Audio Recording: An Adventure in Mulligans
By Maria Schneider
Audio books are pretty hot sellers right now, and why not? You get to “read” while doing chores or sitting in traffic. Nothing better! As a writer, audio books is a market I want to target, but the entry costs can be quite high. Hiring one or more actors to read starts at about $1500 and goes up from there. Oh, it’s possible you can work with some retailers and split royalties: with the retailer, with the actors and then have a piece of the pie yourself. The problem with split royalties is that you are tied to the actors for life. You may be tied to the retailer for a few years too.
With equipment these days, you have the opportunity to go it alone—do your own recording! Upload it! Sell it and not have the headaches of splitting royalties. It sounded good on paper, so I decided to con my husband into giving it a try with a few short stories. We already owned a professional mixer, a Shure dynamic microphone and the software required for editing the audio. This software is very important because it handles equalization and removal of stray noises (like those annoying sections where I coughed, gasped for air or accidentally set my coffee cup down next to the microphone causing an earthquake in the audio.) I did have to make my own pop filter. The pop filter keeps letters like “p” and “b” from “popping” and making a boom or spit sound into the mic. I made the filter from a small embroidery hoop and hemp/silk cloth. You can use pantyhose or you can buy a pop filter for about ten dollars.
The industry average for recording one hour of finished audio: two hours of recording work. The industry average for audio engineering (editing, noise reduction, compression, etc): three hours for every hour of finished audio.
My average for recording one hour of finished audio: four hours of recording. Our average for the audio engineering, including learning curve: six hours for every finished hour.
The first story we recorded was Bingo (Not Your Average Deal with the Devil). It is about fifteen minutes of finished audio. I recorded it three times from front to back. I recorded a paragraph here and there because I had to learn to do various character voices and keep them consistent. This was difficult because there are male and female characters and a devil. When writing the story, I never worried about how the devil might actually sound. I never really worried about whether I used difficult words to pronounce either—like in the last story we recorded. Whose idea was it to name it Snitched, Snatched? Try saying that clearly into a microphone without slurring the “sss” and sounding like a drunk snake!
As I was recording bits here and there, my husband began the engineering tasks. It turns out I breathe a lot. Rather loudly. That had to be removed without interfering with the pacing. I talk fast, and I tend to swallow the ends of words at times. That means: record again. I had to create unique voices for each character and return to a narration voice at the proper time. I had an especially difficult time nailing the dragon’s voice in Snitched, Snatched. She had to sound…elegant. Threatening. Throaty, as if a fire burned in her stomach. That took me more than three tries, and I had to experiment with reading all the dragon parts at one time and then dropping them into the recording.
By the time we were ready to record the last story, we decided that my husband should try reading some of the male voices. It was too difficult for me to do two different male voices and three different female voices. Who put all these characters in the story anyway??? Using more than one person to record brought up the problem of whether or not we should read together or drop in the male voices. The dynamic mic is not good for more than one voice at a time because it picks up from a single direction—whoever is speaking right into it. Never one to give up halfway through, I found a good deal on a Blue Yeti microphone. It’s a condenser mic that handles various settings: cardioid, bidirectional and omnidirectional. All these of these options had to be tested, with and without a pop filter. Multiple times. We read the story together. We read voices separately. We had to change power supplies, computers and test sound levels all over again.
In the end, we recorded four short stories for a total of about one hour finished audio. It took two of us a month of working on the project off and on. I may have lost an handful of hair (or two). I learned why audio experts charge $1500 or more for a full book. I also learned what to look for in a reading if I decide to hire such an expert.
For now, here are the four short stories we recorded. I hope they put a smile on your face and make an hour go by quickly. As for me, this was one of the longest hours of work I’ve ever done.
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