Audiobook clinic: How far can you read without making a mistake?



Let’s play a game.

Take a page of text, settle down in your best reading position and begin to read.


How far did you make it before you made a mistake?

Now, let’s turn up the heat a notch.

Use your computer, or a smart phone, or a tablet, or a handheld recording device of some sort and try the same thing again with the “record” button turned on.

How far did you get this time?

I bet you didn’t make it anywhere near as far as you did the first time.

Why is that?

Because we all become self-conscious when we sit in front of a  microphone and read.

Multiply that feeling of self-consciousness by a factor of approximately one hundred to get a glimpse into the world of an audiobook narrator as she works.

Audio recording is unforgiving.

It captures every sound, every lip smack, every pop when a person says a “p” too loudly.

But never fear.

In the world of digital audio recording, a narrator has the chance at endless do-overs.


Where else in life do we find that?

In these audiobook clinic blogs, I will give you a quick down and dirty about audio recording techniques.

Let’s begin with the do-over.

A do-over in the digital audio world is better known as “punch and roll” recording.

The technique is really quite simple, and it allows a narrator to fix a mistake on the fly without having to re-record a long passage.

Suppose the narrator sneezes in the middle of a sentence.

All she has to do is take the cursor that tracks the audio wave form, place it a few seconds before the sneeze, punch and roll.

I work in a Pro Tools 11.1 environment when I am recording, so I am giving you the technique as it exists there.  But I am sure other digital recording software offers the same capability when it comes to roll and punch.

The thing that makes the punch and roll easy is the “pre-roll.”

So in the example above the narrator has placed the cursor a few seconds before her  mistake.  She has the pre-roll timer set for 2.5 seconds. When she enables the recording, she will hear in her headphones the two and half seconds of audio that comes before the spot where she will begin speaking.  Two and half seconds doesn’t sound like a long time, but for a narrator who has practiced a little it is plenty of time to catch the tempo and feel of the passage so that she can jump in and keep going.  As the narrator reads the passage again, she records over the mistake, her sneeze vanishes, and she continues down the page.

Without the capability to punch and roll, audio recording would be enormously more time-consuming.  It’s already time-consuming enough. I doubt that many voice-over artists can read more than a paragraph or two without a  mistake. Because of that inherent human limitation, they get quite good at punch and roll.

Next time we’ll talk about how to edit an audio session after a narrator has punched and rolled all the way to the end of a chapter.

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  • Roger Summers

    Learning, learning, learning.

  • Thanks for removing the panic – OMG, I messed up!

    When I type, my fingers and brain will often catch a mistake just as I make it – but the timing is such that I’ve moved on.

    I used to correct later with the mouse: select text, retype.

    I’ve found that it is a lot quicker to reach for the backspace key, delete back to where I made the mistake, and retype – a lot like your audio technique – because I type with ten fingers and my wrists resting on a nice soft pad, and moving to pick up the mouse is more time-consuming than just deleting perfectly correct characters until I get back to the incorrect ones, and typing again. Easier on the shoulder, too. Occasionally, if all I did wrong was to leave a space or character out, the back arrow works even more quickly.

    I have never been able to leave a mistake behind and fix it later – it irritates me if I see I’ve made a mistake. Clean copy is what I aim for.

    How does the punch and roll work when you mess up in the middle of a word? You just listen to the 2.5 seconds, and jump in at a complete word when you’re ready?

    • Alicia, I’m with you all the way here. Punch and roll allows a narrator to fix a mistake on the spot so that when he gets ready to do the next level of editing, he is working on audio that doesn’t require a lot of tinkering. To answer your last question, I have found that if I mess up in the middle of a word usually the best bet is to back up to a logical break point in the text and punch and roll there. That usually only involves redoing a few more words and provides a smoother read than attempting to split a word.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    It looks so easy. It sounds so easy. It’s a lie. Narrating is difficult. Even when you don’t make s mistake, you don’t like the way you read a passage and are forever starting over. You, however, have pretty well mastered the technique. If you made a mistake narrating Secrets of the Dead, I didn’t know it.

    • Caleb, thanks. Every audio file in its final form is the result of many, many punch and roll fixes. The beauty of it is that with the software we have available now, the “fixed” version doesn’t sound fixed. At the end what you have is not really a patch but a whole new read. However, as you say, the devil is in the details and it requires a lot of tedious, detailed work to make a book sound fluid.

      • Caleb Pirtle

        It’s a journey many start and only the talented few finish. I’ve started. I’ve met the potholes along the way, and I know the bigger ones are yet to come.

  • Punch and roll, I love that expression! Fascinating, this world of audiobooks! I just was given a free sample audio clip of a passage in my book Crimson Clouds, these were the guys from the Rock Institute (really good, very professional) – I asked them to do something very difficult, in hindsight I realize now what a tall order it was: I asked them to do a dialogue in 2 voices (male and female), the result was fantastic, it sounded just like a radio show, I loved it…But reading your explanation here, I realize what a difficult task it must have been, especially considering they weren’t even sitting in the same room!

    • Claude, multiple read audiobooks, i.e., books where more than one narrator speaks, are a horse of a different color from single read ones. They are much more difficult to edit because, as you suggest, the narrators are not in the same place, or working at the same time. In a case like that the sound engineer has a tougher job. If he runs across a mistake, he may not be able to fix it with the audio he has available and may have to ask one or both of the narrators to re-read a passage or two. This is even more labor intensive than the process I described which is designed to make things go more smoothly for a single narrator working in his own studio.
      That is also why ACX in the U.S. is making such a push for authors to set up home studios and learn how to narrate and produce their own books. That process is much more efficient than having multiple people working on a book at various times. Of course in a single read boo the narrator, whether male or female, has to learn techniques to distinguish different characters and this is not the same as having a male do male voices and a female do female voices.
      But you’re right. The end result of either process is much like listening to a radio show, which is really fun for the listener.

      • Tomorrow I’m going to post on my blog that audio clip done by the guys at the Rock Institute, you’ll be able to judge for yourself, I think they did a splendid job but you might hear that they’re not in the same room (I couldn’t detect that but my son did, so I guess there must be something slowed down somewhere, but truly, I didn’t hear it). And it’s definitely more fun to listen to!

  • Bert Carson

    Learning Adobe Audition has, until today, made me feel like I had been both punched and rolled, in spite of the fact that I own the most two highly touted, Adobe sanctioned, learning tools (Classroom in a Book and Video Lessons). Then today I found Udemy – and Mike Russell, a voice over expert. In fifteen minutes and five short lessons I’ve discovered my problem wasn’t Early Onset Dumb but rather Adobe teaching techniques that leave everything to be desired – I’m back on the trail now –

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