Audio in a time of corona: Q&A with iD Audio’s Casting Director and Studio Manager, Alice Lee

By   Hannah Bickerton 5 min read

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The audio industry has been steadily growing for years, with more publishers and authors than ever opting for the innovative format. whitefox spoke to Alice Lee, Casting Director and Studio Manager at iD Audio, about the production process, the industry’s popularity and the effects of COVID-19.

Can you talk us through the process of creating an audiobook? Are there any specific dos and don’ts you watch out for?

Creating an audiobook starts with the casting. At the end of the day, the success of an audiobook will hinge on the performance of the narrator, so it’s vital to get the right person for the job. The most brilliant actors can be derailed by an accent they aren’t comfortable with or pages of dialogue in a language they don’t speak, so first we ascertain what specific requirements a title has and then we find a reader for it. The script will then need to be thoroughly prepped, which is a collaborative process between actor, studio and publisher. The narrator will have read through the script forensically and should ensure they are comfortable with how they will read everything in the text. The studio is on hand to help research pronunciations or tackle any other queries. The actual recording will take place with a producer, who will assist the narrator to ensure a great recording from both a technical and performance perspective. Then the audio will be edited and sent to a proofreader. At this point any errors will be flagged and the reader may be asked back into the studio for pick-ups. The final book is then mastered and delivered to the publishers.

How has COVID-19 impacted iD Audio and the production process? How do socially distanced and remote recordings take place?

The pandemic has had a very marked impact on the way we work, but not on the amount we produce! When the studio initially closed we were in the position of having to quickly find ways of recording actors in their homes. On the whole, this has been a huge success and we managed to keep the vast majority of recordings going. But there have been compromises on quality and many hurdles, which have made things challenging and stressful for actors and producers alike. Everyone has been very relieved that the studio has slowly been able to reopen. It’s quite perfectly designed for social distancing since the control room and booth are distinct sealed spaces. We have found the challenges are keeping communal areas from getting too much traffic and making sure the studios are fully sanitised between sessions.

Since iD Audio launched, how has the audio industry changed?

The biggest change in the audio industry has been the exponential growth! When I first started producing audiobooks nearly ten years ago, publishers were selective about the titles they would make an audio edition for, but it seems readers are now expecting an audio version for every book and publishers are determined to meet that demand. The growth of the industry has also made space for increased creativity – from nature books recorded in fields to sci-fi titles recorded with a live cast of twenty – and we are seeing more and more innovative recording ideas. It’s good fun and keeps us on our toes when we are presented with a title and need to come up with a creative plan to make it work in audio.

What is the relationship between a book and its audiobook? Would you say an audiobook is the extension of the book or does it feel separate and unique after production has finished?

This is an interesting question and I think the answer is that it varies hugely. I think the audio should never be undervalued, and even with a straight read of a text the actor will have given something to the words in their performance. With other titles this can be more marked. The increased popularity in audiobooks has given publishers space to invest in titles, we have produced books which are edited together with bespoke soundscapes, and recorded children’s titles which become full productions with sound effects and music. With these, certainly the audio becomes its own distinct thing. You also definitely get something more with work read by the author, particularly with memoir – having someone’s words in their own voice is undoubtedly more intimate and special.

As a casting director, how do you go about choosing the right person to record an audiobook? What makes an author more suited to their book than a professional reader, in some instances?

I always have a voice in my head as I’m reading. As a casting director I’m in the very privileged position of getting to match that voice to a real-life recording. Over the years I have become very familiar with a lot of actors’ work and the things they can do best. Sometimes I come to a script and it’s immediately obvious to me who should be reading it. Other times it’s less clear and then the hunt is on! We can be called upon to find very specific voices – any character that an author can think up can be a character we have to find a voice for! This week alone I’ve cast the voice of an adolescent squirrel and a 300-year-old astronaut… Non-fiction can be a different process and these are the instances where an author’s own voice is more appropriate, particularly with a memoir.

What do you think is the future of audio and audiobooks?

I think that the sky’s the limit. I expect that productions will just keep getting bigger and better. Publishing is such a vital aspect of society, it would be hard to overstate the importance and value of people sharing stories, worlds and ideas, and I would hope that audiobooks continue to facilitate and elevate that process even higher.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.