My Current Audiobook Process

I’m putting this here mostly for me because after recording four non-fiction titles and six short stories I’m about to go dive in on a writing project. (Also, if anyone “listens” to books on YouTube can you drop a comment and let me know. I’m thinking I’ll put the short stories up there at least, but just not sure how much to prioritize doing so. Right now it’s a backburner project because even though I expect people to just listen even though they’re videos I want the closed captions accurate and that takes a surprising amount of time.)

Anyway. In case this helps anyone else, this is not a perfect process but it’s what I’ve come up with to get a product I’m happy with but not bog down too much too early.

  1. Before each session, record a “testing, testing, testing” bit to make sure that my audio is set to the right input device, that I’ve turned on the audio interface, and that I’m hitting between -10 and -20 db. (All issues I had at one time or another.)
  2. Record audio using Audacity with no headphones on. Save file using Raw, chapter number (if applicable), and project name. (e.g., Raw 1 Introduction)
  3. In Audacity, edit file to remove long gaps, repeats, and re-dos. Do not wear headphones. Save file as First Pass, chapter number, and then file name. (e.g., First Pass 1 Introduction)
  4. Export as .wav file.
  5. Import .wav file into Reaper. Apply pre-set FX Chain which includes Waves NS1 Mono, ReaEQ, ReaComp, iZotope De-Click, JS: De-Esser, and iZotope De-Clip.
  6. Listen to audio and adjust the threshold setting for ReaComp until I’m compressing somewhere between -4 and -6 for most of the audio.
  7. Save as Reaper, chapter number, and then file name. (e.g., Reaper 1 Introduction)
  8. Render mono version of .wav file. (If there’s a way to make this the default in settings, I haven’t figured it out yet so I always have to change from stereo to mono.)
  9. Open .wav file in Audacity, select all or 20 minutes for longer clips, and run ACX Check (under Analyze). Look at RMS level and figure out amount to adjust to get to -23 and then add .5 to that amount.
  10. Go to Tools, Macros and change the value for the Limiter to that amount in the macro I have that applies a Limiter and Normalizes the clip to -3.1 peak level.
  11. Apply that macro to the whole clip.
  12. Run ACX Check again to make sure it worked.
  13. Save file as Final, chapter number, file name. (e.g., Final 1 Introduction)
  14. Export as MP3 file. Make sure file name is what I want the chapter called when loaded to Authors Republic. (e.g., 1 Introduction) (ACX will import chapter names from your ebook file, but Authors Republic uses the name of the file you provide them. Be sure to keep numbering in there so that files are listed in order on Authors Republic.)
  15. Listen to file with really good headphones on and read along in book to confirm text. Note timestamp for any issues that need fixed like sounds that need to be removed, duplicate text that wasn’t caught, or words that were wrong.
  16. Re-record if needed. Go to First Pass version in Audacity if text needs removed. If multiple cuts need to be made work from the end of the file backwards.
  17. Otherwise go to Reaper version and click on trim envelope and select Volume (Pre-FX). Find each spot where a noise was noted that needed removed and use ctrl + mouse to manually draw it down until no longer audible.
  18. Export from Reaper as .wav and reprocess with Limiter and Normalization in Audacity. Re-export as .mp3 file and listen to make sure all changes worked.
  19. For the file edits above, save over old versions as needed. With the final Audacity file, that will need to be deleted first and then a new file with the same name saved.

This is probably not the most efficient process. I could likely figure out how to do everything in Reaper, but I’m much more comfortable cutting sections in Audacity. Reaper and I have time selection with a mouse issues.

Also, I like the ACX Check in Audacity even though it is not perfect and told me I was fine a few times when I was in fact off by .3 or less.

It was taking me a lot longer to process files early on because I was getting caught up with mouth or background noises during my first pass edits. That’s why I don’t wear the headphones at that stage, because I get distracted and want to start fixing things that the software will fix for me if I just let it go.

I also at one point was manually fixing clipping in my audio track by bringing the pre-processed sound down at those points but finally add the de-clipping tool in there to do that for me. It was fine when I clipped once or twice, but I then had one with 55 clips in it and that was not going to be fun to fix.

(Also, as I get better at not hitting first words in chapters or sections too hard that becomes less of an issue.)

I also think I could have for new recordings adjusted my settings for the microphone input to get rid of any clipping, but I think that would’ve also meant a higher adjustment when I used the Limiter. (I think, don’t quote me on that.) So I’ve struck a balance there.

As you can see above, I did decide to go with paid software and paid tools after trying the free route first. I was able to get the de-clip and de-click software a few versions back from the current one off their website at a decent discount so it seemed worth it. All told I think it was about $150 for all the software I’m using.

Also, doing a good recording is essential. It saves so much time if you get that right up front.

I’ve been lucky to catch a lot of issues as I record, so I just re-do a line right then rather than have to catch it at the end of the whole process. I am not, however, comfortable enough to not listen through during that first pass stage. I do know of experienced folks who will just make some sort of loud noise at any point where they re-do a line so they don’t have to listen through the entire thing in the first pass stage. I’m just not there yet. But I can see maybe getting there when I try to do the cozies which are 9x as long as each of the short stories I’ve done so far.

As for prep, my current process involves taking a decongestant before I start, chewing some gum, and then having water with apple cider vinegar that I drink while recording. (My dog freaks out and needs to go sit outside in the grass for half an hour before she’ll let me record, so it works out.)

As I record I also really try to pay attention to any gumminess in my mouth or any spit bubbles (gross, I know) I notice so I can just re-do that line immediately.

I also have to be careful that there isn’t something really loud that suddenly starts up in the background. I have a pretty good little space set up right now and a very forgiving microphone that doesn’t pick up everything around me, but I had to redo about five minutes of one recording that sounded like static in the background. I think because someone was mowing right outside and I didn’t catch it. I wasted a ton of time trying to get rid of that with processing when it ultimately was easier to just go re-record the clip.

Alright. Off to do some writing before I circle back to audio again in a week or so.