Now that so many books are going digital, it makes sense to consider offering an audio version of your book. People don’t always have time to read, but they can listen to an audiobook during their commute or workout.
The biggest advantage of doing an audio recording of your book isn’t what you’d think. It’s actually the ability to examine your book with a fine-toothed comb. You hear things you could have never seen.
I recommend that every author have a go at recording their book. Even if you never offer it for sale, it will be a good exercise for you, and your kids’ kids’ kids will love having this slice of history.
But how do you do it?
All you need to record your book are two things: a microphone and sound recording software.
The microphone is the most important element. Don’t use the microphone built into your computer; it’s good enough for Skype but will make even the most resonant voice sound flat and scratchy.
Look for a USB microphone. USB mics are ready to use out of the box; they plug straight into your computer.
When you look at the price, ranging from $50-$100, you might flinch, but with microphones you really do get what you paid for. A cheap microphone sounds cheap.
While you’re looking at microphones, you might consider getting a pop filter. Pop filters can fit over the microphone or attach in front, where they blunt the popping sound of percussive ‘p’s and ‘b’s. You’ll see these sounds as spikes on your audio recording, and they sound terrible. You can make your own pop filter for free with a wire hanger and pantyhose.
Luckily, there’s no high price tag for decent sound recording software. Since you’re just recording your own voice, you don’t need the bells and whistles of professional audio recording and mixing software. Audacity works just fine, and it’s a free download.
Look for the smallest, quietest room in the house to do your recording. It should carpeted with few hard surfaces to reflect sound. Draw curtains over the windows. You may even want to try a closet, as clothes muffle noise.
But there’s no hard and fast rule. Just for fun, try recording a few lines in each room of your house, including the bathroom, and notice the difference. If one room sounds better to you, then record there.
Some podcasters I know do all their sound recording in the middle of the night, when there’s no traffic and little chance of the phone ringing. At a bare minimum, you should try to schedule your recording when no one else is home. Make sure the washing machine, dryer and dishwasher aren’t running. Remove any ticking clocks. And be prepared for audio invasions like loudly singing birds or the trashman!
When you’re just beginning, never record more than a chapter at a time. Audio recording is tiring! Take frequent breaks to swallow, breathe, and refocus. I always pause in the middle of a page and when I’m switching to the next page, and it makes a huge difference.
Make sure you have a hot drink–or, even better, a small glass of whisky–nearby and wet your throat regularly. Your voice will be much smoother after a drink, especially an alcoholic one. Try to avoid recording early in the morning, when your voice might be ragged. Our voices warm up throughout the day, and you may find you sound better in the afternoon.
Do your audio recording standing up. Sitting down constricts the chest, and you can expand your lungs more when you stand. You may need to set your microphone on top of a cabinet to get the right height.
Speak directly into the center of the microphone. Experiment with the change in sound as you move closer to the microphone and away again. You should be able to find a sweet spot where you’re just the right distance from the mic.
Become conscious of “mouth artifacts.” These are sounds the mouth makes that you normally never hear, like the sound of your lips parting or the sound of saliva swishing about. Heavy breathing, clearing your throat, and any clicking sounds you make will have to be removed. I often keep my mouth slightly open while I speak instead of closing it, so I don’t inadvertently make a click when I open my mouth.
Lastly, always remember you’re speaking TO someone. Although many university-educated writers adopt a formal, declamatory style, it’s difficult to listen to someone talking AT us for long. Instead, be a storyteller. Use the same voice you use with friends when you’re telling them something fascinating. Soften your tone, confess your secrets to us, and include us in the story. Your listeners are real people, not a microphone in an empty room.
Sound recording software will only give you raw data. It’s your job to edit it into one smooth track and export it into a form people can use.
MP3 files are the best. Always mix down to a mono track, as audio recordings don’t need stereo sound. (Plus, stereo sound makes the file size unmanageable.)
You’ll have the opportunity to add tags to your MP3 file that include your name, the name of the recording, the year and so forth.