Narrator Guidelines

Great stories, talented narrators, hosts who know their genres inside out. Enthusiasm, intelligence, compassion and the sheer love of story, all condensed into a lunch break’s worth of audio.

Our shows have served as inspiration for dozens of podcasts and magazines, in print and audio. That characteristic format — one amazing story, paired with a fantastic narration and insightful commentary — remains our cornerstone.

Thank you for lending your voice to our stories! This resource is for both experienced voice actors and those who may be completely new to narration. They outline what we expect from a final recording, and will help you deliver the best possible narration.

First, A Note On Timing

Regardless of your skill or experience, we ask that all narrators please submit your recorded narration on time and as soon as practical; the earlier the better.

We cannot stress this enough. Please, do NOT wait until the night before the deadline to record your narration. Technical issues can crop up, your neighbors might mow the lawn, you may discover a word you don’t know how to pronounce, etc.

Late recordings place enormous pressure on our editors and production staff.  The sooner you submit your finished recording, the sooner we can review it for sound quality and accuracy of your read to the text. If the sound quality is too poor to be used or there are mispronunciations or some words get jumbled in the recording, we’ll need you to correct the issues and re-submit.  And then we need to actually mix the episode with music and host commentary. That’s a lot, and we do that 4-5 times a month for each podcast. 

If you encounter an unavoidable delay, please let your contact know as soon as possible so we can work with you on deadlines.

Navigating This Guide

A Beginner’s Guide to Audio Fiction Narration

This section is where to start if you’re new to narrating audio fiction or want a review of the basics of any kind of voice work. 

Preparation

Prepare the Story

We recommend you read the story you’ll be narrating several times before you record to become familiar with it. Practice reading it out loud once or twice before you record so you can get comfortable with the words, names, and phrases unique to the story. If you’re not sure how to pronounce a word or name, please email the editor of the podcast as soon as possible! They’ll get the correct pronunciation from the author and pass it on to you.

Prepare the Space

If you can hear the air conditioner or the fridge, the neighbor mowing their lawn, or even the echo of the room on your recording, that’s a problem. Not only is it distracting, but it also makes it  difficult to produce the sound file so it blends gracefully with the rest of the episode. That’s the reason professional studios use sound dampening tiles and other techniques to eliminate any echo or “room boom” from your recordings.

If you have acoustic tile and a dedicated space for recording, that’s great. Most of us don’t, so we need to improvise. Enter the Blanket Fort — highbacked chairs, draped in thick bedding or other textiles. Then crawl in with your mic and flashlight and record your narration. Others have used closets with lots of coats in them as ad-hoc recording studios (as long as the narrator is careful not to rustle garments as they record). Or stuffing a large box with pillows. Any cluttered or densely furnished room can work; the key is to have a bunch of surfaces to deflect the sound away from your mic so only your voice is recorded.

Make sure your computer is far away or audibly isolated from your recording space. The whine of hard drives, computer monitors, and fans has ruined far too many great recordings. Don’t let that happen to you.

You might also investigate if your local public library, radio station, or community center have quiet study rooms or similar spaces you could use to record your narration.

Prepare your Equipment

Ideally, you will have a microphone with which to record your narration. This almost always leads to a superior recording and there are several USB microphones that plug directly into your computer or laptop! You’ll also need some kind of software on your computer to record the audio, which we about more in the “Editing” section below. If this is your first time using your equipment, do some test recordings to get familiar with the capabilities of your set up and see what sounds best.

If you don’t own a microphone, query your network of friends and colleagues to see if you can borrow one. If you plan on doing this sort of thing on the regular, there are several quality microphones for under $200 (as of November 2022). If you search the Internet for “Best Podcast Microphones” or “Best Narration Microphones for under $200”, you will find a range of equipment that will meet your needs and a reasonable budget. Or contact us and we can help make a recommendation. 

You’ll need a common (and vital) piece of recording equipment called a “pop shield.” This is a mesh shield you position in front of your microphone to prevent the breath from “P” sounds and other plosives from directly hitting your microphone and impacting your recording. They’re relatively inexpensive to buy, or can be made make with a length of sturdy wire (like a coat hanger) and some thin fabric (tights or nylons are common). Shape the wire into a loop larger than your microphone (10 inches / 25cm in diameter or so), then stretch the fabric over the loop so it stays taut while you speak into it. Position it in front of your microphone so that your mouth is the length of your fist from the shield.

Prepare your Voice

Your voice is an instrument, one that needs to warm up to avoid the risk of long term injury. Even a very brief warm-up will help make the recording process less taxing and aid in delivering a great performance.

  • Stretch and relax your neck and shoulders
  • Limber up your jaw and facial muscles
  • Recite some tongue twisters (over-enunciating “red leather yellow leather” with your entire face is a good one)

Make sure you have a beverage at hand, and don’t hesitate to take a drink between scenes. Acidic or sour drinks, like with lemon or lime juice, can help reduce ‘mouth sounds’.

Editing

A good rule of thumb is that it will take three times as long to perform and edit a story compared to its final narrated length. So if the final length of the reading is 30 minutes, it’ll probably take about an hour and a half to edit it down to its final presentation.

Before you start editing, create a copy of your original recording and edit that copy. Preserving the original will allow you to go back and retrieve portions of your original read if your editing is overzealous.

No one narrates a story perfectly the first time. There will be mistakes and, when you’re finished recording, it’s time to remove those mistakes. This usually means some kind of sound editing software that will let you load the audio file of your recording and make changes to it. There are many different applications available, some for free:

If you’ve never used one before, prepare for a bit of an initial learning curve, but you’ll quickly pick up the key concepts of editing digital audio files.

In the case of most editing software, removing mistakes from your audio is like removing a typo from a word processing document. You highlight the thing you don’t want and hit the “Delete” key. Make sure the area you just edited sounds completely natural. Go through the entire recording and make sure any mistakes are fixed. Then listen to the recording from beginning to end and follow along reading the text of the story to make sure you didn’t leave out or change any words (trust us, it happens a lot).

Once your edited narration is ready, you need to save it in a specific format. This gets a little technical, but the software you’re using will show you how to set this up. The audio file of your recording needs to be…

  • Format: WAV (this is the file format for the sound, like MP3, AIF, WMA, etc.) While any ‘lossless’ format will work, WAV is the most common.
  • Sample Rate: 44.1 kHz (Samples are like “slices of sound” and this is how many samples get recorded per second)
  • Bit Depth: 16-bit (this is how much data can be stored in each of those samples)
  • Channels: Mono (A single audio track, as opposed to Stereo which splits the audio into two tracks)

That’s it — don’t add any effects or perform any filtering or post-production modifications. We want to receive your edited, unaltered narration.

Once your audio has been saved in the correct format, you can submit it via the portal below.

Questions or Concerns?

We know this is a lot to take in for your first time narrating a story. We’re here to help! If you have any questions or concerns, just email your editorial contact for the podcast for which  you are reading, and they’ll either help you out or get you to someone who can.

Thank you for narrating for us! We’re genuinely delighted to have you give life to our stories!

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Audio Fiction Performance Tips

This section is designed to provide stylistic tips for people comfortable behind a microphone but perhaps new to narrating prose. It assumes familiarity with the basic narration skills outlined above.

Reading Tips

The goal of preparation is two-fold:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the story so you can deliver a performance that reinforces the story’s emotional and narrative drama.
  2. Help you record with a minimum of flubs and mistakes that need to be edited.

We recommend at least two pre-recording readthroughs of the story:

First, read through the entire story as a reader, not a narrator. Note the beats and emotional moments of the story, where you got excited, where you felt anxious or elated. Those emotional beats are your choreography, defining the pacing and tone of your performance.

Next, read through it again, this time out loud. This is a great way to find the tricky sections that require special phrasing or identifying tricky words and phrases that may trip you up during recording.

Check for pronunciation. Our stories are in the “speculative fiction” genres and there may be unfamiliar names or terms that you’re not sure how to pronounce. If the author hasn’t provided a pronunciation guide, don’t guess — contact the podcast editor and request clarification. This is especially important for author names.

Likewise if you encounter a word that you’ve only read but not ever heard, do a quick check to make sure that the pronunciation in your head matches the pronunciation the audience may be expecting. Wiktionary is an excellent resource.

(If you’re confident of your pronunciation skills, you may wish to challenge yourself by reading one or another version of Gerard Nolst Trenité’s poem “The Chaos”. You will almost certainly find a pronunciation that trips you up!)

Style

This is where you shine. No one wants to listen to a flat recitation of the words of the story. Narration falls squarely in the realm of “vocal performance” but tempered by the nature of the presentation. 

Description, dialog, and action sequences may each have different types of dramatic moments or require special treatment. Find the flow and rhythm of a passage and consider its function in the larger context of the story. You’re creating a narrative portrait, and your dramatic palette includes pacing, intensity, volume, tempo, and all the tools at a voice actor’s disposal to creative beautiful (or chilling) narrative portraits. Use them consistently, consciously, judiciously, and with specific intent.

Articulation is important. You don’t have to over-enunciate every syllable, but the listener must understand what you’re saying. If you’re listening to the playback and you’re not sure if you were clear enough, then chances are you were not and the section should be re-recorded. Pay particular attention to the consonants at the beginning and endings of words that tend to blur.

Pacing

The human brain processes a spoken word much slower than it processes the same word when reading it off a page. Prose narration has to take this into account. Your narration will feel too slow to you as you perform it. If it doesn’t, you’re likely narrating too quickly. As a good rule of thumb, 150 words (or about half a page of a printed book) should roughly equal one minute of recorded narration.

The tempo and cadence with which you read a passage directly affects its emotion and energy. This is one of the most powerful tools a voice actor can bring to bear to enhance the depth and nuance of a story. Gauge the emotional terrain of a passage and consciously choose to reinforce it with your reading. Action scenes can be quicker, suspenseful moments can be made more so by slowing down or lengthening pauses to increase the tension. Use your best judgment and listen to the effect your choices make on the scene. No one enjoys an evenly-tempo’ed monotone – let your pacing of the story add life and color.

Textual Cues

If you see a break in the text that indicates a new section (often denoted by extra space between paragraphs and sometimes separated by # or —), leave a good three seconds of space between those passages. This gives the audience a clear indication that time is passing or the scene is shifting.

A Note On Affectations

While they can definitely help differentiate characters and enhance a performance, please be conscious and sensitive in your use. We cast for idiomatic, native accents so chances are high the way you speak is already exactly what we were looking for. If you have concerns or questions please reach out to the podcast editor for clarification in advance. And you should absolutely avoid offensive or stereotyped deliveries unless they have specifically been requested in line with the author’s intent.

Listen as a Listener

When you’re reviewing your narration, try to listen as a person who has never heard the story before. Listen as a huge fan of the podcast who has tuned in to hear you read a story they’ve never heard before. It’s challenging, but every voice actor cultivates this “innocent ear” that experiences their readings for the first time. This way, you can catch if you’re rushing, or if you haven’t emphasized a critical plot point, or mumbled a passage.

Editing Errors

Everyone approaches editing their narration differently. Some like to re-read the entire paragraph, others just the sentence or phrase that got flubbed. Some will copy and paste the corrected read into the main recording and others will just delete the flubbed segment so the re-read aligns perfectly with the body of the recording. You’ll figure out your most effective method (usually through some trial and error).

The critical factor here is your ability to re-read a section to match the tone and inflection as you did with the original read. That way you can remove the unwanted portion after you’ve finished the entire recording, and the revised segment will fit uninterrupted into the overall narration.

Some editors get so good at this they can just re-read a phrase and weave it seamlessly into the surrounding audio. Two common techniques are:

  • Be mindful of where you take your breath. If you resume narration after a breath, it’s much easier to integrate than trying to do so mid-sentence. 
  • When stitching audio mid-sentence, consonants and “S” sounds are very effective bridge points. Find a good “p” or “t” sound just before the flub, find the same sound in the re-read, and then delete the audio between them. Assuming you match pacing and inflection, the stitch will be seamless.

Editing Pacing

Sometimes that dramatic pause you used during the recording sounds a little too long, or you may have rushed a read that would sound better with a longer pause between passages. While the easiest place to manage pacing is during your read, you can also control the energy and intensity of a passage by adjusting the pauses during the editing process. 

This is highly subjective and requires you to listen to the entire scene or passage and gauge the narrative tempo. Sometimes a fraction of a second more or less can dramatically affect the way a passage is received or interpreted by the audience. There’s only so much you can do in post-production — and the final product, above all else, should sound natural — but if the final performance can be enhanced with some judicious pacing adjustments, go for it.

Corrections

Occasionally, there will be mistakes that make their way past you into your submitted narration. This happens to everyone, and you’ll be given specifics on how to make corrections. You may be asked to narrate and splice a ‘patch’ into the complete recording, or you may be asked to record and submit just the patch.

Remember to always include another 10 seconds of room tone in a patch or correction! Ideally, the corrected passages should sound as close to the original narration as possible. Room tone can be very difficult to precisely duplicate, as recording not only in the same place and circumstances, but even at the same time of day, can impact vocal tone. 

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EA Narration Specifications

This section is designed to provide a quick reference summary of the technical specifications for your narration, along with the upload link. If you have more general questions about preparing for, recording, and editing a narration please see the sections above.

Recording

  • Use an external microphone (not a phone or built-in mic for a laptop or desktop computer)
  • Record in an environment that is quiet, with no or minimal ambient noise (air conditioning, appliance hum, etc.) and no discernible room echo
  • Record at least ten seconds of ‘room tone’ / quiet at the beginning of your narration. 
  • It’s vital you minimize background noise during your recording. The optimal noise floor for a recording is -60db. Anything above -50db may be an issue. Please check with the producer for your episode if you have a problem. They may request a sample to help you troubleshoot.
  • Start your recording with the title of the story, the name of the author, “narrated by” and your name. Leave a short pause, like between section breaks (2-3 seconds), then begin.

Editing

  • DO NOT use effects or perform any post-production on your audio. We want your unfiltered, errors removed narration.
  • DO listen to your final recording and confirm your narration and the text of the story match. If not, we’ll need a retake or patch from you which takes time and could endanger the timely release of the story.
  • DO edit your recording to remove any mistakes, re-takes, egregious mouth noise, and any other noticeable imperfections.
  • There’s a difference between “silence” and “quiet”. Absolute silence in a narration is jarring and unnatural. The natural “room noise” of your recording is always preferable.
  • The final mix of your reading should have the following specifications:
    • Format: WAV (or other lossless format if WAV is unavailable)
    • Sample Rate: 44.1 kHz
    • Bit Depth: 16-bit
    • Channels: Mono
  • When you’re ready to submit your finished audio, click this link: https://escapeartists.moksha.io/ and select the publication for which you are narrating. Don’t forget to include your biography in the cover letter form.

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Submission Portal

All EA podcast narrations should be submitted via our Moksha portal:

Select the podcast for which you narrated. From there, selection the option that reads “Audio Upload” (or some variation of those words). You’ll be asked for the following information:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Submission Title (the title of the story you recorded)
  • Wordcount (ignore this one if its there)
  • File Submission (the audio file of your recorded narration)
  • Cover Letter (Your biography, so we can attribute you as the narration. This can be anything from the very sparse like this one, or verbose and eloquent like this one. It’s entirely up to you. If you have a picture you’d like included with your bio, please email it to your podcast contact.)

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