The making of an audio book, part two

Here I am, going over the script with Charles Potter, my director. The director's job is to go over the script and work out any rough spots with me. He's kind of the boss of the on-scene work.

Before we started recording, we talked and he got a sense of my normal voice and what to expect. The job of the director is to get the most accurate and correct recording, with the most emotional range, while still being ME.

Then, once I started reading, he listened really carefully, and caught any instance where I emphasized a wrong word, or said a wrong word, or popped my p's, or did any number of other forbidden things.

Here's another shot of Charles in the control room. The studio consists of a recording booth (where I sit and read) and a control room, where Charles and Peter sit.

Sometimes, I'd read several pages without hearing a peep from him. Other times, it's be, "can we do that over, from the last paragraph? There was some rumbling . . " every few lines

This is Peter Acker, the engineer. He's sitting in front of the recording console. When I worked in the music business, we recorded sessions like this onto magnetic tape. Now, we use computers and we record direct-to-disc.

Look Me in the Eye took up just under 5 gig of disk space. We have a total of 8 hours of recording, which the editors at John Marshall Sound in New York will edit into the final six hour audio book.

The engineer's main focus is on operating his equipment. He's got to maintain his levels properly, so that my voice doesn't fade in and out. He needs to keep the level high enough to keep background noise at bay, but he can't let the system go into overload when I shout out, "Son of a bitch! It's on fire!!" Peter is the master of all the technology behind him.

Peter actually built the studio we're shown in, and it's in the lower level of his house. And wonder of wonders, it's half a mile from my home. That one of the benefits of living in a community that's full of creative people.

Charles drove to the sessions from his home, near Saugerties, New York, another creative place. Back when I was in the music business, I used to travel to Saugerties to work with the Fabulous Rhinestones and other bands.

In fact, in my first book, you're going to read how I escaped incarceration in a Carribean prison. What's not in the book is this: When I was in the airport going home, I met this girl, Julie, who was from Saugerties. She was at that time flying to Fiji to join a sailing yacht. One of those memorable four-hour acquaintances, you might say. And then, to my surprise, a year later I found myself in a restaurant in Saugerties with Harvey Brooks (of Blood Sweat and Tears and the Fabulous Rhinestones, among others) and who did I see? Julie. So I had sort of a connection to Saugerties, even before Charles drove up. And that ensured we would have a good session.

Anyway, to get back to Peter and the engineer's story . . . Peter also acts as the backup ears for Charles, listening for pops and squeaks and other unwanted noises. Both Charles and Peter have scripts and they follow me word for word, listening for errors.

In some cases, I'd deviate from the script. Usually, I'd add a "the" or an "and" to make the script read more naturally. Those changes would pass unremarked, but Charles noted every one on his script copy. Other times, I'd change something more major, and he'd ask, "did you mean to say that? The script said . . . " And in some cases, I had simply read it wrong. Other times, I disagreed with the script.

Disagree with the script, you say? How can that be?

The simple answer is, when you translate from the printed page to the spoken word, the words must change to feel natural. And there's a second answer. My script was prepared by an abridging editor as a standalone project. And sometimes the editor made subtle changes that I did not notice when I read it over silently, but when I said it, it felt or was, wrong.

And in one case *shame on me* I actually MADE A MISTAKE. In my book, I said, "I always liked Land Rover Defenders . . ." Well, the year was 1989, and the Defender didn't go on the market till 1990. The 1989 truck was still just a Land Rover. Hearing that, I dropped the word Defender from the audio book. It's still in the print book.

But I think the Land Rover community will let it slide. Just now, I typed "Land Rover Service" into the Google search bar, and I was still the first name on the list. So we'll just leave that little difference between the print and audio editions.

How many changes did I make? Well, if you look at instances where I changed more that one word, I'd say I made five changes in the audio book script, which is in total 58,000 words long. So they had it pretty right, going in, as they cut the 90,000 word unabridged book.

Here I am, sitting in the booth

To read an audio book, you use a voice that's a bit more powerful than you'd use to, say, read your kid a story. You read at a level you'd use to make a presentation to a small roomful of people.

That's necessary to get the range of emotion and emphasis. At least, that's how it appeared. The times I read softer, Charles would say, "Can you read that again, with a little more energy?"

And you've really got to concentrate. You can't let your mind wander, or you'll make mistakes. And if you make mistakes you'll be there forever, and the finished product will be crummier.

Digital editing is a lot better and faster than the tape editing we did, back in the day, but there's still no substitute for top quality raw material. That's what happens next, at John Marshall Sound in New York. And in just a few weeks, Orli Moscowitz, my executive producer back at Random House Audio, will have audio masters.

I invite you to step back a few weeks into my blog and meet Orli here:


The Anti-Wife said…
This is very exciting and very interesting. Thanks for including us on your journey!
Tena Russ said…
John, this is such a wonderful experience for you. I'm living vicariously.

I'm not crazy about reading my own stuff aloud but you inspire me to do it more often. Don't laugh, but I've been reading to my dog. (Cami says Woof to you.) That's not as strange as it sounds. Cami is a K-9 Reading Buddy who "listens" as kids read to her at the library. Anyway, it's good practice for when I have to do the real thing someday.

Now go get some much-deserved rest!

Woof from Tena
John Robison said…
Tena, you really should try reading. It's a first baby step, coming out of the closet. Before you know it, you'll move from speaking to singing, you'll be singing in the tub, and after that . . .Carnegie Hall!
Tena Russ said…
John, you do NOT want to hear my singing.

In a couple of weeks I'll have the opportunity to read a chapter of my novel-in-progress to my critique group. Does gin help?
John, were you in your glory around all the recording equipment? Thanks for the great explanation of how the audio book is made.

Michelle O'Neil said…
Thank you for sharing this John. It is so interesting.

Great pictures too.
Drama Mama said…
SO cool. It's interesting. My daughter's speech is still a little stilted and stiff. Some kid called her a "robot" the other day.

She sits in her room and reads books out loud with force and gusto. She sounds GREAT. I asked her what she was doing, and she said, "Practicing". She told me that it is easier for her to have the words in front of her; she figures that it's time for her to speak spontaneously (read other kids) this will give her some ammunition. Smart kid.

I am showing her your post and pics when she gets home from Day Camp today; she will LOVE this!
Trish Ryan said…
It sounds like they have you working hard! I can't wait to hear you say, "Son of a bitch! It's on fire!"

In fact, I think we should all request it when you make promotional appearances :)
Maddy said…
Will it come out at the same time as the book? [Nonna might like that version]
ORION said…
I emailed my reader Paul Michael 'cuz I LOVED the job he did with LOTTERY. I can't imagine doing it myself! KUDOS to you, John!!!!
Wendy Roberts said…
Great post. Very cool, John!
Therese said…
Cool to see how this all works. I haven't yet heard what's in store with my audio book--though I'm fairly certain I won't be doing the reading myself.

I might like to, though; I've done some stage work. And it's got to be good practice for later author appearances...

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