Is there a difference between recording a podcast and an audiobook? You might think, “A recording is a recording, right?” Yes, you record audio for both, but there is a difference in the listener’s expectations.
The audio quality difference between an audiobook and a podcast is similar to the difference a reader expects between a printed book and a newspaper.
Whether in print or digital formats, a newspaper is a fast-moving source of information. The content changes quickly as news and current events change at a moment’s notice. Because news is transient, the goal is to get the information out to the public quickly. “Don’t hold the press!” is a common exclamation to reporters waiting to file the last nugget of information before going to press. Because of the urgency of the medium, consumers’ expectations are lower. They expect to see inexpensive paper, maybe some spelling errors, and even tolerate smudging ink. And the reader is not concerned if what is printed today is out of date by tomorrow. Speed is the focus when producing a daily publication.
Fleeting or Forever? Podcast And An Audiobook
However, a reader of a printed book has different expectations. They expect higher quality paper, ink that doesn’t require hand-washing, quality illustrations, ideas that stand the test of time or at least last beyond tomorrow, and even the smell for some. Rarely, if ever, is a newspaper treated with the same respect.
The varying expectations are similar for an audiobook and a podcast.
A podcast is “newsy” in nature, raw, transient, and quickly replaced. The listener understands that the audio quality is organic, and has background noise, off-mic comments, room noise, and vocal mistakes. This is not the case with an audiobook.
An audiobook listener expects to have a quality product that sounds professional: no clicks, no pops, no verbal blunders, no distracting room noise, no buzzes, no awkward pauses, mistakes, or vocal fillers. The expectation for an audiobook is a polished studio sound. The listener wants to be drawn into the story and not distracted. The goal is a welcoming, mistake-free listening experience. The listener wants a warm and inviting delivery from the narrator that exhibits a consistent and natural vocal cadence.
Quality and distraction-free is the goal in audiobook production. And I help authors achieve that through multiple proven techniques.
Plan Before Audiobook Recording
A good audiobook recording starts before you ever speak a word. Planning is key to selecting the right recording environment, the correct microphone, microphone placement, and consistent post-production practices (editing and mastering) to fix any mistakes. No one reads their manuscript without errors. You are human. Mistakes will happen. It is critical to understand and plan for the recording process to produce a quality product without using a professional recording studio.
There are more steps to producing a quality, best-seller audiobook, and I explain those further in this blog.
Music Or Sound Effects
Should there be music in a professional audiobook? The easy answer is no. And yet there are important exceptions to the rule.
Audiobooks range from the “straight read” to the highly produced “radio-drama,” which incorporates sound effects, music, or additional voices for characters.
The content of, and audience for, your book help determine whether music or sound effects are appropriate. And your budget too. As production time increases, so does the cost. Some audiobook distributors have a “no music” policy as it disrupts their WhisperSync technology. Use music or sound effect only if it is not mixed directly under the narration.
I have produced audiobooks where the author desired a particular sound effect played at the end of each chapter. In another production, the author described a beach scene with waves breaking onshore and seagulls in the distance. I mixed several effects to create this environment for a short 20-second period. This additional production fit the quality of the audiobook because it didn’t obscure the narration.
Non-fiction is best delivered with a “straight read,” with the voicing consistent throughout the production. This straight read fits well because a single character gives the message. A straight read is also a good choice for the business and memoir genre.
Fiction lends itself to a higher level of production. Multiple characters with unique voices can strengthen the story. When a talented narrator creates different voices for the principal characters, they must be consistent throughout the production.
Unless an author is gifted in this style of voice acting, I would not recommend they attempt it. A straight read is more pleasing than inconsistent or unconvincing character voices. If you cannot voice your characters consistently, consider using multiple people to voice distinct characters. You may always rely on the reader to do this in their mind. Additional voice talents add time and expense to your budget.
Approach your audiobook with respect and excitement. It is not a fleeting podcast.
Now, I’m not saying all podcasts have an unprofessional sound or exhibit poor production value. Some are very well produced and go to great lengths to maintain a high production standard. Sadly, many miss the mark (but this is also true for many audiobooks). The listener can hear it when authors treat audiobooks as podcasts. The result is a loss of quality, credibility, and influence for the author despite how valuable the information may be.
Your audiobook is not a podcast. It is your manuscript brought to life. And it will last for generations. Avoid the temptation to treat it as anything less.