More on the Whole Voice Business

When it comes to doing the voicework for the audiobook, I’ve found that there are definitely some dos and don’ts. If you’re thinking about doing the same, be sure to see if these pointers apply to you.

Clothing. Wear soft, natural fibres. It’s cold here, so I had on some heavy cargo pants and a polyester vest, and the mic picked up every little microscopic movement I made. Noisy clothing will quickly ruin your take, so ditch them. Do it in undies. Go naked if you need to, just steer clear of corduroy, nylon or any other noisy clothes. You’ll naturally shuffle in your seat from time to time, so don’t rely on just sitting still. That said:

Sit Still. No, really. If you’re fidgety from sitting down for a long take, pause, take a break, walk around, have lunch, go to the toilet, clear your head. Not necessarily in that order. Your body wants to move, but while you’re doing a take, keep still. On that note, keep your head at a constant angle to the microphone. The pickup for the mic will vary as the angle, so if you’re overly animated while talking, you’ll hear a change in volume.

Check your settings. Check and double check and check it again, before and after you record, and check it in between chapters. Want to waste a day? Don’t check it. It only takes a few seconds and it will save you time. Record in Mono at or above 44.1 kHz, at a rate of 192kbps or above. If your gear doesn’t support this, get new gear.

Have water handy. Stay hydrated. You think you can talk for an hour straight? Two? Five? How long before your throat gives out. Take regular breaks to drink, rest your mouth, stretch your lungs. Use lip balm (I had to after the third time around). I’ve read about not eating cheese or having milk, since this produces phlegm. I can’t say much about that, but I can attest to avoid eating spicy or oniony foods. I was burping so much, I had to stop every other sentence.

Mark your mistakes. Muck up? Say a short, sharp ‘Beep’ and start again. Speak too fast? ‘Beep’. Mispronounce a word? ‘Beep’. Want to say that sentence again, but with difference emphasis? ‘Beep’. Let out an unexpected belch? ‘Beep’. The Beeps might sound like you’re polluting your sound track, but actually you’re providing markers to yourself to draw attention to a portion of audio. Like underscoring a word, a beep shows up after to let you know that whatever just happened was probably wrong.

Go slow. If you need to pause between sentences, go right ahead. If you need to pause after a comma, feel free. If you need to swear, shake out the jumbles and flibble your lips back into shape, do so. The software editing part at the end of it all allows you to crop out the pauses quickly. Yes, it’s more work, but it’s even more work if you happen to stuff up a sentence because you didn’t take the time to read ahead or get your enunciation right.

Read ahead. It’s your work, right, and you know what you wrote, right, word for word, right? Nah. Not at all. You’ll be reading sentences that you’re only just rediscovering. Like reading a book, sometimes the clue to the character or situation happens after the significant fact. “Go away,” she mumbled. Oh, right, mumbling. “Go away,” she huffed. Hmm, huffing. “Go away,” she laughed. Mirth, got it. ‘Beep’, go back, do it again.

Breathe. Sounds obvious, but I reckon breathing was one of the hardest parts to overcome. There’s a natural tendency when talking naturally to take breaths whenever. It can be while talking, halfway through a sentence, halfway though a word. Do your best to overcome your desire for a breath by pausing, breathing a little more and resuming your speech.

I’m sure with plenty of practice, this will all become second nature. Nah, I don’t believe that for a second. More like, ‘with plenty of practice, your get better at spotting where you’re going wrong, and have the maturity and discipline to take active measures’.

Slow the Heck Down

I’ve been in the booth, doing my audiobook recording, and I’ve learnt so much already. It can all be summarised in two words, “Slow Down”. Just take some time and slow right down.

I was keen to get started, to just hammer this thing out and get going. Yeah, well that may work for writer’s block or when I’ve got a story in my head and I know what all the bits are. That’s typing. Typing doesn’t care about speed. If I make a mistake while typing, great, I’ll go back and correct it and move on. That’s not possible when it comes to recording audio.

In the booth, milliseconds count. I can’t stop and have a scratch midway through a sentence. Once I start speaking, I must continue until it’s time to stop. If my mouth is gummy and I choke and cough and mutter profanities, all of that is recorded. To cope, I’ve developed a mechanism and it involves, you guessed it, slowing down.

But first, a horror story: I gave the story my full attention. I put aside the day to do the recording of all the chapters (surely, it won’t take all day!) and locked myself in the booth. After chapter 3, my mouth was dry. OK, lunch, water, have a rest, get back to it. Maybe I’ll have a listen to see how it’s sounding. Hmm, no good. I’m mumbling and not speaking clearly, and talking too fast. Bother. OK, that just means I start again, and this time pay attention to how I sound as I’m talking (the headphones come in real handy at this point).

I’m guilty, you see, of mumbling, of speaking (way) too fast, of dropping consonants and flattening vowels. Thing is, I’m not conscious that I do it, not until you play a video with me talking. I’ve been told many times, by many people, in many ways, “Jez, slow down.”

Start again. No probs, got three chapters done again by Joey o’clock, went to pick him up, came home and had a listen. Still no good. I’m still talking too fast and not clearly. Fine, I get it. Slow the heck down.

I worked into the night, persisting, cracking through the first couple of chapters (again). The next morning I came at it, ready to go, ready to speak clearly and slowly. I started early and got used to listening to myself as I spoke, correcting mistakes as I went, keeping a pace. By the afternoon, I had all chapters done. Perfect. Late lunch, but who cares? I clicked on the play button and died. Ba-bow. Bad news, Jez. The little microphone drop down in Audacity hadn’t been set to the studio mic, rather the internal computer mic.

I had been recording my voice, muffled and indistinct, from within the booth while the microphone on the laptop was outside the booth. There was nothing for it.

The entire day’s recording was utterly, unspeakably, useless.

If I had slowed down, taken the time to check the settings before and replay the clip after each chapter, I would have spotted it in the first hour and only lost a portion of my day. As it was, I was in a royally gloomy funk for the rest of the evening. I had lost a day’s worth of work, had a sore voice, a massive headache and nothing to show for it.

All this means I’ve gotten into a process when it comes to recording – turn on my computer outside the booth, plug in the mic, load up Audacity, make sure it’s on the right bloody microphone, sit down, lock the booth, get thirty seconds of silence and sip some water.

Then I breathe. I use my hand as a metronome. I listen as I speak and, if something doesn’t sound right, I correct myself and try again. Then I check on the chapter as soon as I’ve finished it. It’s slower, but it’s a whole lot better.