Friday, 27 August 2010

Producing audio books

We’re starting a new series of interviews with people who work in audio publishing. We kick off the series by interviewing CC director and audio publisher extraordinaire, Ali Muirden.

Ali has worked in publishing for 28 years and has been an Audiobook Publisher for 11 years. She is the former chair of the Audio Publishers Association (APA) in the UK, a voluntary organization devoted to promoting awareness and sales of audio books in the UK. She also runs a consultancy business for audio publishers.

How did you start in audio?

I was working as a Key Accounts Sales Manager for Macmillan and travelling all over the UK to visit my customers. When Macmillan started publishing audio books I used to haunt the audio dept scrounging new titles to listen to on my long journeys. I segued from that into becoming an "audio champion" in the sales department and then when the audio publishing person left the company, they asked me to step in to take over the audio publishing role and to expand their list. When I took over Macmillan had about 25 audio books on their list and by the time I left it was over 400!

You're now a freelance audio producer. How is that different from heading the audio department of a well-known publisher?

It's much more hands on. I always used to attend the recording sessions as an audio publisher but my role during the recording sessions was much more of an "additional pair of ears" and it was left to the producer to direct the performance of the narrator. Now it is my job to ensure that I research any tricky pronunciations before the recording and check the script works well for audio just in case we run into any problems during the recording. I also make suggestions on casting to the publishers, based on my experience of working with many different narrators and liaise with the sound editors to ensure we get the best finished recording we can.

What is a typical week like for you?

It's a mixture of working for my own company, Creative Content, which involves liaising with our authors, customers, and production companies. It involves lots of paperwork and admin and lots and lots of reading of scripts. Then when I am producing for another publisher I have lots of reading to do on the scripts and spend a lot of time on Google, researching how to pronounce words or checking facts. I usually work from 8 am to 6 or 7 pm most days, even when at home! And I never get a proper lunch break as there is no point in breaking off when you work alone! Although I do snatch the time for a quick cuddle with my cats Indy and Shortround, if they deign to let me!

How do you prepare a book for record?

I read the book first off to just find out the basic plot and get an idea of characters etc. Then I go through it all again to check any tricky words and to mark up the script if words need special emphasis etc., so that when the narrator is recording we get the meaning behind the words. I spend a lot of time on Google researching accents and pronunciations and websites like Forvo and Howjsay are very helpful for this! I'll often find myself ringing up tourist centres for various places or countries to ask for their help in sourcing pronunciations! I had a lovely chat with an Estate Agent in Saddleworth the other week about how to pronounce the names of some places around there! He was charming and very very helpful!

How important is the narrator?

Crucial! The wrong narrator can ruin a book! I find that when I read a book I hear the right voice in my head and my mind is constantly filtering through all the various narrators I know, considering and refining the list of possibilities.

What do you look for in a narrator?

Someone who prepares properly! I can't emphasise enough how important this is! I also like working with people who are good at taking direction and like to work as part of a team effort. It can get very tense in a studio if the narrator is resistant to constructive criticism. I like people who are fluent too. It gets very tedious if people fluff an awful lot, although sometimes that is just a blood sugar level thing and once you feed and water them they go off again like a train!

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to break into audiobook narration?

It's a very hard market to crack! The whole recording process is so expensive, most people are wary of trying out someone inexperienced - but this is a bit of a catch 22, because if you don't get new narrators coming through the ranks, you end up with the same voices all the time. I'd recommend offering to read something for free as one possible way in! Also, Lorelei's idea about recording a reel without any editing done to it is a great suggestion! Then you can see how someone sounds without any editing "magic tricks" smoothing the wrinkles out!

In addition to producing audio for other publishers, you have your own digital publishing business. What are the best and the worst things about working for yourself?

The best thing is you can move very quickly when you make a decision to do something... and, apart from Lorelei*, I don't have to ask anyone else's permission to do something unusual or untried. The worst thing is that the work is never ending, you never seem to finish for the day as there is always something else you should have done! However, I am very focused and find it incredibly easy to stick to doing a task until it is completed, which is something many people say they would have a problem doing if they worked at home. I think it comes from years of working in an open plan office and I've trained myself to tune out everything around me in order to be able to concentrate properly in a busy, bustling office!

Creative Content Ltd. publishes in digital format only. Some say that this is the future of publishing. What's your view?

I think digital is a great way to enjoy books or audio in places or ways in which a conventional book is not as convenient. However, I will always want to own print books and to have a paperback on the go to read in the bath or on the beach! I think in the same way that we still go to the movies to see a film, when a few weeks later you can watch it on a DVD, just illustrates that people like variety and to experience things in different ways! I'm just pleased that audio books are finally getting the recognition they deserve and digital is certainly helping in this. For too long they have been dismissed as a niche format, but when done well, they can lift a favourite and much loved book into a totally new experience and bring it to life once more! I like the quote I read about the author Anne Enright, who said that she loved having her book "The Gathering" made into an audio book, read by Fiona Shaw, as "it gave my book back to me" I don't think you can say it better than that! - AM

*Ask me permission?! HA! – LK

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