Some thoughts on homegrown audiobook production and a wee present for ye.

I'm in post-production for the audio recording of Grandmother Mælkevejen's Belly and thought I'd share some insights from my first stint as an audio actor and sound engineer. As I mentioned some weeks ago, I'm recording from my attic using the iRig MIC Cast and iRig Recorder on my iPod and Audacity on Kubuntu for final mixing of audio takes.

The hardware/software combination is a good one. The iRig MIC plugs right into the iPod audio jack and is sensitive enough for small projects of this kind, but it's also sensitive enough to pick up the low-frequency rumble of traffic passing on the highway outside (I'll come back to this in a bit). It has an audio jack built in for ear buds as well, which is nice because the the iRig Recorder allows you to listen yourself while you're recording. Very helpful, that. The iRig Recorder has plug-ins for purchase that allow editing right from the iPod (though Audacity is much better for this) and export via a wide array of options including email, FTP and wifi. Finally, Audacity is both free and robust, and there are many walkthroughs online for improving user experience with the tool.

Which brings me to noise. Friends, silence is golden where it concerns audio recording. I've been able to remove some sound artifacts with the Noise Removal and Compression features in Audacity, but trucks, motocycles and accidental bumps or clicks near the mic are impossible to scrub out. As a result, less than half of my first takes are useable, so I'll be going back up into the attic late this evening and tomorrow to re-record them while the traffic is light outside.

Two other notes bear discussion here. Preparing a manuscript for audio recording is a far cry from preparing it for print. The human vocal apparatus can only do so much before it needs a break. I found that two or three paragraphs was my upper limit before needing to pause recording and swallow, and four or five pages was all I could do in a take. Manuscripts need to have those pauses and hard breaks clearly annotated before recording begins, because a reader's attention is fully focused on the material while recording is ongoing.

I also had difficulty with consistency of voices across pages, so I practiced them in advance and highlighted dialogue in colors corresponding to individual characters in the story (Gryph was yellow, Aris was orange, Maiti was purple, etc.), which helped me tremendously. Vocal cues had to be noted as well, such as shouts, whispers, hisses and the like so that I incorporated them when I came to them. Arguments were interesting too, since I had to switch from one voice to another quickly, often by interruption.

In all, I've come to have a healthy respect for the work Escape Pod and other speculative fiction magazines do to create audio versions of the stories they publish! It's hard work, and it's a labor of love, to be sure. I have a week or more of labor on this tale; post-production, manuscript prep for the ebook version and publishing to the various outlets it will be available in. But for now, I've completed enough work on the first scene of the story to offer you an audio teaser below, so you can hear for yourself what I've been up to. I hope you enjoy it, and I'll be along in due course with the rest of the story.

You can listen to the teaser by clicking here