Audiobook Clinic: Editing to make the book flow
February 7, 2014
A few days ago we talked about how to undo mistakes when a person narrates an audiobook.
Now we will move to the next step.
What happens to the audio file of the narration after the read-through is complete?
The work to convert that audio to a finished, ready for prime time, book has just begun.
The next level of processing the audio is where feel becomes a major part of the equation.
Timing is everything.
In ordinary conversation we are unaware of the subtle timing of our remarks. We don’t think about how long to wait before we reply to a question, or how quickly we respond to an opinion.
Those reactions occur naturally by virtue of a lifetime of experience.
In the world of audiobooks, a narrator/producer, in order to give a book the feel of real life, must learn to mimic the natural timing of spoken language.
That’s a tall order.
I have learned that a tenth of second more or less may make the difference between chicken soup and chicken poop in a recording.
When a narrator completes her reading of a chapter, she has created what audio nerds call a “session.” That session consists of a series of “clips.” The clips result from starting and stopping the narration so that the narrator can catch his breath, take a drink of water, correct a mistake, etc. The clips are joined at what I refer to as seams. That’s not a term of art. It’s just what I call them. These seams are the dividers between the bits that make up the whole chapter.
If we assume for a moment that a narrator has a good sense of timing as she reads, then we can see that the real issue to make the entire timing work is to ensure that the transition between the clips is correct.
Imagine a tile mosaic where each tile is beautiful on its own.
Then imagine gluing the tiles to a background but leaving a half-inch space between each of them so that bare canvass or concrete is visible through the cracks.
That’s the problem the producer faces when he comes to the seams in an audio session.
He must fit the individual tiles together so that their beauty is all the listener hears, sans the stark sight of the bare background.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I work in a Pro Tools 11.1 environment in my audio studio. The steps I mention below apply to that world, but any top-notch audio software will have similar capabilities, although the particular “moves” may be slightly different.
To fit clips together seamlessly, digital audio work stations provide editing tools. In this case the tool in use is a setting called “nudge.” Just as its name implies, a nudge factor allows the producer to move the front or back end of a clip slightly so that it snuggles in next to another clip or gives that clip a bit of the cold shoulder, as the circumstance of the moment requires.
I think the default nudge in Pro Tools is 0.500 seconds (a half second). That doesn’t sound like much time, but, believe me, it is in the world of audio. However a half-second setting is just right to set the timing at the first or last of a chapter. A half second between the chapter announcement and the narration is correct, a couple of seconds at the end of the end of the chapter is right.
But those pesky transitions between seams are unpredictable.
To actually apply a nudge, the producer highlights a clip, sets the nudge factor to a particular value (I usually use 0.100 seconds), and then uses keyboard commands to slide the clip right or left by the nudge factor. So if I wanted to add a tenth of a second to the end of a clip, I would do this: highlight the clip, press CRTL and hit the + sign once on the number pad. The ALT key activates the nudge on the beginning of a clip. So to add a tenth of a second to the start of a clip, I would do this: hit ALT then the minus sign. (Don’t ask me why the minus sign adds to the front end of a clip and subtracts from the tail end. It’s just the way it is.)
After a person works with audio clips for a while, he can tell by looking at the waveform where a gap exists or where he needs to add some space. But to be sure he has made the correct adjustment, he must listen to the adjoining clips to see if the timing is correct.
That’s probably enough for now.
Next time we will take the next step, the one where the producer puts all the clips together.