Category Archives: Wild Card Wednesday

Audiobook Adventures Ch. 2: If at First

Last time I encouraged you to think about narrating your tales and extending your platform by creating audiobooks. Whenever you’re ready, here’s a little advice about the next steps.

The Tale is Yours

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about how you want to sound, whether this voice or that is better or if you should try on different tones for your characters. These are purely artistic choices–important sure, but who am I to say? The pace of your reading, whether you speed up or drop your voice, and a million other choices are in your hands, like it or not. Listen to what you’re recording– remember, we KNOW you don’t like the sound of your own voice, we covered that. Listen PAST that, think about whether this would be good to hear if you were hearing it for the first time. Other than that, I don’t think I could advise you.

But once you have a piece of it read into the machine, you’ll find yourself in exactly the same situation you were in that moment you finished writing the draft. You got there, wrote the final word, maybe capped it with “The End”.

But it wasn’t, was it?

You. Have. To. Edit.

And now that you’re reading the tale aloud? Same thing.

Editing the Recording

For those who came in late, I’m using the Audacity utility and a nice Pronomic mike to record and edit the second tale in my Shards of Light series entitled “Fencing Reputation”. I’ll record anywhere from a third of one chapter to the whole thing in an early-morning session lasting around an hour.

Look at the Squiggles. No Seriously, Look

Here’s a clip from what I’ve done:

 

The bigger, connected blobs are your voice speaking (or perhaps some other noise happening!) and the thinner, radio-wave squiggles over the center-line are “silence” (but really the background of your studio environment). Rather than another thousand words, let me mark it up for you:

Tips:

  • Don’t worry about making new tracks. You will have to stop, go back and listen, check your sound, etc. And when you come back to record more, the utility creates a new track. But that by itself doesn’t show on the recording.
  • Pause between sentences! Pause between paragraphs, pause for effect. It’s OK to pause! And if you listen to it and discover your pause was, um, too long (ham actors, I’m looking at you) (which means of course, that I’m also looking in a mirror), you can trim it.
  • When you are ready to restart recording, set the cursor with a click a little ways back into your previous track. Then when you hit Record, it will automatically start a new track, and that way 1) there isn’t an obvious “bump” or click between the end of the first track and the start of the new, and 2) you can time the pause better to continue reading just where you left off.

Useful Tools- Just Like Writing

Recording is so much like word processing I almost feel I shouldn’t tarry for these things. Please note as I write:

  • You can click with the mouse to place the cursor anywhere in your recording- just like your WiP
  • You can click-drag to highlight a section for cutting, copying or pasting- just like your WiP
  • You can also click to mark the start of a section, scroll over or down and Shift-Click to highlight a large area at once- and I’m not going to keep saying what this is like, capeesh?
  • Really, this utility is quite Intuitive. And let me emphasize where some of these important tools can be quickly accessed here before continuing:

But, I Mean, It Sucked

You don’t like how it sounded? Of course you can re-record it. There are two methods to use here and I heartily recommend the first one.

  1. By listening to yourself carefully and frequently as you go, you’ll get a good idea whether a take is a “keeper” or not, even as you read. You generally know when you’ve stumbled on a word. Or repeated, or stuttered, or said “s–t”. Take a pause (maybe say distinctly “trying again”) and then begin at the top of the paragraph or sentence. Then you can clip out the bad take rather easily and NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW!!! :: Insert evil laughter here ::
  2. If you somehow miss that this happened until long afterwards– such as when you are finalizing the recording for export– you’re in a bit of a tricky situation. Listen to the “bad” take several times. Then position the cursor maybe a sentence BEFORE what has to go, and hit Record. A new track appears, you listen to the run-up and then calmly read the same bit again right along with yourself. This can be a little unnerving, and you can always Undo, then Record again. Once you have a good second take, highlight that take, Copy it, then highlight the bad take on the track above and hit Paste. Bingo, the good take lays on top of the bad one and completely replaces it. If your new take was longer or shorter it’s fine because the track will bump up or down to fit. Then scroll down to the good-take track and delete the whole thing, you don’t need it anymore. Whew!

Those Darn Clicks

Here, quite honestly, is where I spend almost all my time actually editing a chapter. Little clicks and pops can show up whenever you cut or paste (especially if you’re not careful) and some are just spontaneous. Be sure to listen to the offending section a couple of times to be sure it wasn’t just a figment of your imagination

BTW, Important Point- whenever you click back into your track to listen to something again, you will very likely hear a click or pop, often quite loud. That pop does NOT ACTUALLY EXIST. More later.

As you give the chapter your first full “proofread” (proofhear?), you will likely notice some pop/clicks. I can’t give you a clear rule about what these sounds look like on your track, but you can definitely isolate them by highlighting a small section and playing it to check.

Again, I can’t tell what a click always looks like. But THIS, this here is ALWAYS going to produce a click:

It’s a question of that wave-line touching the center.

That’s the key.

That’s where the mystery-pop comes from when you click back to hear something again, you’re coming into the middle of a wave. But don’t worry about it. Now lining up one of those wavy-thin lines directly on center can be ridiculously tough. Here are some editing tricks I’ve learned that can help, in the order I usually try them.

Tip:

Remember that you can Zoom In on the track with Ctrl + 1 (zoom back out with Ctl + 3, and use Ctl +2 to return to “normal view”).

  • First Method: Half-Rests and Whole-Rests. See those rectangles that lie either just above or just below the line? In music, the top-box is called a half-rest, the lower one a whole-rest. Here endeth the music theory lesson, but the point is this. When you make a cut to get rid of a click, aim to cut from the middle of a “rest” to the middle of an identical rest. Get it? Either from a bottom-facing box to another bottom-facing box, or vice versa:

This works a high percentage of the time for me, the resulting cut plays through without a pop. But if it doesn’t work, if it creates two new pops, try:

  • Second Method: Pure Cut. This doesn’t work as often but it doesn’t take long. Once you’ve isolated the area of the pop, simply highlight it moving from a “space” to a “space”:

If the offending pop is in there, you can sometimes eliminate it and if you fail (creating a new pop) then you haven’t lost much time trying. Undo and try:

  • Third Method: Fade to Ssshh. This is the trickiest and creates a noticeable effect, but in a pinch it will work, especially if you’re taking a “beat” as actors say, a real pause for effect. Locate the pop as closely as you can. Highlight from before it to just after and click on Effect- Fade Out. Then highlight an area from just before the Fade Out ended to a spot close to your next speech, and click on Effect- Fade In. This will create a brief moment of silence but with the ambient noise fading then rising, almost like fade-to-black in a movie.

Slaying the Click-Dragon

As I said, when you’ve done this, including when you’ve realized there are one or two of these fershlugginer clicks you just can’t get rid of, then you will have a nice raw track of your chapter. I reserve the rest for another installment because effects and prep are either a) optional and/or b) lots of fun, or finally c) mandatory and not fun, but easy.

You are getting there! And so am I- as of this writing my files for The Ring and the Flag are accepted, my artwork has been revised and I’m just waiting for the new version to post. More news about that later this summer too.

Reading your tale aloud is the best proofread, and now it’s rehearsal too! Get on it.

Audiobook Adventures Ch. 1: Getting Started

If you missed my opening post about doing a-books… well, seriously what is wrong with you? But I am, and now I’ll relate a bit of how I got started and operate when making an a-book. I’ll be primarily involved in creating a-book versions of my series Shards of Light during summer 2018, and this post finds me with Book One ready to send off and Book Two well underway.

A-Book Shopping List: Ingredients for Talking the Tale

You will need:

  • Recording/editing software, and I will be referring to the free download Audacity throughout. I’m sure there are others but this came recommended and is one of the leaders. The online help manual is quite good. Tons of stuff in it I don’t use.
  • Quality microphone, and on this point I cannot stress highly enough the importance. If you already have one “lying around” the house, it’s quite possibly not good enough. The laptop inboard mike? Just no. Ask around online, check with a friend, but solve this problem before spending your time recording. Test it out on a two-minute stretch and listen: is there “background noise” that doesn’t exist in your background? Out. My set up was a gift, and the price in euros was three figures long as far as I can tell. The stand and spit-ring are certainly nice-to-haves.
  • A really good tale, which I optimistically assume you already possess. Microphones and recorders are a lot like paper and pens; they’re quite agnostic to genre, length and any number of other factors. Failure to record is a great deal like failure to write– your decision.
  • The voice, how about yours? I’ll be writing as if it’s you doing the talking here, though I suppose you could try:
    • Your spouse (just think of how much you enjoy it when they stand over your shoulder while you do a chore for them, telling you what you’re doing wrong. That will give you a sense of whether this is a good idea.)
    • Your child (cheap labor, certainly, but you might have to pen some excuse notes to teachers. Also could be tough if you’re writing gritty crime-erotica and your kid sounds like Shirley Temple.)
    • A trained macaw, stranger off the street or a really dedicated fan of your work. Certain travel expenses, animal cruelty laws, and the potential for home invasion arrests or restraining orders would be extra
    • Yeah, go with your own voice, lots of advantages. Caring about the way you wrote the tale, for one thing– or did you think that finding your voice was just a metaphor!

Download Audacity, plug your mike into the PC, open the software and look around. I won’t go into detail about the use of Audacity, a lot of it is pretty intuitive. But here’s one tip: check here to be sure it’s using your microphone, and not just defaulting to your PC!

What Am I Looking at Here?

Again, this will be most useful to those using Audacity. The opening screen looks like this:

Once you start recording– click the red button, duh– a track will leap into being with what looks like a scratchy line on it. “Shit” you exclaim, forgetting that it’s a recording. And right there is the swear word, like some kind of seismographic reading.

That’s because what you’re about to do is earth-shaking, get it?

A few more swear-words and some fumbling with the mouse later, you hit the yellow “Stop” button. Click on the green triangle to Play, and you will hear that swear word again, only this time it will sound like James Earl Jones said it, or maybe Dame Judy Dench, or Barney Fife, Roseanne, anyone else, just… that can’t be you, can it?

Not Me, No Way

It’s astonishing to me how many people have never really heard the sound of their own voice. There are two groups of people in this regard, and if you didn’t like what you just heard, you are standing in the group that has 100% of all people in it.

Nobody likes the sound of their own voice*. Not at first.

So. Deal.

  • Because people like to hear tales told by the author, that’s a fact. They buy it.
  • And because this is the way you get the book out for cheap (paying a narrator’s fine, but I’m here to tell you how to do this yourself).
  • And because– I mean this sincerely– this can be a lot of fun.

Listen to the sound of your voice and go ahead, be critical. Change what you can, leave what you can’t. There are people in your life who love you and they probably feel great when they hear you speaking.  You could be one of those people!

Back to the recording, and one of the greatest things about Audacity. Ready for the miracle?

Undo.

Right up under Edit, you can see Undo Recording. Click to remove that naughty word from existence. Then try again. Of course, there will be times when you make a mistake and don’t realize it until later. But there are tons of times when you WILL know, and this is a very handy time-saver. It also works great when you are trying out F/X on a certain section, like Amplify or Echo. Don’t like what you just heard? No worries, Undo and try a different setting or strength.

Narration is Performance, Yo

You can do this as well or as poorly as you like. Again, kind of like writing. Probably the biggest mistake you can make here– maybe the only one– is to think that your reading has to be a finished product the first time out of the box. Is that how you write? No?

So. Prepare. Focus. Smile a little before you talk. And be ready to not worry and try again.

  • Get the mike at a good level and distance for speaking (test it, remember Undo)
  • Personally I like to sit on a stool, because a chair compresses me too much, it inflicts a sag into my middle which prevents me from supporting the sound. Upright would also be fine, but my mike stand is a bit wobbly at that height, and also I can’t reach the PC controls easily. You will find the right height, at which you’re not too pained or relaxed to read your best.
  • Script big enough to easily see. I use my tablet because a) I want the PC screen free to show me what Audacity is recording, plus b) the distance is too far to read where I’m sitting, and c) paper pages make noise! On my Kindle I can size the font easily, plenty of backlight, etc.
  • Glass of water. Trust me.
  • I like to rinse with mouthwash to clear the tongue and throat. Otherwise you can get that sticky-flapping sound when you talk and it’s distracting.
  • THINK about the scene ahead. Listening to other a-books will give you a sense of how far to stretch your voice (it can be overdone, and I think I have overdone it myself at times). But you also want to think about pacing, raising and lowering your own volume, injecting emotion where needed. Avoid rendering the entire chapter in some version of iambic pentameter (you know, da-dump, da-dump, da-dump…). In other words…
  • Read TO an audience. Picture them listening. They haven’t heard this before, they need to know what’s going on.

Laying Out the Track

You. Can’t. Fail. Unless you give up. Read the tale, stop when you want, go back and listen, see if it’s a keeper. It’s no different than using highlight-delete on a rough draft. No, it’s not- and stop arguing with me about this.

One thing to consider is whether you want to lay out “the whole thing” in one track. Let’s say you’re trying for Chapter 1 (could be anything, but I picture chapters coming in around 4-6k words). Some folks say that the listening audience wants something around a half-hour long, and that would be my rough guess but don’t get too hung up on that. So we’re trying for a chapter here.

If you Record, Stop, Undo and Record again, Audacity will lay out a single track for you, one line of seismographic line-bumps. Let’s say you read the first three paragraphs, and after a couple attempts you find something you like. Especially early, it’s important to listen to what you’ve recorded because it will help you see if you’re too close or too far, and also whether there are background noises on your track. To some extent you can’t affect these, but it’s something to consider. My home AC system is a very quiet hum and I don’t think it’s too distracting, but sometimes my refrigerator knocks like an old car and that will kill a take completely. Again, no big deal.

But whenever you decide you have something worth keeping (meaning you don’t Undo it), when you start to Record again, Audacity will immediately create a second track, below the first. If you position the cursor at the end of your first track and hit Record, it will pick up from that point but in a second track. On the replay, it will move right through. This is true if you want to add a sound effect later (don’t worry about it now), the point to keep in mind is that you could end up with a stack-o’-tracks and IT IS FINE. I’ve had dozens in some of my chapters, but the listener doesn’t see that, it all comes out as a single track.

Experiment, get used to the sound of your voice, try again and realize nothing is any more permanent in the recording than it is with your writing. Next time I’ll touch on the editing process where you will need to spend a lot of time . Again, JUST as you do with the writing.

Enjoy!

 

*- When I wrote this statement I was relying only on my personal opinion about what was true. Little did I suspect there’s a TED talk to prove it! Check that out if you doubt me, and also if you want to be horrified by what your voice is already telling people.

In fact, your voice comes to your own ears through your bones. So yeah, sounds different. But the more you record and listen to yourself, I find, the more this difference fades away- whether it’s because I’m modulating my voice or just getting my ear more accustomed, I don’t know.