An Actor's Guide to Audio
Megan and I are actors. If you’ve been following her blog(s) for a bit, you probably already knew that. We are professional storytellers. Thus, it was quite easy for Megan to make the transition to writing. And it was the natural progression for both of us to use our years of acting experience for audiobook narration. The hiccup came when it was time to learn the technical side of creating and editing an audiobook.
USB microphone that can plug directly into a computer, or XLR mic connected to an audio interface, which, in turn, gets plugged into a computer? Logic, Garageband, Audacity, ProTools, or Adobe Audition as our DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)? Where’s the best place to record? And what the hell is rms?!
These are mere morsels of the questions I had to answer when venturing into the world of audiobook production. And hopefully what I’ve learned can help the rest of you aspiring authors who’d like to break into the world of audiobooks.
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I should start by saying that we successfully produced and published Megan’s short story Death of Day a couple of months ago. We decided to start with a short story so that any complications along the way would only mean a few hours of rerecords. And we are both so glad we did.
The journey began with the microphone. We initially purchased an excellent, mid-range USB mic, which I used with Logic Pro X (I’m also a composer and orchestrator, so I was already familiar with the layout of this DAW).
The sound quality was nice, but we just couldn’t get the levels to the point Findaway Voices and ACX require.
Luckily, having worked in theatre for so long, we’ve made a lot of friends who have pursued their dreams to Broadway. I called a friend of mine who had run sound for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway before taking a national tour and now the opening of a certain play about a certain boy wizard on the other coast (EEEE!!!), and he told me I was doing it WAY wrong.
After catching up, he informed me that, much to my chagrin, I had to scrap everything, purchase an XLR mic and an audio interface, and start from there. Apparently, your computer should act merely as an output device, meaning your sound should be set to what you need before it ever gets to your software. That way, minimal fixes are required within your DAW.
I’m not a sound guru, so I can’t lead you down the path to the mic that’s right for you. I suggest going to a Guitar Center (or equivalent) and asking them for help. Or there’s a LOT of very opinionated, very skilled people on YouTube.
As for Adobe Audition—it’s an absolute Godsend. Not only is it easy to record and splice together separate tracks (though it’s not entirely intuitive—I had to do a lot of poking about to figure out how to do everything I needed). There’s also an amazing function in Audition that allows you to scrub out unwanted sounds. It’s astounding! Lipsmacks, clag, and other unwanted mouth noises are a thing of the past. Sure, it takes a little elbow grease (you’ll definitely want to eliminate those things from the source—aka your mouth—as much as you can), but it’s as easy as painting in Microsoft Paint (my age is showing).
Oh, and rms—oh, rms—isn’t that scary. But it is incredibly important. If you find you’re having a hard time reaching that small window of -18 to -23 dcb(the industry standard), try adjusting the gain on your audio interface a bit as well as playing with your overall speaking volume. The highs and lows definitely affect your overall rms, but your normal “narrator voice” is what really determines your baseline.
Hopefully, I’ve shed a little light on the intricacies of audiobook narration. Have any questions, comments or concerns? Please feel free to reach out to Megan. I’ll respond as soon as I can!
Also, if you’re serious about this, please be sure to check out the audiobook Storyteller: How to Be an Audio Book Narrator. Lorelei King is an absolute master at audiobook narration. There’s a part of the audiobook in which she explains and demonstrates how she’s able to change her voice subtly to switch between characters. It’s truly mesmerizing. Happy recording!