Recording the audiobook

(photo: Brian Liston)

I spent most of last week recording the audiobook of How Not To Be Wrong.  The guy recording this is Brian Liston, proprietor of Clutch Sound, the studio now occupying the space of Madison’s storied Smart Studios, where Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, and many other rock gods/demigods recorded.  I am in the “Shirley Manson vocals” room, apparently.   Here’s what I learned.

  • I had no conception of how much work this would be.  How long does it take you to read ten pages of a book?  It turns out that reading ten pages aloud, and getting a clean recording, takes about an hour.
  • “Statistical” is the hardest word to say in the English language.  Why did I put it in the book so many times?
  • Reading aloud really makes you realize your mistakes.  First of all, there are typos.  Not a ton.  But I sort of thought, after all that editing and copyediting and re-editing and my own basically good spelling and typing, there wouldn’t be any.  Then, too, you see the things that aren’t typos but which you repent of.  Like, I like the word “massive” a lot.  A lot a lot.  Also “incontrovertible.”
  • There are a lot of words I don’t know how to pronounce.  How do you pronounce “artisanal”?  I thought I knew, but I was wrong.
  • When a schoolbus drives by a recording studio, the two-way radio makes a little spaceshippy sound on the line and you have to redo whatever sentence you’re on.
  • If your mouth is wet and it sounds wet you can fix it by eating an apple.
  • If you get hiccups you can cure them quickly by drinking a glass of water through a straw while plugging both your ears with your fingers.
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13 thoughts on “Recording the audiobook

  1. Richard Séguin says:

    I frequently drive by that building while crossing E Washington on Baldwin, and I never realized that that nondescript building is a recording studio. If I had known you could have been in there for the recording sessions, I would have hailed with my horn. :-)

    When I was a student in the 70s, I was occasionally startled by voices from strong nearby CB transmissions coming through my hi-fi loudspeakers. I never did figure out how the signal was being demodulated by my system. Nothing like that has happened in recent memory though.

    I’m still finding typos or other writing sins in my own writing and each time I wonder why I never noticed them before and just shake my head. I think it has something to do with reading (or filling in) what you think should be there rather than what actually is or isn’t there.

  2. vcvpaiva says:

    yes, I also discovered how hard reading aloud (and recording) can be. Must be an awful lot worse when you’re reading your own stuff, as I ended up hating what I was reading (to help a blind friend who wanted to know about art history..)

  3. Richard Séguin says:

    Reading aloud well is an art. A few times I have tried switching to reading aloud when my dog cuddled up next to me, but I was never impressed, and it always ended quickly with an “oh, never mind …” I will never be another Fireside Al.

  4. I still think you should have tried to get Alan Rickman.

    And how do you (or did you) pronounce “artisanal?” Don’t tell me you turned the i into an “ee”? ɑːˈtɪzən(ə)l works for me (the fourth pronunciation here: Since you are an American, I would also accept (but never say) ɑrˈtizən(ə)l.

  5. JSE says:

    I think my natural pronunciation puts approximately equal stress on the first and third syllables, making the second half of the word sound sort of like our favorite math journal. I think I’m aware of the fourth pronunciation at that link, with the stress on “TIS.” But the producer asked for the third pronunciation, which sort of makes sense to me though I wasn’t familiar with it. The second one is awful!

    Another issue is that I pronounce the first syllable of “aesthetic” to rhyme with “base” which is apparently non-preferred. And “haruspex,” nobody knew how to pronounce that, and I use it a lot.

  6. NDE says:

    You use haruspex “a lot” and you’re worried about overusing “massive”?…

    (FWIW says you can accent either the first or the second syllable.)

  7. JSE says:

    Well, there’s a whole section about haruspicy, whereas “massive” is used as a generic intensifier throughout the text.

  8. Evelyn says:

    When I was reading it, I pronounced haruspicy like it was a description of a hot sauce. “That’s haru-spicy.” I hope you did too. The only pronunciation of artisanal that sounds right to me is the 4th, with the emphasis on ’tis.’ It never occurred to me to say it any other way.
    What did you do with footnotes? Did you just read them after the sentence they belonged to, or did you have a special footnote voice?

  9. JSE says:


    Re footnotes: I cut a lot of them because they break the flow too much as parentheticals. The ones I read, I read a little faster than normal reading voice and often said “By the way” before saying them.

  10. arithmetica says:

    D’you think mastery of pronunciation is one of those talents that studio owners, by dint of circumstance, simply need to possess?

  11. JSE says:

    Actually, the pronunciation notes came not from Brian but from the producer, Scott Creswell

    who was linked with us via Skype.

  12. […] I’m pretty sure the wrong letters are bolded in “DON YOUR BRACES ASKEW” — perhaps this is one of the errors Jordan referred to on his blog. […]

  13. […] Audio: On a scale from “Jordan’s talking to you quite loudly on a train in Germany and someone tells you to shut up” to “Ambient waterfall sounds for Ultimate Bedtime Relaxation,” I rate it a 4, which is about where you would wish it to be. (For an inside look at the recording session, see this post. […]

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