Book Knowledge

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Book Knowledge

Audio books, or what used to be called "books-on-tape," are gaining in popularity now that listeners can easily download them to their portable listening device. In the old days, you had to fumble with a box of tapes or CDs. Now, thanks to software like iTunes, you put a whole library in your pocket. The ease of getting an audio book is exponentially easier with on-line stores like iTunes, Amazon, and Audible. Just like the print market, there's an audio book for just about anything. If you want a book for self-help, do-it-yourself, travel, humor, history, etc., it's out there. And the line between audio books and audio programs is dissolving.

Traditional audio books were simply the text of a printed book read aloud. Now, the origin can be the audio book itself, with no printed version available. And you're not limited to narration. Add sound effects, backgrounds, and music to bring it to life. We recently produced a children's audio book "The Emperor of Time" for author Greg King. He wanted the audio book to have its own presence apart from the book, so we embellished it with lush music and sound effects, accented by Greg's different character voices. The result was an hour-long odyssey for children. In addition to that, a full-color ebook is available that turns the pages of the book along with the audio. That's a fully rich experience.

With podcasts, Internet radio, audio books, ebooks, and other new ways to deliver content, the audio world we once knew has changed. The method of production is still the same though, but the way it reaches the listener has evolved. You still have to have a compelling message, an engaging story, and good production to stand out. You also still have to market and get in front of buyers. But the listeners are closer than before, just a click away.

Dynamix Tech Notes

For the narrator, an audio book can be a beast. It can also be a beast for the engineer and producer. We're usually talking days of just reading. Each person involved has to concentrate for an unusual amount of time. Change, add, or miss a word, and the whole context of the story can change. It's essential that the narrator control breathing, pace the read, keep the reading volume even, and take breaks. For the engineer and producer, following along and taking good notes is a must. For anyone reading this who has either performed, recorded, or edited an audio book, you're nodding your head. The only thing you can compare it to is a cross-country drive. Everything starts to look the same after a while - the lines on the highway, the signs, the landscape, the burger joints, the radio stations, and the sound of the tires. Concentration is a must to keep from driving off the road.

The other element is a good room to record in. When we recorded UK Basketball Coach John Calipari's book "Bounce Back," we were in our old location sharing close quarters with another production company. Since we shared hallways and HVAC units, we had to close doors and shut off air (so the microphones wouldn't hear the air rumble) to several rooms - and this was in July. You can only imagine the discomfort everybody was in, plus having to tiptoe around for two days.

When we built our new facility, our main goal was to have a completely isolated VO room with HVAC that could run throughout the session. We accomplished that with floating rooms and a highly baffled HVAC. We've talked about the floating floors before, but the HVAC system is unique. The main unit is located downstairs (our studios are on the second floor) on the opposite side of the building from the VO rooms. All of the feed ducts use insulated quiet board to reduce the sound from the blower. It then runs through insulated flexible tubing that is snaked loosely to further reduce sound. Then the air goes through a custom built baffle (like a car muffler) that further reduces noise. At the end is a filter. And this is just one path. There is a duplicate return path for the intake. This is for two VO rooms, so a total of four baffled paths were built that run directly to the HVAC unit. The other rooms upstairs have independent flow paths as well, so noise can't be cross polluted between rooms. You have to turn the microphones and speakers up all the way to even faintly hear the HVAC. But the microphone, mixer, and speaker self-noise usually are louder that the air flow noise. What does this mean? More comfort for everyone involved - you don't have to put on extra underarm deodorant!

Neil Kesterson

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