In the first quarter of 2016, we were kept busy by projects where we were asked by clients to convert old audiobook titles from master copies contained on physical media (CDs, DVDs, DATs and cassettes) to the necessary download specification for retail on the Audible store. It is a process which appears simple on the surface, but requires a surprising amount of work and time to accomplish, especially to a good standard.
Take the example of a book, originally recorded onto a DAT, which needs digitising. First of all, you need the equipment to transfer the media in real time. To meet Audible standards, the book has to be divided into one track per chapter, which requires scanning the audio waveform in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) with a careful eye in order to find pauses which denote a chapter break. Some older recordings have background hiss or noises on them, and the ability to remove these with plug-ins is part of what separates one of our good transfers from a merely OK one. This transferred title will have to have its credits replaced, with ones recorded in a studio of decent standard, again to meet Audible specifications. Any CD or tape side announcements have to be removed, as they are irrelevant in a downloaded file. This requires careful editing if the announcements are made over music, as the listener’s experience should not be disturbed by jumpy audio, even during the ‘administrative’ sections of the book. Once all this editing takes place, and the book has been mastered to a comfortable volume, it should go to check listening, to eradicate any misreads from the original version, and to ensure that no sound errors creeped into the digital transcription. These jobs are deeply rewarding, as we really feel the pleasure of breathing life into an old recording for a new audience. Some of our work in this vein is still ongoing and therefore under wraps, but examples of it can be heard in our remasters of Jill Mansell titles for Headline Digital Audio.
Much hard work - and coffee - was put into our recording of The Romanovs, the latest title from Simon Sebag Montefiore, published by Orion. It is not uncommon to have a language consultant for the first morning of a recording, but for a book with this much detail we benefited from the services of a Russian linguist in the studio each day. Pronunciation is not always clear-cut; we often have to make the decision of whether to follow classic style, or one which a reader’s ears are much more comfortable with. For example, the technically correct way to say Paris is ‘Par-ee’. But in the wrong context, when one would expect to hear ‘Par-iss’, the listener’s engagement with the book can break. Identifying the pronunciations required, deciding which work best in the context of the book, and ensuring they remain consistent throughout the reading are distinct skills and it is part of our philosophy that they should be put into practice for all books which we produce.
The Romanovs was read by Simon Russell Beale (pictured left) and produced by Hugh Kermode, who turned reader for another Orion book, Quantum, by Jim Al-Khalili. Science books offer a cornucopia of pronunciation queries, but Hugh and his producer Richard Hughes prepared well and dealt with them accordingly. Another interesting aspect of transferring print to audio presented itself for this title. Not uncommonly for a science book, the book has ‘inset’ chapters: little factoids, experiments and interviews contained away from the main body of the text. Clearly, this can’t translate to audio as you can only maintain one speaking voice at once. Some time was therefore needed to re-allocate chapters. The Romanovs posed a similar quandary: how to accommodate the footnotes which pepper the pages? For this title, we decided that they should be placed seamlessly within the flow of the writing, but other books may have called for other solutions, like crossfading between the main text and the footnote.
We have recorded two projects with Emilia Fox (pictured below right). In January, there was L.S. Hilton’s Maestra, the first title from Bonnier’s new crime fiction imprint, Zaffre. In February we recorded The Lie Tree, which won the Costa (formerly Whitbread) Book of the Year award in 2015, on behalf of Macmillan Digital Audio. A children’s novel with dark edges which Emilia teased out wonderfully.
We were pleased to host the actress Denise Welch as she read her first novel If They Could See Me Now, a book which keenly traces what independence means for a generation of women no longer tied down to their families. Denise had never read for audio before but took to it with aplomb, and a keen interest in the possibilities of the form. On behalf of her publisher, Hachette Little Brown, we filmed a video diary which documented her thoughts on the recording process, and a Q+A. We have both the equipment and expertise necessary to produce supplementary video with our recordings.
We conducted another interview with another Little Brown author, this time M.R. Carey, for his latest novel, Fellside. Our production of his last book, The Girl With All The Gifts, won an Audie in 2015 for the best audiobook in the ‘Paranormal’ category, and it also received an Earphones award in August 2014. The reader was Finty Williams again, who showed off her ability to channel the nuances in the voice of a young woman cast to a prison in the Yorkshire moors. The producer was Katie Storey.
We have recorded several new titles for Nosy Crow, who have just added the IPG publisher of the year award to their already heaving trophy cabinet.
OUTSIDE THE STUDIO
Outside of the studio, Nicholas Jones was invited to join a panel at Byte the Book to cover how audio fits into the global publishing market. The possibilities for using innovative distribution technologies in publishing are numerous and exciting, but we believe individual media - such as audiobooks - ought to be thought of on their own terms. There is danger in adopting a ‘one size fits all approach’ where audiobooks are produced for the sake of it, without being sensitive to their particularities. Clearly there is a degree of necessity when books are managed on a large scale, but we should be wary of thinking about books as data assets which can be condensed and shifted from format to format with little thinking about how to best adapt them.
With that in mind, it has been a pleasure to work on Orion’s ongoing Belgravia project, which combines a Victorian sensibility to publishing with modern technology. Written by Julian Fellowes and read with spirit and humour by Juliet Stevenson, the work is being delivered in instalments through a purpose-built app, bringing the serialization that was customary in Dickens’ day into the 21st century. Belgravia will also be available as a complete audiobook.