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Home Audio

10 August 2012

So you want to read your own novel aloud. No one else can do it the justice it deserves? I believe you.

Let us look at what hardware you need.

Microphones.

Studio mavens, and pretty much anyone else in the recording industry will tell you that a microphone is the single most important item.

If you’re Sinatra, yes, it might be. We’re not. It’s not. Singing is a different art.

Get a SIDE ADDRESS CARDIOD microphone. These work well for spoken voice recordings. A good example is the AT2020.

http://amzn.to/NMZKLE

There’s better, there’s worse. That one will produce good sound and it’s less than $100.00

*DO NOT GET A USB MICROPHONE.

The microphones work perfectly well, but they can be awkward to monitor. People will tell you it’s possible, yada, yada. I’m the Avon lady. People are attracted to the idea of USB mikes, because they plug straight into the computer, no interface.

I am still the Avon lady. Do NOT get a USB microphone.

Get a USB audio interface, as follows.

Interfaces.

Getting Sound Into the Computer.

This biz is still in it’s growing phase, and there will be many changes to come in a heat of technological revolution that is kinda frightening at times.

FOR NOW, this is what you need. A decent USB interface, that HAS 48K phantom power. All the units I recommend will have it. If you choose something else, check that it has it.

What phantom power is, is something that will supply power to the microphone in order to enable it to work. Of course, you need to check that the microphone you use requires Phantom Power. *1

All those I refer to will, because that’s where you should be at, where the industry is at. So should you.

Lowest price that I’ve found to work well, is this:

http://amzn.to/NMZVGF

E-Mu Tracker Pre.

It has 48 phantom power, and you can plug your guitar in too. Doesn’t do Midi.

Just over $100.00

IF you have some extra bux, this gives truly excellent sound, phantom, accepts your guitar and Midi too.

http://amzn.to/NN02SF

The Roland Quadcapture. If you are never going to use its extra capacities, it might seem a waste, but the clean sound you get from this little beastie, is worth the price.

$270.00

You will need, on top of this, a microphone stand

This works:

http://amzn.to/NMSyPq

$55.00

This one has a shock mount, and an XLR cable 2* so there’s a saving there.

To fit on the stand, microphones usually need some sort of shock mounting cage. This is a decent one.

http://amzn.to/NMRlYp

$25.00

It will not fit all microphones, and some microphones come with their own cage. Check.

Lastly, you will need a pop filter at least. There are heaps of them on Amazon, and should cost $20 or less. You can spend more, as always.

Headphones.

You can spend a mint on these things and still get tripe. I’ve never found better than the 10 year old pair of Sony MDR professionals that costalot back then.

Headphones need to be comfortable on your head, or you won’t wear them long, and they’ll make you crazy. So, for THIS purpose, comfort comes over quality to a point. You need something that picks up every snort and breath you take. I’m hesitant to advise, because it’s such a personal area. However, if you’re comfortable with Ebay, you can pick up a pair of Sony MDR-V900HD for around $60.00 without auctions.

http://bit.ly/NhtsfU

They’re coming from China, and I’ve had three pairs of ’em delivered without fuss. They’re $190.00 here in the states.

You pays your money.

I use some acoustic foam behind the microphone to further reduce ambient sound. Did I mention I was paranoid about extraneous noises? When I record, my wife says I look like the nodding donkey of an oil rig. I’m keeping my head back at the intake and start of speech, then drawing forward to try and even out the volume:)

The most aggravating ambient noise comes from the thing you are feeding the sound into. The computer.

I’ve fiddled with computers for more years than I care to remember. I build ’em and fix ’em. Whenever I fix ’em, ALWAYS the first thing is to use a full bottle of compressed air driving the dust out of ’em. Most folks ‘puters got more dust than a used vacuum cleaner bag.

If you’re going to do this seriously, eventually, you’re going to have to bite the bullet of changing the fans, getting something quieter and more efficient.

A computer for making THIS TYPE OF audio, doesn’t need a fast chip, or expensive graphics cards. The processing is minimal, and usually some of that work will be taken up by the interface. A pentium or greater will easily handle it. Ivy bridge or Bulldozer CPU’s will eat it for breakfast and spit it out. Graphics cards are hot, which makes the fans go faster, creating more noise.

Do get an aftermarket CPU cooler if heat is an issue. Its always an issue. They are quieter and much more efficient than stock coolers.

Okay, that’s as brief as I can make it. I’ll answer questions as best I can.

Saturday, I will address software.

Sunday, I’ll address what I know of helpful tips.

brendan

*1 Phantom Power.

http://bit.ly/NhxrZT

*2 XLR connectors

http://bit.ly/Nhy3yF

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9 Comments to “Home Audio”

  1. Thank you for these great suggestions! I especially love your comments on the power necessity of a computer crunching this spoken word audio. A netbook may be a viable computer to dedicate to processing the audio, as most are dead quiet and have integrated graphics. At around $250 for most, it’s a good relatively cheap investment for a dedicated machine.

    I recently have been creating training videos for various educational publishers (doing the screencap and voiceover) so I wanted to chime in with one additional suggestion (at least for this round). Some of that ambient noise can be mitigated by using a tabletop sound booth to isolate just your voice. An example of this can be seen at: http://www.amazon.com/Semi-Rigid-Portable-Vocal-Sound-Booth/dp/B004WSW7C0

    Again, if you’re serious about recording, it is a cheap investment to get one of these. If you’re more intrepid, you could build one of your own. I’ll admit that in the past, I’ve used a combination of cardboard boxes, old t-shirts, and some spare styrofoam laying around to make one of these babies, and it was much more effective than I expected.

  2. Once again, thank you. So much!

  3. This is helpful! Bookmarking. 🙂

  4. Hey, I’m co-host with Bryan Lincoln on the Fullcast Podcast. We won a Parsec last year for best podcast on content creation. Our podcast focuses on how to make audio books with a fullcast (voice actors, music, and tasteful sound effects). But we talk about other aspects of audio production, as well. I’ve been podcasting my fiction (making audio books) since 2008. I produced The Prophet of Panamindorah series as a solo read, and I’ve done the Guild of the Cowry Catchers series as fullcast. I’m active in the Podiobooks.com community, and I do voice work for the Dunesteef and the Drabblecast. Nate Lowell (of the Solar Clipper books) voices my protagonist in Cowry Catchers.

    I hear your pain if you’re getting into audio. It’s a steep learning curve. The folks at Podiobooks.com are extremely helpful, and their mentorship program can give you a leg up, even if you’re planning to go on to something like ACX. The Dunesteeof Audio Fiction Magazine will also allow you to produce stories for them, assisting you with the process and teaching you while you bring a story to life for their magazine.

    For mics – I recorded Prophet with a Blue Snowball USB mic. The third book was a Parsec finalist. I know many people who’ve done quality audio books on even cheaper USB mics. It’s possible.

    The quality of the sound is more about your ability to create a dead-quiet recording space than about the price of your mic. And, of course, it’s also about your ability to narrate your book in an engaging way.

    As Brendan says, creating a silent environment can be a challenge. If you involve a computer, it must have a near-silent fan. You’ll need a space (preferably a closet) that you can sound-proof. In my old apartment, I had to turn off my refrigerator when I recorded. I ruined a lot of food by forgetting to turn it back on. :-z In my current, upgraded recording closet, I still have to turn off the air conditioner.

    I personally recommend a digital recorder as a way of getting around the computer fan problem. The Zoom H2 is a solid mic all by itself, but if you want a warmer, cleaner sound, you can go a step farther. I use the same set-up Nate uses – Rhode NT mic -> pre-amp (your phantom power) -> Zoom H2. In that set-up, the Zoom is just a recorder. There’s no computer involved. You record the wave files, and then drag/drop them onto your computer when you’re finished.

    With a lot of finesse, you can clean “noisy” audio. However, it will *never* sound as good as a clean original recording. It’s much easier to fix too soft than too loud. Stay away from the mic. 6 inches at least. And use that pop filter.

    Drop on by Podiobooks or start listening to Fullcast for more tips. 😉

  5. “With a lot of finesse, you can clean “noisy” audio. However, it will *never* sound as good as a clean original recording.”

    Abbie,

    I repeated that just because it is the holy grail. You really can’t fix noisy recordings. You can improve them, but issa LOT of fiddling and they’re never really right.

    I’ve got a Zoom H2, I’ll give that suggestion a try. Hmm, working alongside an Ipad or a Kindle to read from.

    Subscribing to Fullcast:)

    brendan

    • >I’ve got a Zoom H2, I’ll give that suggestion a try.

      Removing the computer completely was the most useful upgrade I ever made. The Zoom is fine on its own for “talkie” episodes of the podcast, but I find it has a tiny hiss, which I won’t tolerate in my audio books. Your results, oh reader, may vary. Different mics really do suit different voices. There’s not one best mic for everyone. If you’re not sure whether you want to do audio, buy a $20 USB mic at radio shack, and play around with it, using Audacity or Garage Band or some other free audio program. You’ll figure out whether you want to keep going and spend more $.

      The time commitment for a solo read is about 10 real-time minutes per 1 minute of finished audio. For a fullcast production, it’s about 1 hour of work per minute of finished audio…after you know what you’re doing. For most people, 30 minutes of audio = 5,000-6,000 words of text. Do the math on your book, and realize that you’re probably going to record at least one book before you truly get the hang of it, unless you already have experience in radio or acting.

      > Hmm, working alongside an Ipad or a Kindle to read from.

      Oh, yes! I stopped printing out rattling sheets of paper long ago. I read from either my Kindle Fire or my phone. It’s actually easiest to read from my phone, because it’s not heavy and doesn’t get tiresome to told with one hand for several hours. And, of course, you can turn the pages soundlessly.

      Other stuff – everyone tells you to slow down when you start narrating. All first-time narrators read too fast. This is true. But… What people don’t always say is that you should vary your reading speed. The last thing you want is to sound like a *slow* metronome. High-octane action scenes *should* be delivered more quickly. Intense, emotive dialogue should come slowly, and don’t be afraid to let the silence stretch after a poignant line.

      • I should probably clarify that when I say 1 hour per minute for fullcast, I’m including things like marking the text for all the voice actors, corresponding with voice actors, occasionally being with them during recording, requesting and receiving retakes, searching for appropriate music and sound effects, maintaining a feed and uploading the episodes with all the appropriate links and credit.

        For the actual production, I shoot for 10 hours per 30 minute episode. Some episodes go wildly over that, but not all.

        I’ve been doing this for a while, and I now have a library of music and sound effects, as well as long-time relationships with a lot of voice actors. I don’t think it actually takes me an hour per minute anymore, although I’m not sure about that. Regardless, this is what you should budget in the beginning if you want to get into fullcast. I recommend starting with short stories or novellas as fullcast and do your novels as solo reads.

        If you want to actually sell fullcast productions, you will add another level of complexity, starting with the fact that you’ll have to pay everyone and license the music and sound effects. I have sold audio short stories, including one that was fullcast, from my website, but I keep the novels free. I get a lot of fans that way who eventually go on to buy books or short stories, and I save myself a huge headache.

  6. I listen to a lot of audiobooks but I’m very cautious about ones that have been read by the author- in fact, if I’m not familiar with the name of the reader and I look him or her up. There is nothing that spoils an audio book like an amateur reader. I recently gave up on a fiction story in the first chapter for just that reason. I’ve also stopped listening due to horrible accents– by horrible I mean the person was supposedly reading the words of a person native to Atlanta, Georgia but the accent was from eastern Kentucky. Different as chalk and cheese to someone who has heard both.

    • Most authors are not ideal readers of their own work, it’s true. Neil Gaiman is the exception that springs to mind, but mostly this is true.

      However, there is something very intimate and very special about an author reading their work to you *if* they’re good. It’s a connection like no other, and I get lots of emails and FB messages from people who feel like they know me because I’ve told them my stories in my own voice, speaking directly in their ears for hours. This effect cannot be perfectly simulated by a hired narrator.

      I suggest that newbies to acting give away some audio work before they try selling it. Do a book or two as a podcast for Podiobooks. The community there is very involved and enthusiastic. The books are free, and the audience is fairly forgiving. If you plan on selling your audio books, you need to become an excellent narrator first. If you’re going through ACX, you need to be a pro. Listeners on Audible are not forgiving.

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