Audiobook Adventures Ch 4: Prep to Post!

Or did you think finding your own voice was just a metaphor?

We’re deep into this mad adventure now and I hope you’re enjoying it half as much as I am. As of this writing, my first book is “fully distributed” by Findaways and the second is awaiting approval. Having tripped over my own shoelaces with The Ring and the Flag I do feel my chances with Fencing Reputation are pretty good. But the time factor! Approval takes FOREVER, and that’s something I have to consider more carefully in future. Maybe just like with e-books and paper, having a stockpile before you release would be advisable. But for now, I soldier on with the first quarter or so of Book 3 Perilous Embraces, and it is proving to have its own challenges.

This installment assumes you have reached your second “done” line. The first came when you finished recording every word of narration. The second phase was going through that, cutting out bad spots, choosing the best takes, and even adding sound FX.

So now you have a smooth, complete chapter. No narration is missing, and all the added sounds, ambiance, environment and other things you wanted to hear in there, are there now. Great.

Get ready to produce this sucker.

Prepping the Track for Publication

I’m speaking in all this to the use of the recording utility Audacity specifically for the Findaways distribution service. To briefly recap– you can upload files to Findaways once and if they pass inspection, they will handle distribution to nearly 30 different audio-book outlets for you. Set a price once, and Findaways will handle the splits (including their own of course) sending you the rest.

But the files have to be ready-ready, I mean really ready. Here’s how.

Normalize and Compressor

These are two standard effects you find in the Audacity Effect menu, and you need to apply them both and in that order. I am no engineer but I can tell you that the impact of using these on your track will be to boost the sound level up generally (but guard against over-amping the level so that it doesn’t make a screech) and to some extent it smooths over the background white noise that’s there.

Click on Effect-Normalize, and take a look at this menu:

Make sure the top two boxes are checked (which helps keep the sound in a decent level) and set the dB box to -3.0. You don’t have to highlight any part of your file, it will automatically apply it to the entire thing (and this could take a half-minute or so). Done. You should see that the narration line has ballooned up to fill the width of the track– this is normal, and it may sound a bit louder overall as well (but like I said, it won’t be too loud). If you have places where your character shouted or screamed, you might click to those quickly and see if they still work OK for you.

Compression is just about the same routine. Click Effect-Compressor and gander at this enormous vista (DON’T PANIC!):

There are probably eighteen cool things you could do to make the sound a tweak better on this screen. Play with it by all means. But I recommend you make sure the top slider, Threshold, is set to read -23 dBSet the Noise Floor slider to -60 dB. The first box at the bottom was checked and I left it that way. But if your compression is not set to a range between -23 and -60 then your files will be rejected by Audible, the toughest of the online distributors as far as I can tell (and it takes them weeks to figure this out over at Findaways). So. Do this.

Once again it applies to the entire chapter and takes a half-minute or so to complete. The wavy lines get even fatter, most of the time, looking like they will burst out of their tracks soon. Which in a way is absolutely true– and the world has never heard anything like this! Indulge yourself in a hearty laugh of victory at this point.

Then save the file, you fool.

Now one last step.

Listen to It Again

I know I already told you to do that before, several times. This is THE last time you have to do it (the rest are all optional, if you’re like me and can’t stand not to check again and again). But do yourself this favor, especially if you have added FX: I’m not 100% sure why but on a fairly frequent basis the sound levels get off-kilter when you Normalize and Compress. Here’s what I do:

Go to the start of the file and click on the space BETWEEN the tracks, just like the rows and columns in Excel or in a Word document table. You can click and drag each track UP so that it’s a quarter of its original size. Don’t worry, the sounds aren’t getting hurt. This way, you drag up all the tracks and you can SEE THEM ALL AT ONCE. Pretty bright, you get me? Now click Ctrl + 3 to Zoom out and voila! You have a wide view of your entire file, maybe a half-hour at a time. Click right to where your FX are coming in on the lower tracks and listen to a few seconds each time. Sometimes the FX you download and use are in stereo, or have a more professional quality to them– those tend to “bounce up” in volume and become too loud, even after you used Amplify earlier to shush them. Now you just have to shush them again, that’s all. Depending how many FX you have, it might be you don’t have to change anything, but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Got it? All Normalized, Compressed and re-Leveled? Deep breath. And hit Save again.

Time to make the finished file.

Creating the MP3

Man, this is it! The final step to create a finished chapter that’s suitable for upload to Findaways, and from there all over the listening universe. Feeling proud? You should be!

From the Audacity menu with your finished file open, click File-Export. A menu pops up that looks a lot like a Save-As menu in MS Word. You will do several things on this page and they’re all important. The LAST thing you will do is click on the “Save” button over to the right. The last.

First- click into the File Name menu and give your raw file a clear name. How about “Title-of-My-Book_year-Ch1”? Anything like that should do, just remember in some distributors the file name could be visible. Also if you send out copies as ARC for review.

Second, click in “Save as Type” below that to choose “MP3 files”. Because Duh.

STILL NOT CLICKING SAVE. Click on the bottom right button “Options”:

Try Bit Rate Mode: Constant, and be sure to drop-down the Quality menu to select 192 kbps. The default setting is 144 and that is not good enough for Audible, it will result in rejection. Select Channel Mode: Stereo, and then click OK.

Congrats. You saved yourself 3-5 weeks again!

Back at the main Export menu, you may NOW click Save. This takes you to the Edit Metadata menu where I advise you to fill in some of the rows for yourself, or at least blank out what’s there.

Edit Metadata gives you plenty of fields to enter info:

Artist Name: Yours, the Author/Narrator (Will Hahn, in my case)

Track Title: Title of the Book (“Perilous Embraces”)

Album Title: Here’s where I put the series name and book number (“Shards of Light, Book 3”)

Track Number: I use the chapter number here (1, 2, 3 etc.)

Year: This one!

Genre: Click into the box and see a drop-down menu, mostly different music types. You could choose “Podcast”, but I just typed in “Fantasy A-Book”

Comments: I wish I had thought of it earlier, but this would be a good spot to credit places like Findaways (in general)  or other help you had making this file. Or you could put in the dedication to your book.

Whatever you choose, look at this menu if only to remove some things that might have crept in there. If for example you grabbed a sound off Findaways that was recorded by a pro, they might have done this metadata thing and you’ll see that your entire chapter already has an artist and a name!

OK, so fill in this menu… hurry up, already, this is the big finish… and then click on OK, which might bring you one more message saying essentially “Hey, just so you know, we’re going to crunch down all these tracks into  a single track, just saying” and if you see it you can click OK to THAT. Because it is.

And finally, the utility goes to work and it takes maybe a minute to complete its job.

The fill-bar disappears and your file looks completely unchanged. Because it is. But back in the Audacity folder there is now a MP3 file with the the title you gave it.

Congratulations.

Next and last installment, I’ll show you how to post all your project files to Findaways and hopefully avoid some of the face-flops I encountered.

I used to say you can do this. Now you already have.

 

Audiobook Adventures Ch. 3: Going for Effect

Or did you think finding your own voice was just a metaphor?

My summer project rolls along very well, committing the four novellas of my Shards of Light series to audiobook format as a DIY adventure. In previous chapters I’ve tried to offer some encouragement and a few pointers on the how-to of recording your own voice. As I set down this installment I’m about halfway through: Books 1 and 2 are submitted and I’ve recorded the first few minutes of Book 3. In future chapters I’ll have more to say about the submission process, and a few wild guesses about marketing a-books.

But now, it’s time to think about the effect of your book. I mean, the special effects and other touches you want to add, besides the voice.

To What Can You Aspire?

Adding F/X to your tale probably requires some thought, because the range of things is so wide open. Listening to other books on tape might give you a better idea: my impression is that a LOT of them today are pretty “pure” and just focus on excellent narration quality without white noise. And that’s great, if you have a pro studio and a pro reader. Personally, I hearken back to those tales on LPs that we had as kids (never mind what an LP is, I’m too tired to explain. A huge CD, got me?). There’d be a burst of music at the start, and running up and down between scenes. And some noises, like drums, or explosions or gunshots at the appropriate points. Honestly, the sky’s the limit. And can it be overdone? Yes, yes I’m sure it can! I’m reasonably sure I’ve overdone it too. But purple sound (our version of purple prose) is just a question of taste in the end.

I think we can reasonably deal with four categories of F/X in this post and I’ll try to give a little flavor of each:

  1. F/X that generate purely from Audacity itself
  2. F/X that you find (I’ve been using Freesound.org)
  3. F/X that you create
  4. Music and other licensed material

I won’t be touching on #4 here, except to say yes, it’s serious and you have to get a license to use pretty much any snatch of music you have in mind. I’ve done it once for a trailer and I don’t think it’s cost-effective. Truth to tell, I’m in a musical family and I’m ambitious to get my daughter or wife’s talents on track, and THAT in most cases I WOULD be free to use. But not here. And notice Findaways advises against using music (a rule I have already broken by singing on Book 1. But that’s just me singing, I own it).

Have the Audacity

I’m using this freely available online tool to record my tales, and it has a whopping Effects menu. Some of these you will have to use, like it or not before you publish: these are effects such as Normalize and Compression, and I’ll touch on those next time. But there are about a zillion effects and combinations thereof you can try right out of this one menu. I’ve regularly used about a half dozen including:

  • Amplify (mostly for DE-amplifying sounds)
  • Echo  (terrific for internal dialogue such as when your hero is having conversational thoughts)
  • Paulstretch (a quick way to distort the voice- I used it for times when someone communicated via magic. Speak extra clearly!)
  • Bass Boost (not as easy to use but it can give a little added JamesEarlJones to your track)

There are only two general rules, or warnings, I would give you for any of these effects. First, ALL of them require some experimentation. With Echo, for example, you highlight the section of your track that you want to sound spooky, and select the effect: then you get a sub-menu with choices to make. Guess! The sub-menu usually has a “default” setting and I have found that it’s never right for me. But you can also usually Preview what the first few seconds will sound like. Foozle with it, that’s a technical term we dilettante sound engineers use. And remember Undo. Second, and this could be a little depressing, there is a chance, whenever you highlight an area and do something to it, that you will create a click at the start and end of the section. Oy… but not always, and of course what you have from last time about how to get rid of those clicks still applies. Yeah, it’s work. But it’s not breaking rocks, come on now.

BTW

As you might notice there are Effects in the menu called Click Removal and Noise Removal. I’m quite sure these can be used  effectively to do what they say, but I have had zero success with them and have been using the tricks I outlined last time instead. The abilities of this tool are well beyond my skill level. But if you can use them, all hail.

Going Shopping

I confess it’s really fun to use an audio-library like Freesound when searching for effects. Most of the items there are free to use (with citation), and I create a Word doc with a list of each one, the creator’s screenname, the link to the effect, etc. Say something in your tag-file or intro to let folks know. You can also just daydream on a site like this, searching randomly and seeing what’s there that you might want to use.

The method I use is to download the effect, then in Audacity it’s File-Import-Audio and bring in the entire thing. The tool creates a new track at the bottom and puts the effect at the START of your track. Which is probably not where you wanted to use it. Take note of the position of your effect, the place you want it to be (look at the ticker on the bottom that will tell you): then go back to the beginning, highlight the entire effect, Cut, move to the right spot and Paste. Foozle. Undo. You’ll get it. Often-times an effect brought in like this will be quite loud, so use Amplify (with a negative number) to bring down the level. Check the start and end of the effect for clicks, and smooth them off. Often, I only use a few seconds of the effect, just cut and drop the rest.

I can’t say how often I decide to use an effect, whether it’s X per chapter or just something I know would be interesting. I go back to those sound LPs, and try to create the imagery that came to me as I listened to those. Come on, have some fun!

Effects from “official” sites like this are terrific for outdoor-environment, weather and other background noises. You get a lot of synthesizer-driven sounds that are comically wrong for a genre like fantasy, but in another world who knows? It’s incredible how many things people have tried.

DIY Sounds- It Worked When You Were Picking Words

I won’t rant too long, but be aware that sometimes you want to install an effect and the best way is to just do it. Search the libraries, sure, do that; but if it’s a tiny clap, or crumble, or chuckle, just record it yourself. You can lay it in “live” after you have your narration following the same rules: put the cursor a few seconds before the moment, hit Record, a new track starts and then you just do the sound at the right moment. Oops? Undo!

If you add maybe four effects to a half-hour chapter, you will have easily 12 to 20 separate tracks lying all across your screen. No worries, it all collapses down when you create the final file. I advise going back over the chapter several times, again just like proofing a text:

  • Once when you’ve laid in the narration, to be SURE you didn’t include any “aw, crap” or doubled paragraphs, or even extra pauses while you were catching your breath.
  • Once more after you’ve added your effects, just to check them. Back up the view using Ctrl + 3 over and over until you can see across the entire piece on your screen. Position the cursor just before each effect on the lower tracks and play, to be sure there are no entry-clicks or that the sound level isn’t off (use Amplify to back off the effect if it’s too loud)
  • And one last time in “Post Production” which I’ll cover next time, just before you convert the file and set it aside for publication. It’s ALWAYS worth another listen!

I hope this is proving useful to you in the quest to create your own audio-book, or at least amusing as you think about doing so. Next time I’ll quickly cover what you need to do to get your “raw” file ready for publication through online distributors. Ar Aralte!