Behind the scenes: Making the sound effects for our stories

Behind the scenes: Making the sound effects for our stories

In our previous peek behind-the-scenes, we explained how our stories are created and who is involved in making them – from the first ideas and the writing process, right through to the moment they appear in the app. Today we are taking you on a tour of a specific and very important part of that process: the sound effects. Sounds and music add depth and atmosphere to Readmio stories, bringing them to life as you read.

We spoke with our sound engineer, Michal Kentoš, about how the sound effects are designed, what kind of equipment is  involved, and how long the process takes. You will find the interview below. We’re also offering you a chance to listen to one of our new audio stories here. You’ll find plenty more of these in the app, of course! We look forward to hearing what you think of them.

Like the Readmio stories you read to the child yourself, our audio stories are great for developing the imagination: the combination of sound, music, and voice helps stimulate the mind, bringing the story to life and carrying the listener off into another world. A full drama is created, lending a sharp mental impression. Audio stories leave the parent free to engage with the child, allowing you to listen together. They also serve as a wonderful fill-in when you cannot be there in person. As always, hearing a Readmio story invisibly increases the child’s vocabulary, meaning it can also act as  a fun teaching aid. AND the audio stories are available on tap, so can be listened to anywhere, at any time!

What’s the first thing you do, Michal Kentoš, when given the task of adding sound to a story?
To create good sound features, I need to be feeling well and in a good mood, so before I start working on a new story, I always make sure I’ve had a good night’s sleep, and I go for a little walk to get some fresh air. Then the first step is to read the story and try to get inside it, tune into its world. After that, I think carefully about what sounds would fit – whether tunes or other sorts of noises and discords. Sometimes I have to think quite hard about how to make a particular sound I’ve thought up – like the “a nose rubbing against a window”. 🙂

How long does it take you to design the sound effects for each story?
Making the sound effects for one story usually takes around four hours of active working time – reading the story, tuning into it, planning and designing the sound effects, creating and then mixing them and making the final adjustments, including loudness normalisation. I often record the sound effects myself – whistling, singing, gargling, teeth brushing, various character-specific sounds, laughing, crying, and so on. Then I mix the sound to achieve the effect I want, playing with the pitch of the voice, for example. It’s a fun and creative process!

Do you use real musical instruments or are all the sounds computer-generated?
The sound effects vary. Most of the musical sounds are made on a keyboard connected to a computer – it can produce piano, woodwind, or stringed-instrument sounds, and even FX [dramatic sound effects]. When we need non-musical sounds we either make them ourselves or use existing sound banks (free or paid). I’m constantly recording noises I come across all around me, indoors and outdoors, in town and in the countryside. If I can’t find the sound I’m looking for, I’ll make it. Sound engineering is all about creativity.

How do you decide how many sound effects to include in each story?
When I receive a new story, the editor has already indicated the places where they think sounds could go, and I try to follow their lead. Sometimes it’s tricky, because different people have different impressions of the same sound. Take the noise of a bell, for example – bells come in all sorts of sizes and can be rung at all sorts of different pitches and speeds; which one I choose depends on how I personally imagine the bell in the story. So before the story is finalised, I always run through my proposals with the team responsible for the content.

How many sounds do you have in your database? 
I have thousands of sounds in my database, and altogether, more than 7,000 sound effects have been used in Readmio stories by  the sound engineers.

This year you have been working intensively on our new audio stories. What has that been like?
Making an audio story is quite another process. To start with, we work with fantastic actors, which is a great experience in itself. We send the scripts to them in advance, so all they need to do when they arrive in the studio is to fine-tune the performance – perhaps adjust their tone of voice, for example. Listening to them recording the story is balm to the soul. Naturally, the odd slip of the tongue happens here and there, and I have heard actors’ stomachs rumble several times – the microphone is so sensitive it picks up absolutely everything. 😃 Sometimes they’re reluctant to admit it, but it shows up in the recording, so we simply re-record the bit that went wrong. It’s definitely a nice thing when something amusing happens during recording – it lightens things up!

How are the actors/voices for the audio stories chosen?
We begin by sending the candidates an excerpt from a story and ask them to make a recording. Based on that sample, we choose who to work with. Our priority is to use actors who have clear pronunciation, good intonation skills, and so on. Our English stories are recorded remotely in the UK, and then I do the final mixing. For our Czech and Slovak stories, we work with two actors who are fully bilingual and can voice both languages for us extremely naturally, which is brilliant.

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