Last weekend, June 19th and 20th, I had the privilege of attending the Indie Author Hub conference at the Provo Marriott. It was well done with many great instructors. The only drawback was that it wasn’t as well attended as hoped. Still, it was nice to be in a smaller writing environment since it allowed me to get to know several people a lot better.
I was there to do a presentation on how to record your own audiobook. I am by no means an expert, but I do now have the equivalent of five book narrations under my belt as well as years of working in a recording studio as a professional saxophonist. Here’s a summary of some of the things I talked about.
First off, audiobook narrating is a performance art and requires practice to learn the techniques. It’s a lot like learning a musical instrument. My suggestions for developing this are:
#1. Listen to your recordings and learn from your mistakes. You will make plenty.
#2. As a writer, you should be reading your writing out loud anyway. As a narrator, it gives you double duty. Just make sure to enunciate better than you might normally.
#3. Make the material you are reading into 20 pt font and put it on a tablet or iPad for when you narrate. It makes it easier to read and thus, make fewer mistakes (or maybe it’s just me and my old eyes). Also, it eliminates the shuffling paper noise when you use a tablet.
Here is what you need:
#1. A good computer. Most computers should work, but be aware that some laptops have filters in their sound software that distorts sounds. I have an Asus that does this, so it is completely useless for recording. I don’t know what other brands have this problem, but I know Macbooks work well.
#2. Recording software. There are a lot of programs out there, but Audacity is free and will do the job. In spite of purchasing several recording programs, I still prefer Audacity for editing. If you have Adobe Cloud for other purposes, it also contains Audition. Garage Band on Mac is good for recording but not editing. Fortunately, there is a Mac version of Audacity. If you get an M-Audio input box, it comes with a scaled down version of ProTools, which the full version is an industry standard.
#3. Microphone. Don’t scrimp on this. There are lots of cheap microphones out there but avoid the temptation. A large diaphragm condenser microphone works best. On average, they are around $500, though there are some cheaper options. The one I use is on the cheap side and works okay (MXL V63M, about $159), but I want to upgrade it as soon as I can afford. The ElectroVoice RE-20 ($449) is a long time industry standard.
#4. Do not, I repeat, do not use the mic input on your computer. Those jacks will put a lot of extra white noise into your recording that is impossible to get out. I learned this one the hard way. You need an input box that converts the three-pin XLR output into USB. There are microphones that can go direct to USB, but from what I hear, those should be avoided, too. The box I use is the Roland Tricapture ($129). One of the commonly used ones is the M-Audio (cheapest around $149). There are others out there around a hundred dollars or less. The important thing you need is a phantom power, or a 48V switch, for the large diaphragm condenser microphones to work. I know this is yet another expense, but once I got mine, it saved me a lot of effort and heartache because my recordings came out immensely cleaner.
#5. Other things: music stand ($20-$30), microphone stand with a boom ($70) or a table stand if you sit to record ($20), shock mount for the microphone if it didn’t come with one, a pop filter (to cut down on plosives), squeak-free headphones (some of them make creaking sounds when you talk, as I learned the hard way), and a squeak-free chair if you sit (standing solves that problem).
Here are some pictures of my setup:
You can see my condenser microphone in the shock mount and connected to the boom mic stand. The pop filter is in front of the mic. I have a wire music stand holding my iPad. On my little desk is the keyboard, mouse and input that are connected to the USB hub (out of picture). The XLR cable from the microphone is inserted into the Roland Tricapture (on left side of second picture) as well as the headphones. My computer has two video outs, so the monitor is connected via an extension to the second output.
To tick off a recording engineer, just say to them, “Fix it in the mix.” Well, you are now your own recording engineer, and you can save yourself a lot of work if you take steps to avoid noise that gets incorporated into your recording.
First, reduce external sounds as much as possible. Find a room in your home that has as few vents, water pipes, windows, fluorescent lights, fans, kids, dogs, etc. as possible. Also, you can put heavy material up like curtains, pillows, blankets, towels, etc. to help absorb reflective sounds. It is pretty much impossible to eliminate all these sounds unless you live in the backwoods or build yourself a dedicated recording booth, but one thing that helps me is to pick a time of the day when things are mostly quiet. My two favorite times are 4:30 am or 9 am, but both of those still have problems. Another thing some people do is push the clothes aside in their closet and record in there, but it can get a little hot and stuffy.
One thing that I’ve done to eliminate computer fan noise is to put the computer in another room (it is on the other side of the door in my pictures) and run a second monitor and USB hub extension into my recording room.
Then there are the internal sounds; the sounds that we make without trying. Here are some things to reduce those:
#1. Develop speaking techniques to cut down on noises. I had to learn to avoid licking my lips when I spoke and breathing at inopportune times. I also had to learn to hold my mouth open slightly to cut down on lip smacking.
#2. Clicks and pops. This happens in our voice naturally and is hard to eliminate. Something that can cut down on them is staying hydrated. This is why 4:30 am isn’t quite as good for me. The neighborhood is quiet then, but I’m usually more dehydrated and have to spend a lot more time during editing to take out all the pops.
#3. Rumblies in the tumblies. I swear I have the world’s noisiest stomach. Sometimes I think it is trying to audition for Lion Country Safari (does that place even still exist?). When I record at 9 am, I try to do it after I exercise (and I am well hydrated) and before I eat breakfast. Also, if my stomach does go into full roar mode, I try holding my breath for a while. That seems to soothe the beast for a few minutes. Or else, I just have to stop and wait for my stomach to behave.
#4. Be aware of what you are wearing. Some clothes make crinkling sounds as you move so you want to go with something soft like cotton. Also, jewelry and cell phones can add to the racket.
Some other things to consider:
Are you going to do character voices? If you are not good at it, don’t bother. If you do decide to, make a recording of all the characters you need voices for ahead of time so that you can keep the voices consistent. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to find a specific character in a previous chapter in order to try and remember how I did their voice.
How about accents? Again, if you are not good at it, skip it. If you decide to go for it, there are plenty of Youtube videos that can help you get an accent up and running. I don’t claim to be good at it at all, but one thing that helped me was when I tried to imitate various actors for certain characters, like Arnold Schwarzenegger for a barbarian voice and Sean Connery as a wizard (“The name’s Gray. Gandolf the Gray”).
Also, you will need to choose a recording technique. I have two that I’ve tried. The one I use now I call the ‘fix it as you go’. As I record, when I notice a mistake or external noise, I stop and go back to fix it. That way, when I’m done, I hopefully have a correct, uninterrupted text. The drawback to the method is that recording takes a lot longer, but the advantage is the editing time is shorter.
The other method is the ‘let it roll’. When you make a mistake, you pause and repeat the problem section. Some people snap or clap so that when they are editing, they can see the spike and know where they need to make a cut. This method makes for shorter recording and allows you to stay ‘in the zone’ better but the editing takes longer.
Also, as soon as I finish recording, I do a quality check pass to make sure I said things right and that there aren’t any loud noises in the wave forms. I do this right away before any of my levels get changed or the microphone location is shifted. It makes for a more uniform sound when I punch in the corrections.
I’ll go into this more another time, hopefully. I had to only gloss over this portion during my presentation due to lack of time. I will say this, it is the most time consuming of the whole process. If you are thinking about recording your own audiobook, you have to be ready for a lot of sitting and listening to fix thousands of mind-numbing problems. In the end, it is estimated it takes six and a half hours to record one hour of audio. It actually takes me ten partially because I’m still gaining experience at it and mostly because I’m a perfectionist who has to try to get every %^*# artifact out of it, even though most people will probably never notice them.
There. I tried to be brief but there is a lot of the information here. I hope it can be of help to someone. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me an email.