Friday, 17 September 2010

Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow...

This week guest blogger, sound editor Al Muirden, talks about the importance of pace in audiobook narration.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about the many stages involved in audio book production. This week, I’d like to follow up on one of Lorelei’s earlier blogs and dwell for a few moments on the role of the audio book narrator and in particular how the delivery of the words is important to the finished product and specifically how the PACE of that delivery is crucial…

I’m a drummer and when we record drum tracks we will in the vast majority of cases, use a “click-track” - this is an aid to the drummer/band and is designed to be used to keep the PACE of the tune uniform - that is, avoiding speeding up (or slowing down!). Once the correct tempo has been worked out (during the writing/rehearsal process), that can be set so that the tune is always played at the correct speed during the recording process.

In more complex music, the click-track can be programmed to match time signature changes too, but we generally don’t have to worry about that for audio narration!

My point being that the pace of delivery of the spoken word can be as affected by variation in speed of delivery as that of recorded music.

The most common thing to happen is for a narrator to start at the correct pace and then gradually, without noticing, pick up that pace and finding him or herself rushing. It’s one of the jobs of the producer to pick up on any such increase in speed - very often the narrator won’t even notice that he or she has got a little faster.

Another way that the delivery can speed up is if a recording session is starting to over-run and the narrator is starting to watch the clock - then it’s almost inevitable that the pace of the delivery will speed up. But with very few exceptions, the narrator should start and finish with the same tone AND speed - easier said than done!

The pace of delivery is most likely to pick up when reading non-fiction, as there isn’t much scope for heightening tension or slowing down for a sad section as there might be in a work of fiction - indeed it’s important to say also that (particularly in fiction) there may well be sections of a book which NEED to be faster to build excitement, for instance - or slower and more deliberate in other areas. It’s still the all important PACE of delivery that makes the difference.

One way that the pace of a book can be adjusted AFTER the recording has been done, is by some judicious editing. Gaps can be lengthened or shortened or even inserted to give the pace of the book more of a contiguous feel - it’s surprising how effective this can be.

I recently attended a friend’s wedding and there were three readers as part of the service - whilst none of them were especially bad in any way, it reminded me how easy it is to READ OUT the written word, but how difficult it is to NARRATE the written word and bring it to LIFE. There’s a distinct difference between reading and narrating and pace is everything when narrating.

So when you listen to your next audio book, keep in mind the high level of skill involved in making the original text come to life - definitely a job for the pros! - Al Muirden

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