Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rish Outfield, Audiobook Reader

So, I think I mentioned recently that I had a conversation (or rather, witnessed one, since I didn't know what they were talking about) with Renee Chambliss and Bryan Lincoln about their professional audiobook reading.  I was greatly impressed, but even more so, I was thinking, "Why the devil aren't I doing this for a living?  I've been recording audiobooks for over a decade now, and while I may not be Scott Brick, this is something I could do, and do well."

Of course, I may have spoken prematurely.

After those days in Vegas, around such creative people who were actually doing things with their minds and voices, I found myself feeling at least a tad bit ambitious, and actually tried to get some work reading/narrating/performing the words of others.  There's a list of books that are done and published that want someone to read them/perform them for, and you can create a profile, upload audio samples, and audition for parts.  It ended up taking a bit of time, but I was confident (for once) that the work would come.

In fact, I mentioned it to Big the other day that he too should be doing this, since he has the experience and talent, and a hell of a better microphone set-up than I do.

And I'd have said the sound quality was much less important than the reader (at the one technical panel I attended at NMX, the speaker said, "Nobody will ever listen to your podcast and say, 'Wow, they have great sound quality! I'm going to keep listening and see if their content improves.'"), but having gone over my recordings with a fine tooth ear, I'm actually Level One nervous again about sending the stuff in.

Oh wait, I've gotten ahead of myself.  So, I sent in two auditions the first day, and two more on the second.  I heard nothing more, so I sent in three or four more since then (which is a grind, since my PC won't read the files they've saved their auditions in, so I have to download them to my desktop, email them to myself, open the email on my craptop, read the audition from the craptop while recording on my PC).  Maybe I should listen to a couple to see if the readers a--

Ah, who am I kidding?  I know I'm at least as good as any random reader on, if not better, since I'm a voice actor anyway, and have been editing audio every week for years now (they say you've gotta do something for a thousand hours to become an expert at it, right?).

I actually did get a couple of rejections.  The first one was nice, and said she liked my reading, but the book is in a series, and she's already paying someone else to read the first book, so she'd like them all to have consistency (which I totally understand).  The second rejection was, crazily-enough, from a writer we'd done a story by on the Dunesteef.  He made no comment on that, nor my reading, but simply said the rights were tied up and he wasn't in a position to assign anybody to record his book right now.

Then, I got an acceptance letter, from a writer I'd actually heard of (to be honest, I think recognizing her name made me decide to see what the book was about, rather than just judging by the title alone).  She liked my reading*, and asked if I would also consider reading the first book in a mystery series she has going, hoping that my voice would suit the whole run.

Well, this would make anybody else on earth happy, I would imagine, but I was worried about committing to two audiobooks at the same time, especially since the last time I'd tried narrating an entire book, I'd given up in the middle, after a year or so.  I didn't know how much work it would be to record, then to edit, and how much time I'd have to do them in (Renee mentioned having a book due in two days, and needing to read for over twelve hours straight to meet her deadline, and I'll admit, it frightened me).

But when I looked at the contract, I have until the ides of bloody March to get the books in, so I was fretting over nothing.

The second step after obtaining the text to be read is to record a sample of (exactly?) fifteen minutes, get it into perfect shape, and send it in so they can make notes or request/demand changes.

There are a bunch of posted rules (i.e., hoops) set up for how to record, how to perform, how to save, how to edit, how to clean up the sound, and how one must space out speaking and silence (for example, there should be exactly one-half second before you start to speak on every file, and an interminable 3.5 seconds in between you saying "Chapter One" and "The psychotic toddler had taken yet another victim . . .").

This is a case where my own experience ends up helping me not at all.  I'm used to doing work for myself, or for other podcasts.  If it's up to my standards, chances are, it'll be up to theirs.**  But this is for other people, who are wanting to sell the recordings, and who may care much less about whether I can convincingly sound like an old man than whether you can hear me take a breath between dialogue.

Bryan Lincoln warned me to toe the line, that my stuff had to be of top-notch sound quality, because I'd be competing with professional audiobook readers, in an airtight studio with those egg carton things on the walls, and a jagoff in the control room fiddling with a hundred knobs and thinking about billing rates.

So, I followed their rules, and right before sending the fifteen minute sample of the first book, I decided to go though it, listening carefully, and making it fit exactly into their listed specifications.

What I discovered was, that aside from the clicks, slurps, and breathing sounds I apparently make every time I read something (which I've never before discovered, for some reason), there was also an intermittent buzzing sound that could be heard, on and off, throughout the whole recording.

On my own show, I wouldn't give a single crap, but now, I was paranoid.  Could I use background noise to mask the buzzing?  Could I edit it out in some way?  Could I re-record a sentence here or there to offset it?  Could I turn the volume down on the recording for the parts where that sound could be heard?  And could I send the sample in as-is (despite now spending an extra hour just trying to sweeten the fifteen minute sample), hoping they'd be listening for the quality of the reading rather than the quality of the recording . . . or did I need to sit down and do the whole thing a second time, making sure that whatever was making the buzzing (a short in the microphone cord is my chief suspect) was no longer there?

Well, I still haven't decided.

I went through the first fifteen minutes of the second reading, and it had no buzzing (though it had a buttload of clicks and breaths that I lift out, grimacing every time), and sent it in, figuring I'd wait to hear notes on the "clean" sample before even trying to get my "dirty" sample passed.

In the meantime, I figured I'd audition for one more book--this one apparently written by a seventeen year old who just discovered the magic of gory description--believing (rather arrogantly) that this guy will not mind a little buzzing and breathing.

I'll keep you posted. 


Maybe not.

We'll see.

Rish "Narrated By" Outfield

*And here's a rub, I never actually communicated with the author, but with her agent.  So every time I asked a question about pronunciation, or tone, or accents, I knew that my message was getting forwarded on to the "talent," as it were, then back to the agent, then back to me.  Unless agents just do it all nowadays, which it's totally possible they do.

**Of course, I'm reminded of the short story I edited for another show, where I put the spooky sounds of wind and rain in the background for ambience, only to have the editor of the show say, "There was a lot of background noise in your recording, coming from outside your studio, but after a bit of work, I got rid of it all."

1 comment:

Seraph said...

Awesome Rish - good luck !