Recording audiobooks? For what species?

Posted on July 1, 2019 By

You know when you think you have a technical challenge in front of you? And it’s sort of interesting?

But then…

  • It turns out that the technical part is pretty easy, and
  • The challenge exists elsewhere: maybe not in such an easy realm.

That’s where I am with audiobooks. I read a lot about recording studios, sound insulation, editing, mastering, types of microphone…I am definitely no sound engineer, but I’ve got to say the technical side of this wasn’t so hard to manage.

My Setup

  • I bought a Rode NT-USB microphone
  • I made a “fort” under an unused bunkbed, draping blankets with wild abandon
  • I bought a dog-training clicker (but not a dog)
  • I found a chair that would fit underneath
  • I installed Audacity
  • I bought some decent headphones for less than $20
  • I settled on using my laptop, the one that never seems to get warm enough to need to run its fan, and also with a solid-state (therefore soundless) hard drive
  • I stuck a green-glowing lava lamp under there, for the atmosphere

Doesn’t sound so hard, does it? I mean, of course there was more to it. I tested my existing microphones versus the Rode. I had all sorts of trouble getting Audacity to do a decent job of capturing the sound under Linux. I agonized over the condenser versus dynamic microphone options, the (elitist, unsubstantiated, logically squirrely, nevertheless tempting) notion that USB microphones are always going to be second-class, etc.

But the thing is, I’m getting really good audio quality out of this setup. So now I can just use it…right?

Yeah, okay. Upon listening to my own voice, it turns out that I typically speak in something pretty close to a monotone. Frankly I had no idea. But there it is.

Or to put it another way, there’s a reason the word “art” can be found in the term “voiceover artist.”

This is okay. This is actually quite fun. I’ve been practicing.

On the inside, where I live, deep in the dark juicy-fatty folds of my psyche, I read words aloud–and it feels as if they’re too loud. Too emotional, with crazy variations in pitch. I’m overdoing it, I know I am. It’s ridiculous. I’m embarrassed. I want to stop, or at least lower my voice so the kids don’t run screaming into the street at a bad moment, with like a bus going by or elephants stampeding, because as a crazy person for all I know that kind of thing might happen. Or something bad might happen. It’s not as if I can trust my own judgment, right?

But then I listen to the recording…and it sounds pretty much like a normal person.

I mean, what the hell?

Still. As I do this, I’m getting better results. So I’ll keep at it.

Meanwhile, about that microphone? It also gives me really good accuracy and transcription via Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. Possibly the best accuracy I can get, out of all my microphones…not that I’m likely to use it too often for that. I like to pace. I even like to go outside. The Rode did come with a 20-foot USB cable, so I guess I could hold it in my hand, but it’s a heavy beast and I’m a little leery of damaging it somehow. At least, so far I’m leery of it. Who knows what the future holds? Other than our alien overlords, yeah, but they’re not telling us much of value so they don’t count for a hell of a lot in this context.

So, for writing stuff, I tend to use my Olympus voice recorder more often than anything else. I’m writing this post as I wander around our backyard, right now. Even in my office, I don’t tend to sit still in front of a computer. Actually I don’t have a place to sit anyway–the office computer is set up for standing. But even then, I use an inexpensive Andrea headset with about a 9-foot cord so I don’t have to stand in one place, or face a microphone from a consistent distance either.

But you might prefer a different working environment. I mean, even I’m not really sure about the “fort” I built, mostly because I have to sit down to use it. It’s tempting to grab some cheap PVC pipe and make myself a recording booth, in which maybe I couldn’t pace but I could at least stand up.

So, if you’re an author thinking about producing your own audiobooks? Or someone considering a voiceover career? Don’t let the tech scare you–it’s not that hard to deal with. There are plenty of inexpensive e-books, and free blog posts, about how to handle that part.

But maybe you should try to sound like a person. In case it turns out you don’t already. Because, hey, maybe you don’t.

This is fun, though. Really.

Maybe for you too?


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