Audiobooks

If you’d like to turn your book into an audiobook you’ve come to the right place.

How to record an audiobook

Did you come here not to hire someone else to record a book but rather do it on your own?

Flying Sound offers the recording of audiobooks with excellent sonics but you can record at home too! You will need a suitably acoustically room and a decent microphone.

Recording Audiobooks
Primary goal – Get good audio!Second Primary goal – stay organized!

First step — get gain staging really, really right

You’ll need to give the reader a primer on microphone technique. I like to angle the mic from above slightly to get more of the sound coming out of a person’s chest and to avoid plosives. They need to not ‘reach’ up into the mic and also be aware that as they turn pages their head will turn thus changing the sound and also that when they turn the pages to have two up at the ready so that they don’t have to stop mid-pragraph. I find readers do better with a large-screened ipad however they are more reflective of sound.

Record each reader/author on their own track. You’ll want to keep track of which day/chapter is which so you can use a new track, a new playlist, or my personal favorite is to change the track name to ReaderName Chapter X YYYY-MM-DD before I hit ‘record’ on each chapter. This is so that you can easily see which day is which. The reason you want to know that is that people’s voices, the humidity and the alignment of the stars all change every day and thus the sound is also changed.

Start recording from the beginning of the book and leave your DAW with insertion follows playback. This will keep everything chronological. 
Use markers as you’re recording the reader or author to mark any moments that will need to be fixed later. Monitor that your software is still recording at all times as it can be a huge time loss if you need to re-record, particularly if it’s another day.

Whenever something changes (the day, settings) record a long (1 minute) room tone for editing described below. Alternatively you can record a bit of silence after each chapter/essay/take/etc.

If you have additional readers for the book try to record them approximately where they will be in the book. Leave extra space if necessary. E.g. if you have two authors and two halves of a book but the 2nd half author is recording first then start recording at something like 10 hours in so that you have plenty of space. If you have many essays make a marker for each start point and give them all space. The benefit here is that you will have everything organized in order and not have to guess what goes where or search through the manuscript.

Once done tracking all of the audio change all track names to Reader_raw_recording and then duplicate the playlists (or tracks if your DAW doesn’t support playlists) and then do any audiosuite processing before you start editing. Name the new playlists “Author” or “Author_Processed” et cetera. If you want to use more than one AudioSuite plugin then make a playlist for each one. However, I find that it’s much simpler to de-noise first with processing and then tweak other processing as plugin inserts. This is because de-noise plugins at their highest settings are extremely cpu intensive and I rarely need to change processing after I’ve done it while other processing like EQ and compression can be tweaked and automated.

I prefer iZotope RX Spectral De-noise with the following settings:
* Quality: D* (Best) – This is why you need to use audiosuite or the standalone application as these settings aren’t available for realtime (plugin insert) processing
* Algorithm: Adv+Extr.
* Adaptive mode: off (and “learn” the right moment of audio. See below)

These settings take forever to process unless you have a really fast computer but is worth the overall clean audio even if you have a great sounding room.

The de-room-mode trick! You can read this here soon (stay tuned)

Short story, if you find a moment where something in your building makes the room hum a little you can use that piece of audio in Spectral De-Noise to ‘learn’ the modes and correct them. It is audible to the untrained ear but subtle.

Once you have your raw tracks de-noised and processed it’s time to start editing!

Make new playlists again and name these “Reader” or “Reader_edit” or something similar. I prefer just the reader’s name as the tracks are easier to see on digital scribble scripts.

Save your session and then close it. Copy the session file (not all the audio files and folder stuff, just the .ptx session file itself. You can do this in logic too. You’ll definitely want a daw that is capable of this) 

The first stage of editing is going BACKWARDS from the end and correcting all the issues that you have with markers and deleting the markers. They will still exist in the old session in case you need to check.

Leave breaths in as they sound natural unless they are weird-sounding and then either replace with room tone (that you gathered above) or with another breath. Don’t re-use a breath more than a couple times or the audiobook gets very fatiguing to listen to. You can remove a breath if the break between speaking is long enough. Again use your ears. Remove stumbles and extra-long pauses when the reader is thinking unless it sounds good. your ears are the judge.

Group all your recorded-audio tracks.

One handy trick is to use tab-to-transients for editing. Since you had the reader go back a sentence or two when they stumbled over a word you can find where they start flowing again and tab to the transient of a start of a word, then find that same word before the stumble and tab to that, then shuffle mode (option-1), delete the middle audio, and the re-read will align perfectly in time to the old one. Add a transparent-sounding fade and the edit is done. Since your tracks are grouped other reader’s bits will keep the correct time relation.

If the pause to turn a page or take a sip of water replace it with room noise and use your ears. Spoken dialog has a rhythm, feel that rhythm as you make the edit to sound as natural as possible.

If the rhythm is a little off where an edit isn’t necessary, correct it. If they make a sound of being sick like a sniffle replace it with room noise or a different breath.

Keep using your ears to tweak the sound while you do edits with the plugin inserts. Use plugin automation or separate tracks for the same reader when one section doesn’t match the other. Make sure to only do your audio tweaks at the beginning of the edit session or after a break where you’ve left the space. Ear fatigue should be prevented whenever possible (I never mix for more than 2 hours straight — always a break)

As you finish each chapter, section, essay, etc then group them (all the tracks not just that track) in Pro Tools so that you can space the timing between chapters and also visually see what’s done and what’s not. Name them appropriately. To leave a little space at the end of the chapter just highlight the blank space. The best way to get a clean group edit is to highlight the previous chapter/clip, hit the down arrow to align the selection to exactly the start of the next chapter and then click on the first clip in the previous chapter. then command-option-g to group them. 

Once you’ve gone all the way backwards, congratulations — you have a draft copy of the audio book you can share with the author if you’d like. However, you still have a lot of work to do!

It’s time to go forward and mix while you fix the edits a second time. Don’t forget to mix while you fix. Refine automation.

You can repeat this step many times but I usually only do it once or maybe twice and then spot-fix. Really, you want the book to be basically done after the first cluster of edits, before the first pass.

Then, bounce to disk. You can also use a print track to listen along as you work and consolidate the files but I prefer bouncing for smaller disk space used.

From there it is time to master the track. In this sense, mastering means preparing for release! Get the image for the book and all relevant other files. Put them all together. Use XLD (free, open source) to convert to MP3 (LAME MP3, V0 is best)

You need to change the file type to “audiobook” in the ID3 tags for some devices to use to files as a proper audiobook. Add the image to all of the chapters. A trick I use is I have iTunes set on the production machine to not automatically import/sort files. If I add them, it will change the ID3 tags without moving the files. Select all and get info to do the first round of edits and add the book’s image and then change the individual track names to reflect the chapter/part/section and not the filename.

File-name wise sort the chapters with part dash chapter. (or just chapter with a leading zero or two). I.e. if you have a book with 14 chapters start name the file 01_book_name_by_author_chapter_1 through 14_book_name_by_author_chapter_14. If you have 114 chapters then chapter 1 would be 001_book_name_by_author_chapter_1 and 14 would be 014_book_name_by_author_chapter_14 and chapter 110 would be 14 would be 110_book_name_by_author_chapter_110 If you have 3 parts to your book you could do 101_part_1_chapter_1 201 part-2-chapter 2. If your book IS really long you could do part 4 chapter 436 to 4436_book_name_by_author_part_4_chapter_436 This organizes the files automagically in many audio book apps.

Zip them up and you’re done!

Other things I like:
* Even though space-consuming I like to record in 96k to remove antialiasing artifacts
* Backing up at the start of every break taken. For this purpose dragging the folder to another hard drive is sufficient (then have your hard drives automatically backed up off-site over the night.
* I go for a more natural sound with breaths and even some lip sounds because if everything is very perfect the audio book can be hard to listen to for most people. Most prefer the reader to sound human than absolutely perfect.