Volunteer Feature - Recording Audiobooks
The Art of Reading Dhamma Books
Over recent years about a dozen different narrators have been involved in the recording of Pariyatti's audiobooks. Sophia, one of our regular volunteering voices, was happy to share her experience and tell all about the process.
It all began, Sophia said, when she was eager to learn more about the Dhamma after completion of her first 10-day Vipassana course. She headed straight to Pariyatti.org when she got home, and ordered The Art of Living. While reading the print book, Sophia listened to the audiobook at the same time, something she said she enjoyed very much. “I was so grateful [that it was available]. Somehow the audio deepened my reading experience,” she said. As Sophia already had an audio-visual background (she studied film and television and recorded and mixed sound for various projects), she got in touch with us as soon as she realized Pariyatti worked with volunteers. “I thought about how wonderful it would be if I too could record such audiobooks for Pariyatti.” Sophia has now been involved with Pariyatti for a few years, recording four titles, including Inspiration from Enlightened Nuns and Mudita.
What does an audio recording process look like?
Once a title has been decided on, Sophia said the first step was creating a sample track. “It is useful to get feedback at an early stage as this allows for changes in acoustics and microphone placement to be made before the bulk of the chapters are recorded. To guarantee a constant audio quality throughout the book, recordings need to be done from the same place at all times, using the same set-up.” The actual recording may take days, weeks or months, Sophia said, depending on what life brings. Generally speaking, Sophia dedicates about three hours at a time to recording, and early Sunday morning has her preference (before the birds get up, with the rest of the neighborhood sleeping in). “My microphone is ultra-sensitive, it can even pick up cars starting, or birds chirping, or the wind blowing through the house. Sophia uses a portable H4n Zoom Recorder and a Sony Lavalier Microphone, she also finds it particularly helpful to read from an eReader. “Scrolling doesn't make the shuffling sound [that turning pages makes]”, she said. It’s best to use good quality equipment to begin with. “It can really help the listener have a wonderful experience of the great content of the book you are reading.”
What about mental preparation for the reading itself?
Before beginning, Sophia practices mettā, keeping in mind the listeners who will benefit from the audiobook down the road. “This mindset is helpful to overcome the obstacles you may face during the recording session.” Sophia said over time she also learned she didn’t have to wait until she felt completely ready to start recording, noticing it usually takes her at least 10 minutes of reading before she finds her rhythm. “In those first 10 minutes, I run into errors while speaking, stopping in the middle of a sentence or stumbling on words. But after the first bit, I fall into a natural rhythm and the text flows much more easily. Over time I learned it is best to start before I feel ready. In the doing of it, I become ready!”
When Sophia runs into something when recording that she’s unsure about, she records it anyway. “It is easier to work with something [for editing] than not have anything at all.”
After recording, Sophia does a first edit herself (on a Mac with the program GarageBand), before sending it to our publisher. “My aim is to send [the tracks] as clean as possible, [without] the obvious gaps and ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. This way [the publisher] can focus on errors I couldn’t have picked up myself,” Sophia said, “mostly pronunciation errors in English or Pāli.”
Although the publisher helped her out with the correct pronunciation of some of the words, Sophia was quite a natural. “It was easier than I first thought because I grew up speaking and reading Hindi, [which phonetically is not too far away from Pāli].”
When corrections needed to be made, Sophia said it worked best for her to do it as soon as possible. “By this time, I am eager to have the piece completed so I may even do the corrections on a weekday evening after work, instead of delaying it to the next Sunday morning. After I send over the corrections, that's really it. In rare situations, I send a redo on the corrections themselves but they usually are very quick - often one or two words instead of entire sentences or paragraphs.”
Then, it is all in our publisher’s court, who edits it together, making the various chapters into separate tracks. Although the narrators do take care of recording in silent areas, the publisher cleans the audio up further and tries to make it more comfortable on the ears. Lastly, track metadata and cover art get added to the audio files which are then uploaded to Pariyatti's website. An audiobook is then ready for you to benefit from!