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I'd Like to Make an Audiobook edition of my book… now what?
Scribl's Audiobook Recording Hardware and Setup Guide
There are really 3 things you need to produce an audiobook, besides the book itself:
A microphone (NOT the kind that comes built into a laptop or webcam)
A computer or other recording device
Software to get the audio into the right form for public consumption
While we can't tell you everything you might want to know about each of these (for that we recommend Podcasting for Dummies, by our own Evo Terra), we can get you started. These instructions are Windows-oriented, but the vast majority, really everything except setting up the mic on your computer, would be the same on a Mac or Linux machine.
Assuming you already have a computer and reasonably quiet place to record, the least you can spend is about $85. You could also spend several hundred or even thousands of dollars. We'll cover a few solid options from the low end to the mid-range (we'll leave the high end to your own further research), and try to give you enough information to get going recording decent quality audiobooks. In order to avoid a deluge of data, we'll suggest only a few options. This is not to say that there aren't many equally good alternatives at similar price points, just that if you're looking for more info, that's beyond the scope of this guide.
Selecting a Microphone and Recording Hardware
First, understand and accept that there is no one right microphone. The ideal microphone varies based on the pitch of your voice, your environment, and of course your budget. One common misconception we'd like to address is microphone sensitivity. The goal is NOT to find the most sensitive microphone you can buy. A really sensitive microphone that catches every nuance of your voice may also pick up the sounds of traffic outside your house, the kids playing in the family room, or the dog lapping water from the bowl in the kitchen. That's noise you don't want in your audiobook.
For recording an audiobook at your home or office or anyplace else that is not a professional recording studio, you want a mic that is directional (listens best in one direction) and listens best to the pitches of spoken words. In general, this means you're after a cardioid dynamic microphone. This contrasts with an omnidirectional condenser microphone, which is what is typically built into a laptop or webcam and the huge number of new sub-$70 microphones that have recently hit the market.
Cardioid refers to the heart shape layout of how strongly it picks up sound, where you point the long tip of the heart toward your mouth. Sounds from other directions are muted. This is what makes the mic directional.
There are also supercardioid, hypercardioid, and omnidirectional microphones. Super- and hypercardioid are just more directional variants on cardioid and a fine option, just be sure you position it correctly so the sweet spot is pointed precisely toward your mouth. Omnidirectional listens equally well in all directions, which is great for a conference call that needs to pick up all speakers around a table, but terrible for recording an audiobook, because it's going to capture a lot more noise. Noise is the chief bane of the narrator.
Dynamic microphones tend to be short-ranged and less sensitive to background noise than condenser mics, exactly what you want for audiobook narration. There are some good condenser mics for narration, like the Blue Yeti with multiple internal mics for noise cancellation, but unless you really understand what you're buying, avoid condensers and be sure you get a dynamic microphone.
Sitting in your computer room, do you hear any noises? Can you make out the clack of a hard drive, the whir of your computer fans, the rush of air from a vent, sound of noises outside or inside your house? If you can hear any of these, your recording will hear them too. If the computer fan noise is a steady drone at a constant frequency, you can partially remove it in post-processing, but it's always better to start with the cleanest audio possible. The more noise you must remove via post-processing, the worse the resulting quality.
After you have selected your mic and other hardware, it's time to get the other half of what you need - the recording and processing software. In this section we provide links and explain how to install Audacity and related tools.
While the links should cover Windows, Mac, and Linux, these instructions are primarily for Windows 10. Other versions of Windows are similar.
Download these programs and add-ons:
Audacity will be the main program that you use for your file editing and ultimately exporting to MP3. Follow the instructions at the link to download and install for your computer and OS.
On the Audacity page for your computer and OS (Mac and Windows), scroll down to Plug-ins and Libraries under Optional Downloads. Click on the links for:
LADSPA plug-ins (you can also click on the separate Plug-Ins link if you want more options, be we don't need any of those for the steps we provide here)
FFmpeg import/export library - only needed if your source files are in a format that Audacity can't import directly (without this, Audacity can already import AIFF, MP3, OGG, WAV, and many more), most users will not need this
After that, launch Audacity for the first time. Make sure it runs OK. If not, check out their troubleshooting page and Frequently Asked Questions. Unfortunately, helping beyond steering you to their support is beyond the scope of what we can do for you.
For Windows users only, install Mp3tag in order to add cover art to your MP3 files and as a general MP3 analysis tool (there is a test version for Mac here too, but Mac users might prefer the classic Media Rage or the free Kid3). Cover art is the album cover you see on every MP3 file you buy. In your case, you'll want to use a small square version of your book cover.
Tuning and Recording using Audacity
You will use Audacity to either record directly, such as with the AT2005 mic, or to work with the files created using the Zoom recording device. Once the file is recorded and open in Audacity, the process is the same regardless of whether you recorded with Audacity or the Zoom. If you are NOT recording with the Zoom, then this section will explain how to use Audacity to record your audiobook.
Getting the Audio Files Ready to Upload to Scribl with Audacity
When your files are recorded as well as you can record them, you are ready to perform the post-processing and export to MP3 files so you can upload to Scribl. Whether you are only posting to Scribl, or putting your audiobook into CrowdPricing Everywhere for distribution to Audible, Audiobooks.com, iTunes, and all the other major audiobook sites, you'll use the same MP3 files. Follow these instructions to prepare your MP3 files.
Optionally, you may want to use additional Audacity features or add two free tools that can improve audio quality and let you know exactly how your files turned out in terms of volume and noise levels.