Thursday, 5 February 2015

Release of Audiobook Blood and Water Three Short Stories by Charles J Harwood

My first audiobook Blood and Water 3 Short Stories has just been released as an audiobook on audible.com, Itunes and Amazon. Learning how to produce talking books has been an interesting experience, involving experimentation, research into the best recording equipment to use and the craft of using the voice.

A First Audio Book

Click to Buy from Amazon
My first talking book consists of three short stories told via different voices and attitudes: a young girl running away from home, a middle-aged man, stuck in a dead-end job and a boy with learning difficulties. This meant thinking about using different voices to reflect the viewpoint of the narrator. The three stories, by the way, are entitled Blood and Water, Dead Letter Room and What Simon Knows. Each story lasts roughly ten minutes, bringing the total recording time to just over half an hour.

The Recording Experience

The setup was kept as simple as possible: an audio interface with two outputs. I used Scarlett Solo with large diaphragm condenser mic and pop screen. A small space was used for the recording in a location away from the busy road at the front. To rid of sound reflections, soft fabrics were used around the walls. This would create a dead-sounding space. Audacity free sound editing software was invaluable for editing the recording. A PC was used to wire the whole arrangement together.

Teething problems were inevitable – plosives for one. The mic was moved in different positions and a pop filter used, but plosives continued to sneak through. I also learned not to compress the recording too much, or the voice could sound horribly metallic. A lot of trial and error took place over the first few weeks.

Journey into Recording an Audiobook

The recording took around a month, as test recordings took place. The mere shifting around of the mic affected the sound of the voice, and experimentation informed on how best to position the mic in relation to the speaker. The script was read through several times before the final recording was submitted to Audible.

Audible were very helpful, providing feedback for a sample recording. This was used before the chapters were uploaded onto Audible. The final lesson learned was to be patient. Audible take a week or so to process your audiobook before it appears for sale.

On the whole, producing an audiobook is a great experience. Look out for other audio books by Charles J Harwood to follow in due course. In the meantime, find articles to help other hopeful audio book narrators on what I learned during my experience in recording my first ever audiobook.

What I Learned about Recording Audio Books

Ten hot tips for audiobook narration
The best mics for recording audiobooks
How to prepare the script for audio book recording
A cheap recording studio
Convert your Wav files to MP3 for Audible

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Best Free Audio Editing Software for the Voice Artist Recording Audiobooks

Free sound editor software can be found to suit the needs of any audiobook narrator wishing to master the sound recording of the talking book. But which free sound editing software is best for recording a single voice?

A Cheap Home Recording Studio for Talking Books

Audacity, WavePad, Cubase, Protools
and Ableton Live Sound Editors
There is an array of fantastic sound editing software for the audiobook narrator wishing to master the recording of a vocal. Some boast many features such as special effects, musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) for processing data of many different signals at once. You can even change the color code and appearance of the dashboard from where you are working.

Examples of such software include Audacity, ProTools, WavePad, Adobe Audition, AVS Audio Editor, SoundForge, Ableton Live Lite and Steinberg’s Cubase.

Free Sound Editing Upload

This all sounds well and good, but when choosing the best recording software for vocal narration, there are a few things to bear in mind:

The sole demand of the software is to process the sound of a voice. Unless you belong to a band or want to create special sound effects for a movie clip, the additional features are likely to be unused. Furthermore, the sound files of an audiobook are often required to be in mono, not stereo. This means a single track of recording will be the only requirement for upload onto a talking book platform. When it comes to audio software, I prefer the simple ones that are easy to use and are also free. In this regard, Audacity is highly recommended.
  
When it comes to mastering audio, all the voice artist needs are:

A cut and paste facility that enables the deleting of outtakes, increasing pauses and shifting the pace of the narration where required.

Equalizing Sound Engineering

A good equalizer tool that enables the manipulation of frequencies between 10Hz to 20,000Hz (20 KHz). And even at this wide range, the ear can barely perceive the extremes. The lower frequencies represent the base; the higher frequencies represent the trebles. Manipulating these frequencies can add punch and clarity to the voice. But it can also spoil the recording if you don’t know what you are doing. Equalization is a fine art and needs experimentation.

Compression of Sound and Hard Limiting

Hard Limiting a Wav in Vocal Recording
You will also need a sound compressor and hard limiter. The human voice is dynamic in that it will alter dramatically in volume, creating high peaks and low plateaus on the sound wave. This can cause inconvenience for the listener who has to keep turning up and down the volume. The sound compressor will even out the sound wave, creating a more consistent wave profile. A hard limiter is a severe form of sound compression in that it simply cuts the volume to the chosen parameter. The result is a sound wave that looks like a comb. Don’t overdo the compression, as this will cause a horrible distorted sound to the voice.

Useful Features of Sound Editing Software

Dynamic Wave Profile of a Vocal Before Compression
Other features will come in useful such as:
Normalization: this will amplify the soundwave as much as possible whilst retaining its proportions without clipping.
Amplification: This will amplify the soundwave but also permit clipping.
Noise Removal: This will identify the sound profile of the ‘room tone’ which is the silent aspects of the recording. Any slight hiss or hum can be removed. However, a room with a very low noise floor, i.e. a very silent room will make the noise removal function more effective.
Sound Analysis: This enables the sound engineer to examine the sound profile of any recording and make adjustments.

After taking a look at the sound editing software, have found all have these basic functions but are presented differently. Some also have extra features, such as additional MIDI tools, voice changer, text to speech, sound mixing and more. Will the narrator really need all these extra tools?

This brings me to the next issue: the sound files that are supported.

MP3 Editor for Audio Books

Not all audio software will save the WAV file in MP3, the required sound format for upload onto audio book retailers. In some cases, the customer may have to pay a license fee to use it due to software patents. However, Lame Source Code is free and can be used with Audacity to create MP3 files for talking books. But note: not any MPEG files will do, but MP3 192KKB in mono. This cannot be achieved from some sound editors, not even Itunes itself (it halves the KBBS of a mono recording degrading the quality).

Sound Editing Software for Talking Books

In conclusion, the voiceover narrator is spoilt for choice when it comes to audiobook software to master a vocal recording. Some offer lots of features and may take some getting used to. Others are free and simple to use. Bear in mind the demands of the sound software. A sole voice is all that is being mastered, not a complex recording project or a ten-piece band. This means that most of the features will remain unused. I use Audacity and Lame.

Finally, even the best recording software cannot make up for poor recording, which might be littered with plosives, background noise or the metallic sound of a cheap mic. A good large diaphragm condenser mic, audio interface and a soundproofroom will bring the home recording up to a professional standard more than the software alone.

Tips on Home Recording your Audiobook

Monday, 2 February 2015

Ten Tips for Voice Techniques in Audio Books

Starting out in voiceover narration for audio books? Find ten essential tips for voiceover recording I learned the hard way. Here’s how to take the headache out of a professional sound recording of your audiobook.

The Best Audio Interface on the Market

Best Microphone for Voice Recording
1 Don’t record your narration directly on the sound card of your computer. The internal soundcard is designed only for basic recording, not professional standard audiobook narration. Get a good audio interface. This USB external sound card will power your mic and boost the recording signal for audiobook recording. It will also convert the sound signal into digital, a language the computer can read. Focusrite, Presonus, M-Audio or Behringer are highly recommended. Unless you are a member of a band, you won’t need an interface with lots of outputs. Two outputs will suffice.

Good Quality Microphones for Voice Over Recording

2 Don’t go cheap on your microphone. Get the best quality mic you can find, not the sort for recording onto an Iphone. A large diaphragm condenser microphone is a must for voice over artists. Ensure it has an XLR cable that will plug into the interface. Rode, Behringer or Samson are good mic choices.

3 Get a good pop filter. The pop filter will break up plosives as you speak into the mic. Plosives are harsh sounding explosions of air that overload your mic, creating an amateurish recording. Place the pop filter between mouth and the mic to get the best results. You might also need a shock mount that will absorb vibrations and good quality headphones.

External USB Drive for Your Computer

4 Don’t save your sound files directly on your hard drive. Get an external memory card with plenty of space. I use 500GB or a terabyte. Sound files will soon gobble up the memory on your computer, creating unnecessary overload. Backing up your recording is also a must.

5 Don’t record your audio book in a bathroom. Rooms with harsh surfaces will produce unwanted sound reflections and an amateurish recording. Create a cheap but great recording studio by padding out a small room, which might be a walk-in wardrobe or box room. Eradicate echoes by placing blankets over the walls. Use acoustic foam or similar if this can be afforded.

6 Don’t record your audiobook in a room overlooking a busy road, train station or a dog’s home. Choose the quietest room in the house. Blot out as much background noise as possible. Pause if an airplane happens to coast over the house. Cut out noise during the mastering.

Sound Editing Software for Voiceover Artists

Audacity Sound Editor is Free
7 Use good sound editing software. Audio software enables you to cut out outtakes, equalize the sound and compress your sound recording to a professional standard. ProTools, Audacity and Cubase are popular choices.

8 Don’t be a walking decibel. Take off noisy jewellery and watches. Avoid high carb foods that can make your stomach rumble. Be comfy whilst you narrate to prevent unwanted shuffling sounds. Sitting still for long periods can be demanding, so use cushions and a back support.

Printed Text or Computer Screen for Easy Reading

9 Try out what works best for you: reading from a screen or printed text? Bear in mind the cooling fan of your computer could cut in during the recording if you read from a screen. A Kindle or Tablet might work best for you. I prefer to read from printed text as this is softer on the eyes.

Professional Voiceover Artist Tips

10 Get to know your voice. Can’t do accents? Don’t force it. Try altering the tone instead to differentiate characters. Practice reading the text to anticipate tricky sentences and pauses for breath. Research voiceover techniques to create a compelling read for listeners. This might involve raising or lowering the pitch, altering the pace and emphasizing words. A beginner’s mistake is simply to read the text aloud. This can result in a monotonous recording. Pick up techniques other great voiceover artists use and make them your own. Practice is the key.

Information about Audio Book Narration

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Tips on How to Get Rid of Plosives in Speech for Voiceover Artists

Audible book narration will sound amateurish if plagued with plosives. A plosive is an explosion of air into the microphone that causes the mic to recoil audibly. Not a pleasant sound. Plosives form part of the proximity effect; placing the mouth close to the mic. The voice will sound deeper and richer, but the mic will also recoil at harsh consonants in speech. How does the audiobook narrator avoid plosives when recording an audiobook?

What is the Proximity Effect in Audiobook Recording?

Pop Filters Help Rid of Plosives
A great, intimate sound to the voice will result when speaking into the microphone from a close proximity – about 6 inches or closer. The tone will be deeper, warmer and rich, ideal for audiobook narration. However, mouth clicks and breaths will also be more audible.

Standing some distance from the mic, say a foot or so or more, will permit a more airy sound. The room tone will be more apparent, as well as sound reflections from walls and background noise. The voice will also have less weight, having a more treble sound. This can be fixed during mastering by adding base (or lower frequencies) to the voice. However, it is always pays to avoid overmastering the recording.

Plosives in Microphone Recording

Plosives in Sound Recording Appear as Hooks
This is why I like to speak quite close to the mic during audiobook narration to get a rich tone first off. However, problems will arise in the form of plosives. Plosives result by a sharp exhalation of air into the mic when uttering such consonants as ‘TH, ‘F’, ‘P’, ‘B’ ‘H’ and ‘V’. Plosives are recognizable in the sound wave as hook-like formations as can be seen circled in red in the image.

How to Rid of Plosives in Voice Recording

Plosives became a real problem for me soon after embarking upon narrating my first book. I tried using a pop filter, but the plosives persisted. I didn’t want to stand far from the mic and lose that intimate tone in the voice.

I found a quick fix during mastering by sloping down the lower frequencies of equalization from about 200Hz to 20Hz (see image). Highlight the offending hook in the soundwave then click ‘OK’. However no one wants to repeat this procedure for every plosive in the recording.

Plosive Repair by Reduce Low Frequencies in Equalization

Plosives Problem in Audio Book Narration

You can also avoid plosives by angling the mouth slightly to one side of the mic so the explosions of air are not directed at the mic itself. This was OK, as audiobook narration is saved as mono files, not stereo, so the direction of the voice will not be detected on the recording.

Voice Techniques for Voiceover Artists

I found an angle of approximately 30 to 40 degrees of just a few inches from the mic maintained that intimate tone but without the plosives. Trial and error helped give me the right formula.

Plosives in Sound Recording

Large diaphragm condenser microphones are very sensitive, picking up every little sound, whereas the dynamics are more directional, in that they will only pick up local sounds but not background noise. Some mics are more susceptible to plosives than others. In such cases, a pop filter will usually cut out plosives. As a harsh blast of air hits the filter, the air is broken up by the mesh. Some pop filters are double layered for extra effectiveness.

Professional Recording of Audiobooks

Plosives are a nuisance of audiobook narrators. One way to rid of them is to stand a little away from the mic, but this will result in a loss of fullness to the voice tone. Another is to use a pop filter, a piece of mesh that is placed between the mic and mouth. A blast of air is dispersed by the mesh. A third tactic is to speak slightly obliquely to the mic to divert the air away from the mic itself. Plosives that happen to blot your recording can be minimized by cutting out the low frequencies in equalization. Trial and error of the sound equipment will help overcome this problem.

Tips on Audio Book Narration

Tips for Audio Book Narration: Preparing your Script for Talking Books

Creating an audio book includes making sure your narration sound professional. The beginner’s mistake might be badly-times pauses in sentences, outtakes or noisy page turnovers. Here are some tips on how I marked up my novel ready for voice narration in audiobook creation.
                                      
How to Narrate a Novel for Audiobook Creation

To err is human. This means that chances are, you will false start, stutter or run out of breath before you reach the end of a sentence. Don’t worry as there are things the narrator can do to improve voiceover performance and enhance the listening experience. This means there will less work to do during mastering and editing the recording.

Tips on Vocal Recording

Creating an audio book is more than simply reading a series of pages aloud. There should be emphasis, pauses and different character voices so the listener knows who is speaking. A good performance ensures the reader will be immersed within the story. Here’s how I prepared my text for audio book recording.

Mastering Audio Books

Script for Audio Book Reading
Audio book narrators can read from a screen, book or a printout. I prefer a printout. The others have disadvantages. Firstly, a computer screen means a cooling fan is not far away, and the last thing an audio book narrator needs is the fan to cut in halfway through a book narration, ruining the recording.

Kindle or Tablet might be OK, but I find the screen is too small for many words to fit per line. This means the eyes have to keep returning to the next line during reading and scrolling down. This can be taxing and cause outtakes in reading.

Reading from a book might be OK for some, but the pages will not lie flat. There would also be a lot of noise interruption as the pages need to be turned quite frequently. A lot of sound editing will be needed to cut out unwanted noises.

This is why I prefer to print my text onto A4 sheets of paper.

Markup Pages for Voiceover Artists

Printing a novel onto A4 sheets of paper has many advantages, in that there are more words per line. This means the narrator can anticipate the sentences to come before reaching them aloud. Other narrators have reported frequent stumbles if the words are too large on the page or each line comprise few words (say fewer than 14 or so). There are also fewer page turns as the number of words per page is larger than on A5 (the dimensions of the average novel).

Tips for Narration Performance

Some fonts are easier to read than others. I prefer simple, bold fonts like Arial or Microsoft Sans Serif. Avoid swirly or fancy fonts that are hard to read. 12 point is good, and a lot of text will fit an A4 sheet of paper, reducing the number of noisy page turns.

How to Prepare for Voiceover Artists

Before recording a voiceover of an excerpt, read the pages aloud a few times. Identify sentences that are too long and create breaks where breaths can be taken. Look also for words or sentences that demand extra emphasis or pauses. These elements can be highlighted in a preferred way with a pencil, helping to create visual cues for the reader.

Audio Book Narration Tips

Speech marks are small and can easily be overlooked. I will use colored pencils to underline dialogue so I know what is coming. It is also useful to use different colors for each character. In my case, I might use warm colors for female and cool colors for male characters. I will use bold colors for the main characters. This will warn me of when I need to do a particular voice in my audiobook narration.

Professional Script Reading for Audiobook Creation


Reducing the amount of mistakes made in an audiobook reading means reducing the amount of work that will be needed in the editing stage. Preparing the script will make the reading easier. Rather than read from a screen or a book, I will print out the text onto A4 sheets of paper. Use bold fonts to make words easier to read. Make small marks where pauses or emphasis will be. Finally, underline dialogue with different colors so that the narrator can see what is coming and which voice to use.

More Tips on Audio Book Creation