Recording My Audiobook
Happy Publication Day! The Ghost Bride was (finally) published on August 6th!!
In a burst of optimism, I auditioned to read my own audiobook and was actually approved. I was very excited about this, as reading aloud is a favourite activity with my kids and brings back happy memories from my childhood when my father read all the Chronicles of Narnia to us.
Apparently, audiobooks are more popular than ever. In fact, a number of people have told me that they hardly digest books in any other form nowadays. The reasons for this ranged from “I don’t have any time” to “I like to listen to books when I’m driving”. And of course, there was the Big Caveat. “I can’t stand it when the narration is horrible”. Uh oh.
Now that reality was upon me, I suddenly realized that I should have been spending all my free time preparing character voices, practicing pacing etc. Instead, I had been doing things like cooking crustaceans and wondering what kind of snacks to serve at book readings.
Before the studio recording session, I had a phone conversation with Susan Stone who was going to direct me. Yes, it turns out that studio recordings are directed much like plays are, in terms of pacing, emotion etc. After going through the logistics of the 4 days booked for studio time, she gave me a number of pointers. Such as avoiding dairy for a few days before recording as it tends to stuff you up. Also, consuming apples/apple juice in between takes helps because they contain pectin that coats your mouth and makes things sound smoother. “Oh, and don’t wear any noisy clothing”, she added. Apparently they’d once had an aging rockstar come in to read his memoirs and the sensitive microphone had picked up the squeaks from his leather pants.
“How about yoga pants?” I said hopefully.
“Perfect!” she said. I was already smitten with Susan and this only cemented my high opinion of her.
On the first day of recording, I staggered off to the studio with the book script that my publisher had sent me. This was a stack of paper roughly the size of a 15 lb sack of rice, printed in a large font for easy reading and organized so that every page concluded with the end of a sentence. It turns out that digital studio recordings allow you to seamlessly cut out things like the sound of flipping paper, coughs, and things like elevator rumblings. In the old days, as Miik Dinko, the friendly sound engineer, told me, they used to cut out sections from spools of recording tape. Now, it can all be done on a computer.
I was very impressed, especially when Miik took the time to settle me in and adjust the microphone and seat. He did this every day of the recording, in case the mike had been moved in the interim. Apparently it was a rather sensitive and expensive microphone.
“How expensive?” I asked.
“About $7000,” he said. “So don’t throw up on it.”
Gingerly, I sat down. A professional recording booth is basically a sound proof box with a glass window and a two way microphone, rather like a high-tech hamster cage. The outer room is where your director and sound engineer sit, together with computers and boards with lots of terrifying dials and switches.
And then we started recording.
I’ll never forget the words on the first page that I read. “Harper Audio presents: The Ghost Bride. By Yangsze Choo. This is the author.”
Aaaahhhh! I almost let out an undignified squeak, but there was no time. Also, a squeak would have to be edited out. In any case, there were lots of pages to cover and many many characters. Once again, I felt like kicking myself. Why were there so many people? And why were so many of them old men? Opium-addicted old men, grouchy old men, cunning old men… I tried my best to give them all different voices. Susan kept a log of the characters and what they sounded like, so that she could remind me by replaying previous dialogue with them. She did this every day of the recording which was extremely helpful.
It was surprisingly exhausting work. We recorded for about 6-7 hours a day, with breaks for lunch and snacks (many, many snacks – I ate lots of cookies to prevent stomach rumblings and doused myself with apple juice “for the sake of art”). But it was so much fun. Although I was terrified every time a new character appeared.
Every evening at home, I would hastily look over the next day’s script and practice the voices, all the while berating myself for not prepping months in advance. This kind of carefree attitude was sure to get me into trouble, I thought, conveniently forgetting that I had done this at school too. In addition to old men, there were several old women too. And young people, Dutchmen, and ox-headed demons… Susan’s deft direction kept me in character. Sometimes she and Miik would tell me to do things again. “He’s dying. Make him sound like he’s dyiiiiiiinng!!”
When we were halfway through the recording, Susan remarked, “It’s so nice that you’re doing different voices for characters. Many readers don’t, you know?”
What? I had clearly missed this option. Never mind that (thanks to my kids) I had been listening to a steady diet of books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and had mistakenly assumed that this was the normal way to read an audio book.
But in that dim, underground studio, I fell into the world of the novel. All I could see was the words floating on the pages in front of me; it was such a small, intimate space that it felt as though I was speaking directly to a listener, perhaps somewhere driving in a car, or lying on a sofa with earphones on. Telling them a story in the most old fashioned way.
Thank you so much, Karen Dziekonski (Executive Producer in NYC), Susan Stone (Director), Miik Dinko (Engineer), and the team at John Marshall Media and HarperCollins who made this happen. It was an amazing experience, and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
You can listen to a sample here.
- The Ghost Bride, by (ahem) me! 😉
- Chocolate chip and dried cherry cookies, with lots of apple juice
- Malaysian food mentioned in the book, including kaya toast, begedil (fried croquettes of mashed potato and minced meat), pie tee, and curry laksa.
Do you prefer reading or audio books?