How much do you know about your ear? Your ear hears a wide range of sounds, from the softest whisper to the loudest explosions. And with the brain, the ear determines the direction of a sound, the size of a room, the proximity of a sound, and even to some degree, the type of material used to make the sound. Your ears and the auditory system accomplish these feats quickly and efficiently daily.
Why talk about ears and audiology (how we hear)? Because an understanding of this aids in creating the best audiobook–an audiobook recording that is pleasing to the listener, increases their understanding, and reduces audio fatigue.
An average human ear is about 2.5 inches long and not fully grown until the age of ten. But that’s not the size we’re interested in here.
We want to consider how the ear determines spatial size.
The ear determines area or room size by analyzing room reflections based on the time it takes for sounds to arrive at the ear. The brain identifies a small space when these first reflections arrive quickly at the ear. The longer the time delay before we hear the early reflections, the larger the space.
Large cathedrals have a very long delay time, while a small, tiled room’s reflections will arrive at the ear very quickly. Combine these stimuli with your sense of sight, and your brain confirms its surroundings.
“SEEING” WITH YOUR EARS
Suppose you entered an unknown, dark room, or you couldn’t rely on your sense of sight. Your brain would depend upon your auditory sense to help you determine the spatial relationship. While you may not know where walls are, you can “feel” where obstacles are by sensing the minute changes in the reflection time. As you slowly approach a wall, the auditory reflection time gets shorter. The brain compares these signals and makes the determination that you are getting closer to something.
Similarly, your ear assesses how close or far a person is when speaking by their volume and the amount of other noises mixed with their speech.
Because our ears assess distance by hearing sounds accurately, “soundproof rooms,” or rooms that have been treated to reduce or eliminate reflected sounds, confuse the brain. They don’t sound natural when one sits silently in one of these rooms. In these situations, the brain strains to hear something, even the faintest bit of acoustical stimuli. However, recording in these environments is desired because the lack of acoustical reflections doesn’t distract or confuse the listener. Acoustic reflections can destroy intelligibility in a recording. Recording in a soundproof room is ideal because it produces fewer distractions. Just know it might be unnerving sitting in silence. Once you start talking and hear something, your ear will adjust.
Multiple reflections arriving at the ear at different times create an effect called reverberation. The reflections creating reverberation are so dense and closely spaced that it is difficult to determine the individual repeats. Too much reverberation and the original signal can become unintelligible.
Let’s take reverberation a step further.
When you are talking to someone across the room, say 15 feet away, you must talk louder and more distinctly to overcome the physical distance and room reflections. The closer you get to the person, the less you need to project, and you don’t have to enunciate as clearly.
Imagine that you are right next to them, talking into their ear. Less distance to overcome. Your volume is significantly reduced not to startle or harm them, and room reflections are eliminated because the direct sound from your mouth masks any reflected sound. We naturally adjust because, through experience, we know approximately how much volume is needed for certain distances. This is why talking to an elderly person who is losing their hearing can feel unnatural as we speak louder than we are accustomed to with someone nearby.
HOW THIS APPLIES TO A GOOD AUDIOBOOK
Let’s apply our newly found “ear knowledge” to recording an audiobook. We want to take all precautions to eliminate anything that might come between you, a professional recording, and an enjoyable listening experience for your reader.
If the audiobook is recorded in a high ambient location, it will be difficult for the listener to understand–too much reflection and reverberations. Their brain will work to figure out what’s wrong instead of soaking up your great book.
But there are steps you can take. (For greater details on studio setup and the 12 steps to create the best audiobook, read this.)
Reflections are called “acoustic slap” and can destroy intelligibility and be a distraction. An intimate conversation is the goal for the “sound” of an audiobook. So, we want to eliminate as much acoustic slap as possible. This not only enhances intelligibility but simulates an intimate conversation. When a friend whispers to us, we pay close attention because a whisper signals trust, sharing a secret, or intimacy.
Therefore, it is necessary to record in an environment free from ambient noise and reflections. Hard walls or surfaces near the microphone, such as a desktop, walls, or hard parallel surfaces, will cause noise and reflections, degrading your recording and causing your listener to labor to understand you.
To create a reflection-free sound:
- Avoid recording locations with parallel surfaces,
- Place or hang a blanket on hard surfaces to absorb reflected sounds from re-entering the microphone,
- Avoid exterior walls,
- Add absorbing material to tile floors, wood paneling, glass, or hard surfaces,
- Consider and eliminate sound distractions (heater, air conditioner, garage door, computer hum, other people, pets, etc.)
Absorbing or diffusing the reflected sounds is crucial in creating the sound desired in an audiobook.
Level consistency is also very important because volume, many times, indicates proximity. A louder sound is interpreted by the brain as being closer to the individual, while a softer sound seems farther away. We want to achieve a consistently close distance. This keeps the listener’s mind engaged and not distracted by sudden shifts in volume. You don’t want to sound like you’re moving around from far and close and close and far while recording. A consistent volume and distance from the mic also relieves the listener from the need to adjust the volume while listening.
A consistent distance from the microphone is paramount to achieving this. It is amazing how slight deviations will significantly change the intimacy of the sound and the volume level. While these can be corrected in post-production, it is more difficult. And, if not accomplished correctly, the change in the audio can be jarring to the listener. Care must be taken to keep consistency in the recording process. (To learn even more about close-miking and other key terms for audiobook recording, read my blog: Key Terms to Know Before You Record Your Audiobook.
YES, THAT’S YOU
Probably the largest hurdle for authors to overcome is embracing the sound of their voice.
I always hear, “I hate the sound of my recorded voice! It sounds so different!” My response is usually, “Your voice is different from what you hear, but what you hear in your head is inaccurate.” The sound of your recorded voice is what everyone else hears and enjoys. This is because we hear our voice through the bones in our head, which, depending upon bone structure and sinus resonance, is very different from what others hear.
Don’t be too hard on yourself! Others know your real voice better than you, so trust them to give you an honest evaluation. And know that your voice sounds just fine to the rest of us.
RECORD YOUR AUDIOBOOK
Now that you have a little more knowledge about sound, the human ear, and how sound is processed by your brain, you can be one step closer to recording a professional audiobook.
The number of readers looking for an audiobook version of their next read is skyrocketing. They like to listen and learn or listen and enter new worlds while they work out, ride in the car, or cook dinner. And some readers enjoy the information more when they hear it from the author or a selected narrator.
So listen up. And why not go for it? Record your audiobook for the same reason you wrote your book in the first place! You know it best. Don’t neglect a huge potential audience by not recording your audiobook. If you take the time to do it right…you, your ears, your business, and your listeners will thank you.
I hope you hear me when I say, “An audiobook helps you reap big rewards in your influence, impact, and income.” Sound like fun?