Sunday, December 30, 2012

How to Make An Audiobook. Part 1 of 3


I recently published the audiobook of Chocolate Roses, my LDS modern retelling of Jane Eyre. I learned a lot with each step of the process. There are easier ways to make an audiobook (such as hire a recording company who specializes in audio books), but I don't have big bucks for such things. My talented sons can figure out anything electronical, so I went on the hope that I inherited from them some of their ingenuity, and plunged ahead.

Each time Amanda Freeman volunteered to read in Sunday School class, I noticed how effortless reading seemed to her. She also acts and sings---is theatrical all around. Even her hair is a striking statement (beautiful dark long ringlets against fair skin.) I discussed recording my novel with her. She had previously entertained the idea of becoming a professional reader, and so she agreed to do the project.

I first tried to convince my publisher to finance the recording. He/she wasn't interested in expanding his business at the time to include audiobooks, so they assigned me the audio rights to Chocolate Roses.

Now I was on my own. I had recorded singers for my music site, so I'd had some experience in recording. I had limited funds, and renting a recording studio and a technician was out of the question. My son Ted has a small soundboard and a microphone, and I have a computer, so there had to be a way to do it myself. After discussing the idea with my sons, I did some how-to research on the Internet.

First, I made a sound booth out of a large cardboard box I found at a local appliance store. I removed one side panel, cut up an old foam pad and literally sewed it to the cardboard with heavy string, lining the entire inside (top and remaining three sides.).

Wah-lah! Dee-Lux soundbox.

I found a small room--windowless and in the center of the 1st floor of a two story building. Even though noisy jets pass overhead on their way to Sky Harbor Airport, the room was virtually soundproof with its solid door. Plus, we were practically alone in the building. Another plus was the rent was free. (An oxymoron, I know--free rent.)

I borrowed my son's soundboard and microphone. The first day at the building, he made sure the equipment was set up right and refreshed me on how to run the software--GarageBand that came with my Mac. (The second morning I did the set-up myself.) I sat at the soundboard outside the room. Wires ran from the box and under the closed door into the room where Amanda sat facing into the padded soundbox on a table. A towel covered the table to reduce sound, the microphone rested on a rolled pillow placed inches from her mouth.

So, with spirits and hopes high, we began. Two rookies in the recording business, we learned a lot in those two days of recording. My next post will include a list of do's and don'ts learned by trial and error. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Audiobook Part 2, Recording


My reader, Amanda Freeman, is amazing. She didn't need directing and is a natural at interpreting my prose and portraying Janie Rose Whitaker. Thank you Amanda!

We learned:
  • Record each chapter into its own file. (Required when uploading to Internet.)
  • Use an electronic book device--a kindle or computer that can be scrolled noiselessly (finger glide, not clicking) to eliminate sounds of page turning. It's okay if you don't have the device, but each time you need to turn a page, stop reading and make sure the reader (and page) is settled before starting to read again.
  • Reader should take a decongestant before the session even if they don't think it is necessary. This is a MUST.
  • Reader should do no writing. We started out having Amanda mark the script each time she had to repeat a line, but the mic picked up the pencil scratching. The second day, I marked the script. It was unnecessary in the long run. I only referred to the script a few times while editing. 
  • When reader makes a mistake, she should pause and then repeat the line. Read the full sentence again, not just a phrase. No need to stop recording. Even when we found it necessary to discuss an issue, we kept the recording running. It is simple to edited out the discussion later.
  • Everyone makes mouth noises--smacks, swallow, breaths, sniffles. Most sounds can be edited out later. The director/technician should not be shy about pointing these out (if they are correctable-- such as starting to read before finishing a swallow. We all do it.)  The hardest sound to edit out is breath on the microphone (use an impact shield) and soupy nose sounds in the middle of words. When/if you hear these noises during recording, STOP immediately and repeat the line. You will regret later that you didn't.  (After this experience, it was hard to listen to speakers in church without mentally editing their noises!) Reader, don't be afraid to stop and breath, blow your nose, etc. It can all be edited out.
  • Take breaks. Don't wear yourself out. The energy at the beginning of the day fades by the end. 
  • We came back a week or so later to "fix" some spots, and even though it was in the same room, the sound in the recording was slightly different. I didn't use most of the material in that last "make-up" session.
  • The homemade sound booth worked great. Using the inner room worked well, too. I'd do it again.
  • Make sure you have a cover/impact shield on the microphone to eliminate bursts of breath.
  • I found it helpful to read along with Amanda. There were a few places that I, as the author, wanted her to interpreted differently. 
Overall the recording part of the experience was a lot of fun. I had the privilege of hearing Chocolate Roses read by an amazing reader, and fell in love with Roger Wentworth all over again.

Reader: What other important points have you learned in recording sessions that you could share here?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Do-it-yourself Audio Book, part 3, Editing

And now to edit 10-12 hours of recording.

 There are several programs you can use to record. We used Garageband, and in this article GB will represent whatever program you use. There are probably other programs more suited for audiobook, but GB is what I own and have used for years in my music. It is simple and very well designed.

I first went through and cut all the long pauses, page turns, loud breathing, and discussions I mentioned in part 2. I listened to all the repeats and chose the best ones, and mixed cuts when needed. In GarageBand, you can actually isolate a nose squeak in the middle of a word, and remove it.

Some chapters took longer than others to edit due to how many deletes it required. After editing all, I scrutinized each chapter again and found many more noises to edit out. I figure I spent three 3-4 times more time in editing than in recording.

One of the major problems I next faced was when I sent my song from GB to iTunes, was that the volume reduced. (It is annoying to turn the volume to max on an audiobook and still not be able to hear.) After several attempts using every method I knew to raise the volume, I googled the question, (isn't Google great) entering "reduced volume sending GarageBand to iTunes." I found others' posts about the problem, and the solution is to go to GarageBand--Preferences--Advanced-- and uncheck Auto Normalize. Problem solved! The volume stabilized in the transition.

When importing the chapters from GB to your computer's iTunes, choose "Share" from the menu-- then, "Send to iTunes" in the drop down menu. A setup box will appear. Title your project, and then for Compress Using choose MP3 encoder, and for Audio Setting choose Higher Quality. Comprendo? MP3 and Higher Quality is required for the Internet. (Don't laugh at my simply instructions. I had to go back and redo it correctly.)

My son-in-law recorded the beginning and ending announcements. He has impeccable diction, which I love, and is essential for a good recording. The beginning and ending must be in separate files. To enhance them, add background music as a theme--something that fits the style of your novel.

I chose the intro music at jewelbeat.com  and bought it for 99¢.  You'd think a composer would record her own music, but to tell you the truth, they offer great stuff and it took the stress out of finishing my project. Jewelbeat is also where I found the music for the book trailer for my novel The Star Prophecy.

Now, I assumed Chocolate Roses was ready to sell on Amazon and would be simple to upload. Ha, ha! Was I wrong! I searched Amazon's site for a way to upload my audio files, and found NO way. Amazon does not let you upload your audiobooks directly.

Again, Google came to the rescue. I searched for "How to upload an audiobook to Amazon" and found that I had to go through ACX.com  They format your recording and put it on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible. Aha! Ask and it shall be given.

ACX is a self explanatory site and did a great job of walking me through the process so I understood every step. Individual chapters upload individually, so each must in a separate file. If you get the notice that your "bit rate" is not high enough, go back to GB and make sure you chose Higher Quality as noted above. (Remember I had to go back and remix. Blush.) It took over an hour to upload all the chapters. Be ready with your beginning and ending credit recordings, and an audio sample, too, for promotional use. The audio sample can be the first chapter.

After uploading Chocolate Roses in its entirety, the completed product totaled 5 hours and 32 minutes. ACX immediately sent me an email saying to approve my audiobook for quality would take 2-3 weeks, which meant they would check to see I did it right.

The notice about the wait was a surprise, but with relief of having the project finished. After three weeks, I received an email telling me Chocolate Roses was now available on Amazon, iTunes, and Audibility. 

Listen to Chapter 1 here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 Christmas Song "A Baby Born For All"

Every year I write a Christmas song. This year "A Baby Born For All" is recorded by Annie Fletcher. You are invited to listen and print the sheet music at http://joansowards.com/node/127

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