Affiliate Disclosure

Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links, and I will make a small amount of money when you click on them, or buy the product. I have not been paid to review any products, nor have I been given any products for free in exchange for a review, and any affiliate links that may be present will not change the price you pay for an item.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Audiobook progress

In my last two entries, I posted my workflow and my toolset for narrating my own audiobooks. A couple of days ago, I uploaded some test files to ACX's audio QA site. They have a 10-day queue, it seems, so I won't know for several more days what the QA results show. When they do I'll have a better idea what (if any) mistakes I made in my workflow, and I'll share that.

I also had a really fantastic day bargain-shopping yesterday; I found myself at Bookman's (a local resale store here in Tucson) looking for some second-hand DVDs. I'd been visiting the Bookman's stores periodically and had noticed in the past that they also carry second-hand musical instruments and equipment. While there, I happened to notice one of their employees working in that section, and asked him about shotgun microphones. It just so happened they'd just gotten one in, and I managed to land a super-cardioid dynamic shotgun Audio-Technica microphone for about 25% of what it sold for new. That will come in handy with my Almost 22 film project, but also for recording With It or in It.

So, the take-home for me there is: scour your local second-hand shops! You may find something really awesome in there! I'll also let you all know when ACX gets back to me about the QA results.

Also, once I get Hooray for Pain! finished and uploaded, and have the workflow & toolset more finalized, I'm going to post a series of videos on what I did, and how I did it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Audiobook Workflow

As you may recall from my last posting, I am working on getting my two books Hooray for Pain! and With It or in It into audio book format. I promised a look at my workflow, so here it is!

So, here are the steps I've been using. Since this is a book of poetry, each file is really very short and it makes more sense to me to do each one, one at a time.

  1. Record the audio using the Røde VideoMic Me attached to my iPad or iPhone (using GarageBand with the Monitor setting enabled)
    1. The Audio Genie II is plugged into the monitor jack in the back of the microphone.
    2. Using Sound Studio's visual VU meters, adjust the gain on the Audio Genie to get mostly green levels.
    3. Start recording in Sound Studio, switch over to the Kindle app on my mac (I read directly from the version of the book I uploaded to KDP), and sit quietly for a moment
    4. Read the poem. I position the Kindle app and Sound Studio so that I can see the VU meters below, and it will alert me if I'm getting into the yellow levels.
    5. Finish recording, sit quietly for a count of three, and then switch back to Sound Studio and stop recording.
  2. Listen to the captured audio as-is. If I don't like it, re-record.
  3. Click "Normalize" on the toolbar in Sound Studio, with a peak setting of -3 dB (this will give it a little headroom)
  4. Listen to the Normalized file. If it sounds good, save the file.
    1. I save my files at this point as AAC files with a 320 kbps bit rate. For a really long file I might choose a slower bit rate, but for these files (which are < 1 minute, mostly) it's not a big deal.
    2. When I save it, I learned a trick from Izzy Hyman (of ) to make it easy to import into Final Cut. In Final Cut Pro X, you can drag a folder into the Music and Sound Browser and it will add it to the sources you can use directly in Final Cut. So I save the files from Sound Studio into a subfolder I created for this project, under the folder I dragged into Final Cut.
  5. Make the edits in Final Cut Pro
    1. Add the saved file to my working library in Final Cut, create a new Event for it, and add the sound file to the new event in the Timeline
    2. After much experimentation, I saved an Effects Preset that combines my starting point for a Noise Gate, Noise Reduction, Doubler, and Volume. I saved the preset and made it my default audio effect through the Final Cut interface, and then I drag the effect onto my audio track. Here are what the settings are/mean:
      1. Noise Gate will essentially drop all sound below a decibel threshold. I start with a default of -48 dB and adjust it by listening to the clip all the way through. You'll need to find a decibel setting that doesn't clip your softest speaking parts.
      2. Final Cut has outstanding Audio Analysis, and I use their Noise Reduction on top of the Noise Gate. By default, I use a setting of 50%, but occasionally need to bump it up a little higher … especially in Tucson, during the Summer, when it's 110° F and the A/C kicks on every few minutes.
        1. There is also an option to de-hum, to adjust for AC electrical current, so if you are using a mic that is connected to electrical (this one is not) you might consider fiddling with that setting as well. 
      3. I leave the EQ flat, and I don't add any of the reverb settings from Final Cut, but instead use the Doubler effect with about a 1.05 setting. In essence, this fills out the voice sound by simply repeating it, 0.05 seconds later. It's kind of a cheater's reverb but without some of the obviousness of reverb. If that makes any sense. You could get the same effect by duplicating the audio track, turning off the snap-to-magnet setting on the Timeline, and play around with exactly where the two tracks line up, but I think Doubler is just simpler.
      4. Then I listen to the clip in its entirety, watching the VU meter to make sure I don't have any peaks above -3 dB (which is what ACX, Audible's version of KDP, requires) and if I do, adjusting the clip volume down until all peaks are -3 dB or lower. I also listen for clipping of my voice, and if there is any I adjust the Noise Gate appropriately. If there is no clipping, but there is still any background noise, I adjust the Noise Reduction setting under Audio Enhancements.
      5. I also listen for "mouth noise" like lip smacking, obvious breaths, and so on. If I find any that sneak through the Noise Gate (which happens), I use the Range Selection tool of Final Cut, zoom way in on the Timeline (down to a few frames, usually), and then put a range around the noise. Once selected, I can pull the volume on that range down to -∞ dB, which eliminates the noise without affecting the timing. If you're careful about how you breath when you are reading, you should be able to isolate these without affecting any actual speaking. It will help to read very deliberately. My prior experience as an actor and singer (when I was younger) helps!
      6. Finally, I find the beginning of my actual narration, backtrack two frames less than 1 second, and use the blade tool to remove everything before that. I then repeat this at the end, but with a 2-ish second tail. ACX requires a 0.5–1-second head, and a 1–5-second tail on every file.
  6. Once I have the edited sound the way I want it, I do a Share->Master File on the current Project. I set it to be Audio Only, and output as an AAC file. You can output it as an MP3 directly from here, but I take one additional step because Final Cut doesn't give you any options to set the bit rate mode or quality settings.
  7. Open the AAC file in Audacity. Using Audacity to convert the AAC file to an MP3 gives more options for the saved MP3 file.
    1. Once opened, I Export Audio… and use the following settings:
      1. Format: MP3
      2. Options: Bit Rate Mode: Constant, Quality: 192 kbps, Channel Mode: Stereo
      3. Then I fill out Metadata tags as appropriate
And that's my workflow. I haven't finished yet, so I can't guarantee that this will get approved by ACX. If it does, I'll post a blog entry confirming that; if not, I'll post a blog with the changes I needed to make. Also, I expect I may need to make changes when I start recording With It or in It, since the chapters can be their own files (and will be considerably longer than 1 minute, I suspect!). For doing one poem at a time (which is what ACX wants), this workflow ensures that I get each file done to the standards as best I can right now, and once done I can move to the next poem.

A couple of points: I use Final Cut Pro because my entire original plan was (and remains) to do filming, film/video editing, and it's unquestionably an excellent tool for that. I learned how to use it quite a while ago, when I first started the process of learning video & film editing, and I am very familiar with how to use it. It's expensive ($299 on the Mac App Store). I can certainly dig if you don't want to shell out scratch like that to edit audio; I didn't buy it for the audio. It just so happens that it is as excellent at audio editing as it is at video editing, and since I already had it, and knew how to use it, I adapted it to my workflow. If you're using something else, comment below so everyone can benefit from your experience as well!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Audiobook Tools and Process

In my last blog, I promised a look at the tools and process I am using to create the audiobook of both Hooray for Pain! and With It or in It. Today's blog will cover the tools I am using, and my next one will detail the process I use from beginning to end.

To start, the hardware (quick note, I was not given any of these products, for a review or otherwise):

And the software:
Now, a little bit about the iPad and Audio Genie II. I initially bought the Røde VideoMic Me as part of an effort to upgrade the audio capture for a film project I'm pursuing (Almost 22). The microphones on the iPhone and iPad are okay for FaceTime and telephone calls and telling Siri where to go when she doesn't understand you, but they are not professional quality audio. While I'd prefer to have a couple of boom shotgun mics—which would definitely be part of the audio upgrade for my Indiegogo project—the small shotgun Røde VideoMic Me is a reasonable first step. It allows me to capture audio separately from video, and position audio capture equipment to get the best sound, as this is not always the same direction as the lens will face. When I initially started using the mic, I would plug it into my iPad and record directly into GarageBand for iOS.

While going through some items that are left over from my father's estate, one of the things I happened across was the Audio Genie II and RCA adapter cable. Dad was a musician all of his life, professionally with the Army for 20+ years and later as a music teacher in high school and middle school music programs. He had all kinds of recording and sound equipment, some of which was many years old (reel-to-reel tape recording equipment, for example) and either non-functional or no longer really useful. We've sold off most of the equipment that we could and donated what we couldn't sell, but there were still several boxes & bags of things we'd not finished going through yet. In one of those was the Audio Genie II. Essentially, what this device is, is an analog-to-digital sound conversion device, with a small built-in pre-amp. The controls are minimal: a Line/Phono switch and a gain knob. That gain knob really is what I was after: the ability to amplify the raw audio signal before conversion. The VideoMic Me has a monitor mini-mic in the back, useful for monitoring the sound while recording.

So, now what I could do was take the sound as heard by the mic, immediately increase the gain, and send it straight to my Mac (in Sound Studio). For me, this is useful in a studio setting, such as at home recording an audiobook. This would not be my preferred setup for capturing audio on a set or on location while filming, for that I'd capture into GarageBand on the iPad and transfer later. But in the Studio setup, for me it works better to send it straight to the Mac.

Now, if I had to start all over again but knowing in advance I had the Audio Genie II … well, I might still have gotten the VideoMic Me anyway, because I didn't initially have the thought for studio work, it was (and remains) focused on the film project. It just happens to work out that now, in the studio, I can send the audio straight to my computer instead of doing an intermediate capture on the iPad.

In the next blog, I'll do a step-by-step of how I'm capturing audio now, as well as the editing I do once I have it captured. At the end of this process, I will also put together a video demo of how I do this, which may make it easier on you. 'Till next time!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Audiobook progress

I have been working really hard on getting some crowdfunding for a film project (Almost 22, a film about the risk of suicide with veterans and first responders), and now am starting with the process of tackling the audiobook versions of both Hooray for Pain! and With It or in It.

As a follow up in a day or so, I will also be posting a breakdown of the process and tools I've been using to produce the audio files for these two audiobooks, so hopefully other authors who wish to produce their own audiobooks can do so simply.