Once you’ve completed the automated post process, you’ll notice that some sounds, sounds that weren’t audible before, are now in your recording. They are typically breath sounds and voice clicks. Breath sounds happen because you have to breathe (Duh!) during the recording process. Clicks, or mouth clicks are faint noises such as saliva bubbles popping in your mouth, or lip smacks. Both are annoying and have to be removed from the recording.
The most efficient way to silence (eliminate) these unwanted sounds is visually. Your DAW software will display a waveform diagram which illustrates the loudness in decibels of the recording. By listening to the recording through a professional set of headphones, you’ll hear the breath sounds and clicks, see where they are, and silence them. It’s a time consuming process, but very necessary to make a professional grade recording. Once you’ve completed this step, you’re ready for final review.
Coming next – How to be an audiobook narrator – Part #5 – Final review.
It was a sunny Saturday morning. The birds were singing, the flowers blooming and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A perfect day to go to the beach, take in a ball game or just go for a walk in the woods. So naturally I was sitting at my desk at State Police headquarters in Lansing catching up on the paperwork I’d been putting off all week. My name is Gregg Maguire. I’m a Captain in the Michigan State Police, in charge of the Special Investigations Division.
Around 8:30 the phone rang which was unusual for a Saturday morning.. The call was from Harvey Clement, Sheriff of Montcalm county. I’d talked with Harvey off-and-on over the last couple of years, after we’d met at a police training seminar and had dinner together. I’d told him that if he ever ran across a ‘puzzler’ of a case, to give me a call.
He runs a small department out of his office in Stanton, which is a small town about 50 miles Northwest of Lansing. The Montcalm County detective squad covers 705 square miles and is stretched pretty thin working on a wide variety of cases from auto theft to drug violations. He said he had a case where a man had died and he thought that the circumstances were suspicious. He told me that none of his detectives had experience with this type of death and asked me to drive over and take a look at it.
When I got there, Sheriff Clement took me to a hunting cabin on First Lake, which is the first in a chain of lakes in the aptly named Six Lakes area. We met with a man named Louis Yeager, owner of the cabin where the person had died.
Yeager had been a friend of Sheriff Clement for years. Clement told me that they’d worked together on charity functions around the county and that Yeager was always very supportive of his department.
The dead man’s name was Fred Fortin. He & Yeager were partners in a chain of retail sporting goods stores in the Grand Rapids area.
Yeager was extremely upset. He told us that Fortin was his closest friend and they’d been business partners since the early 1980’s. He said that they’d started in a cubby hole sized space in East Grand Rapids, which had grown to three locations throughout Kent County. The stores specialized in high-end outdoor sporting apparel, fishing tackle, and hunting equipment.
I asked him to tell me exactly what had happened. He started speaking, slowly at first and said “Our business did well early on. We had a couple of premium apparel lines that no one else in town had. Lately, sales were down because the internet offered the same brands at lower prices. Fred had become very depressed. We’d both invested everything we had in the stores, so if the business failed, we would both be on the brink of bankruptcy. It was so bad that Fred even talked about committing suicide.”
He took a deep breath and continued. “I was worried about him and suggested we come up here to my cabin. I thought the fresh air, exercise, and some fishing would do him good. Help snap him out of his funk, you know. We’d been here about three days and he seemed to be improving. He wasn’t as glum as he’d been and his appetite was getting better. He wanted to have a fish-fry, complete with coleslaw and hush puppies. His ‘can do’ attitude was coming back and I thought he’d turned a corner and was ready to take on the challenges again”
“Thursday morning we decided to go fishing at a trout stream that empties into the lake. We didn’t catch anything and after a couple of hours, he said he was going to try a stream about a half mile away. I thought that was a good idea and said I was going to try a different stream, kind of in the opposite direction. We joked that if we couldn’t catch the fish, at least we’d have them surrounded. We agreed we’d meet back at the cabin around lunchtime.”
“Well, my luck changed at my new fishing spot. I’d caught my limit by 11 o’clock and started back to the cabin. As I was getting nearer the cabin, I started to sense that there was trouble ahead. Something just felt wrong and I ran the rest of the way back. When I opened the door, I saw him. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen. He was sitting at the table with white foam coming out of his mouth. His face was hideously contorted, like he was in incredible pain.”
He buried his face in his hands. “That sight will haunt me forever. I’d got there not five minutes after he did and there he was – dead. Why couldn’t I have been just a few minutes earlier?”
“What else did you notice?” I asked him.
“There was a bottle of Irish whiskey on the table and a glass. Both the glass and the bottle smelled of bitter almonds and I’d seen on TV that cyanide smells like that. It made me think that it was cyanide that he took. I thought he was getting better, that he was on his way back to being his old self again. Turns out I was wrong. He’d killed himself after all!”
I then asked “Have you had any visitors to the cabin?”
“No, not since we’ve been here” Yeager replied.
“Was Fortin a smoker?”
“How were his drinking habits? Was he a heavy drinker?”
“No. He’d have a couple of glasses of Bushmills at the end of the day, but nothing excessive.”
“What about doors and windows? Were they open or closed?”
“They were all closed. Why?”
“No particular reason. Just being thorough.” I replied.
“Sheriff, let’s take a look around outside. Maybe we can find something out there”.
When we were safely outside and out of Yeager’s earshot, I turned to Sheriff Clement.
“Harvey, I know this is going to be tough for you, especially since Yeager is a friend of yours. You need to detain him as a ‘person of interest’ in the murder of Fred Fortin.”
Sheriff Clement looked aghast! “Why?” he said.
“He’s lying. He said he got back to the cabin not five minutes after Fortin did. There’s no way for him to know when Fortin returned to the cabin. I also doubt that Fortin had talked about suicide with his business partner. If you look into it, I don’t think you’ll find anyone else that Fortin talked about suicide with. Finally, take a look at their partnership agreement. I’ll bet you’ll find that in the event of a partner’s death, the surviving partner becomes the sole owner of the business. I think this is plain, old fashioned murder for profit.”
I returned to Lansing and my day-to-day duties. I spoke with Harvey again about two weeks later. Turns out I was right. The detectives hadn’t found anyone that Fred Fortin had discussed suicide with. They also got a copy of the partnership agreement which did make the surviving partner the sole owner of the business in the event of a partner’s death.
The business was actually doing quite well – sales were not down because of the internet. Profits had gone down because Yeager was skimming them into a private account using phony purchase orders to a non-existent clothing supplier. It appears that Fortin was on the cusp of discovering Yeager’s embezzling and Yeager knew his theft would soon be exposed. He murdered Fortin in an attempt to cover it up.
When the detectives confronted Yeager with the evidence, he broke down and confessed. He pled guilty to murder in the second degree with a sentence of twenty-five years to life to avoid getting life without possibility of parole.
Would you like a .PDF of this story? It’s available free – No credit card required here.
Now we get to the part of being an audiobook narrator that isn’t quite so much fun. It’s a good news / bad news situation. It’s called Post Processing and it means that you’re responsible to be the producer of the final audio file. In the previous steps, you’ve read the book and listened to what you’ve read to make sure that there aren’t any mistakes in the reading. In this stage, you’ll be doing the steps which make the audio files acceptable to publishing platforms like Audible, Amazon, iTunes & Findawayvoices. These steps are:
Noise reduction – Unless you work in or have a totally sound proof recording studio – which most of us don’t – there will be some background noise that your microphone will pick up. You eliminate this noise with your DAW software by being silent for the first 5-7 seconds of a track, then “defining” that as “silence” for your software. The software will then take out that level of sound.
Graphic Equalization – “Equalizers are commonly used by audio engineers…to adjust the frequency response of audio….They are essentially a group of filters designed to provide a custom overall frequency response.” https://www.mathworks.com/help/audio/ug/graphic-equalization.html. Simply put, it makes your recording sound better. Every narrator sets their own graphic equalizer to fit their own voice and what they think sounds best.
Compression – Compressors and limiters are used to reduce dynamic range – The span between the softest and lowest sounds. Using compression can make your tracks sound more polished by controlling maximum levels and maintaining higher average loudness. https://www.uaudio.com/blog/audio-compression-basics/
Normalizing – Audio normalization is a process that increases the level of a recording by a constant amount so that it reaches a target – or norm. Normalization applies the same level increase to the entire duration of an audio file. https://blog.landr.com/audio-normalization/ Most publishing platforms call for -3db peak value and a maximum -60db noise floor.
De-Clicking – “Recording vocals in a quiet studio environment is a delicate process, as microphones tend to pick up every little detail of the human voice. Things that we don’t hear when we’re in conversation with another person are magnified and can become uncomfortable to listen to…i.e. lip smacking, saliva cracking, mouth clicking. In the process of recording, you might not notice these sounds. The trouble is, they often reveal themselves when listening back and treating (processing) the audio files afterwards” https://blog.accusonus.com/audio-clean-up/how-to-stop-mouth-noises/ Your DAW software may provide a “De-clicker” or you may have to get / construct a macro to do the job. Either way it’s necessary. Unfortunately, no software can tell the difference between a mouth click (which you don’t want) and a word ending in a hard consonant sound (such as “test”). A software de-clicker will help, but it won’t do the entire job AND sometimes it erases a sound you didn’t want erased. Always make a copy of your original sound track so you can “re-insert” sounds that the software incorrectly took out.
De-Essing – “De-Essing is the process of attenuating or reducing sibilance (a figure of speech in which a hissing sound is created within a group of words through the repetition of “s” sounds), or harsh high-frequency sounds that come from dialogue or vocals using the letter S, F, X, SH, and soft Cs.” https://www.izotope.com/en/learn/the-dos-and-donts-of-de-essing.html This is handled by your DAW software in a manner similar to de-clicking, with the same warnings and pitfalls that you find in de-clicking.
Noise reduction – The processes listed above will re-introduce sounds where no sound was heard before. Always remember that the microphone hears everything, even if you don’t. At this stage you may want to run a noise reduction process to further prepare your tracks for the next step. It will depend on what you want to do and how your voice interfaces with your DAW software and equipment.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can, fairly easily, build a macro in your DAW software to run these steps as an unattended process, being mindful that it can easily take hours of processing, depending on how many tracks you process at one time. I have two computers in my studio set up. I can set one computer to run the post processing and use the other to record new material.
Next comes part 4 – Visually editing out breath sounds and mouth clicks.
In last weeks’ post, we talked about the equipment you’ll need to become an audiobook narrator. This week, we’re going to detail the process of actually recording an audiobook broken down into four major steps:
Visually editing out breath sounds and mouth clicks
Timing & Spacing
Converting to Mp3 format.
Every audiobook publisher will have a set of “standards” that they want their audiobooks submitted in, including standards for RMS, peak values, noise floor and format. Here are ACX’s. You’ll need to learn enough about your DAW software to record and postprocess the recording to meet these requirements. Once you’ve learned how to “set” your recording equipment, you’re ready to start reading.
After reviewing the book and discussing with the author, you’ll decide how you’re going to “voice” the characters. Some authors want a reading, some want a performance and some want something in the middle.
Now you start reading. You’ll make mistakes which you hear, immediately going back & making a correction. It’s very easy to mispronounce a word or to insert your own speech patterns i.e. “I really do want to go” when the author wrote “I do really want to go”. We laughingly say that narrators are “just the monkey behind the microphone”, but there is some truth to that statement. Our job is to read what the author has written, even if it sounds clunky to our ear. The only exception to that is obvious grammatical errors or typos which we correct on the fly. It’s a good idea to discuss that before you start on the book. Even professionally edited books can contain mistakes.
Once you’ve completed a section or a chapter, you need to listen to it while reading the script to catch the errors that you didn’t hear yourself make. There will be some, though you will improve with practice.
Next week we’ll discuss postprocessing your audiobook files.
I get asked regularly about what it takes to create an audiobook. Before you start recording, you need to get some training. There are a good number of online classes available at a reasonable cost. I used “Gravy for the Brain” which taught me what I needed to know and got me some discounts on equipment. Speaking of equipment, you’ll need:
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software. There are many different software packages, so keep in mind what your end goal is – Audiobooks. Many of the packages are geared to recording and mixing music. One of the most popular for audiobooks is Audacity (because it’s highly functional though not so easy to use) and it’s free). Another is Adobe Audition, which you can rent for around $20 per month.
A computer that runs your selected DAW software. (Duh!)
A quality XLR (not USB – they’re geared more toward the podcast market) microphone with microphone boom arm, shock mount and pop filter. A cardioid type mic is best as it will pick up a fuller sound than one that designed for singing or interviewing. I use a Sennheiser MK 4 which is a large diaphragm condenser mic that you can get for about $300. Figure another $100 or so for the boom arm & shock mount.
An audio interface. An XLR mic can’t be simply plugged into your computer like a USB mic can. It requires an audio interface which converts the analog sound into digital information. I use a Focusrite 2i2, which you can get for under $200.
Headphones. You want quality (preferably “over-the-ear”) headphones so you can hear the full range of the sounds in your recording with as little background noise as possible. I’ve been very happy with my Panasonic MDR 7506 headphones which are available for less than $100.
Sound treated recording studio. Notice I said “sound treated” not “soundproof”. You can get professionally made soundproof studios starting at around $8,000, though as a new narrator, you probably don’t want to invest that much until you know if you’ll like doing the work and can make money at it. Most new narrators put together their own homemade studio. There are lots of YouTube videos showing various ways to do it. I built mine by extending a 3’ x 2 ½’ foot closet to 3’ x 5’, putting in a false ceiling and false floor, fiberglass insulation, Styrofoam insulation, carpet and acoustic foam panels. It cost less than $400.
Once you’ve got your training & equipment, you’re ready to get started.
Coming next – Step #1 in the 4-step recording process.
There are literally thousands of mysteries, thrillers, and techno-thrillers on the market today. By far, most involve a crime, most notably murder. There are some that add treason, kidnapping and theft to the mix. Most of the time, A killed B and we want to find out who A is and why they did it. Does it have to be that way. Dr. Whodunit says “Not always”.
Here’s an example. On the Dr. Whodunit website a book entitled “Pugh & Tress Times Two” details two mysteries that are not crimes, but quite interesting none the less. Pugh & Tress are “Collectors” of interesting things – and the mysteries surrounding them. In “The Box”, Tress unravels the mystery of an un-openable box. In “The Pipe” decipher the mystery of a craft pipe which seems to have unusual powers. The package comes with both .pdf and AudioBook files. Take a minute and check it out.
The Golden Age of Whodunits was between 1840 & 1941. Have there been any since then? Yes, but not too many.
One of my favorites is The Burglar series by Lawrence Block. The main character is Bernard Grimes Rhodenbarr – Bernie – who is ostensibly a bookstore owner in Manhattan. That’s his avocation – his hobby if you will. His vocation is Burglary. Nothing thrills Bernie more than being in someone else’s home helping himself to the valuables.
Of course, things don’t always go smoothly, bad things happen and Bernie gets blamed for it, even though he didn’t do it. It’s up to Bernie to solve the mystery and clear his name – again.
With strong supporting characters – Carolyn Keiser, his best friend and dog walker and NYPD Detective Ray Kirschmann – the best detective money can buy – The stories are extremely enjoyable. What’s even better – they are available free at many public libraries. Enjoy!
The next installment in The Grey Man series (#3) is now available in audiobook on Amazon and Audible.
The latest story in the saga of the Cronin Family brings together the changes that happened to John Cronin (The Grey Man), his granddaughter Jesse and here husband, Marine Sergeant Aaron Miller after Jesse and Aaron’s wedding.
When Texas Deputy Sheriff John Cronin thwarts the Cartel’s plan to get paid to smuggle Muslims across the border, he becomes the target of the Cartel once again. One try fails, but the cartel isn’t about to give up. With his granddaughter, Jesse, still recovering from her last run-in with the Cartel and now far away with her Marine husband on a military base, Cronin only has to worry about the innocents around him. Sergeant Miller is deployed to Afghanistan. War is Hell.
One way or another, this old school law man plans to end this cat and mouse game for good. But, this time, the Cartel is playing for keeps; ending this war might just cost the old man his life.
Either way Cronin plans to go out on his feet, fighting tooth and nail.
The Chase of the Golden Plates is a modern adaptation of a novel by Jacques Futrelle published in 1908 updating the story to 1933 and rewriting it in modern English and adding a new twist to the story. It begins:
Chapter 1 – It was THE Holiday event of 1933. Everyone who is anyone wanted to be there. Cardinal Richelieu and the Emperor of Japan stepped out on the balcony overlooking the entrance to Seven Oaks, lit their cigarettes and stood watching the party goers as they walked up the wide marble steps.
Here was an overweight Dowager Empress of China, there an Indian warrior in full war paint and feathered head dress and walking along behind him two giggling Geisha girls.
Next, wearing the robes of his rank, came the Czar of Russia.
The Emperor smiled.
“An old enemy of mine,” he remarked to the Cardinal.
A Shepherd girl in a wide-brimmed hat trimmed with flowers was helped out of a limo by Christopher Columbus and they came up the walk arm-in-arm, while a Mime in white face-paint ran beside them laughing in their faces. D’Artagnan, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos swaggered up next with their brassy, clanking swords.
“Ah!” exclaimed the Cardinal. “There are four gentlemen whom I know well.”
Mary Queen of Scots, Pocahontas, the Sultan of Turkey, and Jacob Marley were having a friendly chat when they entered. Behind them came a person who immediately got everyone’s attention. He was a Burglar, with a black flashlight in one hand and revolver in the other. A black mask covered his face, a droopy fedora shaded his eyes, and a set of burglar’s tools swung from one shoulder.
“Look at that would you” commented the Cardinal. “Now, that’s clever.”
“He looks like the real thing,” the Emperor added.
The Burglar stepped aside for a moment, allowing a diamond festooned Queen Elizabeth to walk by, then came up the steps. The Cardinal and the Emperor walked back into the reception-room to watch his arrival.
“Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth!” the stone-faced butler announced to the room.
The Burglar handed a card to the tuxedo clad Voice and noted, with obvious amusement, a momentary look of astonishment on the butler’s face. Maybe it was because the card had been given to him with the same hand which held the revolver. The Voice looked at the name on the card and breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Bill, the Burglar!” he announced.
The crowd murmured in astonishment. And with curiosity. Quickly the Burglar became the center of attention, at least for a few minutes, causing the crowd around the ballroom to laugh, all be it quietly.
A clown came in next, jumping around behind him, which shifted the crowd’s attention, and the Burglar soon disappeared into the crowd.