Friday, 24 February 2012

The Water in Majorca...

This week Creative Content sound editor Al gives us his view on ... accents!

I've spoken about many aspects of audio books before, and during these past few months I've been lucky to edit some fabulous audio titles. The time I've been spending listening has opened my ears to one of the key skills required by an audio narrator - the ability to read in different  accents . This is an essential tool in the narrator’s  armoury. 

Recently too, I've become aware of several British actors playing American characters in some of the big US shows that are broadcast here in the UK - of those that I've seen, some are English, some Welsh, but  all are superb at playing characters with American accents. It works in reverse too, with many US born actors playing British characters, showing great versatility and flexibility - give it a try yourselves - try to read a paragraph of text in an accent that is alien to you - it's not as easy as you might think!

With so many of the books that I work on for audio being character driven, it's no wonder that the audio narrator is required to summon up all manner of accents for those characters, but, rather than just having to be one specific character, the audio narrator might be called upon to be: English, Australian, American, Norwegian, Canadian, Welsh and many more all in the one audio book!  

A title that I am working on at the moment has a high proportion of Scottish characters as the book is set in Glasgow, but amazingly, the narrator has to produce different  Glaswegian accents for different parts of the city. I also recently edited a title that was set in Norfolk and again, the narrator had to not only affect a Norfolk "twang" but had to give it regional variety – additionally, the characters were a mix of male and female too!  This was a tall order, but one that the narrator achieved brilliantly - and most importantly consistently (keep in mind also, that some of these titles run to ten hours plus in length!)

Most of us never have to think about speaking in a different accent in our everyday lives, let alone have to perform and project in an audio book narration, so let's spare a thought for this hugely important skill that quality audio narrators have to possess - for them it's a question of preparation, application, accuracy and continuity when it comes to character accents - believe me, the listener pays great attention to detail! 

By the way, the (possibly) puzzling title of this week's Blog is taken from the classic Heineken advert from (I think) the early 1980s), in which the student  can only speak in a very precise English accent. Her tutor is trying to get her to speak in a broad cockney accent, but she can't do it...until she drinks the Heineken lager. If only it were that easy for the audio narrator! - Al Muirden

Photo by FontFont

Friday, 17 February 2012

How do I love thee - I mean 'the'. I mean 'thee'. I mean....

In this extract from the best-selling ‘The Lowdown: Improve YourSpeech – British English’, David Gwillim and Deirdra Morris talk about fluency, ‘kicking across’ and when to say ‘the’ or ‘thee’ or ‘to’ or ‘te’

CLEAR SPEECH means FLUENT SPEECH. This simply means keeping the sound flowing, without un-natural breaks. Think of the end of each sentence as the target - and aim for it. If you have to breathe before you get there, do so, gently, but still AIM FOR THE TARGET in your mind.  

IT’S – EASY – TO – GET – THE – IMPRESSION – THAT – GOOD – ARTICULATION – REQUIRES – SEPARATING – THE – WORDS. Well, this isn’t the case. In a long presentation, such separations are an effort for the voice and they act like tiny slaps in the face for your audience, who will soon start feeling it’s an effort to listen. 

What you want to do is ‘kick across’ the final sound of each word onto the beginning of the next. 

To help with this kicking across, there are some useful linking sounds – W, Y, and R, for example. Rather than GO OUT we can say GO WOUT. Rather than SEE ALL we can say SEE YALL. And we can put an R into phrases we wouldn’t have dared to forty years ago – instead of DRAW UP we can say DRAW-RUP. 

Now think of ‘T’ at the end of a word, as in ‘I lent a lot of money’. The T of ‘lent’ and ‘lot’ are in front of the vowels ‘a’ and ‘o’, so to keep the fluency we say ‘lenta’ and ‘lotof’.

Another roadblock to fluency is saying ‘THE’ incorrectly. For example, it’s THE SKY - but if the word after THE begins with a vowel, then THE should become THEE. THE EARTH. THEE EARTH. See how the second pronunciation makes the phrase flow more easily?

Take a piece of writing – anything: a paragraph from HARRY POTTER or an article from your daily paper. Circle in black any ‘THE’ you find before a word beginning with a consonant. Circle in red any ‘THE’ you find before a word beginning with a vowel. Read the speech aloud a number of times, taking care to differentiate between ‘THE’ and ‘THEE’ where indicated. Keep reading until it starts to come naturally.

It’s the same with TO, as in TO ACT. The TO is TOO because the following word begins with a vowel. So it’s TOO WACT.

But TO before a consonant becomes TE as in TE GIVE.  Got it? – David Gwillim and Deirdra Morris

Taken from The Lowdown: Improve Your Speech - British English, by David Gwillim and Deirdra Morris, published by Creative Content Ltd.

Friday, 10 February 2012

It's all in the voice!

Audio producer and publisher Ali Muirden talks about how she casts a narrator for an audiobook...

When people hear that I work in the audio book industry, they often want to know what the actors that I’ve worked with are like.

Personally, I feel privileged to have worked with some of the best talent in the country over the last few years. And no! I am not going to name names as that could get me into a whole heap of trouble! But I must confess I do have my favourites…

But what do audio producers look for when casting a reader and how do we go about it?

The first step is to read the script for the book you are producing and more often than not, before you know it, a “voice type” will spring to mind.  Some books require a flowing, mellifluous voice, some require a quality which conveys excitement and drama, some require someone with a catalogue of character voices at his or her disposal.  

Sometimes you require someone with a particular accent skill, or the ability to switch from accent to accent at the drop of a hat. (These people are also probably brilliant at rubbing their tummies and patting their heads at the same time as spinning plates on poles!)

As you read the script, it becomes apparent what kind of voice quality is required and it makes the casting process much simpler.

Sometimes you have a tricky project where you just can’t seem to find the right voice for the job. Then it’s time to get on the phone to your fellow producers to request some help. 

Other producers are always hugely generous with their time and help on this subject and can be a great source of inspiration and advice. When we find a new talent, we always tell each other. Likewise, if we work with someone who has not bothered to prepare for the job properly, we also spill the beans! Wannabe audio readers beware: Don’t rock up and think you can just ‘wing it’ on the day…. Your future could be on the line!

Reading an audio book requires great stamina, energy and preparation in advance, if you are going to do justice to the book. Most of the really good readers say it can be one of the most demanding areas they work in, as you need to sustain the level of performance throughout a long recording day (anywhere up to 8 hours in one session) and any loss of energy or signs of tiredness are immediately obvious in your voice.  

But they also say it is one of the things they enjoy doing the most and it must give them a great sense of satisfaction when they meet someone who has heard them read an audio book who then says “all my kids love your reading of that story… they make me play it for them over and over and over again!”.

We’d love to know: Which audiobook narrators do you love to listen to? - Ali Muirden

Photo by Cliff1066

Friday, 3 February 2012

Happy year of the dragon!

To celebrate Chinese New Year, a post about the importance of  'face'.

Q:        What, in your opinion, is the most important thing to remember about doing business in China?

A:        There are two concepts that are vital to know about if you’re going to be doing business in China: the first is ‘mianzi’ or ‘face,’ and the second is ‘guanxi’ - which we’ll call ‘networking’. Let’s start with ‘face.’ It’s probably the most important concept to grasp when doing business in China. 

Q:        What is it, exactly?

A:        ‘Face’ is prestige - respect received from others and respect given to others. One’s reputation is also part of ‘face.’

Losing face for the Chinese has a far greater emotional impact than what we in the west understand as ‘shame’ – and in China, everyone has to preserve face at any cost.  A public insult, a reprimand or a personal affront will obviously lead to a loss of face. But a contradiction, a rebuff, or refusing an invitation might also cause a loss of face.  Even accepting a new idea can be perceived in some quarters as a loss of face. Losing your temper, or in fact showing any strong negative emotion, constitutes a serious loss of face for both the one losing his temper – and anyone caught in the crossfire. 

Q:        How does this apply to me and how I behave?

A:        It may be worth keeping in mind that simply saying ‘no’ to a request could be perceived as an insult – and hence, a loss of face. So if you can’t grant a request, propose an alternative.

Q:        Such as?

A:        Let’s say that after a long and successful meeting, your Chinese colleague asks you to dinner. This would mean that he wants to conclude the agreement at a more personal level. But let’s say you can’t accept his invitation, as you need to meet with his competitor or review the accounting papers he gave you. Both are valid reasons – but you can’t use them.

Q:        What should I say instead?

A:        Use words like ‘inconvenience’ or ‘difficulty.’ You could say something like, ‘I’m very sorry, it will be difficult this time,’ or ‘it’s not very convenient today.’ Then add something like, ‘Why don’t we do it another time? What about next Friday? Let me invite you.’ In which case, of course, you would host.