When traveling to a foreign country, it is essential to know the local language. If you don’t, travel becomes overwhelming, inefficient, and frustrating. The same can be said for the audiobook industry. How do you record your audiobook and get from word one to done efficiently and without getting overwhelmed and frustrated?
While traveling, my wife and I ran to a European grocery store to grab a few things quickly. Due to some food allergies, we had to study the labels carefully. Without available internet and Google Translate, we looked up each ingredient in a printed translation dictionary to determine whether it was safe. A quick dash to the store turned into a 2-hour ordeal. And it’s so much fun to be frustrated when you’re hungry!
To learn anything, you must understand the language. The terminology and process. This truth pertains to mathematics, flying an airplane, practicing medicine, and even driving a car.
The process to record your audiobook is no exception. You must understand concepts such as:
- sampling rate,
- noise floor,
- close miking,
- proximity effect,
- editing, and
before successfully submitting your audiobook to the desired distributor. And starting to see sales. To help you succeed, I will cover these terms to give you a basic understanding of the process.
Let’s start with the recording process. I recommend using a high sampling rate to achieve the best sound quality possible. It is the sampling rate that replicates the analog signal.
Think of the sampling rate as taking a snapshot of the signal at a given time. Mathematically, since it takes two points to determine a line, you need at least two samples (pictures) to recreate a waveform. Two points will locate the waveform’s top and bottom (crest and trough), but it does not give you enough information to determine the exact “look” or shape of the wave. With multiple pictures of the waveform, the reproduction will be more accurate.
Since there are 19,998 individual frequencies in the audible spectrum (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz), and you need two samples for each frequency, a minimum of 39,996 samples per second are required.
A sampling rate of 44,100 (44.1 k) samples per second will accurately reproduce the audible spectrum for speech reproduction. An increase up to 48,000 (48k) doesn’t necessarily yield a better audible copy for speech but is preferable for music since music contains more complex waveforms.
Many music engineers will increase their sampling rate to 96k for music recording. The higher speed improves the quality but also increases the file size. For speech, it is not necessary. It’s the law of diminishing returns. For your audiobook, a 44.1k sampling rate is excellent.
Instead of recording in a .wav format, some people record in a .mp3 format. Recording in this format is acceptable, but only if you follow some guidelines.
A .mp3 format is a compressed file and produces a smaller size file, You must keep the sampling rate high enough. If you don’t, you will hear digital artifacts or digital distortion. For a .mp3 format, do not go any slower than 192 kbps constant bit rate to preserve the audio quality. A .wav format yields a better recording because it is uncompressed, unlike the .mp3. You can record in a .mp3 format but the sampling rate needs to be 192 kbps or higher to gain quality.
Noise Floor When You Record Your Audiobook
The noise floor in a recording is the level of the unwanted signal. It is derived from the sum of all the noise sources. Noise, or any signal other than the one desired, is inherent in all electronic circuits.
The only defense against noise is to keep the primary signal as prominent as possible. And the more prominent, the better it masks the unwanted noise.
Therefore, it is essential to record your narration as high as possible without turning up the input volume. If you can vocally project more or move the microphone closer to the source, you’re better off than turning up the input volume. Turning up the volume raises the noise level under your recording, making the (unwanted) noise easier to hear in the pauses.
The noise floor issue is why I suggest a close-miking technique. This technique places the mic as close to the source as possible, within one inch of the mouth. In an uncontrolled environment like a home or office, this practice is critical because the microphone’s proximity masks room reflections, air conditioning or furnace rumble, and outside noises. It also gives a warm, intimate quality to the voice. This warm, intimate sound is referred to as the Proximity Effect.
On the other side, having the microphone this close also increases breathing noise, lip smacks, and breath pops coming from plosive consonants (B, T, P, D, K, and G). Close-miking is not critical in a controlled environment like a recording studio because room reflections are not as prevalent. However, moving farther from the microphone does lose some of the vocal warmth added by being close.
The Proximity Effect
The microphone’s warm tones produced from ideal positioning are called The Proximity Effect occurs from phase and amplitude variations of the sound waves encountering the two sides of the microphone’s diaphragm. These variations are from the different ways sound radiates through the air, depending on the frequency and distance from the source. The Proximity Effect increases bass or low-frequency energy when a sound source is close to a directional or cardioid microphone. The Proximity Effect in audiobook recording enhances the author’s voice and lends a welcoming, conversational feeling to it.
Once you record your narration, the next step is editing. Editing is the process of digitally removing all the mistakes, awkward breaths, and long silent pauses to create a seamless conversation between you and your audience.
The days of editing magnetic tape with a razor blade and a grease pencil are gone (though I spent many years doing this). Digitally editing the waveforms has made this process more straightforward, more exact, and less dangerous to the fingers.
Editing requires listening and understanding the speech pattern. There is a natural cadence to speech, and each person has a distinct rhythm. Removing awkwardly placed breaths or shortening pregnant pauses helps increase communication and the listener’s comprehension and enjoyment.
In a conversation with a friend, you wouldn’t breathe four times in a typical sentence unless you were conversing after a strenuous workout or holding your conversation on a mountaintop. Listening to an unnatural breathing pattern sounds strange and leaves your listener wondering if you’re going to pass out.
The goal of editing is to remove these barriers to understanding and make your narration sound seamless and natural. Welcoming. Engaging. You may need to add space to get the correct timing to accomplish this, and you may even need to remove a breath to keep continuity and meaning, which is critical to the editing process.
Once you have successfully edited your audiobook recording, it’s time to master your files for upload. Mastering is the final stage of audio production—putting the finishing touches on a recording by enhancing the overall sound, creating consistency across the tracks, and preparing it for distribution.
Mastering is a more complicated process because it is here that you fix any issues that occurred during the recording process: fixing a bass-heavy or thin sound through equalization, removing harsh sibilance or hissy sound from the letters “s”, “c”, or “sh”, putting all audio files in the same volume range so that the listener is not turning up or down their listening volume, and finally converting the finished files into the proper digital format.
The mastering process uses a combination of equalization, limiting, normalization, noise reduction, or other steps as necessary. If the narration is recorded correctly at the start, the mastering process can be relatively easy. If your attitude is “I’ll fix it in the mix,” you’re in for a more difficult process.
You’re not in a European deli, but you may feel like you’ve stumbled into a foreign land. But welcome to my favorite land. It’s where I’ve “lived” for over forty years.
These terms give you some footholds to begin to understand the journey required to record your audiobook. And when you give appropriate attention to these key elements, your audiobook will be successful and provide a fantastic listening experience to your audience.
If you need a guide for this portion of your publishing journey, reach out to me, and we can talk about options. I offer three different packages for authors to enjoy varying levels of involvement when you record your audiobook. Don’t let terminology, technology, and fear be a barrier to your dreams.
Use them to motivate you to find answers and solutions. Here’s a video that explains the Hybrid package where you do your own recording, but I handle all of the technical aspects. It might be a good fit or you can explore my DIY or Full Service options too. Contact me with your questions at Info@RecordYourAudiobook.com.