Towards / Toward: Recording an Audiobook

What the engineer’s reading

“Candlewick on Brilliance Audio presents The Starlight Claim by Tim Wynne-Jones, performed for you by the author.” That’s the opening of the “IES” I recorded this past week. I’m not sure what IES stands for – kind of an intro / extro — but it was a huge relief saying those words into the mic at the end of two days of recording, roughly ten hours, in all. I’ll say more about the new book in my next post but for now I’m still high on the recording session. 

This was my second time. I recorded The Ruinous Sweep last spring down at Brilliance Audio headquarters in pretty, little Grand Haven, Michigan. I had to audition to get the gig. I know what you’re thinking: Really? Well, the truth is, three earlier titles of mine had been made into audiobooks by Brilliance and were, as far as I was concerned… well, brilliant. Therefore, it was with trepidation that I even asked to try out. I was truly pumped to get the nod and not a little frightened. It all went swimmingly. The Ruinous Sweep audiobook even cadged an “Earphones”Award from Audiofile Magazine. 

This time, we were at DB Audio, in Toronto. The image above is generic; it’s the kind of thing the engineer is seeing on the other side of the glass from the reader’s cubbyhole. On this occasion the engineer was Evan Desjardins. He was wearing headphones, of course, as were the director and I, but the engineer is the one actually seeing the recording, looking for the manifestation of extraneous sounds on the screen, like when I forgot to put my cell phone on airplane mode after a break and it vibrated in my pocket. He’s also on the lookout for stuff that maybe sounds “chewy” – one of his favorite descriptors. A good ear aided by a good eye and an all-around good guy. Thanks, Evan.

The director was Tom Park who has done a ton of commercials and voice work. He’s got one of those voices you’ve heard a hundred times, mellow and modulated, and oh so soothing to have in my ear, bringing me down to earth, when I was stumbling or racing through an exciting passage. (There are a lot of those in The Starlight Claim.) Tom lives in Muskegon, Michigan and that’s where he was for the taping. He alluded to the idea that he just might still be in his pajamas. Tom skyped in and had the same feed in his headphones as the engineer. Tom would catch me when the sound was getting wet or sloppy. He’d also catch me when tiredness was making my voice blurry. At one point he suggested a lunch break because he heard my stomach rumble — all the way down in Muskegon. Ah, modern technology.  

I kept using the Canadian “towards” instead of the American “toward.” Since the book is published in the States, we were using American spelling and style so the word on the page said “toward” and that’s what I should have been saying. You wouldn’t believe how often it came  up. 

But the best part of working with a director was having someone monitor my pace, reining me in when I was speeding, acknowledging the high and low points, and making sure any accents I used for different voices stayed distinct and uniform throughout. Thanks, Tom. 

It’s fascinating to add recording to the end of the writing process. Most writers I know would admit that by the time they’ve dealt with the final copy edits on a book they never want to read it again. Yeah, you’ve got to pick out a quotable passage for public readings but other than that, “Hasta la vista, baby.” That’s certainly been true for me. Then there was that first audiobook (The Uninvited, read by Angela Dawe) and it was a real treat to partake of the story again. It was as if it was no longer mine – in a good way – and I could enjoy the choices she made in her interpretation of the text.

Never reading the story again after copy edits is not an option when you get the gig of recording it yourself. And this, obviously, has to be a focused read, no skimming, no zoning out, no losing the thread. (Every dip in energy gets caught – “How about we do that again, Tim.”) And this reinforces, in a big way, something I’ve said to writing students for years. This kind of zeroing in on every single word is exactly why you need to read your manuscript out loud in the revision process. The ear is a far better editor than the eye in catching redundancies, unintended rhyme and – let’s face it – general clunkiness. You might even catch an uninvited “s” at the end of “toward.” 

Anyway, a huge thanks to the good people at Brilliance Audio who in each of my two experiences has made an exciting and scary — not to mention exhausting – process truly rewarding. 

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