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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Audiobook creation lessons learned: Small things that can make a big difference

Welcome to the final step in this "lessons that Donovan learned while exploring the magnificent and confusing world of author-recorded audiobook narration"! In this episode, I'm going to cover a couple of things that can make a big impact in the final recording, but that don't really cost much (maybe a little time, but not a lot of money).

So after talking about the lessons I've learned about the direct input of sound (mic & preamp), and its capture and eventual manipulation (DAW software), today I will cover the lessons I've learned about optimizing the environment.

Creating a home-based location for recording is one place where you can really spend only a little bit of money and significantly improve your recordings. In my particular case, I decided to switch up the orientation of the recording area; instead of recording right in front of the computer, my office has what amounts to a small vestibule coming off the main hallway (see image to the right). It occurred to me that by closing the door (which I would need to do anyway) and putting acoustic foam and other noise-deadening materials up, I might be able to turn it into a very small recording studio. It happens that before my father passed away he had intended to turn one room (now, a bedroom) into a recording space but was never able to finish it, so there was acoustic foam tiling already in place in there (but, as I noted, it's a bedroom now and not suitable for recording space). So I started removing some of the tiles from the walls in that room and putting them up on the back of the door, and the wall to the right in the image. I wanted to try to avoid having to re-glue the panels, so I opted to use large binder clips; since the foam is very compressible, I could use the clip to hold the tile, and then place a pushpin on the wall or door from which to hang the clip. It works quite well and has significantly improved the quality of my recordings. Here are some images of the current setup:


As you can see, I've got two of the 12x12" panels on each of the two directly-facing walls. What you can't see in these photos is the underside of the shelf above, which I lined with the bottoms of foam and cardboard egg cartons, which I was able to wedge in and didn't even need to pin or glue them down, and cover them with a soft scrap piece of upholstery sample from years ago (long story, don't ask LOL) which I pinned up with some thumbtacks. Nothing in this particular set up cost me anything directly, they were all recycled from something else (even the pillow, visible on the left side of one of the above images … something that will eventually be replaced with cut-to-fit pieces of the remaining foam from the other room). To replicate this yourself, you could spend less than $25, really. One set of 12 panels of 12" x 12" acoustic foam on Amazon ( ) can be had for about $15, and of course the egg cartons you would just get when you finished a dozen eggs (just, of course, make sure to only use ones that didn't have any eggy spills in them!). Larger bundles of the same size panels can be had for about the same per-tile cost (roughly $1.25/tile). If you need to replicate the same kind of thing I did with the egg cartons but don't want to use actual egg cartons, of course, there are similarly-shaped foams available, and you could cut them to fit.

Logistically, there are still a couple of other challenges. While this does help, I still need to be able to read the book I'm narrating (no, I don't have my books all memorized, and none of the other authors I know have their books memorized either). So right now I'm holding my iPad, which is less than ideal. I'm working on creating a small lectern I can have off to the side (since I want to speak off-axis to the mic anyway, to help reduce the pop & sibilance noises), which can hold my iPad and my wireless keyboard (to control the recording software on my computer). The XLR cable from the mic is quite long, and easily reaches the amp connected to the USB port on my computer, so there are no problems there.

The other issue is the side where the camera is, in the above photos. I have been using a couple of small blankets clipped together with binder clips and pinned to the wall on the left and right, but they sag in the middle and are a pain to get up and down. Next, I plan to put up a curtain rod (which I don't have yet) and a blackout curtain (which I do have, but no way to mount it yet), and slide the curtain back and forth. This will greatly simplify the process of closing off that area and also add to the dampening of the sound (especially from the windows which are behind the camera in the photos). I do still have those windows covered with polystyrene foam (which has been there for years) and a double layer of thick towels pinned & clipped to the wall around the windows.

So, as you can see there are steps you can take to create a more recording-friendly environment. These are steps that with some creativity and out-of-the-box thinking you can not only save some money but drastically improve the quality of the recorded sound. I have done a couple of test runs, and the sound is so much better that it was not only easier to work with, in Audition, but I was easily able to get it to meet the technical requirements of ACX (something I was struggling with before!) and sound excellent. I am sure that you can have similar, and even better, success! I look forward to hearing your feedback and your own experiences if you have any to share then comment below!
I plan to do a revision of my youtube videos covering the audiobook creation process, so look for those coming in the next few weeks (I'll probably wait until I get the curtain up to start that process). As always, if you have questions or ideas post below! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Audiobook creation lessons learned: Software matters? (Not really)

Welcome back to my review of my "lessons learned" about creating your own audiobook narrations. Today, I'll be covering some things I've learned about the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software used to capture and manipulate your narration.

One of the biggest revelations was that they all basically do the same thing, and they basically all do it pretty well! Truly, the major differences between Logic Pro, Garageband, Pro Tools, Audition, Audacity, SoundStudio, and most others comes down to two things for the most part:
  • Interface, and
  • Price.
There are some other differences between them, but in my experience, most novice users will not see too much of a difference between them in terms of their features.

So, with that in mind, let's start with the first point, the interface differences.

Some of these DAWs are really rough for a novice just starting out (I'm looking at you, Logic Pro), and didn't make any sense to me. Others of you might get it right out of the gate, which is awesome!

Without belaboring the point too much, let me break down a little bit what you need to be able to do with a DAW:
  • Record audio;
  • Edit audio (removing mistakes, accidental sounds, excessive pauses, etc);
  • Manipulate the sound (filters, compression, noise reduction, etc), also known as engineering the sound; and,
  • Output properly formatted sound files for ACX.
All of these software packages (and many others) will do all of these things more or less reasonably well. They will all record through multiple interface types (usually, you tell the Operating System which input to use, though some do come with their own interface for deciding which interface), will all allow you to cut (or, if needed, insert) audio out of the file before processing it, have the ability to compress, normalize, amplify, and perform noise reduction as well as other engineering feats (such as reverb, limiting, gates, and so forth), and then create a sound file that is suitable for submission to ACX.

There are definitely some differences when you get to the price levels. Free or inexpensive apps (GarageBand, Pro Tools | First, Sound Studio, Audacity) generally tend toward having limited tools, whereas more expensive options have more complete tools and even multiple options for each tool.

Without going into too much detail (this is a lessons learned article, not complete coverage of each software package), there is good value in GarageBand (macOS and iOS only, $4.99 for either, though I am under the impression that you can get GarageBand for free from the Mac App Store if you've recently bought a Mac) and Audacity (macOS, Windows, and Linux, free). Either tool could be your only tool. Sound Studio (macOS, $30) has a pretty basic set of features, as well; I had problems with the input volume being way too soft despite the gain settings on my preamp so I no longer use SoundStudio for my audio capture.

One free tool that I absolutely cannot recommend at all is Avid's Pro Tools | First. There are several reasons for this:
  • Projects are limited to cloud storage on Avid's servers (that is, no local storage on your own computer), and you can only have 3 of them (total).
  • Pro Tools | First projects cannot be opened in any of the paid Pro Tools software (nor can First open other version's projects), meaning that you can't use the free "| First" to start out, testing the Avid software to see if it works for you, then upgrade to the paid tools and use your existing recordings. Period. (I know, right? DUMB).
  • Pro Tools | First will not export to MP3. So even if you wanted to record just one project as a test, knowing you wouldn't import later (because you'd complete the process end-to-end and start the next one from scratch), you still couldn't send it to ACX because there's no option to get MP3 out of the software.
  • Although Pro Tools | First is listed as supporting AAX (and only AAX plugins), it only supports certain AAX plugins that are purchased from their in-app Store.
Basically, Pro Tools | First seems designed to anger users enough to pony up for the full Pro Tools when they realize how useless the | First software is. Incidentally, I'm not the only person who feels this way. My advice is to steer clear of Pro Tools | First, period.

On the paid side, I was not able to afford any of Avid's offerings (the cheapest was $600 for a single license, though it could be cheaper for monthly subscriptions), and even their "free trial" requires purchasing a $50 USB key (!! Yes, really!). Also, their free trial is of an older version of the software (11, the current is 12). So, basically, Avid is a company whose only function seems to be to separate people from their money, and not really giving them any benefit for it or reason to trust them (while assuming that their customers will all steal their software), and Homie don't play that.*

So, I ruled out all of the Avid offerings (I did download Pro Tools | First and tried to get it to work, but its limitations meant that I had no reason to consider their other offerings). You might have a different experience, so, by all means, consider checking it out. Just be aware that it has significant limitations. One thing I do like about Avid's offering, for all of the other flaws that are present, is that you can buy the software outright (see later).

The same is also true of Logic Pro X (macOS only, $200), that once you've bought it it's yours. Also, significantly, Logic Pro X will import your existing GarageBand projects. So you can work in GarageBand for as long as it suits your needs, then upgrade to Logic Pro after your first audiobook sells enough copies to bring in the $200 cost for the higher-end product.

Along with that cost, however, comes a pretty steep learning curve. I was able to set aside enough to buy a copy of Logic Pro, and I'm still learning how to use it.

The other tool I put my hands on was Adobe's Audition (CC 2017, macOS or Windows, price options below). This tool was much simpler for me to get into, and I had no problems making sense of the interface and the included tools. The effects rack is awesome—it allows most of the filters, compressors, and other tools to be stacked into a sequence, and actively ... well, "sampled" is the best way I can describe it. You can select most (but not all) of the filters available, and they are put together—in sequence—and will modify the sound you hear on playback. They won't permanently affect the sound file until you "apply" the rack so you can experiment with the sound quite a lot.

Anyway, I found Audition to be the most usable of the tools overall. A major drawback is the fact that you can't buy the software outright. Unlike Pro Tools or Logic Pro, the only option for Audition (and, indeed, all Adobe products anymore) is to pay a monthly fee for a whole year (there is an option to, in essence, rent Audition by itself for one year for $240 or all Adobe apps for $600 for one year, but that does not give you the right to keep the software after the one year period is up). It is cheaper for a one-year subscription than Pro Tools is outright, but Logic Pro is cheaper even than that and you have a perpetual license for either Logic Pro or Pro Tools. I am not a fan of this forced subscription model (if you don't want to renew next year, you lose all rights to use the software, which I think is absolutely insane … especially considering how expensive it is).

So, what I'm doing right now is paying month-to-month to use Audition (monthly $30, or $20 if you commit to paying every month for a year) while also learning Logic Pro's interface. Also, keep in mind that you can use Audition for a month as a free trial.

I have to say that I really, really dig the Effects Rack in Audition (and the interface overall). I just don't like the pricing model. I'd really love it if we could rise up with a loud voice and tell Adobe that software subscriptions as the only model is totally disrespectful, and get them to offer the software that you can actually own. That's a rant for another day, however.

In my next blog post, I'll go over my lessons learned about the recording environment. This is a place where you can get a lot of bang for very little buck.

*: As if to pour lemon juice on a paper cut, Avid's website crashes Chrome tabs every time I visit their site. It's almost as if they're begging me to dislike their products!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Audiobook creation lessons learned: Microphones and their preamp pals

As I noted in my last entry, I have learned a few lessons attempting to setup my home writing studio in a way that would permit me to record audiobooks as well. Today, I wanted to further expand on the first point: microphones are critical, so don't skimp on them.

If you've followed along the earlier postings, I initially attempted to do this whole process for less than $100. What I have found is that you might be able to find a good mic second hand for that price, but I don't recommend skimping on this item. Mics for less than about $150–300 are just too low-quality (meaning they introduce hiss or are noisy) to be good for this process. Capturing the highest quality audio possible makes the editing later much easier, and that equals a good microphone.

I researched several options, and what I ended up with is the Røde NT-1A ( ). Other options in that category include the audio-technica AT2035 ( ) and the SE Electronics sE2200A II ( ).

I went with the Røde option for a couple of reasons. All of the microphones in this price range (as you might expect!) are pretty similar in performance. The NT-1A came as a kit and included the XLR cable (more on this in a minute), a pop filter, and shock absorber mount for the mic stand. Some of the others can be found online with bundles that include these things, as well. I read a lot of reviews, on Amazon but also on other sites ( and for example), and the NT-1A, in particular, is well-received and is one of the microphones recommended by ACX.

This kind of microphone (condenser mic) requires power to operate, and thus the inclusion of a power cable is essential. Both because of this need for power, and since it makes sense to have a pre-amp anyway (to allow you to get the best quality input to your recording software), one thing to also consider is the pre-amp—and, particularly, a pre-amp which provides "phantom power." Essentially, what this means is that power is not provided by a separate cable from that use to transmit the sound signal; they both travel over the same wiring.

Here, there are choices on top of choices:

  • How you connect to your recording software (most likely USB but there are other options!).
  • How many instruments or microphones you plan to connect.
  • On-board filtering or compression (audio compression).
  • Other included features (some come with a license for certain software tools, or for plug-ins) does the preamp's manufacturer offer.
To make it simple, I'll point out that you really must consider three things:
  • Phantom power supply (via XLR cable, almost always) and how much
  • Gain controls (allows you to dial in how much boost the sound will get from the preamp)
  • Output to the computer (USB, Thunderbolt are two popular, with USB more popular)
All of the other considerations are secondary, "nice-to-have" features for starting out.

First, the power. Since your condenser mic will require power, and will almost certainly use the XLR connection type, your preamp must provide that power and provide it via XLR. Now, XLR just refers to a particular connection type; it's a shielded multi-prong plug, just make sure both the mic and the preamp have the same number of prongs. The other consideration here is the voltage. Commonly, 48V phantom power is used for powering the mic, although there are 24V and 12V options as well. Best bet is to pick the microphone you want, and then select a preamp that will provide the correct phantom power (the NT-1A, for example, can use either 24V or 48V, which means more options for selecting a preamp).

Second, the controls. Gain controls will be pretty common for any preamp, but they should be easy to adjust, and easy to read.

Third, consider how you will output to the computer. Since most of us in this situation will have USB, that is a fine way to go. If you require another option (like RCA, Thunderbolt, or Firewire), then, of course, you'll be looking for a preamp that uses those connectors instead.

There are lots and lots of options, even with these basic considerations. What I ended up getting was the Focusrite Scarlet Solo USB ( ), which is a pretty basic preamp that won't break the bank. It has the XLR connection (and 48V phantom power) that my Røde NT-1A microphone requires; it has a dial for the gain control (and, an LED light band around the control, which lights green when the sound is "in the green" and lights red when the sound might clip); and it connects via USB. It also has a 1/4" jack for a monitor (I use headphones), and a volume control for the monitor jack. It also has a line-in (say, for an instrument), as well as RCA left & right output (if you prefer RCA connections instead of USB).

Finally, one additional thing to keep in mind is how to support the microphone. Even if the mic you choose is the kind you can hold in your hand, you likely will not want to do so for long stretches of time recording your audiobook, so I recommend considering getting a stand to hold your mic. In my case, I got the Samson MK-10 Microphone Boom Stand ( ), but there are a ton of other options out there. In addition, you might consider taking a trip to your local secondhand store and buying a mic stand there.

All told, including tax, I spent less than $400 on the mic, stand, and USB preamp. This is a pretty reasonable investment, I think, to get good equipment as a starting point. As we'll see in the next couple of installments, this is far and away the most expensive part of this process, and there are some serious soundproofing upgrades that can be had for less than $30 (which I will cover in a different blog entry).

My next post in this series will cover some of the lessons I've learned with the software, so stay tuned for that! I'll see you in a couple of days!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Audiobook setup changes

So I've been working on a few things in the background, one of which was a new setup for doing my audiobook recording.

As much as wanted to try to make the recording work out by spending less than $100, I wasn't able to make decent recordings at that level (others might, I just couldn't do it). So I was able to do some research, and get better insight about where to save, and where it was important to spend some money. Here are a few lessons I've learned.

  • First lesson: don't skimp on the mic. A prosumer microphone can be had for $300–400, and will make a huge difference in the quality of your recordings.
  • Second lesson: the software you choose is secondary. Great quality can be had using Logic Pro, Audition, Audacity, Garageband, Pro Tools, and several others.
  • Third lesson: you can skimp on the amount of money you spend to soundproof your recording space, because it can be done fairly cheaply.
Over the next few days I'll be re-examining each of these things, and detailing my experiences in blog entries. Hopefully, that will be enough to set you on your way to setting up your own audiobook recordings!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fantasy Novel snippet

One of the myriad things I'm working on at the moment is a new Fantasy novel series, and I thought I'd take a quick break and share just a little snippet of it. This is part of Chaper 4 of the first novel in this series, The Ruins of Lawic Keep. Hope you enjoy it!

“So what do we know so far about the situation?” asked Brithra. “The gothi did not give us very much information before we left.” She picked through the plate of greens in front of her, searching for the nuts and seeds she knew must be buried underneath it somewhere.
“Well, not a whole lot,” Rode replied. “Dad said to seek out your gothi, and find help, and then go seek out the Lawic grove. The only information that he gave me was that it was important we try to gain their trust quietly, because the call for help was coded secretly, using ancient words and formalities.” She dug into the pot with the fish that Arles had caught and cooked, and plopped it onto Brithra’s salad. “Eat this, you’ll be much happier with it I promise.”
Brithra accepted the boiled Ravencraft Char and took a seat next to her friend Nelye on the felled tree she was using as a bench. She took a big gulp of the boiled fish and swallowed heartily, then bit off another chunk. “Scho,” she chomped out of the corner of her mouth, still chewing, “schwat do you” chew chew “schink might be” swallow “going on up there?”
Rode took a deep breath, and thought for a moment. She still wasn’t quite sure about the Galalwe worshippers and their penchant for violence, but decided to trust her dad’s wisdom. “I believe that they may be operating under some kind of a curse. There wasn’t a lot of information available before we left for Mopool, but the gist of it seemed to feel to me like dad suspected they’d perhaps lost their Oak through external forces, or were having trouble with their underbrush. Most of these kinds of Groves are diligent about how they handle their sacred plants and animals, so if the were having problems with them it would probably be due to an outside influence.” She stopped for a moment. “I … well, I just don’t know. It could be any number …”
“Could it be they angered their Oak spirit?” Nelye interjected. “If they somehow managed to piss off their tree that might cause an imbalance, and make it tough for them to recover on their own.” As she spoke, she emphasized her words pointing at the half-elf with her wooden fork, or flailing it around, the juices from her fish splashing over the others.
Rode calmly wiped her face with her sleeve, and continued. “It could be any number of things, including that they damaged their Oak through accident or carelessness. I’ve seen blueberry and heather dryads get bent out of shape because a cooking fire was left unattended, but their wrath is usually limited to causing the nearby animals to misbehave, or to cause roots & weeds to entangle the feet of those who stray nearby. Mischievous stuff, nothing malevolent and certainly well within the realm of a Grove with an active Arch to handle …”
“Arch?” Brithra asked.
“Archdruid, sorry. A Grove with an active Archdruid should be quite capable of pacifying any of those kinds of small transgressions. If their Most Sacred Oak was damaged through such negligence, or even intentional act, the Grove would disband until the Oak found a new place to settle. That wouldn’t cause them to panic. That kind of thing has happened occasionally throughout history.”
Rode paused for a moment, giving herself time to think and the others time to chew. Arles sat thoughtfully, then his back straightened as he cocked his head to the right.
“Wait,” he said, softly. “Hush for a moment.”
The others stopped moving, straining to listen themselves. Rode looked at Arles, and saw his brow furrow, then his face turned slightly red as his eyes narrowed.
“Set down,” he said. “Follow me, bring your weapons. Quickly and quietly. Come!” he barely whispered, then sprung without a sound into the dark underbrush and disappeared.
“Grift!” cursed Brithra. “Aye, Nel, let’s after him before he gets himself hurt.”
Rode noticed that Brithra’s eyes seemed to twinkle at that. She has a crush on him! she thought. Rode knew better, knew that Arles was a peerless tracker in almost any terrain—able to track mountain goats up sheer cliffs—but then remembered that Brithra didn’t know that about him.
The three scrambled to keep up, as Arles nearly floated over the ground. After a few moments, they came to a dip in the ground, where Arles sat almost like a pointer hound. As the rest of them took up positions immediately behind him, he signaled to Rode to look out over the edge. “See, just over the farther ridgeline? That is a hunting party from Clan Filthgrin. The one with a shield, it has the bloody smile design. It’s similar to the Clan Foamscowl from the Northern Bloodfen area, but has the bloody dripping instead of the foaming mouth. See?” He pointed to an imaginary shield on his own arm, then back out over the top of the escarpment.
Rode looked out over the open plain below, just peering over the top of their hiding location. After a moment, she could focus her eyes on the object of Arles’ attention: a small group of gnolls. Five, she counted: one larger than the rest with a tower-type shield over its left shoulder, clearly showing the image of a bloody, crooked grin. “Yep. I see it. They don’t look like they’re terribly successful hunting yet, and they’re also not coming this way. We should get back and strike camp.”
“NO!” Arles snapped. “We should after them now, so they don’t threaten any of the locals.” His face was stern, even angry, as he cast his gaze at the distant gnoll hunting party. “We should strike at them immediately for the safety of nearby villages.”
“Absolutely not. This is not part of our charge, we need to continue to move toward the Tumunzar clan meeting place. We can’t afford to waste…”
“This is NOT a waste! You know yourself how heartless and feral these filthy creatures are! I say we set off and kill them all, right now.”
“It’s a waste of time for what we need to do! No. We strike camp and continue North to Tumunzar. If we come across them again on the way, we’ll revisit this. But now we need to keep moving.”
Brithra and Nelye looked at each other, somewhat taken aback by Arles’ vehemence. Brithra in particular examined Arles’ face for a moment, which was seething in anger and bright red. She and Nelye started back toward their camp, leaving Rodire and Arles for the moment.
Arles continued to glare over the escarpment down at the gnolls for a good long time, several minutes at least. Rode sat for a few minutes, waiting to see if he would calm down, but as it became obvious he was simply going to stew, she started back toward the camp herself. Just before she stepped away, she put her hand on Arles’ forearm. “Arles. Look at me.”
He turned his glare toward her, softening a bit as he recognized his long-time friend. His eyes bore the torment of his soul, nearly to the point of forming tears.
“I know how angry you are. I was there when you got news of your parents' abduction. We will have our chances. Right now, we need to continue to work on getting to the Tumunzar dwarves to meet with their council, and then find out what is going on with Lawic Grove. We will have our chances.”
She watched as the blood drained from his face and he resigned himself to their current reality. “Okay,” he replied, “but this is not over.”
“We will have our chances, Arles.”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Shooting star (quickmakeawish)

Just a new poem for your Monday Morning Meditation: "Shooting star (quickmakeawish)"

Shooting star (quickmakeawish)

—Bacil Donovan Warren

And there it goes, a shooting star,
All bright and burning fast
A comet fragment, travelled far—
And relic from the past.

One more streaks by and you point out
The flicker we watch fade,
It disappears, and then you pout;
Your gentle heart, betrayed.

I know that look, the one you wear
The gleaming in your eye,
Your broken soul is lying bare
And exposed to the sky.

You and the comet are alike
In many ways, you see:
A billion mile starlight hike
Has brought you both to me.

I stare into that dark beyond
And contemplate the two—
Two beauties, which a breaking spawned—
A light show; and, a you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New poem: Perfectly Broken

As regular readers of my Cogitations are well aware, I have my hands in many pies: Novels, Memoirs, videos, audiobooks, and CloudAge™ Author things. But first, and foremost, I am a poet, and I wanted to share my latest:

Perfectly Broken

— Bacil Donovan Warren

Sitting on the lawn, at the breaking dawn,
Happy in the company we keep;
I bathe in your soul on that grassy knoll
While breathing the breath of my own.

Two people apart, but sharing one heart,
Happy in the company we keep;
As lovers we talk, as friends we will walk—
And I breathe the breath of my soul.

Not perfect we are, but know from afar—
Happy in the company we keep—
That mistakes are made, and angers mislaid:
And still will I breathe on my own.

For even if we are so meant to be
Happy in the company we keep,
Each of us now must learn how to adjust
As I keep the breath of my soul.

It comes from within, leaks out with a grin,
Happy in the company we keep;
Leave it unspoken: “perfectly broken”
As I remain true to my soul.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Independent Audiobook Creation Episode 4: Software Toolchain

Episode 4 of my Independent Audiobook Creation series is up, and it covers the basic toolchain that I use when I am mastering my audiobook narrations. It covers the recording, editing, and filtering steps that I use (at least, for the most part), and I offer some suggestions about things the independent author narrating her or his own audiobook can do for their own situation. I am also working on posting a Episode 5 (hopefully tomorrow) that will cover some of the multi-track things that can be done, layering audio, ducking audio, and applying specialty filters.

Here is the video:

As always, comment below or on the YouTube video directly with any comments or questions!

Episode 4 almost finished!

Just a heads-up, I am almost finished with Episode 4 of my Independent Audiobook Creation series, focusing on my software toolchain. It should be posted later tonight, and I'll post it here when it's uploaded and ready to view!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Next step in the Audiobook: I promise, I'm close!

Yes, I promise you, loyal reader, that I have been working on the video covering the steps I use in my toolchain. I have had to delay longer than I'd originally anticipated because I learned several things, and had to change back and forth with my setup for recording, which affected my workflow for the editing part as well.

I will have it available in the next day or so, I promise. :)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Scrivener for iOS: The CloudAge™ Author's best friend.

As I noted a few days ago, Literature & Latte was finally able to get their outstanding writing tool Scrivener on iOS devices. As soon as I could, I purchased and downloaded it, and today set about to both edit a novel I'm working on and test out Scrivener for iOS as a tool for the CloudAge™ Author.

Since I just started using it, let me mention that as a writing tool, this all by itself is amazing. If all you use it for is to write your Great American Novel, it will work just fine for you. At $19.99, it's a little bit more expensive than some other options in that category, so if literally, all you want is a tool for writing, there are less expensive options available.

(Note: while I may describe some operations in the app right now, I will do a much more in-depth & step-by-step guide to the various uses of Scrivener for iOS in a short series of posts).

If you are using Scrivener on your desktop computer at home, however, the additional 20 bucks for the iOS version is an easy purchase, I think. The sync feature uses Dropbox, and really couldn't be much simpler. From the desktop side, save your project inside a folder on Dropbox (L&L recommends using Dropbox:Apps:Scrivener as the location, but you can use any location you'd like). Open the iOS version, and step through the opening screens. In the main interface, there are two main panes; the one on the left starts as a project view and the right side is the main editor. In the project view, click the "Edit" button, and then the Settings gearwheel that appears in the lower left. From there you can link your Dropbox and tell Scrivener which folder to use. It will sync the items it finds in that folder, whether they are Scrivener projects or not, so it is best to choose a folder where only Scrivener projects will be stored.

Once that's set up on the iOS side, you should see your projects populate the left pane. Tapping a project reveals that project's various divisions (Manuscript, Research, etc.), and drilling down into these areas allows you to open your manuscript's documents & so forth. Create a new document by clicking the "+" icon in the left pane, and giving it a title & synopsis. Type in the document until you are done, the sync with the sync icon in the top toolbar (it looks like two curved arrows). Close the app, and go to your desktop machine, and open that same project. If it does not automatically sense the changes, click the "Mobile Sync" button in the upper left of the main toolbar, and watch as it populates your project with your new changes!

So that's just a short intro to the new Scrivener for iOS, and I will be doing a series on using it for your main mobile writing tool over the next couple of weeks, as I explore more and get more comfortable with it. So, hopefully, you'll join me for that, and I'll see you in the next episode!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Episode 3 of audiobook creation videos is up

I was able to get the next episode, Episode 3: Hardware Setup done and uploaded to YouTube.

Let me know what you think!

The next episode, Editing & Filtering, will be up in a couple of days.

That video will walk you through each of the edits that I make, and the filters that I apply, and explain why I use each one and what it's for.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Upcoming hardware video

I had intended to get the video of my hardware setup done today, but I managed to put a severe hurting on my right thigh while trying to do my exercises (the ones I hope will help me get back into some semblance of fitness), and have been extremely hobbled the last few days (if you're curious, it is a grade II strain of the Right Rectus Femoris … I knew my paramedic training would come in handy someday).

So I am still working on it but it's been slow going since I can't move very well, and am in a fair amount of pain most of the time. I promise it will be up soon, hopefully by Wednesday.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Independent Audiobook Creation Episode 2: Basic Terminology

I just uploaded the second episode of my series on Independent Audiobook Creation, where I go over some of the basic terminology that might be unfamiliar to writers looking to narrate their own audiobooks.

Next video (should be up Monday evening, MST) will show the hardware setup I'm using, and go over some of the options for hardware.

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Intro video for Independent Audiobook Creation

The first video in my Independent Audiobook Creation series is up. It's a touch over 5 minutes long, and just gives a little background about where I'm going with the process.

Let me know what you think!

Tomorrow's episode 2 will cover basic terminology & sound concepts, primarily those that are used at ACX.

Episode 3 will cover my hardware setup, and suggest changes you might make in your own setup, and I intend to have that video up by Monday evening (MST).

Episode 4 will cover the software toolchain, and cover the recording and initial editing steps I use.

Episode 5 will cover the filters and engineering manipulations I use to enhance and prepare the audio files for submission.

And, finally, Episode 6 will be a basic summary of the episodes 2–5, and wrap up the process.

Hope you enjoy them, and that I'm able to help at least one of you in your process!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Refined Audiobook Toolchain & Workflow

Welcome back to this installment of my personal journey toward narrating and producing the audiobook of my own published books Hooray for Pain! and With It or in It. Today, I am going to detail the steps that I've come up with, hopefully in enough of a non-technical way that it will be reasonably easy to follow and understand for anyone who is trying this themselves for the first time.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I wanted to try to reduce the number of applications in my toolchain, as well as simplify the process in other ways. My aim was to try to get to the point where I could use only the free tool Audacity. I have found, however, that Audacity has some interface issues that make it very difficult for me to use for the editing stage of the process, and so I have to record & edit the audio in Sound Studio before moving into Audacity for most of the filtering.

To make this a little simpler, I basically see this as a three-step process:

  1. Record the audio
  2. Edit out the mistakes
  3. Filter & enhance the remainder
Let me break it down a little bit more.

First, record the audio. Have your microphone, software, book (or kindle or whatever), studio, hot tea, water, and such all ready to sit down and do the recording. Hang up the signs that say "do not disturb" or whatever you need to do. Then, record your narration. When you are recording, if you make a small mistake (such as skipping over or mumbling a word) make a sharp noise, and start over from the most recent natural pause. I snap my fingers in front of the mic, other people will clap, but whatever it is it should make a distinctive mark in the audio software's waveform representation. This just makes it easier to see later when editing. Then, start over from that most recent natural pause, and continue. Record as long as you are comfortable, and then stop. I always make sure to record a few seconds of the studio in as near to silence as I can before and after. This is called "room tone" and serves several purposes.

Second, once a recording is complete, edit out mistakes. By "complete," of course, I mean once you've finished recording a particular section, chapter, poem, or whatever. You can wait until you've finished recording every section, or you can do each one as you stop recording, it's really up to you. The only caveat there is that for ACX (and for your listeners, even if you don't or can't use ACX for your audiobook publishing), it is important that the entire finished product has a similar sound throughout, so replicating the conditions of recording is vital. Having the finished product meet certain technical requirements (such as ACX's requirements) will help, but if you record several chapters in one location, and then change locations for others, your listeners might notice the difference in quality and background.

In any event, sit down with your editing software and listen to the finished product. Delete any segments where you made mistakes—this is where those snaps or claps come in handy—until you have only the correct narration of your work, with all of the reading mistakes edited out. Then, listen to it again from beginning to end. If you have edited out any mistakes, sometimes it's hard to tell exactly how long a pause should be until you hear it in playback. If you find that a pause is too long, you can always edit it out; conversely, if you've recorded a few seconds of silent room tone you can copy a few dozen milliseconds of it, and use the "paste" function to insert a little extra pause where needed.

Third, once you have a correct narration, with the spacing and pauses and everything else in their proper place, you will want to filter & enhance the sound file. Exactly what, how, and how much will depend on your specific recording environment, software, microphone, and so forth, but here are some tools common to many software packages to consider (all are named using the conventions in Audacity where applicable, although most of them are pretty common names for pretty common sound concepts):
  • Noise Reduction
  • Compression
  • Limiting
  • Click Removal
  • Ducking
  • Equalization
    • or Treble/Bass reduction or increase
  • Echo or Reverb
Some of these will be a good idea to use on each recording, but the order in which you do them matters, at least in theory. Also, most of these filters/effects/modifications are done on the entire file (except the Ducking, which I explain below).

So, based on my experimentation and output results so far, this is my workflow. Please note that this has not yet been submitted to ACX, and even if it had I can't guarantee your results will be the same, but this setup should at least get you on the right track.

I always do a noise reduction first. That should help to prevent any further processing from increasing the sound from the noise, helping to keep the noise floor as low as possible. For ACX, the noise floor can be at most -60 decibels (dB), so removing the noise early makes sense to me. It also makes the next step easier, since the compressor has a much more silent floor to detect.

Next, I run a compressor on the file. I use the following settings:

My Compressor settings in Audacity

and click OK to start the process. It only takes a few seconds. What compression does in this context is, essentially, it brings the valleys up and the peaks down so the overall range of sound levels (called the dynamic range) is tighter (that is, it decreases the dynamic range, essentially squishing it together a bit). This allows the sound to be able to be amplified more without distortion or clipping (both of which would sound horrible in this context). By also clicking the "Make-up gain" checkbox, the compressor will perform an amplification of the resulting audio, increasing its overall signal. Now, the noise floor slider is something you will likely want to play around with; I have found that in my setup, -50 guarantees that all of my vocals will be picked up (and not clipped), but that it won't trigger on other noises that might be present (like the A/C kicking on, for example). Yours might be different, but I suggest setting it no lower than the ACX noise floor of -60, and you will likely want it higher than that.

When the compressor finishes, the resulting sound file is quite a bit louder, but the peaks of it (at 0 dB) are too loud for ACX (which requires a max of -3 dB). So my next step is to run a Limiter on the file:
My Limiter settings in Audacity
What a limiter does kind of depends on the type selected. A "limit" (hard or soft) will compress any sound peaks that go above the "Limit to" setting so that they don't breach that Limit; a "clip" will cut the sound off if it goes higher than that Limit. By setting a "soft" limit, as the sound approaches the Limit it will be progressively diminished, more diminished the higher it goes. It will start to diminish those peaks before it reaches the Limit, which results in more softly rounded peaks. A "hard" limit will not diminish the peak until it breaches that Limit, and then will compress it, resulting in a more flattened peak. The Clip settings will distort the sound, especially the "hard" clipping, and I don't recommend it for this purpose (though, you may find through your own experimentation that it works for your situation). The soft limit gently rounds off the peaks, and at -3.1 dB will keep them below the threshold for ACX.

Next, I run the Click Removal, which helps to eliminate any stray lip smacking or sharp breath noises I might have made while recording.

At this point, I stop and listen to the entire piece from beginning to end. If I hear any lip-smacks or breathing noise that the Click Removal didn't catch, I will stop and select a few milliseconds before and after the noise, and then duck the audio. Essentially, what that means is that on only the selected audio, I decrease its amplitude so that it is no longer audible on normal listening. (Technically, ducking is when you decrease the sound of a given track below that of other audio present, but the process is the same whether there is other audio present or not, so that's what I'm going with.)

Once I've gotten through the entire file and removed as much of the distracting breathing and lip noise as I can identify, I give it another listen. This time, I'm listening for the balance of treble & bass tone. If it sounds too tinny, I'll use the equalizer to adjust the relative balance of bass, mid tones, and treble sounds. Conversely, if it's too bass-rich, I'll equalize in the other direction. Some software will have specialized equalizer filters for Bass or Treble Enhance (or Reduce), and you can experiment with those to hear how it sounds.

In addition, there's a consideration for reverberation or reverb settings. Initially, I was using a tool in Final Cut called a doubler, which essentially just provides a perfect duplicate of the selected sound only a few milliseconds later (Audacity calls this effect Echo), and has basically the same effect, providing some additional depth to the sound. Reverb essentially takes the sound and uses mathematics to simulate what that sound might be if it were bouncing off of different substances in different sizes of location. The essential difference between echo (or doubler) and reverb is that the echo simply duplicates the sound, with a delay (how long between the original and echoed sound) and a decay (how much of the original sound is reproduced in the repeated signal, each time it is repeated). Any decay below 1 will reduce the sound for each echo, and a very small decay (such as .05, say) will result in the sound quickly dying out. The reverb will simulate the echoed sound being bounced around inside a room of a size you specify (numeric size, not square feet), and has a lot more options to consider. I have experimented with it and have found that a straight echo with a delay of 0.05 second, and a decay of 0.05, gives my vocal recordings more richness without the obviousness of reverberation. However, I encourage you to experiment and find your own settings (and, share them below if you are inspired to do so)!

One thing to keep in mind: if you decide you want to use echo or reverb, I recommend doing it before you apply the limiter, or set your original limiter a bit lower (say, -3.5 or -3.8 dB). The echo or reverb effect may increase the peaks, and if so it may pop you over the ACX submission threshold.

Finally, the last thing I do is run the ACX check on the file. Here is the output from that for my latest recording file:

Output from the ACX Check analysis
As you might expect, this tool is very handy but is not a guarantee that the file will pass ACX once submitted, it just gives you a sense of where it stands. I believe that this will probably work fine most of the time, however, so I am definitely using it at least as a baseline.

Now, at this point sometimes there are special effects that need to be considered. For example, in one part of With It or in It, I included a paraphrased transmission that was sent over military radio frequencies to our unit on a gunnery range. After recording the audio, I saved the file as an AIFF file and import it into Final Cut (since I couldn't find a plug-in for Audacity that performed this), where I applied the "Car Radio" filter to just that section of the recording. It made that section sound like it was being transmitted over the radio, which was exactly the effect I was looking for. Once done, I exported that file back out as an AIFF and opened it in Audacity to re-check with the ACX Check tool, just to make sure I hadn't messed up the floor or peak levels (mostly; this section was only a few seconds and was unlikely to affect the RMS level significantly).

Once this part has been completed, I recommend sending this file to a trusted friend (or a solid beta reader/listener, if you have one willing to help) for a second set of ears. It especially helps if they are familiar with your book, but this is not strictly necessary. Ask them for their feedback on the overall sound, any distortion, clipping, or distractions that may be present that you missed, and overall flow. Sometimes, you will discover that you thought you cut out a mistake but didn't, or that you accidentally skipped a word, sentence, or paragraph (or, accidentally cut them out).

Finally, when you are ready to submit to ACX (if you are going this route), you'll need to save the finished file as an MP3 file, with a bit rate of at least 192 bps, Constant Bit Rate, and as a mono file if you can (or a stereo if you can't, but do not create a "joint stereo" if your software gives you that option).

So, that's where I am right now with this workflow. During the rest of the week (in addition to other things) I will be working on getting up those videos I discussed before, which hopefully will help elucidate any unclear areas. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

CloudAge™ Author news: Scrivener for iOS is finally released!

After a many-year-long wait, Literature and Latte has released the iOS version of their outstanding writing software, Scrivener. Although I have not yet had a chance to purchase & use it—when I do, I will bring you a full review, of course!—all of the reviews I've run across have been very positive.

According to L&L, the software will sync (through Dropbox) with your macOS, Windows, and all iOS devices (those that it can run on, naturally), as long as the macOS or Windows versions are the latest (macOS: version 2.8, Windows: version 1.9.5). It requires iOS 9.0 or higher, and will run on the iPhone albeit with a few features missing (corkboard, for example).

If you've been thinking about transitioning to Scrivener, and have been waiting for the iOS version (maybe you have a desktop at home and bought an iPad instead of a laptop), then now seems like the perfect time to do so!

If you're already using it, share your experiences below and let everyone know how it's working for you. After I've had a chance to grab a copy myself, I will blog on some of the things that are likely to be most important, such as how it works as a daily-use writing tool, sharing for edits (with other Scrivener users, for example), research & writing, and preparing for submissions & publication.

On an only tangentially related topic, I am still working on getting my workflow perfected for my audiobook, and am still aiming for a blog entry tomorrow on that subject. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Audiobook Workflow & Tools, updated

So, I'm still waiting for feedback from ACX, but even if (as I suspect) their feedback is that the files do not meet their technical requirements, I do have some updates for everyone based on my trials and tribulations (if you haven't followed along, check out the first few entries in this topic posted over the last few days).

First, a slight update to the hardware. Instead of the Røde VideoMic Me, I am now using an Audio-Technica ATR-55 that I found for a steeply discounted price in a secondhand store. This is a dynamic shotgun mono microphone, with a tunable pickup pattern. It has three settings for pickup: off, cardioid, and hypercardioid (labelled "tele" on this microphone).

For the novice, the pickup pattern describes the shape of directions in which the microphone "hears," in essence. Without getting into too much technical detail, the "cardioid" pattern refers to a pickup pattern shaped somewhat like a human heart (for an excellent explanation, as well as an equally excellent diagram, check out this answer from Shotgun mics have a construction that tends to emphasize sounds to the front of the microphone (and, to a lesser extent, the back), and although they do also take in sounds from the sides (off-axis, if you think of it that way, with the on-axis being in the long direction of the microphone). Essentially, what happens is the microphone takes the sounds that come in from the off-axis, and then de-emphasizes them in favor of the sounds that come down the on-axis. With the "tele" setting turned on with the ATR-55, it basically makes that cardioid shape thinner, and stretches down the on-axis a little bit farther to the front (and a little bit to the back, as well).

I have also been doing some deliberate digging to find ways to not have to use Final Cut Pro X—which is still an excellent tool, don't get me wrong. It's just that it's really for video editing, and eats a lot of RAM & CPU time on my computer as a result. It may also not be your best bet, if all you want to do is narrate your own book, at home, because it is a $299 investment. It is really, really awesome, though, so if you already have it for some reason it is a great tool.

So I looked into some ways I could streamline by trying to have Sound Studio and Audacity do more work, possibly using Final Cut only for one or two steps (if at all) that couldn't be done in the other two. I have not completed this process, but I believe that I may be able to only use Audacity, and skip Sound Studio and Final Cut Pro X. When I finalize this process, I'll give more details. I am still planning to do a series of short videos as well, covering these topics:

  • Basic Sound Terminology and Concepts
    • This video will be a few minutes long, and will explain some of the terms used in sound editing & engineering, for the writer (who may not care other than the fact they need to have a basic grasp in order to self-publish audiobooks)
  • Hardware Setup
    • This will likely detail my specific setup, and point out where you might make changes or use different equipment (and why)
  • Software Toolchain and Workflow
    • This will show the tools I use, and then follow a single sound file from recording, to editing, to filtering & other manipulations, and finally to saving in the final format for submission.
These tools will be for Macintosh (since that's what I have and use), but will be conceptually identical on PCs running Windows or Linux—especially with Audacity, since it works on all of these platforms—and should be easy to understand in general.

I intend to have this workflow nailed down by about Monday evening (Mountain Standard Time, since I live in Arizona). That will likely result in a blog on the details Tuesday, and having the videos up starting probably Friday, 29 JUL 2016.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Updated Audiobook Progress

First, the bad news: I still haven't heard back from ACX about the sample files that I uploaded, but I am reasonably sure they aren't going to meet their technical requirements.

And that's actually good news. This is because I found some tools that helped me to determine with some amount of reasonableness what ACX is looking for, and whether those files meet their criteria or not. And they don't, which means I need to re-record them, but that's actually okay.

It's okay, because I have learned a few things that are streamlining my audiobook recording process.

  • I hadn't been paying as much attention to the exact mic set up as I should have, such as its exact position, distance from my face when speaking, etc. Now, I have a quite precise measurement and arrangement for these, which has made the recordings much more consistent.
  • I found a specific tool for analyzing against ACX's published specifications: the ACX Check plugin for Audacity. As they note in the wiki entry for the plugin, using this is not a guarantee that ACX will accept your audio, but it does provide excellent information about some of the technical requirements (noise floor, peak, and RMS levels specifically). You can find out where you stand. Fixing it, that's another show (sorry, Alton). (I do intend to do a couple of videos on how to use Final Cut Pro X's audio tools, and Audacity, to create ACX-ready audio files.)
  • I have been experimenting with the filters in Final Cut Pro X, Audacity, and Sound Studio, and have come up with a pretty good workflow for that, which I will detail in an upcoming blog entry.
So, all in all, the progress has been good even if the output hasn't yet been validated (and probably won't be until I re-record those portions I'm reasonably sure will not be validated). And, in a couple of days, I'll walk you through my updated workflow.

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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Section one of Part 1 of Scroll of Mirimar

As promised, here's section 1 of the first part of Scroll of Mirimar. I hope you enjoy these free previews; do keep in mind that this is still a bit of a work in progress, and so things might change in their final form. Cheers!

The Offer

9th day of the month Erhar by Man calendar, Year of King Erondel I 51, 275 years after the start of the Second Human Rule.

“Tey, what do you make of this?”
Tey Knowlton looks up from the beer menu at the bar and picks his half-elven friend Emker out over near the far wall. The tavern is mostly empty, save a town drunk in the darkened corner, off to the far left, and two ladies sitting at a table to his right. As he stands, he can see two of his other mates, Qit duMoran and Fenit Baldoné, in the near left corner table playing what appears to be a quiet game of cards. It has been too quiet lately, Tey notes to himself. In the near right corner, he can hear Yeolin tuning his guitar, preparing to play a bawdy drinking song, no doubt. Yeolin must not have seen that Qit and Fenit are playing cards, that would have been too much for him to resist!
Tey walks the thirty or so feet to the southeast wall where Emker stands reading a notice tacked on the wall:

Need Help (finding item of great personal value); Rich rewards!
I have uncovered information about a scroll written by one of my forebears which has been lost for a number of years. For the right man or men, I will provide money for provisions and a small incidental fund, and offer large sums of gold and jewels for successfully returning this scroll. My liaison will be in the Tavern of the Graceful Goose sundown to mid-eve bell on Erhar 7-10. 

“What I make of it is that a local mage, or bard, with a long family history in the area, has discovered that his family had lost important papers and he has discovered where they may be. I also make that he has a lot of money to spend on us to find it for him. Other than that, I don't make much of it at all.” Tey grins his most smart-alecky grin. The room seems to light imperceptibly at his smile. Though his countenance is a bit mis-fair, due to the long scar on his cheek, Tey's smile has a gleam that belies his otherwise stern, even gruff appearance.
“It does look like that doesn't it?” Emker glances at his card-playing compatriots, deciding better of bringing them over to read the notice. “I know we're still a bit flush from our last adventure, but I'd like to check this one out.” He steals a glance at his long time friend, and recognizes the mischievous look Tey casts. He often looks that way when he senses great glory or riches lie within his reach.
“I'm up for another noble quest!” Tey replies. “But I think we can wait until tomorrow to discuss it with the others.”
Emker nods, and he and Tey both amble back to their table to indulge in a Simnod Goose Pie and quaff some local ale.
Yeolin finishes tuning and begins strumming a tune not likely known to the locals but quite popular in the Long Lands, an archipelago in the Gleasi Sea known for its prowess in seafaring, as well as their frequent coastal raids:

Upon the water have I sailed
And underneath the sun
I've had the best of Long Land ale
o'er weeks of sailing fun
We've conquered lands both far and wide
since time forgot to tell
but now that we're in port again
we're ringing out the bells

A sailor life a life I lead
Is full of danger and reward
cross us not, your lands we leave
otherwise your ships we board
do not regret the fighting day
we sent your sons in boxes home
for after our ships sailed away
you knew that we were likely done

Since the tavern is nearly empty, and the only people there are either friends of Yeolin, are employees of the tavern, or are passed out, Yeolin feels the dank pressure of the room's air as he sings and switches tunes to a lullaby:

Rest, rest, the night is coming nigh
Bury now your body deep into blankets piled high
A pillow rests for you to dream
And having dreamt your night away, waking brings in a new day

Yeolin hums the remainder of the lullaby as he strums softly, now playing rather more for his own amusement than for anyone else's enjoyment.


Erhar 10

“We've all now read the notice, and it is time to decide.” Tey starts the meetings, being the nominal leader. “Will we answer this notice, will we wait for another opportunity, or will we leave town completely?”
Qit is sitting with her cowl pulled very closely around her face, arms folded across her chest. She rarely speaks except to cast spells in combat, but when she does speak her throaty contralto stops most other noise around her. “I have mixed feelings here, but my research through the night didn't reveal any particularly troublesome issues. I vote to answer it.”
“As with my prayers,” says Fenit, resting his right arm on the table. “Pandric has sent me no signs of imminent trouble, though I was touched by a distant fear and evil. I do not yet know from where they come, and so I also vote to answer.”
The air of the room seems heavy and thick, even without the smoke and haze of a night full of drinking, smoking, and gambling. Tey turns about, and seeks out the liaison mentioned in the notice. “I think I see him, there in the corner table. He's the only one in here sitting alone, and he rather looks as if he's waiting to be talked to.”
Straightening slightly, Emker finds the solitary figure and nods slowly. “That's him. I noticed him as we walked in earlier. He doesn't look like a gambler; no cards, dice, or money is visible. He's not smoking or drinking, and though the band is playing a tune he neither sways nor taps his fingers with the music. He is waiting to be approached.”
Though the cloak is pulled tight around his head, it does not cover his face. He knows he needs to see the room so as to identify potential respondents. I see they have identified me, the liaison thinks to himself. My lord Porthet is right: the right people are here, and they are about to approach me.
“Emker and I will go to the man” Tey announces as Emker rises from the hardwood, roughly hewn table. “If he is the liaison, we'll know shortly. Qit, please order me a small ale and some food when the serving girl comes back.”
“Leave your purse and I’ll think about it.”
“Please? It would mean so much to my aching tummy!” Tey turns his head and does his best fake beggar face before squinting and tossing Qit a small jangling bag of coins “No fish.” He then rises to join his elven friend, and they make their way to the corner table to engage the man. As they approach, the liaison rises. “Good evening, lords. I am Porthet's liaison, here to meet potential men-for-hire to retrieve a family heirloom. Have you come to discuss this?”
“We have indeed, good sir.” Tey examines the liaison. He's a good six feet, but not much of body. Probably a wizard's apprentice. “May we sit with you?”
“Please, have a chair, each of you. I will have the good Lady bring food shortly, if you wish.”
The three sit, Emker and Tey on the close side, and the liaison on the far. Emker, being trained in the Elven ways of observation and attention to detail, takes some few seconds to evaluate the immediate situation. There, across the table, sits a man of far greater power than he lets on. He has no weapon on him, yet fears nothing here. He believes he is completely safe, in this place. “That will not be needed, thank you.”
The liaison leans forward slightly, and the two friends lean in to hear. He speaks softly. “My lord Porthet has discovered what may be a very important family history, written many centuries ago on a scroll for safekeeping. It had been lost, and he has been working for several years on locating this particular document. He thinks he has located it, but is not in the physical nor mental condition to retrieve it for himself, and he wishes to maintain the strictest confidences about this lineage. He has some few friends in this region, and does not wish to risk revealing this to others outside with a message, lest a person bent on making fortunes from stolen artifacts come to know of it and take it for himself. He has asked me to screen potentials, and to determine their trustworthiness and skill. You have shown me your level of trust by approaching me without weapon or shifting eyes. I also see you have been giving me your attention, observing my actions and surroundings. But I must also ask you: why do I report to my lord that you are worth our trust?”
Emker breathes deeply, and replies “you are correct that we have been observing you and our surroundings, and we have noticed you surveying us as well. In your observations, no doubt you have assessed that we are here speaking with you because the offer intrigues us, and that we are simply exploring the requirements. What you report to your lord, of course, is up to you. You can clearly see that we are here to work, not to steal.” His father’s insistence on learning the forms and intricacies of diplomacy has long since proven its worth, but here and now Emker sees additional wisdom in it: even in small towns, with small minds and small actors, knowing the ways can be a huge advantage.
The liaison relaxes slightly and pauses. “Yes. You understand my caution, however.”
“Of course. Your lord Porthet has done well in choosing you for this task.” Emker hopes the compliment is taken correctly—as a signal that they are ready to take another step forward in negotiations, and not as a sycophantic pandering to his ego—and maintains eye contact with the liaison.
This is a trained negotiator, excellent. My Lord’s prophetic vision proves itself yet again. “My thanks to you, sir … ?” The liaison pauses to catch the elf’s name.
“My thanks to you, Emker,” the liaison replies, bows his head slightly, and averts his gaze down and back up awaiting the reply.
Emker replies exactly in kind, and says “the thanks are also to you, kind sir.” Now, having seen to the most formal parts of the introduction, they could get down to some more relaxed discussion. “A family heirloom, lineages written on a scroll. By itself, not a huge task.”
“Yes, indeed. If it were merely stored in a distant library or some dusty scriptorium in a far-flung city archive, that would be simple enough. It appears that the original hiding place was intended to attract very little attention, and was ransacked and the item moved multiple times over history, probably by low-brain brigands, possibly orc or goblin or kobold raiders who never thought twice about it. That it appears to be possibly intact is no small miracle, but there’s no telling how true that is, nor for how long, until it can be secured and properly examined. So the task of confirming the location and securing the item may not be … peaceful, shall we say? … but my lord is prepared to offer considerable recompense for the effort.”
Tey, sitting quietly, observes a slight relaxation and deepening of trust from the liaison during this interaction. Although his own training in perception is not as formal as his elvish friend’s, his own father brought him up to be an astute judge of people by observation alone. Growing up beside his father as a horse trainer and seller, it was crucial to be able to detect insincerity quickly—especially if it was a prelude to a robbery attempt—and Tey took to it readily and well. Hm, probably not noble, but a reasonably honest man I think. He continued observing as Emker spoke.
“Of course, we’ll need further details before proceeding and I assume that your lord Porthet will want to meet us directly to discuss the fine points. I believe we can agree to do that sometime soon?” Emker asks.
“Will tomorrow after breakfast be suitable? I know my lord will want to meet you as soon as is feasible for you but cannot meet tonight due to standing obligations.”
Emker glanced at Tey, who gave a slight nod. “Very well, tomorrow after breakfast we shall meet with your lord Porthet. Shall we come here first or is there a better location?”
“Here is best. I can then take you to him after. In the interest of discreetness, I will ask that you please keep our discussions between us—of course your entire group must know—at least until tomorrow?”
“Yes, you have our word on the matter.” The final forms. “We shall await tomorrow’s gathering with a lightness on our lips. Until then.” Emker rose and Tey rose with him. They both bowed slightly.
The liaison stood and bowed, saying “until then, may the graces of your Gods dance with your dreams.”
With that, the two friends turned back toward their compatriots and rejoined them.
“I ordered you the fish. It’s cold now,” was Qit’s first reaction to their return.
Tey looked down and saw a buttery trout fillet, lying on a bed of greens and rice, but didn’t believe the illusion. Momentarily Qit’s magical illusion shifted to reveal a bowl of chicken stew, a meal much more suited to his personal tastes.
“I see that. Thank you for the stew, it will look quite tasty when I dump it on your lap.” Tey mockingly picked up the bowl and glared menacingly before sitting down to devour dinner. It was better than he expected.
Fenit spoke up. “And so … ?”
Emker sat for a moment and drew a small quaff of the small beer one of the party had ordered for him during his absence. “Well, the offer appears genuine, and we are to meet here tomorrow morning after breakfast. The man we met will then take us to meet his lord Porthet, who will discuss specific details. Essentially, he’s discovered some family lineage thought long lost, and it may be in the possession of one of the fouler small-race creatures native to the hill and mountain regions in the area. Specifically named were orc, goblin, or kobold clans, but as we all know it could be a wide range of creatures. Heck, depending on where it is reported that this lineage is to be found, it is entirely possible to be in the hands of gnolls, or lizard people, or even ogres. When we meet tomorrow we’ll obviously have a better idea where we’re off to and what we’ll find.”
Yeolin, who has been sitting thoughtfully until now says “once we have heard the full offer and details, we should probably do a little research before simply agreeing. Unless it’s in an area we already know very well, of course. I mean, if it’s in the foothills of the Gion mountains we have a reasonably good idea what we might find and how to prepare. What if it turns out to be in the Kitlean jungles or the marshlands at the mouth of the Kitlean delta? I know a little bit about that area, but not enough to plan, and I don’t think anyone here knows that area well enough to really help out.”
Fenit nods slowly, as does Qit.
“Our bardic friend has a great point.” Qit’s monotone delivery belies her concern. “We should at least ask for time to decide after hearing the full details. However, our new acquaintance may be reluctant to treat with us unless we give him some reassurance of complete discretion, which may preclude our being too inquisitive about any areas with which we are unfamiliar. He is looking for assistance from people who will keep this in confidence, and our asking for a delay in order to ask a bunch of questions of the locals about the very area he is hoping to keep a secret may prove to be excessive. We should be very cautious how we approach this.”
“Yes, yes, all true. But also speculative, since the man’s lord may himself know the area well enough to give us a good start, and from there we can be more circumspect in our queries.” Tey continued “but none of this is really something we have to decide immediately anyway. We should finish, enjoy our evening, and rest. Has anyone made inquiries about lodging?”
Fenit rises and says “I will take care of the sleeping arrangements. Try not to get arrested while I am gone.”
Emker stares at the well-built holy man and replies “no promises, your eminence. Keep a coin purse just in case” and tosses a bag of money at the cleric, who catches it easily. “The town guard here looks ill-equipped for our kind of shenanigans, so they may be more strict than usual.”
Fenit chuckles quietly, shakes his head, and walks toward the bar to inquire about bed availability.

Meeting the Mage

Erhar 11. Approximately 10 in the morning

Porthet sits at the head of the long eating table, chewing softly on a twig of Alder-wood while the liaison stoops over to whisper in his ear. Tey sizes him up, and Emker notices that the visage of the elderly mage resembles some paintings he'd seen in the Great Hall of Zin on a visit there as a young Ranger, taking a pilgrimage to the Tombs of the Elven Kings. As they are examining their surroundings, Porthet stands and his liaison leaves through the door behind them.
“My liaison has informed me that you've agreed to find my family's scroll. I agree with his initial impression, that you've all made quite the names for yourselves, and are likely to be exactly the people I'm looking for.
“Here are the details that I have so far. There is in my family history a mage from the Tloi region, working with the first Elven King there during the First Elven Rule. He wrote some important genealogical information, as well as some researched spells, into a book which was lost after his death. For several generations, it remained hidden, and was uncovered sometime during the Second Elven Rule by a man who is related by blood to this mage, but is a distant relative of my family. He proceeded to write some of the books contents to scrolls, presumably to make them easier to carry in small batches, but was the victim of some accident before he finished his copying. Two of these scrolls are known to have lasted through the ages; the first was discovered some sixty years ago. The second, I have just discovered that it exists, and have some preliminary information about its likely location.
“As far as anyone can determine, the original book is likely forever lost, and these scrolls are all that's left of my family's history in this region, at least as recorded by our family directly. The information within the scroll is very important to my family, and I am willing to pay enormous rewards to you, should you recover it. There are two conditions: you must bring the scroll to me as is, without opening it or otherwise gaining the contents of it, as there may be family history there that is best left within the family; you must keep your involvement in this matter as quiet as possible. I do not fear anyone knowing that you are working for me, but the scroll itself may be an extremely valuable token, especially in the antiquities market apart from its actual contents, and I would prefer that it not become the object of a contested ownership hearing in the King's Court. If you can agree to these conditions, I will tell you what I offer and where to find it.”
“We will need to discuss the conditions you've imposed,” says Tey. “If you will give us time to discuss this, we can answer you by this evening.”
“Fine, take until this evening to talk it over. I will expect you before mid-eve bell; I will instruct the door keeper to admit you straightaway when you arrive.”
The room is whisper-quiet, with only the sounds of their capes, robes, and cloaks swishing against their clothing to mark the party's passage out of Porthet's stone home.