By Qian Yibin, Xu Qing
The rise in the popularity of audio books has triggered a growing number of livestream hosts on many popular audio book platforms in China.
Statistics say that each year, over 20,000 candidates participated in the audition of Ximalaya FM, one of the applications for audio books. Another platform Qingting FM has a total of 350,000 professional hosts. On We Read, a reading platform developed by China’s technology giant Tencent, professional livestream hosts and agencies are the main providers of the audio reading services.
The hosts, each with their own characteristics, tell or read the stories using microphones, and they even play multiple roles in one story.
With different life experiences and professional backgrounds, the anchors have their own reflection on how to attract listeners with their voice and how to work together with the platforms to improve their services.
“It’s very challenging yet interesting to immerse the listeners in the stories only with my voice, since there is no image in audio works,” said Zhang Anqi, a professional dubbing artist who has voiced a couple of animations.
Zhang took her experience in recording a children’s book called “Daddy in the Pocket” as an example to illustrate how to handle different characters in the book. She studied the features of the speeches and the frequently used expressions of the characters such as students, teachers, and parents beforehand, and differentiated them through different tempo and mood during recording.
“The dubber switches roles when performing multiple roles, to help listeners identify different characters,” Zhang introduced.
Besides, the hosts also add their own emotions to their narration based on the original works, as many of them come from different professional backgrounds and have different life experiences.
Li Xiaoyu, a high school English teacher in north China’s Hebei province, recorded his first audio book in 2009. He started in his study, with merely a laptop computer and a cheap microphone which was only 15 yuan ($2.1) and the tone quality was bad.
Today, he has shaped up to be a successful livestream host on Ximalaya FM with nearly 400,000 followers. A historic fiction he recorded has been played 190 million times.
“For audio books, the capabilities of the host outweigh the recording equipment,” he said, adding that “the hosts must choose different tones for different types of works. For Chinese martial arts fictions, the voice of the host must be imbued with enthusiasm and passion, while a mild tone and a slow tempo fit romantic fictions.”
“What I have gained from recording audio books is not just professional skills. I feel satisfied when I see the messages of the listeners, some call my performances heart-warming, some say they could sleep well after listening,” said a student surnamed Wang in Southwest University in China’s Chongqing municipality.
Wang, who ekes out time to narrate audio books every day, hopes to help people see the bright side of life.
The performances of the hosts upgrade the reading experience of the readers, giving them new understanding of the original texts. The interaction between the listeners and the hosts could in turn inspire the hosts to improve their service and flesh out the content. It is a virtuous circle, revealed Cui Cui, a product manager of We Read.
“As sound has the advantages in spreading messages, it offers opportunities for different genres of book resources, especially classical literature and academic works in liberal education to get closer to a wider range of readers, Chang Jiang, a distinguished professor at the School of Media and Communication at Shenzhen University remarked.
The radio play of The Three-Body Problem, winner of Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, was launched on Ximalaya FM at the end of 2019. It was produced by a professional dubbing team called 729 Voice Studio.
Liu Cong, one of the dubbers, said that the whole procedure, which included adaption of the script, assigning roles, recording, post-production and launching, almost lasted a year. To adapt the science fiction for radio play requires imagination, the professional knowledge in the original work, and looking for the right dubbing artists for the characters. The radio play had been perfected again and again before it was launched.
So far, the book has been played nearly 20 million times, receiving many positive comments such as “all the characters are great, making the radio play very attractive.”
“The rights of audio adaption of literature works are not expressly written down in most of the copyright contracts and contracts for publication. As the digital publishing sees continuous development, the capacity of the market of audio books and habits of the users keep evolving, too. Therefore, we hope the rights of audio adaption will be clearly defined,” introduced Yu Jianjun, founder and CEO of Ximalaya FM.
So far, the platform has forged cooperative relations with over 500 publishing houses and next to 200 online literature organizations.