How to Record an Audiobook
I'm not going to make this into a book-long post padded with personal anecdotes, clever asides, and too much information in general. This is for people who want to get started recording their own voice for a podcast or for sale in an audio book store. I will keep it simple. The stuff I suggest may not be the best ever, but it will get you started, and cheaply. There is a wealth of perfectly fine other options for gear besides what I'm recommending below. When it comes to gear and software, people get almost religious about it. My goal is to make it easy for you and to cut out all the project-crippling decisions I can. At the very end, I may suggest a couple of upgrades, but really, you can make a pretty good recording with some basic, inexpensive equipment.
Speaking of equipment-
So to make your recording, you need to have a few things, namely:
- A computer - whatever you have will work, the quieter the fan, the better.
- A microphone - I suggest this Tonor USB mic: https://www.amazon.com/Microphone-TONOR-Podcasting-Compatible-TC-777/dp/B07WLWN2ZT It's cheap, and it will give you a better sound than your gaming headphones. And it comes with a shock mount (the circular thing with the rubber bands that reduces ground vibrations to the mic) and a pop filter (the little screen that goes between your mouth and the mic.) This is not the greatest mic out there, but it can get you a decent recording, and cheap.
- (optional) A mic stand. If you want to stand up while recording, you either have to pile stuff on a TV tray to get the mic near your mouth, or get one of these.
Your recording environment is the most important thing to worry about as you get started. Your goal is to to arrange a space that:
- Has very little outside or ambient noise
- Has very little echo
Closets with a bunch of clothes or coats can work for this. Many people use clamps to hang blankets behind/around them. There are a lot of options here, but the basic thing is to make sound pass through something heavy and soft so that it will "catch" the echoes. Any hard surface will reflect sound and create echoes. There are a million DIY vocal booth ideas online, but don't get bogged down in watching all the videos and choosing the perfect one for your space. Honestly, if you have a coat/clothes closet, and you can find a way to hang a blanket/multiple layers of blankets directly behind you, and you are standing on carpet, you can do a fair job of killing unwanted echoes. If you don't have a closet then the idea is to do whatever you can to hang heavy, soft things around you and your mic.
Unless your computer fan is super silent, you'll want to get it as far away from your microphone as reasonably possible. It's super simple to trim off dead space at the beginning or end of a recording, so even if you have to click a record button and walk a couple of feet to your mic, you'll probably get much less noise.
Start with Audacity. This is the main piece of software you will use to record, and to export as mp3. It is free and does what you need it to do. Make sure you are using the latest version. Mac and Windows and Linux available. https://audacity.com
As part the editing process, I also suggest that you use another piece of free software called Levelator. http://www.conversationsnetwork.org/levelator Levelator does not do anything that you can't do in Audacity, but it very easy to use for its purpose, which is to make the quiet parts louder and the loud parts a little quieter, making the recording have a much more consistent volume.
Here are a couple of tips on the physical aspects of your vocal performance.
- Make sure you know which part of your mic is the "front". For many popular usb mics, you will speak into the side of it, on the side with the manufacturer's logo, not the top. The mic I suggested however, you speak into the top.
- Record while standing if you can.
- Your mouth should be fairly close to the mic. 6-12 inches away is usually a good distance.
- If you are getting a lot of "plosives" in your recording (noises that sound like a puff of crazy wind when you say 'P's, 'T's, and 'K's, etc.,) just aim your mouth a couple of inches to the side of your mic so that the burst of wind from your mouth misses the sound-catching part of your mic (the diaphragm.)
- An old tablet/phone in airplane mode is much quieter to read from than printed paper.
- If you have the Tonor mic, you are on windows, and the recording sounds too loud/you peak too often, you just need to turn down the input mic slider in the windows sound settings.
Now to the actual process. Watch a simple walkthrough of these steps
- Start up Audacity.
- Save your project where you will expect to find it next time you go looking for it.
- Make sure your new super mic is selected.
- Hit the big red button.
- Read aloud, making sure your levels are good.
- Hit the stop button when you are done.
- Erase the test stuff that you just recorded.
- Now go ahead and record your masterpiece.
Or rather, record it one chapter at a time. ACX requires files of 120 minutes or less. You can upload as many files as you need, but no single file can be over 2 hrs long.
What if you have to stop and come back to it later? Make sure you save the project before you exit. When you open it up again, put the cursor at the end, or just fast forward, and then start recording again.
Editing / Post Processing
Cutting out flubs is pretty easy. You just select the section you want to delete, then hit your delete key.
Cutting out stuff you don't want… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQRABLLrhyo
If you just want to make a section quieter, just select the section (as in the video above) and then click Effects > Amplify and then enter a negative number.
If you want a gradual change in volume, you use the Envelope Tool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5IZhbLrMWY
If you do something too much or feel like you made a mistake, audacity does have an undo function, Cntl + Z on windows, or Edit > Undo in the menus.
Recording a replacement section.
- Split the recording on either side of the section you want to replace.
- Add a new track.
- Use time shift tool to click and drag bad section to new track.
- Select and delete bad section.
- Mute the first track.
- Put cursor where you want to start recording.
- Record replacement section.
- Split new track after the auto-generated silence.
- Use time shift tool to make space, drag repllacement section into place.
- Select and join the clip boundaries.
- Delete the second track.
- In Audacity, export the project to wav
- Start the Levelator app
- Drag and drop the exported .wav onto Levelator. Levelator will make a new, better-sounding file for you.
- In Audacity, start a new project.
- Import the file that Levelator made for you into the new project.
- Export as .mp3. Settings you need: 192kbps or higher, 44.1 kHz sampling rate, 16 bit "bit depth"
If you find you enjoy recording, you may someday want to upgrade. Be warned, however. The more you go looking for advice/mic reviews/etc, the more overwhelmed you will be.
- Recording software. You can upgrade your software, and it can make editing a bit easier, but it won't change the quality of your recording. If you decide you do want to upgrade, I'd suggest a piece of software called Reaper. It is the cheapest of the fully-featured commercial software packages, and there are myriad tutorials for it. There is a youtube channel called Booth Junkie that has a playlist of useful tutorials for Reaper. Don't go visit that page, though, unless you have a couple of hours to spend going through his many, many videos.
- Microphone. A small step up would be a Blue Yeti, which is still a USB microphone. The next level up would be an audio interface + condenser mic. An audio interface is a device that captures audio from a microphone, and sends into your computer. So you can use virtually any mic from then on. If you got a $20 condenser mic and plugged it into an interface, it would sound similar to the tonor I reccomended earlier. If you get a good mic, however, you end up with a professional recording. As with all gear, there are a million options out there , and a lot of them will give you great results. My suggestions, however, are a Focusrite Scarlett Solo as the interface, and a Lewitt lct 440 Pure as the mic.
- Recording environment. As I said before, your environment will make the largest difference between a good and bad sounding recording. You'll have to figure out what works best for the space you have available. That may mean building and hanging your own acoustic panels, it may mean building a sound booth or whisper room in your basement, or it may just mean adding more blankets to the pile you currently use.