A guide for the complete beginner
Well, the first step, as you can see, is to get a cat that walks over your keyboard and thumps his tail on your microphone when you least expect it. (Below is a close up of how he likes to edit my books.) Okay, seriously, I’m not a professional, but I made some terrible mistake that required re-recording the whole book. As a result, I did a lot of research and developed a process that works for any beginner. Though my advice may be a conglomeration, one unique thing that I included, which I didn’t find on any other posts about how to make an audiobook, is a list of vocal warm-ups and voice training that I learned when I hired a speaking coach. You aren’t just reading an author reading a manuscript out loud, you are a voice actor. Before we get to my step-by-step lists of how to make an audiobook, here are a few big challenges you might face.
First big challenge: I knew it was going to be hard to relive my journey again —imagine having to think about all your most embarrassing and vulnerable moments over and over again. That alone is more difficult than I think most people are willing to do. If it was easy to relive your “mistakes” and take an honest look at yourself and your effect on others, then I think the world would be full of self-actualized people. It was even harder to make the audiobook because not only was I thinking about it but emotionally reliving it. In other words, I had to learn how to be an actor and infuse my body with the emotions of the moment. Very difficult for someone who is more a visual artist or thinker. If even a flicker of a distracting thought crossed my mind, I would begin to stutter. It reminded me of being a kid when so many thoughts were running through my head that I couldn’t get them out of my mouth. I may not have the talent of an actor, but I believe that I read the story with the emotions that only the author can give it.
Second big challenge: Learning how to record the book, which included creating a soundproof room, a sound booth, obtaining the proper equipment and learning how to use a variety of new programs to resample my voice files and create the final audiobook. The whole process took me about 3 months. Unfortunately, I recorded the whole book with an average quality microphone that had a little rattle that was undetectable during my tests. It wasn’t until I processed my audio files that I discovered it.
Some more unexpected challenges to recording an audiobook:
- The #1 most obvious tip: make sure your book is perfect. Once you record the audio, you won’t be able to change it without having to rerecord entire chapters. That being said, I think reading your book out loud is an essential step of editing to check for pacing, redundant words, etc. But you won’t want to be doing this at the same time you are recording.
- I thought I could easily fix a word or sentence, but every day the tone and timbre of my voice was different. Even the background noise at different times of day changed despite my effort to eliminate it. All of this made it nearly impossible to cut and paste WITHOUT IT SUDDENLY SOUNDING GLARINGLY DIFFERENT as if in all-caps.
- I have a newfound respect for actors. I definitely do not want to relive the emotional highs and lows of my own book or any other book day after day. Besides that, I don’t think I am designed to be an actor. I just seem to lack the charisma and my sinuses seem to forever be nasally, though my girlfriend says that is just the Wisconsin in me.
- Another odd thing was how off-putting listening to my own voice can be. It does work best to get a great pair of headphones so that you can get immediate feedback as you record your audio, but it takes a long time to get used to.
- I can’t say it enough! TEST EVERYTHING. Even re-test every day. Simple things like whether you leave the door open or the curtains closed can change the quality of your recordings. Perhaps, this isn’t a big deal for short recordings, but if you are recording a novel, inconsistent things like this will become a nuisance.
- Did I say double check everything? Make that triple check everything! I couldn’t even itch my nose or move the mouse without creating background noise. When you are happy with your voice acting skill and audio quality, then resample the audio and double check again.
- After trial and error, I chose the following:
- The Blue Yeti Microphone. Search for a video about how to set up your microphone.
- Adobe Audition (an easy choice since I already subscribe to Adobe CC, but also a great product) a good freebie is Audacity.
- A pop filter. I think any brand will do. The pop filter really does help with your P’s and B’s. I bought one, but you could easily make one from a coat hanger and pantyhose.
- Bose noise-canceling headphones. Any model will work, just be sure that you can NOT hear any exterior noise.
- And a homemade recording booth. See the pictures below. You could buy one, but they all looked gigantic. My main concern was to prevent the echo off the wall or computer monitor.
Okay, now for some valuable advice, meaning this took a lot of research and trial and error. I even had to pay money for some of it.
- Sinuses: Exercise to clean and open. These are M’s and N’s. Pinch nose and speak to see if sinuses are clear.
- Lungs: Oxygenate your blood so you don’t sound out of breath. Chest, arms up, sigh out. Breathe out 3x, let lungs fill naturally, then breathe in 3x and exhale naturally.
- Vocal cords: Hum to warm up. Then make siren noise. From aw (low) rolling to we (high).
- Esophagus: Vowels. Make AEIOU noise like a foghorn. Bah like a sheep.
- Lips: Do some raspberries. And pbbth sounds.
- Tongue: Lah lah lah, roll your R’s.
- Mouth: Consonants. Repeat, “My lips, my teeth, the tip of my tongue.”
- Body: Strike an open, confident pose for at least 2 minutes. This sounds ridiculous, but it is a method-acting technique and you are a voice actor. Set a sense of purpose for the show, like inspiration. Contemplate the audience vibe.
During the recording (or public speaking) don’t forget the following:
- Don’t move. Don’t use a noisy mouse.
- Drink frequently. Use a lozenge between recording sessions.
- Remember to change voice qualities:
- Timbre (I think just is what it is, depends on the day)
- Register (nose, throat, diaphragm)
- Prosody (rhythm, sing-song, emphasis)
- Pauses (breathe between sentences and longer between paragraphs; these pauses are like punctuation.)
- Pace (fast, slow)
- Pitch (high, low, monotonous)
- Inflection (rising for a question, etc.)
- Volume (high, low, silence)
- Accents, Characters acting.
Whew! That was a lot. And I’m sure it is only the beginning of being a great voice actor. Thank the stars I didn’t have to learn how to act using my whole body! Okay, now one final thing:
How to resample (improve) the audio recordings:
Like math there is an order of operations you must follow:
- Create a perfect audio file, which we have shown you so far.
- Double check for pops or noise that will ruin the curve. For example, did you “P” or “B” too much, did the cat meow? Delete these manually. If there is too much noise or a pop overlaps a word, you will have to rerecord the file. If it is the same day, you might be able to make a patch. And, if you wait too long, your voice will change and seem totally different. At least mine did.
- Run your audio resample filter. This is what will make your voice sound like a sexy DJ. You will need to create a process to resample your audio recordings and reduce the noise, normalize the volume, etc. Everybody’s voice is different so you will need to do a little research and testing. Here is one tutorial that I used by Mike Russell. How to make your voice sound better.
- Then relisten and clean up manually any little things you hear, like a pop that got amplified or an awkward pause.
Whew! You’re almost done. Now all you have to do is tag and upload your files to Audible or some other audiobook distributor.