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Narrating Blues

Paul Whybrow

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Maya Angelou said:

Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning.”

She’s right, but I’m damned sure that she never mastered her recordings of her books.

I’ve previously mentioned what sound equipment I bought. After several weeks of narrating, I purchased what’s called a pop screen

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My Røde microphone has a built-in pop screen, but I found that I have massive plosives (makes for a lousy pick-up line!) which intruded on the recording when I said words such as “Tart”. The accessory pop screen mutes these peaks.

Narrating and mastering the recordings of 50 chapters of an 80,000-word novel was massively time-consuming. It makes editing the manuscript feel like a picnic in the park. It took me five months to write Who Kills A Nudist? Another month to edit the story. Turning it into an audiobook has taken 14 weeks, so far, as I'm sure that I'll hear things that still need correcting when I listen to it.

I estimate that I’ve devoted 900 hours to narrating and mastering since April as I’ve put in eight to sixteen-hour days. I haven’t done any creative writing in that time.

If you're thinking of doing an audiobook set aside several months. It would be possible to rush the job, but it’s likely that Audible’s ACX check would reject your submission. Reading aloud is something many of us do if we have children or a loving partner, but narrating is different, requiring voice acting and pauses for emphasis and varying the pace depending on what’s happening in a scene. This is a job that takes the time it takes.

I’m glad to have turned my first crime novel into an audiobook, but, believe me, my happiness is more a sense of relief from having completed the task, rather than pride at what I’ve done. Returning to mastering each day felt like cleaning the grouting of an Olympics-sized swimming pool armed with a toothbrush. :( Trapped in an endless task, the only way out was through.

How I did it

* I set my portable recording booth atop a box on a bedside table to bring it to a level with my mouth. The microphone is connected to my laptop by the USB port. The lead is 78”/198 cm long, so it would be possible to position it away from the mic (to avoid fan noise) though that would be a stretch to operate the Audacity controls.

* Each chapter is treated as a separate sound file by ACX. I used this stipulation as a way of noting recording errors on each chapter text with a different colour. If I repeatedly stumbled over a particular word or phrase, I increased the font size.

* To minimise the chance of extraneous noises, I read from a tablet. Reading from rustling paper would be impossible, I’d imagine, as the microphone picks up on everything.

Recommendations

*
Clear your tubes out! I used Olbas Oil, Fisherman’s Friends lozenges and some Jakemans’ menthol sweets. I bought a box of the much-praised Vocalzone pastilles, but they weren’t superior and were three-times the price.

* Have water to drink nearby. Sometimes you’ll struggle with an excess of saliva, but mostly your voice will start to sound like a lizard crossing the Gobi Desert! You can pause the recording while taking on lubrication.

* Wear clothing that doesn’t rustle. This doesn’t affect me in my sweltering rooftop flat, as I become the Nude Novelist in summer, now the Nude Narrator! :rolleyes:

* Limit what you do...tackle the work in manageable stages or you’ll quickly hate what you’re doing. This will happen anyway. :mad: but, especially when starting out take it easy on your voice. My throat felt like I’d shoved a red-hot poker down it after early recording sessions.

Odd things

* The sound of your voice will bewilder you. You’ll hate it at times, though sometimes you’ll forget it’s you talking and think that your narration works very well indeed. Remember, narrating your book is part of the process of selling yourself. Some audiobook fans are drawn towards novels told by their creators.

* Narrating your book is the best way of noticing mistakes that you’ve previously missed in editing. It makes you feel like a fool. I’d edited Who Kills A Nudist? One hundred times (I kept count) and it has been enjoyed by three beta readers. Despite this, while listening to it, I found I’d misnamed the dead nudist at one point, and in another chapter I’d sent a detective to two different places eighty miles apart!

* No one much will care that you’ve created an audiobook, although it will haunt your waking and sleeping thoughts.

* Many times, I cursed myself for writing such long sentences, as I ran out of breath yet again.

* Writing 500-word children’s books suddenly looks attractive to me

Noises Off

Narrating and recording a book soon makes you obsessed with noise. I live in a noisy location, at a petrol station on a main road, next to the flight path to Newquay Airport and with a car repair workshop nearby. The lockdown was a blessing for me when I started recording. Since restrictions have eased, I’ve been reminded of how intrusive slamming car doors, exhaust notes and aeroplanes are. I love motorcycles, but waiting for wailing two-stroke exhaust noise to cease, as it passes through three sentences, tried my patience.

They are the noisy noises, but my sensitive mic hears things I’m unaware of while narrating, as I have earbuds in to hear my voice. Thus, when listening back, I hear:

* Knees knocking on the bedside table supporting the recording booth.

* Strange booming from brushing the mic lead with my arm.

* Breathing! As @Rich. said, most sounds that need removing are your breathing. On the Audacity soundwave they appear as tiny vertical ‘bristles’ or little squiggles or mini sausages on the horizontal baseline. It takes many hours to delete them. Some barely make a noise, but others sound like the gasp of a drowning man!

* Rather than reach a point where I’m running out of breath and my voice is croaking, I pause and take a lungful of air, pausing before narrating again. The deep breath can be edited out.

* You’ll find that some of the tiny marks on the soundwave aren’t breaths, but the very end of words. Audacity has a scroll back feature which replaces them.

I was puzzled by a charming tinkling sound, as if a silver carriage full of fairies was passing by. It occurred a few times, increasing in intensity. It wasn’t until I stopped recording, that I heard the sparrow fledglings cheeping in the wall space, as they begged for food.

With soundproofing, I think my portable recording booth is the way to go. It was affordable and does most of what a full-sized cubicle would do. That would be pricey to construct and take up a lot of space. It wouldn’t be any more protection from exhaust notes.

Tips

* If a scene has several characters use different coloured colours to delineate who’s speaking.

* I’ve seen it recommended that breathing points are marked on the manuscript, but I don’t know how that would work, as you’d have to be robotic to achieve it. NB unwanted breathing noises can be removed from the recording...you don’t have to go back to the beginning and do it all again!

* The best way of correcting mistakes is to re-record them. You might think, that as you’re still you and that your recording equipment is identical and in the same room, that you’ll sound exactly the same. It’s probable that you won’t be a precise match. Instead, you’ll sound like your younger brother or someone who could be your cousin.

* The worst thing to do is what I wasted several weeks doing: that is, to re-record snippets, a sentence or phrase. It makes the recording sound uneven. One paragraph I corrected sounded like four people were narrating it! Far better a technique, in the long run, is to re-record the entire paragraph. This cushions your slightly different-sounding voice.

*Sounds obvious, but you’re going to be dealing with lots and lots of manuscript files and sound files, so label them in the same layout, so they stay in order.

Videos

* There are thousands of helpful and dreadful advice videos on YouTube. Whatever you watch to do with Audacity and Audible make sure it’s relatively new and applicable to your version. The same goes for articles and forums

Here are some of the better ones that helped me:


~ See last half of : (from 15.30 minutes)


~

~

~ Standard chain settings for ACX production - Audacity Forum


~ AudioBook Mastering version 4 - Audacity Forum


~

~

~ Booth Junkie videos

I’ve yet to listen to the ultimate version of my first audiobook. I did five editing sweeps through the whole thing, improving it each time. Sound interference I’d previously left in as barely noticeable, I removed as I became more critical. This task would be ideal for someone with OCD!

One thing that surprised me, was how long my audiobook is. Reading it silently to myself takes five and a half hours. Totalling the fifty chapter sound files makes for eight hours and twenty minutes.

The next task is to scrutinise the ACX requirements and upload my talking book to Audible. I’m not expecting a leap in sales, but it may help to spread my name as an author. Writing is a terrible way of making money. If I’ve devoted 900 hours to the audiobook and I charge £20 or £15 for it...my hourly income is laughable.
I am dreading turning Book 2 The Perfect Murderer into an audiobook, as it’s 139,000 words long! I may join the French Foreign Legion instead. :camel:

If anyone needs any advice, give me a shout and I’ll see if I can remember what I did.

audiobook.jpg
 

Robinne Weiss

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Thanks Paul! I started recording The Dragon Slayer's Son well over a year ago. Got five chapters in, and then life happened. I'm only now thinking about how I can get the task back into my quarterly plan for the last quarter of the year. I do remember how much those little noises (the ones you don't even hear because your brain tunes them out) stand out on the recording. I'll be curious to see how the recording goes at our new house--in a noisier neighbourhood, but with much better sound insulation in the house itself. I reckon I'll use the laundry room for recording, because it has sound barrier insulation (to keep the noisy washing machine from rattling the whole house).
 

Paul Whybrow

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Narrating a book is a peculiar activity as it requires you to balance tension and relaxation. You need to pay attention to detail while being calm enough to sound natural in the delivery of what's going on and what your characters are saying.

It made me think of sports psychology books written by master archer Jackson Morisawa. In The Secret of the Target and One Arrow, One Life, Archery, Enlightenment he discusses how to take a relaxed Zen approach to focusing on the target. There's a phenomenon called the 'yips' in sport which makes accomplished athletes tense up and miss a shot.

Yips - Wikipedia

Something similar happens with narrating, where you know there's a difficult word or hard to say phrase coming up—yet you pronounce it perfectly—only to stumble over easy words at the end of the sentence.

TOP TIP: When you make a mistake and curse out loud, bemoaning your idiocy, leave the rude words in for when you re-record it. Laughing at yourself is restorative!
 
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Jonny

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Brilliant post Paul! Comprehensive, really informative and very enlightening.

I know it was your first venture into this world but you've obviously learnt one helluva lot in the process. This will give anyone wanting to do the same a great heads-up on what to expect.

Next one's gonna be a doddle... :);)
 

Mythobeast

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There's a phenomenon called the 'yips' in sport which makes accomplished athletes tense up and miss a shot.

Yips - Wikipedia

Something similar happens with narrating, where you know there's a difficult word or hard to say phrase coming up—yet you pronounce it perfectly—only to stumble over easy words at the end of the sentence.

Oh, yes. I can attest to this. It's like your mouth muscles get nervous from all of the attention you're giving them and start locking up. The harder you try, the worse it gets.
 

Paul Whybrow

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Ssssssss....got a problem with sibilance? :snake:There's an app to calm the hissing caused by an excess of the letter S. It's called a 'de-esser' and has been around since 2014. The inventor Paul L also made a 'de-clicker' to remove the many irritating clicks that appear on a recording from movement and lip smacking by the narrator.

I downloaded both apps, storing them in the Effect Menu for easy access. I've been listening to my audiobook again, applying the de-esser to good effect. I wish that I'd found the de-clicker weeks ago, as I removed all my clicks by hand! :rolleyes:

Updated De-Clicker and new De-esser for speech - Audacity Forum

 

Paul Whybrow

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I’m in the final stages of getting my first audiobook ready to upload to ACX, the vetting arm of Audible.

The pervading sensation of narrating, mastering and preparing the project to fit ACX’s requirements is of seemingly endless repetition. I haven’t felt like a writer for the last four months, more a slave to the process. Fine-tuning a short paragraph that can be read in 90 seconds might take ten minutes initially, then another ten minutes weeks later when I realised that, for some reason, I’d speeded up my narration and it sounds wrong.

Yesterday, I finally completed re-recording ten sections where my voice altered. These were all parts in which I’d re-recorded a sentence and spliced it into a paragraph. This doesn’t work! Re-recording the whole paragraph and maybe those before and after it is the way to go if you want to maintain continuity as a narrator. It takes more time, but it works.

Last night, I spent a dispiriting couple of hours converting the sound files for 50 chapters from Audacity’s aup format to MP3. Fortunately, it’s easy to do, as the latest version of Audacity includes a converter that exports the files in MP3. But, it’s repetitive and time-consuming. Those words again!

ACX only accepts audiobooks in separate sound files for each chapter, with separate files for the opening credits—title, place in a series and author and narrator (these should be the same as the eBook)—and end credits, which are simply The End. I’ll be uploading them today. Although my sound files passed an Audacity ACX plugin check, this is no guarantee they’ll be acceptable after being listened to by their robot or even a living and breathing human being. It might take them a month to get back to me.

To add to the fun, ACX requires an audiobook cover in a square size of no less than 2,400 x 2,400 pixels….similar to how a CD cover looks. The cover that I designed for the eBook is paperback-shaped, so unacceptable. For continuity, I wanted to use the same seagull I’d used for the eBook and POD paperback. I found those designs straight away, but it took me an hour to track down the original photograph, which I had the presence of mind (thanks, brain!) to save on Google’s Drive.

Faffing about with IrfanView, I made a couple of versions for the audiobook.

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Since returning to creative writing in 2013, I’ve done every aspect of the work involved to produce and publish a book myself. This was partly down to my cantankerous nature and poverty.

It costs a small fortune to hire experts to create an audiobook. Unless you’re wealthy, forget hiring famous actors or voice actors (who might do voice-overs for commercials as well) or experienced narrators with a good track record of sales.

It’s advised that debut narrators charge a minimum of $80/£61 an hour, meaning my eight and a half hour novel would have cost me $680/£518 to be told by someone as unknown as me! Once more experienced at narrating, audio experts suggest a rate of $225/£174 per 10,000 words, meaning my 80,000-word book would cost $1,800/1,392.


Well-known narrators charge much more.

But, what would you do if you hated the end result?

There are ways of saving money, by sharing the profits with the narrator:

ACX

Then, you’ve got the expense of mastering your recorded sound files by an experienced audio engineer. That would be a minimum of $1,000/£772...likely two or three times more for 80,000 words.

As you can see, the expenses mount up, but paying experts will save you a lot of heartache and time. I’m proud of my first audiobook, but it’s taken me four months to reach a point where I think it’s ready to publish. I’ve done no creative writing since April.

If you’re interested in creating an audiobook, take a look at this:

How long does it take to produce an audiobook? - Quora

Should you venture down this rocky trail remember to back up your work! You will devote hundreds of hours to narrating and mastering the recordings. Do you really want to do it all again?

iu
 

Paul Whybrow

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One thing this lark has shown me is why the voice of a narrator varies ever so slightly between sections of a chapter. It’s because of re-recording. I’ve found that it’s more likely I’ll get away with it if there’s dialogue in between my narration.

I’m in the final stages of fettling my recordings. For reasons that I don’t understand some sound files (each chapter is a sound file) that previously passed the ACX plugin test were now failing it. All the effects I’d used before to make things right now didn’t work. After taking a break to prevent myself putting a fist through the laptop screen, :mad: I chanced upon the solution!

This worked for me:


PROCESS:
These instructions are in short-form: Location > Tool: Options > OK

Select the whole reading or chapter by clicking just right of the up arrow button (on the left).

Effect > Filter Curve > Manage > Factory Presets > Low roll-off for speech > OK.
Effect > RMS Normalize: Target RMS Level -20dB > OK.
Effect > Limiter: Soft Limit, 0, 0, -3.5dB, 10, No > OK.

Analyze > ACX-Check.

Once the Audacity aup files have satisfied the ACX check, they can be converted to MP3 format. Create a folder on your desktop labelled MP3. The conversion is easily done in the latest version of Audacity by clicking:

File > Export > Export as MP3. Send the files to your MP3 folder. Remember, opening credits and closing credits (The End) need to be in separate files. The opening credits need to be the same as those on your eBook.

While doing this, a newsletter came in from ACX. It told of one new and one recent quality control tests. The latest is called Audio Lab, whilst Audio Analysis has been around for a few months. So far as I can see, Audio Lab is simply an expansion of the ACX plugin to be used when you’re finished, whilst Audio Analysis is aimed at those unsure of settings and their microphone for them to check what they’re recorded so far.

* Audio Lab - Sound Check: Audio Lab Launches on ACX

* Audio Analysis - ACX Audio Analysis Tool FAQ's

As you can tell from my recent posts, narrating, editing and mastering an audiobook takes a long time and is exasperating.

My recorded chapters have passed the ACX check, the Audio Lab and Audio Analysis without any problems, but they could still fail at the Human Quality Control. There are hundreds of ways of mastering what you’ve recorded and yet, there’s this dire warning on the ACX website:

Human Quality Control at ACX (the theatrical test after you pass ACX-Check technical test) does not like heavy processing. You should be as gentle as you can with as few corrections as possible. Don't even think of submitting readings that sound like a bad cellphone, speaking into a wineglass or reading in a bathroom.
The AudioBook metaphor is listening to someone telling
you a story over cups of tea. Anything that distracts from that ideal should be avoided.


They don’t define what “few corrections” means! How few? :rolleyes:

I’m currently listening to my audiobook for what feels like the hundredth time, trying to spot anomalies. One pleasing thing is that the MP3 sound file is played on the Celluloid media player and it’s considerably quieter in background hiss than when played on Audacity.

One anomaly is bothering me about Audacity. I’ve re-recorded paragraphs and even chapters, saving them, but with some, it seems that the new version is lost while the old faulty version stays in place. Has this happened to you @Barbara & @Emily & @Rich. & @georginaK & anyone else who’s used Audacity?

iu
 

KateESal

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Gosh, very comprehensive account Paul, thanks for sharing! And hats off for your determination in pursuing such a demanding project (and I'm under no illusions about how demanding it was!)

Couple of thoughts from a long time radio professional and keen home audiophile:

*I'm a big fan of the Reaper DAW It has some really helpful and good quality audio processing effects that come with it and it has a fully functional evaluation version which you can use free forever, if you want to (I eventually paid for it because a one-off domestic licence is very reasonably priced and I wanted to support the developers)
*When I make a mistake during narration, I immediately re-read the same sentence, without stopping the recording. I find if you do it straight away, your voice pitch and tone will be unaltered and it's much quicker and easier to simply cut out the mistake, than go back and re-record a section.
*I always use a pop-shield, and after recording, apply a de-esser (free plugin included with Reaper) and some compression. I use a handy vocal compression preset (again, included in Reaper). That can often take care of low-level extraneous noises.
*Reaper has a lot of other clever included effects which can be used to fix various aspects of a recording if necessary. However, the cleaner the recording is to begin with, the better.
*Audacity is an excellent free piece of editing software. But I found I had issues with sibilance and one or two other things when I was using it for home-recording. Mind you, this is sometimes a product of combinations of sound input/mic/computer/software etc.

Good luck with getting your audiobook out there!
 

Paul Whybrow

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Thanks for the feedback, @KateESal. I considered using Reaper when I noticed there was a money-off promotion, but I was so far into learning Audacity that I didn't want to start again.

I'm a big fan of the punch and roll method of correcting mistakes, which saves hours when re-recording. I'm delighted when I find that I had the common sense to immediately narrate a section again if I mucked it up, as I sound exactly the same.

Using Punch and Record for audiobooks

Narrating my first audiobook has been a steep learning curve. One is forced to become a geek playing around with effects and spacing of words, sentences and paragraphs. I know my story by heart after twelve weeks of listening to it!
 

Paul Whybrow

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I offer a few thoughts and tips in this post about narrating, mastering and the process of uploading sound files to ACX.

Recording a story is an informative way of learning a lot of things about your writing. When reading to yourself or out loud, your brain plays tricks by adding missing words and ignoring repetition. Audacity is free to use and you could use your computer’s microphone to record. Listening to your work reveals errors and problems in pacing.

I was mortified to discover two major mistakes that I hadn’t noticed in 100 editing trawls, where I’d misnamed the murder victim and then sent a detective to two different locations at the same time in one chapter.

I’m pleased to have completed my first audiobook. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders once I’d uploaded the final sound file to ACX, and they sent me a confirmation email. I adore writing new stories, but while creating an audiobook, I didn’t feel like a writer. Learning how to narrate a book develops an awareness of how you breathe and lots of voice acting techniques, but after you’ve recorded and mastered the same passage nine times you’ll feel trapped.

It’s certainly masochistic: https://colony.litopia.com/threads/masochism-the-writer.5723/

ACX is the place where your audiobook is assessed to decide if it’s of good enough quality to be admitted to Audible—KDP’s talking book operation.

ACX

Your recorded story sound files could pass ACX plugins, but still be rejected after a living person listens to it. You might have to wait a month for that decision, as they have a backlog of work because during lockdown many frustrated writers decided to complete that book they’d abandoned, then recording and uploading it to generate income.

The ACX website looks clear and helpful, but it’s poor at giving information about the audiobook cover. This has to be of a square format, at least 2,400 x 2,400 pixels. I use IrfanView image viewing and manipulating converter, which is basic enough for me to understand without confusion. It’s good at altering the size of an image, unless it’s to a square! :mad: After much teeth gnashing, I found a superb app to resize an image to whatever dimensions you need:

Online Image Resizer - Crop, Resize & Compress Images, Photos and Pictures for FREE

How to upload to ACX feels like a secret if you look for information on their site. This video helped allay my confusion:



As George Smolinski explains, to upload your sound files, you have to attach your audiobook to the KDP eBook by claiming the rights to it. Doing this usefully downloads the chapter headings you used in the eBook (NB some may be repeated...don’t know why, but it made me panic, thinking I’d done this in the eBook—I hadn’t!:rolleyes:) so you can place your sound file in the right place.

You can’t upload an audiobook without already having the eBook version on KDP.

Remember: each chapter is a separate sound file, and the opening credits (title, place in a series, name of author and name of narrator) and the closing credits (usually just The End) are each in a sound file, as is the Retail Audio Sampler...an up to five-minute snippet used to promote the book. The order I uploaded was as presented to me: Opening Credits, the 50 chapters, Closing Credits, then the Retail Audio Sampler.

It took me about 90 minutes, but that might be affected by how busy the site is. My book was eight hours, thirty-eight minutes duration.

Before doing all of this, you need to provide your financial information, which will likely be the same as you gave when joining KDP. I did everything myself, so it was relatively easy to complete, but if you employed a narrator and a sound engineer, you’ll need their details.

I guess that creating my first audiobook is an achievement, but, as with anything in writing, if no one knows it exists as a product no one is going to buy it.

Thus, I’m returning to self-promotion.

Onwards and...where the hell am I going next?!

tenor.gif
 

Emily

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I'm thrilled you have completed your audiobook, WELL DONE :) And apologies I didn't get back to you re the question above: are you sorted now?
 

Paul Whybrow

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I can’t quite believe that I’m doing it, but this week, I returned to narrating and mastering, beginning my second Cornish Detective novel The Perfect Murderer.

It’s a monster of a story at 140,000 words and 62 chapters, but I figured that if I managed to stick to a schedule of completing a chapter daily, I’ll be done by the end of October. Some chapters are treble the length of others, so will absorb more time.

I’m still waiting to hear if my first audiobook has passed ACX’s quality control test. I hope that it has, though I won’t be surprised if it hasn’t simply because there are so many ways things can go wrong.

Should sales take off with Who Kills A Nudist? then audiobook fans will be looking for the sequel. Which thought has goaded me into action.

Spookily, as I began narrating everything fell into place like I was born to do it—as if some Audio Demon was waiting for my return—“Ah, there you are, Paul, come this way.”

iu


Even weirder, was that I narrated Chapter 1 without making a mistake and it was a doddle to master. I’m not sure if I’m blessed or cursed! :rolleyes:

All I know for sure is, as Captain Oates said: “I may be gone some time.”
 

Rich.

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Hi Paul, wow, what a journey you've been on (and sorry I've been absent for most of it)! There's not much I can add, other than to offer you encouragement to carry on and praise for what you've made. Recording and mastering a whole novel is no mean feat at all.

I was glad to see that halfway down this thread you discovered punch and roll recording. As you say, that's how you get everything to match. You can also use a similar punch in technique during post production, which will allow you to surgically replace sentences or even individual words.

It is possible to record without a pop filter (I don't use one), but you need to be quite careful with your mic placement. Off at about 40º should do the trick. Play with putting the mic above or below the height of your mouth and then angling the mic. Most of the air from plosives goes downwards at about 45º. The other thing here is voice control. Practice plosive words with gentle lips. You'll be amazed at how much you can correct the problem at the source with a little trial and error.

The same goes for running out of breath. Professional singers don't run out of breath. And neither do voice artists. Breath control is a skill that takes time to develop, just like anything else. Practise breathing silently through your nose. Practice wide, silent breaths through your mouth. Identify those slash breaths you make when you're running out of air, the big aaaahhhh noises that are so offensive when you listen back to them. Learn how often you need to breath to not make them. Easy, eh?(!). Oh, and another thing you might consider, once you've marshalled your breathing a little, is to leave in the breaths during dialogue, or at most attenuate them. They are part of the character's character, after all. And it's a strategy that cuts down enormously on editing. You can even apply this to narration if you get good at it. I try to touch as little as possible other than paragraph breaks (though to say that I edit nothing other than breaths at paragraph beaks would be a lie).

A quick note on sound proofing. You can't. You cannot sound proof a room unless you spend a mint on thick multi-layered, multi-materialled walls. And then you'll need a super-expensive silent air-con system so you don't suffocate inside the sealed box you've just built. Professional studios are expensive to create for a reason.

What you can do is sound treat a room, the hanging up of duvets etc to achieve a clean voice sound. That's the bit we can all do.

Regarding ACX quality control. It's clear from everything in this thread, Paul, that you've taken pains to get this right. I would be amazed if you work didn't pass muster. Have you heard the crap that gets through? If you pass the automated check, it's unlikely a human will get involved beyond perhaps checking the slates. If you've followed ACX's instructions, it's almost certain you'll have no trouble.

I applaud you efforts. It's a huge task you've undertaken, and you should be rightly proud.
 

Paul Whybrow

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Thanks for the feedback and advice, Rich. I agree with you that placing the mic at an angle reduces plosives. I've used the pop screen a few times, and though it reduces the sharpness of the start of words, it also modifies my voice to sound a bit too mellow—as if I'm advertising coffee instead of reading a crime novel!

For anyone starting out on narrating punch and roll is the way to go! Forget clicking or whistling when you make an error, then going back later to correct it, as your voice won't sound the same. I bought a clicker, but only used it a couple of times. I'm trying to think of what to use it for.

My breathing technique has improved. A gentle intake of air through the nostrils is inaudible compared to gasping or even sipping air through the corner of the mouth. My Røde microphone is extremely sensitive picking up on every sound that I make and also motorcycle exhausts 200 yards distant and aeroplanes 2,000 feet in the sky; I've sometimes wondered if I'd have been better off with a cheaper and less sensitive mic.

Audacity is a fine bit of software, but it's not without its problems. Ensure that you're using the latest version, for, as I found to my cost, using an old version can bring disaster. When 2.2.1-1 began to erase my mastered recordings I was mortified. I searched for hours for answers as to why it was happening, finding only a couple of reports that this version was 'buggy'. Changing to the latest version 2.4.2. restored several chapters (don't ask me how) while aggravating me with illogical 'improvements'. The developers at Audacity like changing the names of features for no good reason. Thus, the Equalizer became the Filter Curve, and in the new version, RMS Normalisation is nowhere to be seen. This is an effect needed to pass the ACX Check, so I'll be looking for alternatives. Oh, and the ACX Check isn't included as a standard feature (why not?) and it's proving fiendishly tricky to add as a download.

The biggest bugbear I've suffered from is a phantom noise that I called Krik. I'm 99.9% certain that I'm not causing it by touching leads or by creaking furniture joints or tapping a toe against the desk, yet Krik appears beneath words, meaning I have to re-record and re-master the entire paragraph. I was so exasperated trying to find the cause that I started to wonder if it was my jaw needing oiling! :rolleyes: The noise infected some chapters, while others were clean. I believe that it might be one of the glitches in 2.2.1-1, for I've re-recorded seven whole chapters in 2.4.2. without it appearing.

It's details like this that turn a narrator into a haunted obsessive geek!

Overall, I can't say that recording audiobooks has been a pleasant experience. I dislike crawling to literary agents when querying, and editing a manuscript is tedious, but adjusting soundwaves is so nit-picking, endless and unrewarding that it drains my soul. I haven't felt like a writer for months. I've become a bored sound engineer who knows that there are 3,000 hours more work to do if I complete the final three titles in my Cornish Detective series this year. Which I will, as I've realised that being a masochist is a key character trait of being a writer!

Narrators become over-anxious about passing the ACX Check...I did until I realised that I could only make my audiobook so perfect and to relax. Most listeners wouldn't notice defects that haunt me. To cheer myself up, I listened to Stephen Fry's audiobooks of Harry Potter, in which he gasps for air like a beached walrus!
 

Paul Whybrow

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Hold your horses! If you're recording using Audacity, take a break, as the phantom of death has returned in version 2.4.2.

I'm angry enough to take a bite out of an axe at the moment.

What I intended to do today was listen to the 64 chapters of my audiobook, which I finished polishing last night in a third sweep through the recordings correcting errors by re-recording and re-mastering them. Assuming they passed muster, I intended to convert them into MP3 files and upload them one by one to ACX to be scrutinised as fit for publication on Audible; this takes a month.

What actually happened was that I opened Chapter 1 and Audacity presented me the same error-warning message as appeared in the previous version 2.2.1-1. I was mortified, as 2.4.2 has performed faultlessly over the last five days. The message offers three choices....see attachment below. Previously, I'd chosen the second and third options, which erased my recording. This time I selected the first option of Close project immediately with no further changes—which immediately erased my recording! Ever the twit, I opened Chapter 2 and the same thing happened.

I have copies of them on a memory stick, but they're saved in Audacity's unique aup. file format, so only Audacity can open them.

Fortunately, I'm in touch with James Crook, one of Audacity's developers. I hope that he'll know what's wrong.

I'll keep you posted on developments.

Where did I put that axe?!
 

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Paul Whybrow

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I've had another reply from James Crook. It appears that I have exposed a bug in the latest version of Audacity numbered 2.4.2. At least, that's what he and another developer think has happened....though it first occurred in 2.2.1-1, so I don't understand that.

They've suggested that I send them a broken project (which is one chapter) to see if they can repair it:

"The .aup file is not the problem. It's missing data files that is the problem.
It's almost certain many data files have gone.

One thing you can try is to send a broken project to us, and see if we can repair it. It does take an age to match up data files, but for example, if you have the text you were reading that could help us determine the order to string them together in."


The bug that's erased Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 may not rear its ugly head again in the other 62 chapters, but do I want to take that risk? To re-record and re-master the first two chapters will take me at least twenty hours.

If you're considering making an audiobook with 2.4.2 don't! I may have effectively lost 1,200 hours of work, as I'd just completed the whole book. I'm going to be looking at subscription Digital Audio Workstations, such as Reaper.

Why me, Lord, why me?
 

Robinne Weiss

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Oh no! Your experience is making me think I should just forget narrating my books. I purchased a good mic and pop filter last year, and then with the house build and everything, haven't had time to get stuck into the project (my husband has been using it to record his Covid-era lectures, though, so at least it's not just sitting around). Maybe I'll just make podcasts instead. LOL!
 

Rich.

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Truly a nightmare, Paul. The worst than can happen :confused: I really hope you can get it fixed.

There's one question you're gonna hate me for asking but... did you not make backups? (Not of the project, but by exporting uncompressed wav files at the end of every session.)
 

Jonny

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Just read about your recent woes, Paul.

I feel your pain. To have done all that work and have it potentially scuppered by a software problem is terrible.

I hope Audacity can sort it out for you. It sounds like changing to Reaper might be the thing to do, as were it me, I'd have little or no faith in Audacity for future projects.

Really hope you get it all sorted out with the minimum of hassles and hard work lost. :(:mad:
 

Rich.

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The thing is... and it pains me to say this... but losing work like this is a road that many people have been down in the early days. It's a learning curve that's so sharp it cuts to the bone.

Back in the analogue days of cutting tape and splicing film, editing was destructive. You were physically altering your work.

Come the advent of digital editing, the process became non-destructive. Your master files are not altered as you work.

But... Audacity is a destructive editor. Conceptually, it functions much like an old-fashioned analogue edit suite, where each cut directly affects your master recording.

So, a typical Audacity workflow needs backups built in at every stage.

You record. You copy that file twice and then save the original and a copy in two different places (physically different places -- two hard drives, etc.). You then bring the remaining copy into Audacity for you first editing session. At the end of that session, you export an uncompressed WAV, copy it twice and store them as previously mentioned.

A copy of that work-in-progress WAV file is then imported into a clean Audacity project for the next editing session.

You rinse and repeat until the project is complete.

Unfortunately, Audacity is no place to be storing work. It's a place to work on audio files, nothing more.

I'm genuinely sorry, Paul, that I wasn't around earlier to offer this advice. I really hope you get it sorted. Best of luck!
 

Jonny

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Wow, a salutary post there @Rich.

That's quite a cumbersome process but knowing those steps will be invaluable for anyone thinking about doing their own audio books using Audacity.
 
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