Audiobook Recording for Authors and Beginners (On A Tight Budget)
Ever listen to an audiobook and wonder if YOU could do it? Ever written a book and wept at the cost to hire someone to narrate it for you? Are you like me and always looking for ways to do things yourself? Well, we have a lot in common. I'm a DIY kind of woman. Self-published and struggling...a lot. I've been through hundreds of hours of research, tutorials, videos, and more to learn things from publishing on Amazon, formatting, self-editing (trust me, that one is still killing me), and now, audiobook narration. And, assuming there are others out there that don't have expendable money to spend on professional services, here are the steps I took to do these things on my own.
Recently, I went on quite a journey. A year-long journey, if I'm being honest. It was grueling and frustrating and, being an emotional person, I cried on many occasions trying to do this all on my own. I'm here to tell you that it IS possible. Coming into the self-published world, I did my research on other authors to see what they were doing to sell their books and I came upon many situations that said audiobooks were a big but rewarding step. There's just one problem for a little indie author like me. I don't have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on hiring a narrator, getting studio space, or editing. While the cost is COMPLETELY understandable (especially after all that I went through to record my first audiobook) it doesn't mean I have that money to spend. Not yet, that is. I'm self-employed and have been since I came out of college twelve years ago (sheesh). Having a small business can be rewarding, but a constant paycheck is up in the air, so I'm used to keeping my spending to a minimum. What's a little author to do if she can't hire help!? Well, I turned to the internet because there is ALWAYS a way.
I had a slight advantage in this particular area. I am an actor and took 4 years of dramatic arts classes and have kept up with it doing fan films and other projects, so I wasn't too worried about the narration part. that's not to say I'm very good, but I like to think I'm at least passable. As for all the technical stuff, that was a project.
There are plenty of sources out there to help people in my position, but one thing I noticed was that the information was never in the same spot. I found one piece here and another piece there and with fifteen tabs open on my browser as well as my audio editing program and my recording equipment, it was incredibly overwhelming and so frustrating. I'm no professional when it comes to computers. Whatever I've done, from video editing to sound editing, was taught to me using youtube videos and blogs like this to learn. It takes hours upon days upon weeks and it's exhausting. In an attempt to make this journey easier for the next aspiring author/narrator, I wanted to write this blog!
My first order of business was getting a good space to record in. A studio is ideal, but again, I am on a tight budget. So what did I use? My walk-in closet. My closet is very small, so I ended up moving a little dinner tray table in there with my mic and a stool. Very uncomfortable, but that's what I had 😁 If you don't have that, work on soundproofing a small room or space using soundproofing foam. I've never used this method, but I know plenty of gamers who do this to keep background noise and reverb at a minimum when they stream. You'll need a space that doesn't echo or let in background noise like dogs barking, traffic, etc. Now, I live in a townhouse by the road with neighbors who have dogs and you can bet that I had to pause recording many times when the chihuahua next door got board or the ice cream truck rolled through. Trust me, this might be a very frustrating process, but once you get the routine down, things will start running smoothly.
Things that create noticeable background noise
AC or heating (I live in Arizona and around here it can reach to 120 degrees F in the summer. So this was a total bummer)
Your stomach growling.
Bumping the table.
Your computer fan
Your chair squeaking
The pages of a book turning (I used my tablet so the page turning was silent)
Once you have a space, get a mic. I tried 3 different ones before I actually settled on a hand-me-down from a friend who does podcasts. It's a Rode mic, but there are SO many mics out there and they really depend more on your price range. I actually ended up recording 230 pages of a book on one mic and then was gifted a better one and started over...so there's one example of this journey being long and grueling 😂
PROGRAMS AND SETTINGS
Now you have your mic and your space! Now you need a computer and something to record. Lucky for me, my desktop is in my bedroom and I can stretch the cord from the computer to my closet and mic pretty easily. If you have a laptop, that would also work. The program I use is Audacity, which is a free program that is both for recording and for editing audio. As far as the settings you need to use to record ACX approved audio, that's a different story. I looked up many a tutorial to try and decipher all the numbers and letters that ACX guidelines tell you to follow.
Now, the biggest problem I ran into was none of this information seemed to be in one place OR I found multiple blogs telling me to do different settings. this can be beyond frustrating because as a someone illiterate in tech talk, numbers mean NOTHING to me. BUT, after tons of trial and error and uploading files to ACX and then RE-uploading them trying to get them approved, I got this:
First, here are the ACX Guidlines for Submission. It's good to go over it just to know what to look out for when producing your audio files. For the most part, they want you to be organized and for your sound to be a quality that people can listen to without distraction. Title your work as they say, etc. This part was easy. It was the recording that I had trouble with. I mess up and get tongue tied all the time. Luckily, when you record in Audacity, you can see the sound levels, so every time I made a mistake, I clapped my hands, which creates a big jump in visible sound levels. That way, when editing, I made sure to focus on those parts in order to cut and edit out mistakes.
Settings aren't my forte. I just don't get it, but here is a list of settings that FINALLY got my sound files approved after recording and editing. Here are the Audacity Settings for you to look over. Below, I've added pictures from my project for reference.
Once you've recorded and edited out claps, mistakes, and pauses, this is what you'll need to do to polish things up. First, double click your audio. Doing this will highlight the whole thing. Then, do as follows.
Effect > Filter Curve > Manage > Factory Presets > Low roll off for speech
Effect > Loudness Normalization (This will normalize the volume of your audio so things stay pretty level. This means people won't have to turn your audiobook volume up and down all the time)
Effect > Limiter: Soft Limit, 0.00, 0.00, -3.50dB, 10.00, No > OK.
De-Clicker (Bonus) I have a problem with mouth clicks and while they can't be heard in my every day speech, over a really good mic, they were so prevalent. I looked up many videos from voice actors on how to decrease this from diet to gargling apple cider vinegar and drinking tons of water, but it seemed I could only get through one chapter before my mouth dried out and I was clicking again. De-clicker should already be an add-on in Audacity and it helps (doesn't completely eliminate) with clicking and background noise. Settings matter since eliminating one sound too much can muffle other sounds throughout the audio, etc. If you'd like to read the forum I found, you can see it here. If not, these are the settings I got that produced the best sound and was ACX approved.
ACX Check (Lastly, there is a plugin for Audacity that will check to see if your audio files will be approved by ACX before you try to upload them. Click on the link provided and scroll down to Analyze Plug-ins > ACX Check > Download. Once you have installed it on your Audacity program and edited and doctored your audio file, you can go to Analyze > ACX Check
This window should appear if your settings are right. The numbers don't have to match this exactly. The important thing is that it says "pass." Give it a listen just in case to make sure your audio doesn't sound weird and then export your files
SAVE YOUR FILES: Save your raw files before exporting the cleaned up ones because let me tell you. Re-recording because you lost data is a PAIN and it's incredibly discouraging.
Export your finished files: once your work is done on a chapter, it's recommended that you label them as such for organizational purposes. "01-Chapter01" and so forth. This will not only organize things in order on your computer, but it will be less confusing when you upload them as well. File > Export > Export as MP3 (Bit Rate Mode: Constant) (Quality : 192 kbps)
Start uploading to ACX!
When all is said and done and you have your audio files, you can start uploading. It's scary. It's exciting. But it's done and with no money out of pocket. I highly encourage hiring professionals if you can, but if you're like me, you just can't afford to put all that money into your books right now. I hope this blog helped!! Happy recording!