Saturday, 29 August 2020

Trying Something New - Audiobooks

 This week, for the first time in a very long time, I actually managed to do some writing on the second Special Investigations book.  It took just about every anti-writers-block trick in my repetoire (writing fan fiction to jumpstart my creativity, giving myself a block of several hours without my kids, outlining, brainstorming, reviewing previous chapters, etc) and it wasn't a ton of words but it was something.

But the thing I'm actually excited about is that I'm moving toward something I've wanted to do for a really long time: getting my books out in audio.

I've set up a recording booth in my closet and I've given a shot at narrating the first few chapters.  It's been more of a challenge than I expected and I thought I'd share a little bit of the process.

First, I need to shout out a big thank you to my brother-in-law, Ned, who is an incredibly talented voice actor.  He gave me some good advice on performance and setting up my own in-home studio in an affordable way.  Specifically, using duvets as anti-sound reflectors instead of having to buy fancy padded foam inserts.  And using a touch screen to scroll through the text so that there are no sounds of rustling papers and button clicking on the recording.

I got myself a microphone and blithely began recording.  I knew I had a tendency for clumsy tongue stumbling, so I knew I'd have to re-record sections regularly.  One suggestion was to make sure to leave a significant blank (3 seconds) before starting again so that the gap would be easily identifiable when editing.  That worked better than I'd expected, so I'd highly recommend it to anyone wanting to give this a try themselves.

I'd recorded ten chapters and was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I realized that I'd misread the technical requirements that Findaway needs for audio recordings.  All of my recordings were far too quiet.

O-kay.  Disappointing but not crushing.  Until I realized that my fancy new microphone's levels were maxed out.  The only way I could meet the volume requirements was to have my mouth right next to the microphone, which introduced me to the wonderful new world of plosives.

Plosives are sounds that include a rush of air (b, p, t, etc.).  Put your hand in front of your mouth and you'll feel the exhalation as you say them.  When you say them directly in front of a microphone, you get a staticy-pop from the air hitting the surface.  Incidentally, this is why most microphones have a foam cover and vocalists usually have a pop filter (a nylon screen) in front of the microphone as well.

I was caught in a bind: to get the volume I needed, I had a plosive problem.  If I used the pop filter and foam cover to reduce the plosives, the recording was too quiet.

Well, crap.  I spent weeks testing different placements and combinations.  None worked.  So I needed to find a new microphone option.

Luckily, I found one: my son's gamer headset.  I could place the microphone just below my mouth, which let the plosive rush of air pass over it instead of hitting it.  I tried recording the first two chapters again and they met the technical requirements.  Yay, success!

Next challenges: editing the chapters to send them to my beta listeners and figuring out times when it will be reliably quiet to do more recordings.  (The duvets are great at preventing echoes and closed doors do a lot to subdue household sounds, but they will not stop the sound of a couple of excited kids shouting at their screens.  Voice of experience, trust me.)

It takes me about half an hour to record a chapter.  The actual chapter is about 8-12 minutes but I end up having to repeat a lot to get a good recording.  There are 45 chapters to record in the first book, so this is going to take awhile.  I can't record more than 1-2 chapters in a day or more than 5 in a week without stressing my voice.

But it's a start.  And it's helping my mood, since I feel like I'm making progress on something career related.  There will probably be more breaks because that's how life works with depression, but I'm going to keep plowing forward.

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