Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Seven Big Mistakes to Avoid when Audio Book Narrating

A narrator can make a mildly interesting thriller riveting or spoil a perfectly good romantic suspense novel. The secret to great audio book narration is to look for common peeves expressed by the audio book listener and act up on them. After searching and listening, have combined this with my own list of things the audio book narrator should avoid.

The Best and Worst Audio Book Narrators

1 Mouth smacks and clicks. A narrator that speaks with a dry mouth is bound to exude horrible clicks of the tongue or swallowing sounds. I personally dislike them and make sure I chew gum or sip water before narrating. A click that sneaks its way into my recording can easily be edited out by zooming into the sound wave and deleting the offending click.

2 Can’t tell who is talking. Some narrators do not shift the pitch of voice to differentiate between male and female characters. I work on deepening my voice so that a woman narrator can sound like a man. In this endeavor, I try to make each character sound different, as can be heard in this recording of my audio book A Hard Lesson by Charles J Harwood narrated by Rachel Shirley.

Told from Sarah's point of view in a crowded bar, we can hear Leah has a shrill, harsh squeal; Kurt, a dark coffee voice; Josh has a gruff, tight tone and Frank has a mid-brown, husky sound.

Notice the character voices are different to the narrative voice of Sarah. The reader can easily tell when a character is speaking.

I cannot change the pitch or timbre of voice for each character in one reading and will often record character voices at different sessions when I feel ‘into the character’. I will then insert the character voices into the relevant slots of narration.

Narrators that Drone on

3 Monotone voice without expression. Audio book listeners like to hear the voice go up and down during narration. This adds expression in the tone to convey the mood intended. If the character feels grief, express this emotion; if feeling fear or excitement, reflect this in the dynamism of the voice.

4 Over breathy voice that sounds whiny and sloppy. This tone lurks in the romantic or erotic books which have purported to be too much for taste. Even when narrating the chapter title, the narrator sounds as though he/she about to have an orgasm.

5 Terrible accents. Not every audio book narrator can get to grips with accents. I myself, find some harder than others. I stick to accents I can ‘feel’ rather than force it. I have done Cockney, Midlands, Welsh and New York. If the accent cannot be cracked, keep it subtle or avoid all together.

6 Half-soaked or condescending tone. Some audio book listeners lament that some narrators sound as though they are telling a child a bedtime story. Not appropriate for a crime thriller and can make the listener feel.

7 Lazy narrating. I myself have heard some narrators afflicted with the slur or the onset of languor at the end of sentences. That final consonant of certain words just seems too much effort.

Further Articles on Audio Book Narration

How a woman can sound like a man for narration

Don’t Make These Mistakes with Noise Removal when Recording

Noise removal is a handy little tool that can be found on Audacity and other sound editing software. It will find the sound profile of your recording space, and filter out unwanted background noise, resulting in a clean recording where only your voice can be heard. But I learned to my cost, not to use it too heavily.

Noise Reduction Tips

Removing Background Noise
When I first started recording audiobooks, I became aware of traffic thundering by at the front of the house and aeroplanes gliding over every hour or so. When I began recording audiobooks, I happily used the noise reduction, filtering out cars, gliders, lawnmowers, you name it. Yes, noise removal got rid of these noises, but it also got rid of the sound frequencies that happened to overlap in the human voice, resulting in a horrible squeaky sound or underwater warble.

Firstly, pause and wait until the juggernaut has gone by, the glider has drifted past, or the lawnmower has been put in the shed. You will find you will sit and wait for sections of silence for recording. Don’t worry, these long interludes can easily be cut out of the recording. It is better to employ noise removal lightly, than to be heavy-handed.

How to use Noise Reduction Correctly

Don’t use noise removal other than to remove the sound of the room, which might be a low rumble or hush. Filtering out the sound of the quietest moments will not affect your voice and using this noise profile can be used for the entire recording.

Every now and again, an aeroplane will happen to drift by whilst I was talking. This can easily happen without my notice. Don’t perform noise remove on the sound of the aeroplane for the entire recording, only the section of recording that it affects. I will go through the WAV sound files to look for any noises that have sneaked into my recording and remove them bit by bit.

Never noise remove breaths that you take between speaking.  Your breaths will sound horrible and it will affect sections of your voice. Best leave the breaths in.

If you are unsure that a section of room noise contains other noises, amplify the section first and listen out for anything other than room noise, such as breaths or the muffled sound of the TV. You would be surprised at what the mic can pick up. Select the quietest moments and use only this noise profile for the entire recording.

Sound Compression and Equalization

Before mastering the recording, keep a copy of the original. Many audio book producers like to enhance the bass on equalizer to add presence to the voice. Beware, doing so will also bring forward distant sounds of traffic or trucks, as these have low frequencies too, not audible in the original recording. The situation is made worse when you perform compression, as this will enhance the quiet bits and quieten the loud sections. The sound of distant traffic will be 'pushed forwards' between sections of dialogue, resulting in a distant booming sound.

If you hear distant booms when you enhance bass and perform compression, you might need to perform noise removal again or go through the recording and eliminate these unwanted noises bit by bit. Be prepared (as I had) to record again and put it down to experience.

A sound proof room is not always possible and can cost thousands. I simply wait for a quiet time to record, this is essential for producing audio books. I find late evening a good time, when the traffic has died down and people are watching TV in their houses. Noise removal can then be used lightly.

How to Use Noise Removal with Audacity for Audio Books

A soundproof room is not always possible when living next to a busy road or beneath the flight path of holiday makers whilst recording your audio book. But producing clean sound files demand a low noise floor. This means lack of background noise, whether it comes from the humming of a fridge or the hush of traffic outside. Noise removal is the answer, but beware! Use with caution, or your sound files will be ruined. Here’s how to use noise removal when recording audio books.

How to Use Noise Reduction for Audio Books

Using Noise Removal
Once you have finished recording your session, find a section of recording where nothing is going on, a flat line on the wave pattern. Highlight it and listen to what is there. Even apparent silence has noise. Keep selecting a section of quiet recording until you can find the absolute noise floor, no breaths, no shuffling, just the sound of the room. This might be a continuous low rumble or a slight hissing sound. If unsure, amplify the section and listen out for anything other than the noise floor. Select a different section if necessary.

Noise Reduction Tips

Undo amplify if you have amplified it and then select ten to thirty seconds or so of flat line recording of the noise floor. Now click on ‘effects’ on Audacity and select ‘noise reduction’.

Now click on ‘get noise profile’ (as shown on image). A dialogue box will come up. You will notice three sliders, where you can choose how sensitive the noise removal will be. I will select maximum reduction and maximum sensitivity, as I want absolute silence between my vocals. Click OKand the box will disappear after recording the sound profile.

Select the entire recording by pressing ctrl and ‘a’, then select ‘noise removal’ again, then OK. Wait a few seconds while the noise reduction is in progress.

Finding Noise Profile of a Room
Important: listen to the recording once the noise reduction has taken place, to ensure your voice still sounds OK. This is why I will exercise noise reduction with utmost caution. If the sound frequencies have been stripped bare by noise reduction, this can result in a chirpy sound to your voice. If this happens, you can always ‘undo’ noise removal and select a different section of recording before repeating noise removal.

Audio Book Recording

In my experience, selecting a recording with a low noise floor, where just a background hush is going on, will not affect the vocals. You should result in a nice, clean recording where only your voice can be heard.

Once removing the general background noise of a room, you can also go through the recording and perform selective noise removal if an aeroplane happened to make a transit during a particular section of recording. This can happen without notice. Remember, you have to repeat the noise removal so that it will filter out the noise desired.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

How to Convert WAV 16 Bit PCM Sound Files into MP3 192 kbps for Audio Books

ACX, a platform where narrators, authors and audio book producers can collaborate and make audio books requires sound files to be MP3 192kpbs before inclusion within Audible, Amazon and Itunes. Here’s a simple guide on how to convert sound files to MP3.

Free Sound Editing Software

Where to find Audacity
Firstly, download Audacity, a free sound editing program. It’s brilliant and I use it myself.

You cannot convert sound files to MP3 on Audacity alone due to copyright issues. You have to go to LAME download page. You can download both Audacity and LAME on Install the plugin that is appropriate to the system you are using. I installed Lame v3.99.3 for Windows and Audacity for Windows 2.1.0.

Go through the wizard which is pretty self-explanatory. You may need to restart your computer once installed.

Now pen Audacity and import your WAV file 16 bit. This is the standard file format of Windows. Your sound file will comprise blue peaks and troughs. Wait a moment for the entire file to load. On conversion, the system will retain the original WAV version, so two files will be created, both with different extensions.

How to Convert to MP3

Exporting Audio for Conversion to MP3
Once your sound file has been imported into Audacity, click on ‘export file’, which will open another window with an array of sound formats to choose from. Be sure to select’ MP3’.

Before doing anything else, click ‘options’, which will enable you to select 192kbs, vital for Audible books.

Now save and another dialogue box will come up, that will enable you to input your metadata, which are: the author name, title of book and chapter number, whatever you want. This ensures your information will be encoded in your sound file. I will also name the file with this information, so that it can easily be seen.

Where to Upload your Audio Book

Uploading to ACX
Recording an audio book takes lots of storage space, so I will save my audio book on an extension storage drive (I use two for backup) but you can also use a Cloud Drive. Anything between 500 Gigabytes and 1 terabyte should be enough to contain 5 to 10 novels of average length. I managed to store 32 hours of recording on my terabyte drive without leaving much of a dent.

When your sound files are ready for upload, simply browse to ACX, add your cover art, import your description and you should be able to upload your MP3 files without any problems.

Monday, 28 September 2015

How a Female Narrator can Sound Like a Man for Audio Books

A woman cannot be expected to sound like a man, but the audio book listener appreciates the narrator making the effort when a piece of dialogue is spoken by a man. I was able to deepen my voice so I could sound something like a man to differentiate from the general narration. Here’s how I did this.

Narrating Tips

Narrating audio books means the narrator has to change the pitch of her voice to differentiate between character voices and her own voice. An annoyance for the audio book listener is not knowing who’s talking in the audio book.

Take a listen to an excerpt from A Hard Lesson by Charles J Harwood narrated by Rachel Shirley (copyright 2015). A man has been seduced into crime by a charismatic psychopath, Kurt. Notice Kurt has a deep and rather sinister voice, but Joe’s voice is a little lighter. Both sound quite male, yet sound different. Notice also the difference in tone between the female narrator and the voices.

How to Deepen  your Voice

Train the voice over a couple of weeks before recording. This means slowly going up and down the scales to increase flexibility of the vocal chords. I found I got squeaky or croaky when hitting my limit. Don’t worry, just keep working on your voice every day or every other day a few times. Do this in the car, in the shower, wherever. You will find you will eventually hit the lower notes.

Record the male voices first off in the recording session. I found my voice can reach those lower notes best after a rest. When my voice got tired, my voice tends to get increasingly croaky.

Avoid things that chill the vocal chords: cold air, cold water and even minty chewing gum. These chilled my vocal chords causing my voice to seize up and feel tight and husky when put under pressure.

Voice Narration Tips

Yawn. When your voice gets croaky on those lower notes, have a yawn. It sometimes works.

I found I could hit those lower notes when speaking a little slower than usual. Don’t worry if this sounds odd, most sound editing software (I use Audacity) enables you to increase the tempo of your voice without affecting the pitch. be careful to get the pace just right and listen to make sure the tempo is in keeping with the rest of the narration.

Don’t get too deep with the male voice (unless a very deep tone is intended), as it could sound forced and unnatural. Some men’s voices are not that deep. Also don't lather on the base of the equalization or to lower the pitch artificially as the result will just sound odd. I prefer to coach my voice without artificially affecting the pitch or using extra bass from the equalizer.

If the voice won't reach those the required notes, don't push it. Rest the voice and try again tomorrow. Forging on with a tired voice will only waste hours of recording time.

Audio Book Narration Articles