Whilst researching the production an audiobook version of my debut novel, In The End, Lee Beddow, a voice actor and producer, auditioned for the work and agreed to take part in a conversation.
GJ: Do you want to start with introducing yourself and your services?
LB: I’ve been in and around recording for nearly 35 years, starting with running my own recording studio (AbbeySound) since I was 18! The studio is in a former convent and my part was the nun’s dormitories once upon a time! I worked for BRMB Radio in Birmingham too and one day, I was randomly asked if I could read! “Course I can” I said but they meant for an advert. I’d never done that and Yardley’s Drum & Music Store became my first experience. I then worked for them voicing & creating ads whilst also teaching music & radio production at local colleges plus producing bands & singers at the studio.
After a while, teaching became my main focus but I still did voiceover work, such as reading stories & voicing competitions for BT and corporate video work but, of more recent times, I’ve decided I wanted to make my voice & my production skills my main focus, which is where AbbeySound Audio comes in. I can now narrate the scripts then post produce the audio with all the right levels, chapter marks and spacing, as well as produce bespoke music for authors who want that extra touch for their productions.
GJ: Can you give me a high level overview of the process of working with an author to produce an audiobook?
LB: The first is to ensure that the voices are right for the author. This can be tricky, as authors often hear their characters in their own inner voice and suddenly hearing someone else read their words can be very odd. It’s sometimes a case of getting the authors to either be very specific towards how a character is read or they accepting that not hearing the book exactly as they imagined doesn’t have an impact on the overall enjoyment of the book. Something else is pronunciation – I’ve recent done a book with 11th Century names and I definitely needed help with some of the names!
Usually, the first 15 minutes is completed for the author to check and agree before the rest of the book is completed. The work can be quite labour intensive, as you normally get around 45 – 1 hour of usable audio from a 2 hour recording session. Then it can take up to 3 hours to complete that session with all the correct editing, removing the breathing etc. I try and make it so that I work to pre-set deadlines and only take a single project at a time, so I have maximum focus on each book. Usually, the worst obstacle is the common cold – you can’t read with a blocked nose or sore throat! Other than that, I use exactly the same microphone, mic placement and set up for the whole book to ensure the sound of the book is completely consistent.
GJ: I think it’s fair to say I experienced the exact issue you mentioned when I heard your audition for the first time. Although you read it as per the guidance I gave at the start of the process, it wasn’t quite how I expect. I think that’s a big barrier in the author’s minds straight away.
LB: I can imagine it’s similar to how I feel when someone sings or plays a song I’ve written. It’s a balance where you have to find what’s essential and what’s the way you’ve approached the work, understanding there can be more than one way the material can be interpreted or heard. I generally ask authors to play any samples to other people and see how they feel about a voice, as they will hear it with ‘fresh ears’. The instance I usually say is I imagine someone like Ian Rankin would have a very specific voice in his head for Rebus, yet a great many of his readers won’t read him with a broad Scots accent. Unless the book calls for very specific characterisation, such as a regional or foreign accent, I tend to find it’s best to just make sure there’s enough inflection in the voice to define basics, such as age & gender. Also, listen to some other author’s audiobooks and hear how the narrator there is interpreting the book.
GJ: There are various financing models available for producing an audiobook. Can you explain a little of each and the pros and cons?
LB: A lot of authors seem attracted to Amazon / Audible’s ACX company. For no outlay, they can ask authors to read a sample and either suggest a production fee per hour or, more often, ask for it to be produced on a royalty share. However, with this, ACX take 60% of the audiobook sale price, leaving you to split the remaining 40% equally between themselves and the narrator / producer (usually but not always the same person). In short, you end up with 20% of the sale. However, the alternative is to pay for the production yourself using a production house like AbbeySound Audio, which could range from around £750 to £2000, depending on word count / duration. Then, using the site Author’s Republic, they will get the book added to up to 30 different download sites, including Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble etc but the big difference is the author now owns the copyright of the recording and gets 70% of the sale price. Obviously, this way means you have to pay some money upfront but if you have faith that your book will sell, this can be a much more lucrative alternative in the long run.
GJ: I guess the lesson there is not to take ACX at face value. I played around with the sliders to see what I’d be looking at for a budget and the figures varied up to £10,000. So once you’ve produced the audiobook, does the author then get chance to listen to it and come back with any feedback, or is that the end result?
LB: Absolutely. Although there’s a difference between correcting errors and production changes. It makes it easier if the narrator is also the producer / editor as you don’t have to rely on having to re-book the voiceover, who may have their own costs. If I make an error or perhaps don’t quite get the inflection / sentiment right, I’m happy to to back and tweak, although if I’m unsure about anything, I will always contact the author and check, as it’s much easier to correct sooner rather than later. If it’s because an author wants something different that hasn’t been previously directed, it can be done but might incur an extra hour of production time charges, but often there’s an agreement that time for that is built into the costings. I will always quote for a book before starting any project, so an author isn’t suddenly shocked by any final price but build in that little bit of ‘wiggle room’ for corrections. I would guess, however, any production company wouldn’t be too willing to make too many changes if they were working the ACX model as they still have bills to pay whilst waiting for the royalties to come in!
GJ: What would your advice be to an author who is looking to get quotes for creating an audiobook? Would you prepare a document much like that of the ACX process or do something different?
LB: From an author’s point of view, I’d definitely get a demo done so you can hear the voice and also judge the quality of the recording. For instance, I would never leave any breath noise in and would ensure the volume is consistent – nothing worse than a book where you have to keep altering the volume up and down! Personally, I quote each book individually and agree that with an author before I start and I try to make myself affordable but not too cheap, as, like anything, you get what you pay for. Similar to when I produce a song, I will chat with people before any production takes place to build up a rapport and understanding. Audiobook producers need to recognise this is someone’s hard work to get to this point and their work can’t just be rushed through on a conveyor belt. At the moment, I don’t get involved with taking the audio further but happy to make recommendations where I can help.
GJ: Have you ever turned down a project because your voice just doesn’t fit, or are you able to generally turn your hand to anything?
LB: I’ve been lucky that I’ve had some great books to read that I would have genuinely read for pleasure, regardless of whether I produced the audiobook! There was a book where a very specific South American accent was called for that I couldn’t just get right (mine was too generic for the author’s taste on that occasion) and it wasn’t what the author wanted but luckily we found that at demo stage. I try and accommodate all authors where I can but I will hold my hand up and say if I don’t think I can do something justice by not having the particular vocal style I think works.
GJ: How would people go about contacting you?
LB: As I mentioned, abbeysound.org is just getting revamped but anyone can get me via email@example.com. New Facebook and Twitter pages specifically for Abbeysound Audio are coming soon too.
Thank you Lee for joining me today and I wish you all the luck with Abbeysound. We shall be talking again in the New Year!
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