Thursday, September 29, 2016

Guest Post: How to record and produce your own audiobook by Claude Viens


You neither have to be or hire a professional recording engineer or narrator nor do you have to submit your work to a publisher in hope they will accept to distribute your audiobook. This simple guide will take you step by step through the production and distribution process without complicated technical terms. If you can use a smartphone, computer or pad, you can record and produce your own audiobook at minimal cost. It does require some work but since you have written a book, I am guessing you already master the art of getting things done.

PREPARE YOURSELF

Getting ready to perform is the most important task you will be doing. Even if you were not so great at oral presentations in school, there is a way to deliver a good audiobook. The factor that is working in your favor is that you can stutter, cough, mumble, swear or run out of breath, you always have the possibility of starting over as often as you wish. The best way to prepare yourself for this performance is to read your book out loud at least 10 times. Sounds daunting? Hey I said it wasn’t complicated but it does take time. The more you know your stuff, the better the experience will be for both you the narrator and the listener. When you know your text, it will sound more natural as if you were telling a story. It will be easier for the listener to give into it without realizing that you are actually reading a book. Once you think you are ready, record yourself on your smartphone and listen back. This will give you a good idea as to what pace and you should read at and how much energy you should put in your voice.

FIND A SPACE

Before we get into the technical stuff, let’s locate an ideal spot to make the recording. Look around your house, apartment or office for a quiet place that is as dead as possible. What I mean by dead is: A room with enough soft material inside it to cut out the echo. I found that my walk-in closet was the deadest and also the quietest room in the house thanks to all the clothing lying around that absorbs the sound. It also provides me with double insulation from the rest of the house by closing both the closet and the bedroom doors. I just needed to put a pillow in the window and hang a bathrobe in front of the door to make it completely dead. If you aren’t sure about the deadness of your room, just clap your hands. If you don’t hear an echo, it’s dead enough. If you can’t find such a place, try hanging curtains all around you or simply throw some clothes and cushions everywhere to absorb the sound.

SPEAK INTO WHAT?

So now we can start thinking about the material you will need.

1. A microphone

2. A recording device

3. Something to link the microphone to the recording device

4. Something to hold the microphone

5. Something to read (ie: a book)

Oh my god, there go the big bucks! Calm down, there is an inexpensive way to produce a quite decent quality of recording without forking over thousands of dollars. Let’s take this one step at a time. 




The microphone

Although it may not be a good idea to use the microphone you bought at the dollar store, there are many affordable solutions. I suggest using a condenser microphone to get a richer sound. I have a Studioprojects C1. You can find this particular microphone on ebay for about 125$. If that is over your budget then you can look at other brands that are less expensive or you can rent one from a local music shop but I suggest you buy it used instead. This way, you won’t have the stress of finishing your work at a certain date before they charge you another month’s rental. If you think you will never use it again after this project is completed, you can always re-sell it for just about the price you paid for it.

The recording device

This might seem to be the most complicated part and yet it is the simplest. Chances are you already have that in your pocket or are holding it in your hand right now. Any smart phone, tablet or computer will do the job. I recorded my audiobook on my old iPhone 4. I simply bought the I-rig recording app for under 3$ and voilĂ ! You may also want to record directly to your computer using the same formula and the Audacity free software (I will elaborate on this later on).

The link

This is the important part; Linking the microphone to the recording device. Condenser microphones need power to operate. Some may have the option to insert a 9 volt battery but most likely, you will need to feed it with 48 volt phantom power. Sounds complicated, not at all. There is a little device you can buy that goes for around 70$ new and if you are lucky, you will find one for less than half that price used. It is called iRig pre, manufactured by Ik multimedia. It is basically a microphone pre-amplifier. You simply insert a 9 volt battery, hook your microphone to it, plug it into the headphone jack of your iPhone, flick on the switch and away you go. Why not talk directly into the microphone on the iPhone? Well, that works too if you don’t mind your audiobook sounding like you read it over the phone.

This pre-amplifier is dirt cheap and will do the job. However, if you have a bigger budget, this is where you would want to invest. The better the pre-amplifier, the more you will sound like a professional radio announcer. Having owned a recording studio, I went for a high quality tube pre-amp. I used the Avalon 737 SP worth about 3,000$. But you don’t have to get as crazy as I did, I will show you how to fake it afterwards.

The holder

You might want to use a real microphone stand for this but you can always hang the microphone by the wire on a clothes hanger or from the top shelf of your closet. Nobody will ever know except your spouse of course. That is the part I cannot help you with. You will have to negotiate the space you take up. My wife gave me her ok as long as I kept all the gear on my side of the closet for the month it took me to record my book.

Something to read

That of course is your book. You may want to transfer it onto a pad and sit it on some kind of stand or holder so you don’t have to turn pages and make unnecessary noise. I made a special PDF of my book with larger than normal characters and read it on my android pad. This way I could place it at a certain distance and still be able to read it without effort.



PLACING THE MICROPHONE

The closer your mouth is to the microphone, the better the sound quality will be. However, talking directly into it straight on can increase the possibility of provoking unwanted pop sounds and mouth noises. I placed the microphone close but slightly to the right of my face avoiding breathing directly into it. This also freed my vision so I could get a clear view at my pad. You may hook up a set of ear buds to the I-rig Headphone outlet. This will allow you to monitor your voice being recorded as you read your book. Should you hear any unwanted sound or background noise, you can re-read your sentence right away and edit it later. Try making a few takes with different voice tones and volume. Then listen back and see what combination works best. Once you are comfortable with your positioning, take the time to note how and where you are standing (or sitting). Be sure to recreate the exact same environment and placement for every recording session.

HIT RECORD AND READ AWAY

This is the fun part but also the most demanding. You will need to keep a steady pace and voice tone throughout the entire book. I suggest that you make two takes of everything. I recorded one chapter at a time and re-recorded the same chapter (take 2) right away. Having two takes will give you an extra option should you catch a bad pronunciation or noise during editing that you might have missed while recording. At the end of each chapter or part, stop the recording and give the file a proper name (e.g. ch1-take1). These files will later be transferred onto your computer for editing and final formatting. Keep on recording as long as you have the energy and drive to do so. You do not have to transfer your files right away nor do you have to record your whole book before doing so. Once you have finished your day’s recording session, it would be wise to transfer whatever files you have at least to provide a backup.

TRANSFERING THE FILES TO YOUR COMPUTER

Skip this part if you are recording directly to your computer. If you are using the iRig app, there is an upload button at the top of the screen. This will give you the option to transfer your files via E-mail, iTunes, Wi-fi (my favorite), Cloud, etc... From this point on, we are diving into the technical stuff. Should you get stuck, you can always go to YouTube and type away your problem to get several solutions instantly. Or you may want to go shopping on Fiverr to find someone who can do it for you at a very affordable price.

EDIT YOUR AUDIO FILES

Once your files are transferred onto your computer, you will need to edit them with audio software. Audacity is free and easy to use. You will also find many videos on YouTube that will show you how to work it. This is where the magic happens. You will see your voice in the form of a wave track. Think of it as a piece of magnetic tape (y’know wayback yonder when we’s used to listen to music on mechanical machines?). The wave form can be manipulated, cut, shrunk, copied, deleted, moved as you would cut up and glue back pieces of magnetic tape.

This is where you will cut out the bad parts, the omnipresent breathing, hesitations, mistakes and so on. You will want to have both takes 1 and 2 of each chapter in front of you on separate tracks. This way, you can grab pieces from the 2nd take and bring them into the 1st take if need be. Do not get discouraged if you don’t understand a word of what I am saying. Once you have played around with the software a little and have watched a couple of tutorials, you will get the picture. It is not any harder than learning to navigate on Facebook.

  


Here is a trick or two from the old studio engineer:

Once you are satisfied with your chapter, it is time to make it sound big. Almost as if you had recorded it in a broadcasting studio. You will want to use the following plugins: Normalize, Limiter, Gate, compressor and Eq. You will find all of these goodies under the ‘edit’ tab. What they basically do is this:

Normalize: Brings your voice to the highest level of sound without distortion.

Limiter: This is even better because it boosts your overall level while limiting the max volume.

Gate: This one is even cooler and does somewhat the opposite. It sets a bottom threshold. What I mean is that all sound under a certain level is eliminated i.e.: breathing and undesirable noises like you scratching yourself or your dog barking in the far background.

Compressor: This is the most impressive one because it just plainly makes you voice sound big. It boosts the volume and gives your voice that warm close-up sound.

Eq: Stands for Equalizer. Funny because it does not equalize anything. It gives you the freedom to cut away or boost a given frequency as you wish. This is where you can bring down that annoying “s” sound or boost the bass to give it that oomph feeling. Play around with it and see what you like best.

Just keep in mind that your goal here is to make the listener comfortable. So whatever you do, please take the time to compare your work with other audiobooks to make sure you are within the norms. I remember one time where I had been playing around with a song for hours and hours. I compared it to a Madonna and U2 recording and found that my song sounded much better than theirs. Yeah right! Until I dumped it on a CD and played it on my friend’s sound system. That’s when I discovered that I needed to get some sleep and stop thinking that I could actually compare myself to the musical world’s geniuses.

Oh and yes, do take the time to watch some of the countless YouTube tutorial videos. You will find a multitude of tips and tricks that will save you a lot of time.

Once your files are all polished up and ready to go, it’s time to publish. Yay! Strangely enough, this is the easy part. Yep, all you have to do is go to www.authorsrepublic.com and follow the instructions to upload your files. That’s it. They will take care of the rest and you will find your audiobook available all over the place in no time. Oh and you will also see your royalties arrive through your Paypal account without effort. That is, if your book is selling of course. 



 
Have questions? Do not hesitate to contact me anytime. I will be glad to assist you in any way I can.

Happy recording!

Claude Viens 

Author, Motivational Speaker 
www.mostpowerfuldevice.com 
claude@mostpowerfuldevice.com

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