Twisted50 Audiobook Secret Diary… Entry Four, by Helen Lloyd

I love making audiobooks … not only the reading, but also the editing and pulling everything together.

When I was a television producer (I used to produce factual programmes for ITV in the Midlands many years ago) when working with an editor, I tended not to watch the pictures … because I knew that if I got the story through listening alone, then it would work.

I don’t think television programmes these days pay enough attention to audio … so often the sound quality is poor, the commentaries are boring and repetitive … and what is being said (and how it is being said) doesn’t enhance the story.

Obviously I exclude the wonderful Planet Earth and the emotive and empathetic commentary by Sir David Attenborough from this criticism – but few TV programmes have that budget, or the time to craft the commentary in such detail.

But back to audiobooks. When editing audio, you’re obviously listening for errors – and those have to be sorted out first of all, but there are other tiny distractions. I am always monitoring through headphones playing audio at fairly high levels: there are almost always mouth noises, clicks and pops, intrusive breaths that need to be manually removed. And then there’s timing.

Very often the narrator is so caught up in the story that their read may not give the listener time to absorb the facts, or the atmosphere. Sometimes the timing is too slow, pauses may be so long that the energy level suddenly drops away to nothing. Pauses may also be in the wrong places. When reading aloud it is normal to follow punctuation pauses, you automatically pause at a comma but that punctuation may be in the wrong place … it may not be helping to move the story forwards.

It fascinates me how minutely changing the pace of something, lengthening or tightening a pause by a fraction of a second can enhance the atmosphere and emotion of a read.  Of course, you need a good performance to work with … you can’t create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear … and sometimes a read needs no editing at all. Some of the stories for twisted 50 will have a couple of hundred tiny edits in them – some will have only three or four.

The important thing is to use your ears … and your eyes … editing audio is a visual skill too using a wonderful tool called spectral editing, where the audio has a visual aspect … here’s a quick screenshot to illustrate.

But the most important thing to remember is that that edited audio should always sound better than the unedited version. If it doesn’t then something is going very wrong!

Helen Lloyd.

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