*As a way of explanation — do I need to explain? — I have my internet turned off this weekend. This is a means of trying to finish Through Fire and getting it to Baen this week, so I can write Darkship Revenge, and then bowl of red. I hear that in the old days, in soccer teams trainers would separate the players from their wives, to make them more keen to play. I’m not sure how that worked, unless, of course the wives were shipped to a small deserted island and forever out of reach if they lost the match, which I don’t think is likely, but who knows? I will be responding to comments on the Fire (tablet) which is the only permitted internet access this weekend. This means of course there will be specactulabulous auto correct errors, like Mucous for Lucius, but never mind. I shall report on Tuesday on whether this worked, and by then we can decide whether to send soccer players’ wives to little deserted islands or not. Meanwhile, Ms. Sabrina Chase, she who forges ahead where no indie has gone before — okay, where no hun has gone before — is here to tell us about the joys and wonders of producing your own indie audiobooks! I’d tell you to be gentle with her, but she’s one of you and can dish it out better than you can, so never mind.*
Home-brewed Audiobooks – by Sabrina Chase
Greetings, O Huns and Hoydens! I come to tell you of my adventures recording an audio version of my short story collection The Bureau of Substandards Annual Report. I picked this as my test project because it was short (only five stories) and I wanted to see how difficult it would be to do a full book. Apparently I did it right because Audible just accepted the project and it is available!
My equipment consisted of the following: a digital recorder, remote for recorder, headphones, software that came with recorder, Roxio software for final mp3 conversion, a closet, a shelf, and some memory foam. Total cost ~$300 (business expense, written off on taxes. Having a business can be a good thing.)
The digital recorder came with audio processing software, WaveLab LE7. It probably isn’t the best, but it was free and did 90% of what I needed to do, to the limits of my equipment. The memory foam was free, courtesy of my sister’s dog who decided her memory foam mattress harbored ill intent and needed to be destroyed. I cut chunks from the carcass and assembled them into a little foam quonset hut for sound isolation. The digital recorder went on a tripod stand inside the foam hut, which was placed on a shelf in my closet so the microphone was at head level while standing (I prefer to stand while recording, for better breath support and to avoid chair squeaks).
First off, I put my book on my Kindle Fire. Adjustable font size, no paper rustling for page changes. Once in my “studio”, I followed the ACX suggestions and recorded over a minute of dead sound. This is what you use for cutting and pasting over coughs,sirens, etc. instead of using a “blank” sound. Then I started recording the actual text. Whenever I made a mistake, I hit the “mark” button on the remote, waited a second or so, then repeated the bad section and continued on as normal. The marks show up in the file but not as sounds, so they are easy to find in post-production and fix.
Now you get to open the recorded files in the audio software. I learned many interesting things looking at my recorded files. For one thing, when I take a breath it looks like a whale. Really easy to find the ones I needed to remove. Also, the pops from words that begin with “p” or end with “t” are amazing and can be toned down or even simply deleted in the software. You just select with the mouse, and click delete. Insta-fix! Same thing with all the marked errors in your file. You figure out, using the cursor and the “play from here” function, where the last good word was that you repeated in your fix. Select the section with the error *including* that good repeated word and up to the same word in the fixed section, and delete. Play the section again to make sure you have enough space and you didn’t double words by accident. I was surprised how easy it was to fix errors this way.
You can remove spikes, rustling, etc. and you can also even the volume using the normalizer and level tools in the software.
Now we get to the technical aspects required by ACX http://www.acx.com/help/rules-for-audiobook-production/200485520
Each chapter, or section, must have a certain amount of dead space at the beginning, the end, and after the section title. You must also record beginning and end credits. Once you have all the various pieces, and the obvious errors are removed, you need to normalize the files so everything has a similar volume level (compression). Note that if you have loud spikes (yelling, or whatever) in your recording the vanilla compression or equalization available in software won’t work correctly. The *average* will look OK, but only because everything else is too soft. Hence the pre-cleaning step above to dampen unusual loud spots.
Now ACX doesn’t want .wav files. WAV is easier to work with for the software, but you need to convert the finished files to .mp3 format. That was the only thing the WaveLab software did NOT do for me, but I had Roxio that did, and could even convert in a batch.
You are so done with this: It takes a long time to clean up audio. 3x the recording time is pretty much what I had to do. I am sure an experienced voice artist with pro software can do better, but not me. So, I finished the files. Then I went to ACX, started a new project for my existing book, and said I had the audio files myself.
In the next step, you upload every separate file, in order, and here is where you can name them whatever you want (I had little intro-bits to each story.) Once uploaded, ACX does their review process. My first attempt failed because of the normalization volume problem, so they told me about it and a few other errors (wrong length of dead space at the end of a few files). I fixed them, uploaded the new files per their directions, and the second time was successful.
Pros and cons of doing your own recording:
-WAY too much work for the return. Much better off writing, for book-length projects anyway.
-I have a lot to learn about audio, and I now have greater appreciation of voice artists and their skills
-ACX is not very clear and some say contradictory in their guidelines about audio production. I did a lot of “try this and see if they notice” in my attempt
-cats hear you talking and want to join in.
Out of consideration for Sarah’s blog and length and such I did not include screenshots of the editing in action, but if there is interest I can do that and maybe share it using dropbox or Google docs or something like that.
(My previous post on ACX in general is here )