So, you’re interested in narrating some audiobooks. Great! You’ve got a Mac and an iPad, Great!
It’s never been easier to record at home. Even though the cost of some of these items can be a bit pricey, Mic, Computer, iPad… they represent a fraction of the cost a person needed to spend to do quality recordings in the past.
So, why this combination. Well, each of these on there own are great. There are many other options for recording packages as well. Pro Tools, Audacity, Audition, Sound Forge… Each of these would be a good choice to handle your recordings and some are better than others at aiding in the mastering process. Twisted Wave however, is incredibly easy to understand and simple to use.
So, why the iPad? Can’t we simply record directly to Twisted Wave on the Mac (yes, it’s a Mac only application)? Sure, and this would suffice for many of us. But, computers have fans and they tend to kick on after a lengthy recoding session – like a chapter of an audiobook. The iPad conversely, is solid state through and through – meaning, no fans! Add to that a great screen to read from, no page turn noises and a compact form factor and you’ve got a great addition to your recording workflow.
Before we start, let’s discuss purchases.
First off, we need a microphone. The market for iPad friendly mics is opening up and the platform is becoming a serious contender in recording spaces. As more people decide to put weight behind the tablets, more mic manufacturers begin creating solutions for it. At the very bottom is the built in mic, let’s stop the discussion about this option here. It’s a great facetime or skype mic, but that’s it! A step up from that are miniature mics that plug directly into the headphone port. These offer better fidelity but often come cheaply made and as distance to mic is a crucial factor in sound quality, this leaves a little to the imagination.
A few years ago, people noticed that if you bought the Camera Connector Kit you were able to connect some USB mics to the iPad and record a better signal.
This option still represents one of the easiest solutions. USB mics are fairly cheap and there are several on the market that sound decent. Two that come to mind are the Blue Snowball (not a fav) and the Audio Technica AT2020 USB (1st Generation). Others works as well, though due to power requirements, some just can’t draw enough juice to power up. Generally if the mic has a headphone port on it, it’s unlikely to work.
A little over a year ago, Apogee , an audio company, released a very nice Mic that connects directly to the iPad/iPhone using the 30 Pin Connector (Newer devices need to buy Lightening to 30 Pin connector from Apple). This Mic is small, shares a USB connection for connecting to computers as well and importantly, comes with a volume adjustment slider on the side, which helps in setting the levels, something the previous two options don’t have.
For the portable crew that prefers to use their own decent mics when on the go, there have been a few options out there to aid in recording simply. The Centrance Mic Port pro comes to mind. The basic idea here is to plug a standard XLR mic connector into 1 side, and out the other comes a USB cable. Simple and effective.
In the recent months a newer option has surfaced, one that was always available for computers but never for portable devices – the audio interface. Focusrite was one of the first options in this market with it’s iOS compatible iTrack Solo. Again, using the 30pin connector and the conversion cable for newer devices. This type of interface brought the ability to use a nice analog mic, one that often sounds richer than a USB one. Another great benefit here is the zero latency monitoring option. The iPad has a headphone jack but the delay in signal from mic to headphones makes it all but impossible to work with. Zero latency monitoring allows the user to listen directly off interface, hence zero lag.
Very recently, Avid have decided to enter the market as well. They’ve released an audio interface called Fast Track Solo (similar to the old M-Audio units). Like above, the interface has a mic input, speaker outs and a zero latency headphone monitor output. Being Avid though, they’ve included Pro Tools Express in the price. So, for 179.00$ you get a great audio interface that works with your iPad –and– your computer, but also Pro Tools software as well. Why bring this up? Well, you’d still be recording on the iPad using Twisted Wave, and likely do so on the computer too, but should you at some point want to use Pro Tools, you’d now have the software.
Now that we’ve decided on a mic and/or audio interface, we need to also get some software to record with. Being a post about Twisted Wave, I think it’s apropos that I suggest buying said software. Twisted Wave is audio recording software that’s made for both OSX (Mac) and iOS (iPad). These two separate operating systems require different things, so, you’ll need to buy the software for both. 80$ for Mac, 10$ for iPad/iPhone. The program is also available for preview download for 30 days, so if you’re squeamish about purchasing it yet, go ahead and download and use the trial for free.
We have two choices in recording. Use the iPad as a book only and record with your laptop, or, use the iPad as a book and recording device, then edit on your computer. Let’s cover this second solution first.
Before we begin, we need to download a book reader. I suggest the free Apple iBooks or Amazon’s Kindle Reader (or both). Long time audiobook narrators will also find other apps like Rehearsal useful for text coloring and highlighting. Buy and download Twisted Wave to your iPad as well. Once downloaded, connect your USB camera connector kit and then the USB mic or interface to your iPad.
At this point you should have received a PDF of the book you’re about to read. It’s important that this book be in PDF format. If it’s not, then please download it to your computer and convert it to PDF. On your iPad, check your email for the PDF and once found, long-click (press and hold for two seconds) the PDF icon for the book. Save this to your book reader app. You might be asking, why not just open and read? Well, sure, you could do this, but doing so doesn’t save your spot for future visits, also, page manipulation doesn’t work so well in this mode.
With the book reader app open and your book up, either double click your home button and switch to Twisted Wave or just close the book app and open Twisted Wave as your normally would. The double click method helps get you between apps in a hurry.
Open Twisted Wave and create new MONO document with a sample rate of 44100 Hz or 44.1 kHz as we call it. Begin recording with the record button and set your level on either your mic or audio interface. If using the Audio Technica or Snowball, you’re out of luck, volume is handled by how loud you are. When setting levels, you should average your audio around -24 dB, so find that value on the meter and adjust your audio gain on your device (audio interface or mic volume slider) to about this level. Sure peaks will go over, you’ll be quiet as well, but the average volume read should be hitting this mark normally. Once done, stop the recording and delete the audio.
When recording a chapter of an audiobook it’s important to keep a few things in mind for the future. Requirements made by ACX and Audible state that you need room tone between all words, some at the top and end of the file and then in mastering, some level set for peaks and averages. We can skip the mastering stuff now, but let’s take note of the first requirements now. Room Tone. What is it? It’s the sound of your room when nothings happening, recording dead space, sometimes called the noise floor as well. Audible and ACX state that you CANNOT have digital nothing between words, phrases or paragraphs and that room tone should be present the whole time. Also, they ask that each chapter start with .5 seconds of room tone, between the chapter header and body needs 2.5 seconds and at the end of each chapter 3.5 seconds. When I teach people to record I mention this and add another stipulation, a clean 10 seconds of room tone recorded at the top of each chapter as well. This extra tone gives us a nice chunk of audio to use for covering breaths, lip smacks, coughs, mistakes and other material we should edit out. So, when recording a chapter we should always pay attention to these requirements.
Press record, record 10 seconds of complete silence. DON’T touch your pants, shirt, face mic or other stuff, don’t cough, swallow, smack lips, breathe hard. Just try to be a silent as possible. Once that passes, say the chapter header, then wait 2.5 seconds roughly. The record the chapter. At the end, record another 4 or so seconds of dead silence as well. All this makes your life easier in the editing process.
When recording longer material, like an audiobook, we need some way to mark mistakes. You’ll be recording a chapter per session (document) and per sitting. You’ll make mistakes, we all do. Don’t get discouraged, it’s natural. One way to visually mark your flubs is to snap your fingers loud near the mic when they happen. That loud spike in sound (transient in audio terms) shows you later in the edit process where something occurred. You could just as easily say ‘Pick up’ or ‘Shit’ but those are words and they look all the same as the others. Snapping has the benefit of allowing you quickly address issues without crawling through all the audio to find mistakes.
Drink room temperature water, and not lot’s of it. You need to stay hydrated and if you’re beginning to lose quality of voice, take a sip. But too much water tricks your body into thinking it’s about to eat, hence the following increase in saliva. Not good for recordings.
Use a dim light in the room, one that’s DOESN’T have a dimmer. Dimmers make a whine noise and are bad. Get a 40 watt bulb, maybe even lower. Low light helps set the mood.
Wear comfortable clothing. sweats, socks and a cotton tee are best. Some fabrics make noise when they move, BE cognoscente of this!
Please read the chapter before your record it. Be familiar with character voices, changes and story arcs. Surprises sound lame and unprofessional.
Put the kids to bed, kiss your spouse goodnight, do some yoga, light a candle, don’t be hungry. Basically, get in the mood to settle in and spend time creating a world. Give it the time it deserves and it’ll sound great.