have to make it your business to listen back to your practise performances so that you know exactly what your listener is experiencing.
Listen out for mouth noises you may previously have been unaware of. This can be very distracting for the listener. As soon as you hear yourself back you will be able to tell if this can be improved, so just re-record and listen back again and notice that with patience, you will have instantly improved.
Recording yourself in practise sessions builds your confidence better than anything else we can suggest.
WET AND DRY MOUTH ISSUES
Mouth noise means lip smacking, tongue sounds and other clicking sounds. A dry mouth can cause a lot of issues with sticky saliva problems so keeping hydrated is very important. Drink some water one hour before the session and keep drinking throughout. Bring a Green Apple along to avoid mouth clicks in case they occur. Foods that contain high acidity will help get rid of mouth sounds like clicking and lip smacks. The malic acid in green apples helps flush away mucus and clean the mouth. And the fact that apples are both sweet and acidic gets your mouth watering, helping your tongue and cheeks move more smoothly against the teeth and gums. Green apples work almost instantly to get rid of those pesky mouth sounds, and can certainly save your session from an editing nightmare!
Another way to avoid saliva issues is to enunciate and pronounce words more effectively.
AVOID COFFEE or caffeinated drinks. If you’re drinking green tea don’t drink too much during a session. Lemon and Ginger and Honey drinks are great for keeping the throat in good condition. Fibre can help produce the flow of your saliva but moderating your food intake during recording sessions is important. We have a range of drinks on hand here at the Offbeat studio that our studio manager Kirsty has devised especially to help you through the read.
In your practise sessions try not closing your mouth all the way between sentences. Keep your lips parted so that they don’t smack. This can feel strange to begin with but it will become more natural with practice and soon you won’t have to think about it anymore.
Another potential issue with a wet mouth - too much saliva which can cause you to swallow a lot - can be fixed by eating salted nuts. Salt will absorb saliva.
We suggest using sugar-free chewing gum in rest periods to get the saliva flowing properly for a simple dry mouth problem. The gum-chewing helps to warm up the mouth and jaw too.
Take frequent breaks while recording and drink some water on the break. Some people like to brush their teeth and use mouthwash. A good trick is to swish around a bit of virgin olive oil in your mouth and spit it out into a cup to lubricate your pipes when your mouth gets too dry.
Site reading is an important skill for narrators. Reading ahead gives more context to the narration and allows it to flow much better, but it’s something that needs to be practised and as always the best way to practice is to record it on your phone, or any device, so record, listen back and be critical.
This useful video includes a helpful 'reading ahead' exercise which involves narrating the beginning of a sentence and taking your eyes off the screen to complete it.
Always keep the listener in mind while reading and consider imagining someone you’re telling the story to. When you’re in the studio with technology involved and a producer/engineer listening in, it can be easy to forget that you are in fact engaged in a performance. Albeit a delayed performance, but it is a performance nonetheless.
You have to sound engaging to the listener. The best narrators can make a very dry piece of text sound very interesting.
A good tip is to smile when you are narrating, obviously it depends on the context of the text, but on the whole it will give your narration more energy and emotion. And don't forget to properly enunciate and pronounce the words, this can also help to reduce any unwanted mouth noises.
When studying characters for your first audiobook you don't have to stray too far from your own natural voice. Just some subtle changes in pitch can be enough to distinguish characters, if a voice is too exaggerated it can sound too artificial.
THIS EXCELLENT VIDEO offers some great advice on how to develop your characters within your own natural voice range.
You need to train for a marathon not a sprint, so it's important to practise narrating long passages at a time prior to the recording session so that you are match fit and you can keep up the important job of performing the book consistently throughout the sessions.
Go through all the steps above in the practice stage as much as possible in advance, especially in the week leading up to the recording sessions, and when you get into the studio you can just forget all those pesky technical issues which you will have rehearsed for, and focus solely on what's really important - the performance.
If you prepare adequately before you start recording in the studio, the whole experience won't be an ordeal for you and will therefore be much more enjoyable for both you and your listener!
Iain McKinna founded Offbeat Studios in central Edinburgh in 1994. Since 2019, the Offbeat Audio division has been recording, producing and directing professional audiobooks for major publishers such as Canongate Books, BBC, Saraband, Penguin Random House, DK Audio, Hatchette, Bonniers, Profile Books, Saga Egmont and Harper Collins, as well as many self-published authors who narrate their own work. https://www.offbeat.co.uk/