I entered the throes of narrating and recording and mastering my first Cornish Detective novel on April 23rd. Who Kills A Nudist is 79,000 words long with 50 chapters, meaning they average 1,580 words. It takes me about twenty minutes to narrate each chapter, but editing/mastering the recording consumes 60 – 70 minutes. The work involved is repetitive and nit-picking, as I remove a sliver of one-tenth of a second between words, then play it back to hear if it sounds more listenable. My wrist soon started to ache from concentrated activity. I use Audacity, which looks complicated, but is easy once a few commands are mastered. It took me a couple of weeks to work out how to do that.
It would be possible to do a rush job, but it wouldn’t meet ACX criteria and would be riddled with mistakes. I reckon that it’s completely impossible to narrate a chapter without stumbling over pronunciation, mucking up an emphasis on a word or using the wrong voice for a character. That’s without taking into account noises that intrude – brushing the microphone lead with a knee or knocking the table with your knee, and then there are motorcycle exhausts whining away.
Most of the work I do is to remove the sound of me taking a breath. It’s OK to leave breaths in if a character is talking passionately, but the narrator needs to be talking from a quiet place.
The portable recording booth I made cost me about £20 to construct, but I already had a black plastic recycling bin of the right size. A good quality microphone is essential. The Røde microphone cost me £105 and plugs into a USB port. The other essential piece of equipment, to my mind, is a tablet to read the manuscript from; my Android model cost less than £60. It would be possible to use your desk computer or laptop to read from, but there’s a high chance that the cooling fan will come on…you won’t hear it, but the microphone will! Forget reading from paper, as all the rustles will be recorded.
Thus, for about £200, I set myself up as a narrator. An expense that I hope will pay off, as audiobook sales have grown 31% this year.
I long ago decided that everything in life takes longer to do than you think it will—except for spending money and making love! It’s particularly true of anything to do with writing and publishing. Learning how to narrate and record and edit looks overwhelming when you first think about doing so. Even once you’ve got an idea of what to do, it’s still very time-consuming.
There are scores of helpful and confusing guidance videos on YouTube giving basic and advanced tips. It won’t take you long watching these videos for you to realise that audio experts are total geeks!
NB When watching videos, check the date that they were made. Audacity is regularly updated, meaning advice for one version may not apply to more recent versions. I’m using the latest version 2.4.1
The thing is, you really don’t have to comprehend what terms like compression, normalisation and noise reduction mean. All you have to do is apply these effects in the correct order to make your recording sound as it should—it won’t sound any different to you—but, it will conform to the technical requirements of ACX, which is the vetting procedure that an audiobook has to pass to be allowed onto Audible, the audiobook division of KDP.
There are several plugins that need to be added to Audacity to make things easier, including one called ACX Check which analyses your manuscript.
I’ll write a post about what I’ve done and how to apply the effects.
NB Even if your story passes the ACX Check, it still might be rejected by the Audible team for other transgressions, apparently, one can wait several weeks for a response.
I’m contemplating recording audiobook versions of my five Cornish Detective novels.
I’m picking your brains for advice. I’ve been looking at microphones for sale. This evening, I opened a newsletter from Yanko Design (worth subscribing to) to see an article on an affordable microphone from Rode:
It’s pricier than the quoted $91. In rip-off Britain traders on eBay and Amazon are asking £109.99, but it looks easy to use and has good reviews.
I live at what used to be one of the noisiest places in Cornwall, during the day, at a petrol station on the flight path to Newquay Airport. In normal times, it’s very quiet after 7.00 p.m. These days it’s silent! I wouldn’t be disturbed by aeroplanes or passing vehicles. My room is compact at 18’ x 12’ with sloping ceilings, so I don’t think I’d need to build a recording booth. But, what do I know?
Will I need sound-absorbing material on the walls, a book stand, a microphone stand or a digital audio workstation to mix and edit?
What can you tell me?
It’s commonly said that we’re surprised by how our voice sounds when we hear it on the playback of a recording. Usually, it sounds higher than we think it does. This article discusses the problem:
I’ve been told several times over the years, that I have an attractive talking and singing voice, which gives me a little confidence to narrate my books. At the moment, I’m researching microphones and such things as polar patterns. It looks like I need a cardioid pattern mic.
I remember reading advice that it’s best to slow down one’s narration, as it’s easy to gallop through a story.
For those of you who’ve created audiobooks, were you surprised by the sound of your voice? What about the dilemma of imitating foreign accents? I get the impression that extraneous noises can sometimes be edited out. But, what about the microphone’s sensitivity—can it pick up the sound of the narrator sipping water?
I know that book narration isn’t making a radio play, but have you ever included sound effects? Way back in the 1970s, I worked as a motorcycle dispatch rider. One of the regular clients was a Foley engineer who added sound effects to films and videos. Her recording studio could be a surprisingly messy place. I was shocked one day, when I arrived with a package, to find her slashing a pumpkin to pieces with a machete, the pulp flying everywhere. This was to simulate a stabbing scene in a horror film. I’ve never looked at pumpkins in the same way since!
I’ve also been investigating affordable video cameras. This assumes that I can bear the thought of appearing online.
Who knows where I’ll end up?
What about listening to your audiobook? Which headphones or earbuds do you favour?
I listen to music while writing. For years, I used cheap earbuds, favouring those that fitted into my ear canal, rather than models which perched in my ear as I found them uncomfortable, and they allowed too much sound leakage in and out.
Such budget plastic earbuds don’t last forever—one earbud fails—I’m a decent solderer, but the wires are finer than human hair and difficult to connect if you’re thinking of joining two working earbuds.
Frustrated by their short life, I decided to splash out a tenner on a pair of wooden earbuds. This sounded like a gimmick to me, but, to my astonishment, the sound quality was brilliant! Playing songs, I could hear notes I didn’t know existed with the cheap earbuds. They also have a long lead, which makes moving around easier. Best tenner I’ve ever spent.
I like them a lot, but wonder if over-ear headphones would be better for creating audiobooks.
Do you have any recommendations?
After missing out on an eBay auction, I decided to bite the bullet and buy new. I investigated alternatives to the much-recommended Zoom H4N Pro Handy Recorder—it’s a brilliant device—but stretches my budget. I found good reviews of the Olympus LS-P4 Hi Res Audio Recorder, which an eBay trader was selling for £99.99…new, but in an opened box.
I bought it, along with the Rode NT-USB microphone for £105 and a clip-on suspension boom mic holder for £9.95 (reduced from £24.95).
I feel faint!
I’ll let you know how things go.
I’ve been watching the Booth Junkie videos on YouTube. He really knows his stuff and can explain things well.
Losing my virginity as a narrator is proving to be a costly business. I bought the Rode microphone and Olympus audio recorder under the misapprehension that I could use the former as an external mic for the latter. It turns out that I don’t need to. It is possible to attach an external mic to the recorder, but to do so with the Rode would need a strange lead with a 3.5 mm jack plug on one end and a mini USB plug on the other.
I’m happy with both bits of kit and have made test recordings with each of them. From advice, I read, it’s thought to be risky to record onto a laptop hard drive, as the fan noise will intrude. It hasn’t, so far, but the temperature in my flat reaches 90F/36C in summer, so it’s likely to.
As a way around this problem, I bought a cheap tablet. I intend to use it for reading the manuscript too, to avoid making scrolling noises with my laptop mouse or paper sounds from turning pages. The Ibowin 10.1” tablet is made in China and cost me £58.99. It’s the first tablet I’ve owned, and I was impressed with the quality of it. What didn’t impress me, is how damn difficult it is to connect to the internet using my GiffGaff dongle. The tablet uses the Android operating system and is designed to connect to Wi-Fi. I’m not alone in having difficulties—try Googling it. Apparently, there’s a way around the problem by ‘rooting’ the device, but this may not work and it voids the one-year warranty.
Feeling frustrated, I did more investigating and found that what I needed is a Mi-Fi router, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, into which I insert the GiffGaff SIM which will allow me to connect my tablet and the laptop and up to six other devices. I found a refurbished model on eBay for £18.99. I hope that it works.
My test recordings, which I did without any sound insulation, showed that the ambient noise was surprisingly high. I had a brainwave to make a portable recording booth. When I work, I rest my feet on a black plastic recycling box, which looked the right size. Then, I looked at YouTube to see that a Canadian chap had done just the same thing!
Back to eBay to buy spray adhesive (£5.40) and acoustic panels (£13.88) to line the box with. Experimenting (which is free!), I lined the box with pillows and cushions and made two recordings of the same chapter with the mic and with the Olympus audio recorder. The portable booth worked really well with no ambient noise and my voice sounded fuller and more bass.
This is a very good thing, as in the first recordings, I sounded like a cross between Stephen Fry being haughty and Kaa the snake from Disney’s version of The Jungle Book. I don’t think that sounding like a snobby hissing anaconda is desirable as a narrator.
Various famous people and characters have offered their voices to GPS providers, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Darth Vader, Yoda, Homer & Marge Simpson and Mister Burns, Mr. T, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, K.I.T.T. (the car in Knight Rider), Wallace and Gromit, Snoop Dogg, Brian Blessed, John Cleese, Dennis Hopper, Kim Cattrall, Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly, Burt Reynolds and Stephen Fry.
There aren’t many female celebrity GPS voices available, which has led to accusations of sexism: