AUTHORS ELECTRIC HOW-TO DAY Making and embedding audio recordings - Bill Kirton

     (The illustration features the author depicted in the act of recording at what has become a mixing deck, and listeners who are either inspired to dance or deafened by his music. It is by Isla Kirton whose rates are very reasonable.)

     A recent suggestion was that we use some of these blogs to offer tips on perhaps more 'technical' aspects of writing. For me that narrows the topic range significantly but I have done plenty of voice-over work, so my own suggestions are about audio recording.

      Using audio opens up different possibilities through trailers, extracts or even whole chapters. The more courageous might try entire books but that's fraught with lots of difficulties too numerous to explore here. This advice is for anyone who wants to record a sound track for a trailer or try making a short reading to post on SoundCloud and/or their website.

     First, if you haven’t yet got them, download these free bits of software:

  • Audacity (an excellent audio editing programme) – get it here.  I won’t go into details of editing techniques and effects because there are so many and it depends what you want. The best way to find out about these is to play around with them. It really isn’t difficult. You can apply effects (speeding up, slowing down, adding echo, changing pitch, fading in and out, etc., etc.), to either the whole piece or highlighted sections.
  • A file converter, for changing your files to mp3 or other formats –  get one here.  (No need to say how to use it – again, it’s so simple.)

Making the recording.
     I’ve made recordings in 2 different ways. The obvious way is to use a mic and record directly into the computer, but to get good results you need a really good mic. Ribbon mics are best but they’re very expensive so instead I used a digital recorder – they used to be called Dictaphones. It’s an Olympus WS-750M (about £70 but there are cheaper versions) and I recorded into it, then transferred the file to my computer. That’s important. Whatever type of recorder you get, it must have a way of transferring your file from recorder to computer (usually via a USB cable connection).

     Of course, you can use your normal headset mic but, apart from the fact that sound quality is likely to be low, the danger there is that you’ll get pops and all sorts of other intrusive noises. Indies get enough flak already in the ‘amateur’ v ‘professional’ writing stakes without giving out ammunition in the form of substandard recordings with rumbling tummies, noises off, popping plosives, rustles as pages are turned, and readings that sound as if they’ve been made in a bucket.

     A tip which will help you to overcome some of those problems is to create a ‘mobile sound studio’. You need a cardboard box with no lid. The one I use is about 18 x 12 ins and about 5 ins deep. Line it with an old piece of towel or other material, stand it on end and set up the mic or recorder inside it so that you can speak directly into it (but don’t get too close). It cuts out all those intrusive ambient sounds and the hollowness you get in most normal rooms. (This obviously can’t be done with a headset mic.)

     My second method came about when my son bought me an iPad (the best Xmas present ever). This may work with iPhones, too – I don’t know because I don’t have one. Anyway, you buy an app called GarageBand, which I think was about £6. (Aside – it’s a terrific app with which you can create music, sound effects and seemingly limitless other audio things.) Choose the ‘Audio Recorder’ option. Touch the spanner (top right) and, on the drop-down menu that appears,  turn off Metronome and Count-in. Then touch the + sign beneath the question mark (still top right), change ‘8 bars’ to automatic and switch it on. And you’re ready to record. A good mic is still the preferred option but this provides a recording of surprisingly good quality - certainly good enough for most purposes.

     Still on the iPad, when you’ve finished recording, tap ‘My Songs’ (top left) press on the icon for the recording you’ve just made until it wiggles and has a yellow border around it, touch the page+arrow symbol top left and mail it to yourself.

A recording tip.
     It’s unusual to be able to read through a whole piece without making a mistake, getting the emphasis or intonation wrong here and there, or inadvertently making a sound that shouldn’t be there. If/when that happens, pause, make a mark on the script, remain silent for 2 or 3 seconds, then start again at the beginning of the sentence which went wrong. It’ll be very easy to cut out the offending sentence when you’re editing.

Transferring and converting the file
     Whichever way you’ve done it, you now have a sound file in your computer. What now? Well, just follow these steps:
  1. Use your file converter to change your file to an mp3. (No need to explain this – as I said, it’s very easy.)
  2. Open the resulting mp3 file in Audacity and tidy it up (cut out clicks, put in or take out gaps, generally mess around and find the features you need to make your recording as clean and effective as you can and to add any special effects).
  3. When you’re satisfied, click Edit > Export as WAV.
  4. Use the file converter again to change the .wav file to an mp3.
And that’s it.

Uploading to SoundCloud
     You need to upload the file to SoundCloud so that it’s permanently available to anyone who clicks on your blog link to it, so:

  1. Go to the SoundCloud home page and sign up.
  2. When that’s done, click the ‘Upload and share’ button, top right.
  3. On the screen that appears, click ‘Choose files’.
  4. A window will appear listing files and folders on your computer. Click the audio file you’ve made.
  5. The file will upload to SoundCloud. You can add an illustration, title and notes as it does so. Also, down at the bottom, click the box on the left to enable downloads.
  6. When the upload’s complete, click ‘Save’.
  7. You’ll now see a bar showing your file as a sort of block of sound with the usual play arrow to click. Just above the arrow is a small button labelled ‘share’. Click that. It’ll open a wee window with all sorts of stuff in it – facebook, twitter, etc.
  8. Click on ‘embed code’. This will highlight the text in the small slit there.
  9. Copy the text.

Embedding it in your blog/website/article/whatever
     Now you’re ready to embed it. I should say here that the following instructions refer specifically to blogspot because that’s the Authors Electric host. I’m sure other blog providers have the same options as those I’ll be mentioning, but I’m not familiar with them so you’ll need to go into the Help menu of yours and ask ‘How do I embed audio?’

  1. Go to your blog. Sign in and click on ‘design’, then ‘layout’.
  2. Click on ‘add a gadget’ in the right hand column.
  3. In the window which appears, choose ‘HTML/Javascript’.
  4. Paste the embed code into the big window and give it a title.
  5. Click Save.

     If you’d like to see what it looks like and how it works when you’ve done that, I’ve embedded several of my own recordings on my own website here.  Scroll down past the two trailers to see the audio only pieces.

     And that’s it. For someone like me, with no technical savvy, it feels satisfyingly like an achievement. Good luck.


julia jones said…
That's fantastic. I'm awe-inspired. Thank you Bill
Dan Holloway said…
Incredibly helpful - thank you, Bill
Jan Needle said…
my head hurts. but i'll work on it... thanks
Susan Price said…
I'm going to send this to my cousin in Switzerland, who may find it very useful for the Early Reading programme he's working on. - Thanks, Bill! Really useful.
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks all, and Jan, I know what you mean but if you take it step by step it's definitely doable, honest.
Chris Longmuir said…
I've produced readings of first chapters using a Sony Digital Recorder and then transfer the file to the computer. Then I just add the file to Moviemaker when I'm doing my trailer, but OMG Bill, you've gone a lot deeper and put me to shame. And you try to kid me you're not techie savvy. I must have a go at this!

Dennis Hamley said…
This is amazing, Bill. I've been telling myself to get round to this sort of thing for years but had no idea how to set about it because I was sure it would end up with the popping plosives and rustling pages you warn of and people would either laugh or just not listen. It all sounds way beyond me, but I'll have to try.
Sandra Horn said…
Thank you, Bill - this is amazing!
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks again. I'll be interested to hear your results eventually.

And Chris, you actually BUILD computers, so please don't suggest I have any techie credibility.
Lydia Bennet said…
Wow Bill that's great, thanks! I've done simple video recordings and edited them but I've not tried audio before. I shall save this link for future ref!
Bill Kirton said…
You're welcome Lydia. I should have mentioned in the posting that if anyone tries it and gets stuck or has a question, I'd be happy to try to help.
Richard Sutton said…
Bill; I just bought Audacity and was trying to figure out using the software to tweak out the mic boom and background noise! Your idea of a mini-soundroom is perfect. I have just the cardboard box to butcher, too! Thanks!
Karen Inglis said…
Hi - I was interested to stumble across this. I'm due to blog on my self-recoding methods soon.

I use GarageBand on my iMac, along with my Logitech microphone, and then export to iTunes and then upload to YouTube. The sound quality is surprisingly good. I've also recently recorded all of the voice-overs and sound effects for a rhyming picture book app for iPad that has just launched in the app store.... To find hear the quality check out these YouTube recordings (the one of me reading The Secret Lake is a bit too fast-paced and that's something I've learned since ..but I do plan to use GarageBand to create a full audio book in due course.....) It's amazing what you can do from home!

The Secret Lake excerpt (tempo needs slowing..) >

Page with excerpts from Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep iPad App recording...>

Embedding the YouTube excerpts in a Wordpress blog is simple - you just paste in the full iTunes link!

I hope this is of interest/inspiration to some readers here. See my full blog for more detail

Best wishes,

Karen Inglis (Children's Author, London, UK)
Bill, thanks for this, so informative! I tried to click your website at teh end and it said it contains malware so my mac wouldn't let me go ahead -- you may want to check that link?

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