I decided I wanted to try producing an audiobook after several months of people asking if I had one/for accessibility reasons/looking at the market and realizing audiobooks were a major trend. I used to hate how I sounded reading aloud – in fact, reading aloud was a source of terror as a child, because I would stumble over the words – and acting also scares me, but I can give weight to the reading as the author in a way that likely no one else can. I’m hoping to have it out this summer, God willing.
I did a short non-professional-level recording of chapter 1 (Book 1) and put it on YouTube – it was met with a lot of enthusiasm, as was my question on Twitter as to whether I should do my own vs. have it professionally narrated. I decided to try. (There are other methods, and I realize this is probably the hardest one, but (a) I wanted to and (b) challenge accepted.)
I found Findaway Voices (thanks, Smashwords!), which is sort of like the Ingram Spark of audiobooks – distribution to multiple channels – and looked through their audio specs (see https://my.findawayvoices.com/docs/Technical_Requirements_for_Assets.pdf as well as more here: https://blog.findawayvoices.com/mastering-your-audiobook-for-findaway-voices-video-deep-dive/).
I initially thought my apartment would be quiet enough, and had a friend test out his Tonor mic (which I then purchased as well) for said audio specs – unfortunately it was not quiet enough, but now I have a pro-level podcast mic, which I can use to produce other material like YouTube videos!
After looking around, I do have, thank God, access to a recording studio – they provided me with equipment (Tascam recorder, which uses an SD card) and set it up on a mic stand/boom arm so I could comfortably sit and record. I had them set up all the settings for me, per the audio specs for Findaway.
Some tips for recording
-Start the recording (make sure it’s actually recording), test the levels, and just let it run the whole time. You don’t need to do separate files right now.
-Do NOT drink coffee or eat a lot of food beforehand. (I did drink some coffee, but too much can mess up your speaking voice.)
-Read from a phone (bring a charger!), not from a computer (fan noise) or book (pages turning). Set it on DND/airplane mode.
-Water! Lots of water.
-If you mess up, stop speaking, wait a few seconds, and start again from that sentence. You can cut things out in Audacity. It’s extremely easy to do.
-I didn’t do all the front matter (copyright etc.) – that’s stuff to finalize later.
-Don’t speak too fast or too slowly – speak evenly, and be careful to enunciate. Maybe have a friend listen to see how it sounds.
-Watch the levels as you speak, if you can – the Tascam recorder I used had a light that flashed if I went too loud. If I did, I’d go back and re-record that sentence or so.
-Be careful with plosives (the P sound) as well as extraneous noise (sniffling, swallowing – ew, I know, but the mic really picks up stuff). Take a break and drink some water if you need to.
-I recorded for about 2.5 hours at a time, then took a break. Fair warning, your voice may be very tired by the end of the day. Be careful to rest enough. (I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. I can tell you from experience that it’s easy to lose your voice, however.)
In two days (about 10 hours of recording time), I recorded about a third of Book 1 (which is 700 or so pages). I was not expecting to get that far, and was pleasantly surprised. I then transferred the SD card info onto a laptop and double backed it up: to a flash drive, and to my Google Drive (and later shared it to my other Google account).
I installed Audacity on my Chromebook (https://podnews.net/article/installing-audacity-on-chromebook, I think). I had to enable Linux (which was terrifying, but actually super easy/my Chromebook still works!). Audacity runs well on it (although some of the effects/analyses can take a few minutes…that might just be normal, though). You can also install Audacity from its website if you have a Mac or Windows: https://www.audacityteam.org/
DIsclaimer: any and all links have worked for me but I am not liable if they contain any problematic code, viruses, etc. – use at your own risk! Please also note that I am not an audio engineer. This is based on what seems to work for me/the audio engineer I spoke to said that it all looked/sounded good to him. Please consult with an actual engineer and do not rely on this for technical advice. Use, again, at your own risk.
I hadn’t used Audacity since about 2012, so I wasn’t sure where to start. I looked up a couple things on YouTube – two videos and a little bit of tinkering later, I was well on my way.
A few things that have helped me (this is very technical-jargon-y, but it’s not actually that bad!)
1. Having done it the other way around, I now know that it’s likely best to combine all the tracks and merge/render as new track before tampering with the audio settings. Make sure to save your Audacity files/exported audio to your Linux files if you’re using Chromebook!
The manual should show you how, but basically I would make (and save!) a new Audacity project, import all the files I want, copy/paste them in the correct order, select all and Tracks > Mix > Mix and Render to New Track. Then close the other tracks. Ideally also export the whole thing to an audio file at the highest bitrate I can.
2. Sibilance. Thanks to my friend Katherine Franklin for pointing it out. I asked the audio engineer I know and he showed me how to use the Effects > Graphics EQ to reduce sibilance (I tested a bit and used “Manage” to save what I came up with as a preset). I selected a bit (click/drag), then Effects > Graphics EQ > set it like so.
I then clicked Manage → Save preset → “Sabrina.” Then Cancel, click on track, select all (CTRL + A), Effects > Graphics EQ, OK. This applies it to the whole thing. I can use the preset for further files as well (CTRL + A, Effects > Graphics EQ > Manage > select my preset > OK).
3. I installed the ACX Check plugin (https://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Nyquist_Analyze_Plug-ins) to help me quickly check the RMS/gain/noise floor, which are the three main components of the audio specs. This extremely useful video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akizoySBus4&t=243s) helped me make the files ACX-compliant before I began trimming etc. I did this after editing out the sibilance. Doing it the other way around didn’t work properly. Make sure not to make your noise floor completely silent! You can hit undo, but you can’t restore the “room tone” (normal background noise) once you’ve closed the file, as far as I know. Whoops. I had to redo a bunch.
4. Now, having done all the base-level audio stuff, I’m ready to trim/merge. Basically, this looks like select, CTRL+X. I can also paste in extra space if I need to – select a blank spot and copy, then click and paste. That way I can do a rough editing version and come back and tweak if needed. I recommend an external mouse and good headphones.
5. If you want to include labels, click where you want to input a label and then Edit > Labels > Add Label At Selection. I use Tracks > Sync/Lock Tracks (on) so that when I delete material the labels shift along with the track. You can verify that’s on if the little clock face is visible for both tracks.
6. Merging and trimming is very easy. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-51cjlk2fk (merging)
7. I want to keep the whole thing (about ⅓ of the book) as a single file for now. Findaway requires that you export as separate files for the audiobook, but this way I can see it all in one place for the moment.
8. Don’t forget to back up your work!
That’s all I have for now! I hope to have more reflections on the process as I go. So far, so good.