Audiobooks – Part 5

I had three main concerns when embarking on the process of producing my own audiobooks:

  1. a soundproofed workspace;
  2. differentiating between characters without using accents;
  3. learning how to edit and master.

In Part 4, I looked at the second concern and the process of narration generally. I’m turning now to the third concern. It’s a big topic—editing, especially—that’s going to need two or three posts.

Editing – Part 1

A few pertinent reminders:

  • I record in a homemade ‘studio’—my younger daughter’s bedroom arranged to block out as much external noise as possible.
  • I use the free software Audacity.
  • I have certain limitations: an inability to perform accents and a denture that makes me whistle or lisp or slur on occasions.
  • I have no previous experience of working with audio software.

What all this means is that my raw recordings are riddled with errors and stray noises that would have no hope of passing muster without serious attention. (The errors that I notice while recording and, as a result, simply repeat the messed-up section are usually the easiest to deal with because it’s merely a case of deleting the bungled bit and smoothing over the join.)

I’d practised and practised recording audio tracks until I felt I’d reached a level of competency upon which I was unlikely to improve without professional acting lessons. I’m an impatient so-and-so and was itching to begin to grasp editing—I knew it was time to sit down and make a start.

Before attempting my first edit, I bought a couple of books about producing audio and devoured the sections on editing, which didn’t take long. They made it sound pretty straightforward: all that’s required is going through the recording to eradicate any obvious foreign sounds or mistakes and then any remaining errors would be erased during the mastering process. Simple. Yeah, right. They failed to mention the endless hours of trial and error, the ‘fixes’ that introduced more problems than they solved, the frustrations and countless occasions when I thought I’d never be able to get the hang of it.

I recorded a short story from the collection Pond Life and used that raw recording for practice. The story is the first I ever had published: ‘Celesta’. Safe to say, by the time I’d finished practising editing, I was sick of the sound of the bloody thing.

At first I was completely clueless. Audacity has dropdown menus for sound effects I had a vague idea about, such as ‘Fade In’, but many more that I’d never even heard of before. There’s an online manual, which is of some use but that supposes a level of knowledge on the part of the reader that I didn’t possess.

After a lot of fruitless fiddling with various effects, I discovered how to delete sections of audio, and how to copy and paste. I edited ‘Celesta’ by deleting any background noises that shouldn’t be on the track and replacing the deleted sections with a second or two of silence copied from elsewhere on the track.

That only worked to a point. The problem was that I was introducing new sounds. Where I pasted in the section of silence, at the beginning and end of the splice popping/clicking/ticking sounds would appear that hadn’t been there before, caused by the background noise differential between the start/end of the new clip and the end/start of the old clips around it. It’s a little like inserting a section of text into a document where the start and end are of a different font or point size or thickness to the text surrounding it. The reader’s going to notice.

Try as I might, and I tried for hours on end, I could not get all the edges of the clips to join seamlessly. In despair, I sent out an SOS to my brother.

His job is like Chandler’s from Friends. We all know he works in IT, something to do with designing graphics for video and arcade games, but that’s about as well as we can describe it. In any case, the chance of him knowing a lot more than me about editing voice recordings was high. And so it proved.

It was he who alerted me to the effect in Audacity called ‘Crossfade Clips’. Now I use it all the time. It allows me to, for example, shorten too-long pauses or eliminate stray clicking sounds or soften whistled ‘ess’ sounds, without introducing new foreign noises. I’ll explain a little more about it in the next part—for now, it’s enough to say that it makes the job of editing abundantly easier.

My brother advised me to add a second track to the recording. I didn’t get this at first. Audible’s requirements are for a mono recording; to me, adding a second track meant the recording would now be stereo. Yeah, it doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is that I now have an effective way of making longer sections, such as the pause between sentences or paragraphs, silent. I use the effects ‘Fade Out’ and ‘Fade In’ to remove unwanted noise, and paste a clip of ‘good silence’ onto the second track to mask the fades. Again, I’ll explain more in the next part.

For now, here’s a screenshot of a track being edited. I’ve added annotations in red to show:

  • the ‘Effect’ drop-down menu (with the effects I use highlighted),
  • the main track, i.e. the original sound recording I’m editing,
  • the second track, which is added post-recording via the ‘Tracks’ drop-down menu, and
  • the clip of ‘good silence’, which I’ll explain a little better next time.

And that’s essentially it. Thanks to my brother, I can now edit raw audio tracks to Audible’s standards using only three effects—Crossfade Clips, Fade Out and Fade In—and a second track on which to add masking clips of good silence. As I’ll talk more about next time, it’s massively time-consuming, but it works.

In Part 6, I’ll run through my editing process step by step. This will be for the benefit of anyone who, like I did, sits down to audio-edit for the first time without the faintest idea where to start, but who, unlike me, doesn’t have a knowledgeable brother to call upon for advice when at their wits’ end.

Till then…