Launching out in audiobook narration and voice over

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Wednesday March 27, 2019

Launching out in audiobook narration and voice over

Aiming for the stars? No, but the strong foundation provided by Audio Masterclass’s Foundation Program helped audiobook narrator Clive Johnson set course on a new trajectory.

As a narrator, I was first drawn to producing audiobooks through my love of storytelling and performance, not to mention the encouragement of my vocal coach and a few of my friends who you told me that they thought I had a good voice for this sort of work. The easy 'matchmaking' of author to narrator/producer service offered by ACX, the Amazon company that handles audio production for Audible, provided an easy entry point - especially since I had already gained experience narrating a few books that I had written myself.

However, feeling confident in recording and being sufficiently comfortable to handle a little editing did not mean that I had any competence as a producer. This is, perhaps, a dilemma for ACX - it wants to encourage authors and narrators to produce creative work but, understandably, it also sets a high standard to ensure that what listeners buy is of acceptable quality and consistency. But, I suspect, few new voice talents are likely to also be trained audio producers. Tutorials and videos offered by ACX's University offer helpful tips for beginners, but inevitably, these can only go so far.

Having had some very limited experience in radio editing, and taken a BBC course in reporting and editing, I felt ready to try my hand at combining the two very different skill sets of performing and producing. However, it quickly became apparent to me that even the basics of mastering can't be learned from a book.

My early attempts at production usually passed ACX quality checking, but more by luck than knowledge and skill - I paid too little attention to acoustics and getting my initial recordings right, made regular use of noise reduction, and blindly applied a 'template' process of compressing and equalizing that, through trial and error, seemed to normally pass ACX's tests, without really knowing what I was doing. Terms like 'RMS' and 'maximum noise floor' were more-or-less alien to me.

This approach simply wasn't good enough. Clients may have been happy hearing someone reading their work, but I soon became aware that I was out of my depth in what is a professional and complex field.

Embarking on Audio Masterclass's Foundation program was a revelation for me. While billed as being introductory, it nonetheless covered a lot of ground, and introduced far more detail than I had expected. Crucially, it helped me understand what I was doing wrong, and clearly explained many concepts that had previously been a mystery to me.

Combined with expert advice to any questions that I asked, very comprehensive feedback to assignments, and many video and audio combinations showing the effects of different microphone positions for recording different instruments and the like, the course gave me an appreciation of the many dimensions and intricacies of sound production that I didn't have before.

For someone who records speech for what is intended as mono output, if occasionally including a little pre-recorded music in their productions as a bed or mix, it might be argued that the training went far beyond what I needed. Mixing, integrating the audio qualities of different musical instruments, appreciating the challenges of sound engineering at live events, packaging a music CD, and more - these might be thought to be beyond what a humble audiobook narrator might need.

Yet, I found exposure to this bigger picture and the accompanying assignments to be invaluable in setting a wider context for the work that I do, as well as greatly improving my capacity to carefully listen to and be critical of my own work.

This, perhaps, has been one of the greatest takeaways for me - a desire to improve and give my best. Often, I was dissatisfied with some of the assignment work that I submitted, knowing that there was scope for improvement, but was usually pleasantly surprised with the feedback that I received. I think that self-criticism and an awareness that there's always something new to learn will be important for me going forward, and I know that I have a long way to go!

If nothing else, while knowing that my own ambitions in the world of audio production may be limited, I have come away from the training with a new-found respect for professionals whose many years of experience and skill has come about through hard-grafting and much learning. I feel much more confident too that I can produce my own voice work with a sensitivity and care that I didn't have before.

Clive Johnson is a voice talent and narrator/producer. He is happy to consider auditions for any voice work. Find out more about Clive, and listen to samples of his work at

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