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
  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.


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!