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With the changes in technology and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions, many people have chosen (or been forced) to look for alternative ways of making a living. One of the side hustles that some people are considering is to record audio books for the growing market of individuals who listen to audio books while working, commuting, or any other hands-free activity.
Making a living reading audio books is a way of tapping into a growing market for alternative reading formats. The investment in technology and tools is minimal, and the sources that will pay for finished products are readily available.
Reading audio books for income is more than just speaking into your phone or other recording device. As with any type of freelance or corporate business, you must identify the tools, marketplace, and skills which are necessary to be successful. Here are some tips to help you get started.
How to create an income source using your reading skills
Becoming an audio book narrator is more than just reading the words on the page into a recording device. The narrator is an actor that is able to convey emotion and imagery without departing from the author’s text. If you listen to some examples of audio books done by volunteers or by actors, you begin to get a feel for the way the voice can be one of the tools to improve a listener’s enjoyment of and immersion in the book.
Acquire your equipment
If you are building your reputation as an audio book reader, you will need certain pieces of equipment. While you can practice on anything that allows you to listen to the results, better sound quality requires some understanding of how to operate recording devices.
At a minimum, you will need a good microphone, a headset, and a pop filter. While a full size recording studio probably is an investment difficult to justify if you are just starting out, you need to be able to filter out the sounds that don’t belong in the recording. Finally, you need reliable recording or sound editing software.
A high-quality microphone is the most essential piece of equipment you’ll need when recording an audio book. Most computers and tablets have built-in mics, but these have difficulty blocking background and ambient noise. A cardioid condenser microphone is a good choice when you are recording narration for an audio book. This type of mic comes with technology which blocks background noise and picks up only your voice.
Headphones permit the voice actor to monitor the recording. With a quality pair of headphones, you can listen to your audio and see if there are any background disturbances. It is important to obtain feedback on how you sound soon after you record. Listening to your own voice helps you to improve your overall presentation and also permits you to hear any mistakes or unwanted sounds immediately so they can be edited out.
Plosives can be a challenge for those who are new to the sound of their voice while recording audio. Plosives are a type of vocal sound that creates a sharp puff of air when compression is released. The air can cause an audible ‘pop’ when it hits the microphone, and is unpleasant to experience for listeners. It is difficult to remove such unwanted sounds after recording because they can’t be equalized.
Pop filters help you to avoid those audio thumps. A pop filter is a thin screen of metal which breaks up the air puffs, so they do not hit the microphone. The devices are affordable. They work on any microphone, and are very easy to attach and adjust. You will need to check the angle and distance of the filter to suit the distinctions of your own audio performance.
The right type of computer or mobile device is necessary to capture your work in the best way. Most households have at least one computer available, but there are some features to consider if you are ready to purchase a new computer. These include your budget, the RAM, and the portability of the equipment.
Budget is the most significant factor to consider when getting a computer for sound recordings. If you already have a computer with over 8GB of RAM and good processing speed, you shouldn’t need to get a different device. If you choose to have a computer that is dedicated to your audio book narration, you can probably find one in the $300 to $600 range which will meet your needs.
Random access memory (RAM) is another essential component to consider when setting up your audio book recording studio. A minimum of 8GB of RAM is a critical factor in determining the speed and performance of your computer’s sound editing capacity.
Portability of the equipment can also be a factor. While you may not plan to move equipment around while recording books, the right equipment and setup will allow you to expand your side hustle opportunities beyond books.
Recordings can easily be destroyed because of ambient noise. Sound travels via vibrations, which must be stopped in order to soundproof a room. A full-on dedicated soundproofed studio room is not necessary. Choose a quiet room in your home or apartment and add a few acoustic foam panels to start your recording space without noise problems.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and audio editing software
A DAW allows you to edit and manage all your audio files within a simple interface. Mac users have recording software called Garageband already installed. Garageband allows users to create projects, manage and share files, and reduce noise. For PC users, Audacity is free and allows for duplication, blending and cutting multiple sound documents together. You can also change the pitch of the recording.
Post-production is as important as recording. Before releasing a completed audio book project, it is important to ensure that the work sounds professional and polished on Audible or iTunes. Sound engineers use these advanced tools to rearrange audio and manipulate MP3, WAVE, and MPEG-4 files to reach optimal sound quality. You don’t have to be an engineer to use these tools because they are pretty straightforward to operate.
Develop your skills
Once you have a minimum equipment setup, it is time to improve your marketability. Acting is the art of convincing your listeners that they are immersed in the story you are sharing. Good audio book narration showcases fluent, interpretive reading that draws in the audience. Some type of
basic knowledge of acting makes a huge difference when making the transition to narration. The narrator must embody different characters while telling stories.
You must be able to differentiate between multiple characters, sometimes with different accents and dialects. The listener needs to be able to hear the difference between multiple characters in a single scene, without the benefit of a camera.
If you have the ability to utilize accents fluently, that may add to your profitability in the industry. Learn to vary pitch, pace, and volume to improve the reader’s understanding and enjoyment.
If you are not sure about your skill level, a session or two with a voice coach can yield valuable insight and training. Alternatively, you can ask a trusted friend to listen to and critique your work.
Build your stamina
Typically, a professional narrator will record in sessions which total around six hours or so at a time. In practice, it can be difficult to spend that amount of time in one position, while maintaining the emotions and acting which make your work marketable. It is important that you take breaks so that your voice and breath control at the end of the day is as energetic and enjoyable as when you first turned on your equipment.
Breath control is something that you will want to be aware of. Pace your sentence flow and use the written punctuation marks as they were intended by the author.
Create a portfolio
Now is the time to establish a portfolio. Build a library of your own work, choosing different venues and audiences. This will help potential employers to hear your range of experience. Don’t expect to capture high paying jobs initially. The freelancer opportunities are probably the easiest paying positions to get, but there are many volunteer opportunities which are available in the industry as you work at your skills.
Be aware of your reputation
While your voice and the quality of your recordings are what gets you into the industry, it is a mistake to think that they are the only things that will build your customer base. Establish a website and determine how best to use social media platforms to spread the positive features that you offer customers.
In addition to the work you provide, a professional attitude is important. Think of yourself as the CEO of your own business. Customer service is what most reviewers speak about when attaching 5-star rankings about a service or product. Be courteous, be friendly, and be honest in your dealings with every customer. Responding to questions or orders in a timely manner is expected when you have an online presence.
Think about ways that you can get the practice you need. There are networks for almost any topic you can imagine online. In some areas, there are networks for audio books, aspiring writers and more. Volunteer at your local library to read to children or adults. Reading for the blind is a volunteer opportunity which is operated through Librivox.
LibriVox is looking for volunteers to read and record public domain books for their audio book library. The non-profit site selects chapters of books that are in the public domain to read, then releases the audio files for free online. Volunteering for this organization is easy and does not require experience with audio engineering, recording, acting, or public speaking.
Establish yourself on one or more of the freelancer sites. Choose sites that rate customers as well as providers. As you get more accustomed to the ebb and flow of orders, you must be aware of deadlines, as well as all of the business features of this work. You can also establish yourself by going through one of the major audio book publishing sites.
How much can you make selling an audiobook?
Early in your career, you may wonder if you are earning enough to make the process worthwhile to you. Knowing how to price your work can be a challenge, because you are typically paid by the hour of finished audio. In addition to the recording time, you must prepare for the session before you sit down in front of a microphone. If you are doing all of the work yourself, you must also edit the audio to make the final result of high quality. Some audiobook publishers employ sound engineers and studio crew to do the editing work.
Some narrators are members of a union–The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). You can qualify for union membership by narrating just one audiobook under a Union contract. Narrators can also work through an agent. Union members can access health and other benefits.
As a beginner don’t expect to earn top talent paychecks. Some narrators accept royalties of the audiobook sales rather than hourly rates. A combination of royalties and hourly rates is also possible. Some authors choose to do the narration of their own works. The authors may also go to one of the freelancer sites to find a professional narrator to do the reading.
Freelancer rates currently depend on what the customer is willing to pay. In today’s environment, the rate per hour can be anywhere from $10 per finished hour for a freelancing beginner to more than $400 per finished hour for an experienced narrator who is a union member. Some unexpected competition for the best jobs can come from professional actors and actresses who have exceptional speaking voices.
Rates can vary due to many factors, including expertise and experience, location, and market conditions. Experienced narrators may command fees at the high end of the scale, but they also deliver higher quality work, have more specialized areas of expertise, and may work faster.
Contractors who are in the process of building a client base may post audio book narration services at more competitive rates. Rates typically charged by audio book narrators on Upwork are:
- Beginner: $28 per hour
- Intermediate: $79 per hour
- Advanced: $480 per hour
To Narrate or Not?
For the most recent few years, the growth of audio content is outpacing many other industries. The latest push has come from social media.
Slowly but surely, the digital audio medium has become an essential element of the media mix for listeners, as well as advertisers and publishers. In 2022, for the 10th year in a row, the Audio Publishers Association survey of sales showed a double-digit increase in sales of audiobooks. The 28 reporting member firms showed revenue gains of 25% in 2021, which displayed an estimated $1.6 industry sales total. Audiobooks are currently the highest growing segment of publishing. The worldwide market is estimated at more than $3 billion,
If you are a self-starter, and enjoy the idea of working from home, audio book narration may be an exceptional side career for you. You may even decide to make it your full-time work. The benefits of choosing audio work as a career are plentiful. Eliminating the cost of commuting is a huge factor in competitive pricing models of income. There are other savings enjoyed with in-home office sites. Getting established is not terribly capital intensive, and scaling is easy and convenient.