Recording Your Own Audiobook

This article covers the considerations for recording your own audiobook, the cost savings, the advantages, the disadvantages as well as providing detailed instruction on how to record it and what equipment you will need.

Your motivation is…? 

Self-publishing is more accessible than ever. Individuals publish their own book for the sake of fulfilling an ambition or a dream. The production of an audiobook version is the next logical step for many. As an audiobook producer, the number of enquiries from individuals has now exceeded those from publishers. 

If the aim is to make a return from your audio book you will need to sell enough product to recoup the investment before making a profit. With professional rates being typically several thousand pounds per production, you will need to sell thousands of units just to break even.

The involvement of professional voice overs to record your audiobook is inevitably a sizable investment. Due to the nature of books, the audio usually runs into several hours of recording and editing, and production usually takes 2-3 times the audio length.   

Do it yourself   

The DIY approach to recording and producing your own audio book can save you lots of money and is a much more cost effective route if you are on a tight budget or an independent author.

While it is a time-consuming, if you have the inclination, a reasonable voice and the time to invest achieving high-end results is possible by learning a few tricks of the trade. You will also need to spend about £150 cash (or less) to purchase the basic tools needed. 


Recording device

This is where you will need to spend around £69* for a device that will record professional quality audio. The device I am recommending is the Zoom H1 which is a simpler and lower cost model of the more expensive H4n. Although a lower cost, it still has great built in stereo microphones and produces quality audio comparable to the more expensive models.

Key features

  • Stereo built-in mic for capturing perfect stereo audio
  • Records broadcast wav at 96kHz/48kHz/44.1kHz at 16-bit or 24-bit
  • Includes 2GB micro SD memory card and one AA battery
  • Accommodates up to 32GB micro SDHC memory cards

The Zoom H1 is available from Amazon.

*Price and info correct at time of writing this.

 


Windshields

Given the sensitivity of the Zoom H1 microphone, you will need to acquire a windshield. The windshield will enable you to record very close to the H1’s built in microphones without your breath ruining the recording.
 
I would recommend the following supplier WolfWindshields.com. It is an independent business offering great value with the H1 windshield around £20. However, when I last looked there seems to be a management changeover and the service was temporarily unavailable.


If this is still the case, you may have to purchase from another supplier such as Thomann, although it will be in the region of £30.

Oh, the foam ones are pretty useless for this type of recording, definitely go for the furry ones.


Headphones

You will need headphones to monitor while recording. You don't need anything fancy, your iPod / mp3 headphones will be perfectly suitable for this purpose. 

There is no need to spend any more than £20. The important thing is that the headphones have a 3.5 mini jack connector to work with the Zoom H1.

If you don't have headphones, any of the following on Amazon would be suitable.


Device stand

For the type of recording you are going to be doing, it is best to hold the device as you record (if possible). This way you have full control over tonality by adjusting the proximity to your mouth (more about this later).

However, you might also consider a device stand and luckily, Zoom have considered this and have put a tripod mount in the device. This will accept most standard tripods.
 
To start with I would do without a stand and see how you get on. You can always get one later.
 
Here are some possible options:


End note about equipment...

These are the items that will help you create a professional sounding recording. There is more to understand about using these items before you can get started, but by spending approximately £150 (or less) you will be able to record your own audiobook without the expense of using a recording studio or professional voice over.


Your Test Recording Session

OK, you should have invested in the equipment as detailed, so let’s get started and make a test recording.

The Zoom H1 is the easiest professional recorder that I have ever used, so it does not take long to get started with the recording process.
 
You will have received the full Quick start guide with your Zoom H1, but it is also available on Zoom’s website as a PDF download. For your convenience I have provided screenshots of the Guide.

 

Step 1 - Put the Battery and MicroSD Memory Card in the H1

Step 2 - Turn the Power On

Step 3 - Set the Date and Time

Step 4 - Set the Recording Format

Set it at stereo wav 16bit 44.1kHz. You will see that the device can record at higher qualities or lower quality (mp3). Never record your source material as an mp3, always use wav but for now stick to the setting mentioned, as this is CD quality. You can set it to a higher rate later, but this is a good starting point.

The higher quality files may not work on some computers / software as they are much larger and more intensive on your computer's processors and memory when editing. You can experiment with higher quality wavs once you have mastered the basics.



Step 5 - Plug Your Headphones in and Adjust the Volume Level

You may find that you have to adjust the headphone levels (volume) once you have set the input (recording) level.


Step 6 - Set the Input Levels

Now set the input (recording) level. I do not recommend using the auto level function. This may create volume variations in the recording as it adjusts itself. Set the level manually so that it is peaking about two thirds of the visual scale during your normal speaking volume. You can then adjust this if needed later.



Step 7 - Place Your Windsheild on the H1 and Press Record

You may find that you may have to re-adjust the input level during your test recording and this too may result the the headphone volume needing adjustment too. The headphone volume does not affect what is recorded but the recording volume will affect the recording.

Testing 123...

Before you plan your recording sessions, you need to get a feel for the device and how to get the best from it.
 
At this stage, you should have set your levels and you will be listening to the world via your H1. You should also be using the windshield. 
 
It is now time to press record. You will see the time counter running on the display.
 
Before we start, please know that it is never good enough to place your recorder in the middle of your desk. This might be ok for recording a meeting or a lecture but it's not good enough for making a high quality audiobook.
 
Get a feel for the device by taking it close to your lips and talk as you would when narrating your book.

Close Proximity Placement - This close intimate sound is great for dramatic effect. The proximity effect increases the bass on the voice and gives it a rich deep tone. It also records more voice and less of the room characteristics.
 
As you are listening, you will hear all of the characteristics of your voice, the location you are in, the proximity of the microphones to your mouth. You will probably also notice that all breaths and saliva noises are present too. These microphones will pickup everything.

As you speak and move the device further away from your mouth, you will notice the Distant Placement makes the sound thinner and your voice will have a different tonality. You will also hear more of the room ambience.

Experiment to get accustomed to hearing your own voice in your headphones, and the difference that proximity makes to the tone of your voice.

If you hear any crunchy distortion noises you may need to alter your input level
 
Also, the device will have some handling noise. You need to minimize this as much as possible. You can do this by concentrating on your grip while holding the device. If this proves problematic, try holding the H1 though something soft, such as a glove or wrap the casing of it in a soft tea towel. If you feel a stand might help, consider investing in a stand as covered earlier. 


Playback

When you have finished your test recording, play it back and have a listen through your headphones. You will get a different perspective from when you were recording it. You will notice the tonal differences when altering the distance of the microphone from your mouth.

You will also notice that the recording will have collected room ambience and possibly some background noises. This is ok as we are just testing, but when you come to make your actual recording you will want to achieve the best possible audio.

 


Recording environment

Let’s address a big myth. The best room to record in is not your bathroom… and don’t even get me started on egg boxes :)
 
When you go into a decent studio, they will have spent time and money on absorbent materials to deaden the acoustics of the room. There are exceptions to this, but for voice recording it is usually the case.
 
This is so that during the editing / production phase the studio has captured the cleanest voice recording possible and not the sound of the room it was recorded in. Removing room ambience (or the sound of your bathroom) from a voice recording is almost impossible. Whereas, adding reverb, echo and other effects in the production process is relatively easy and the level needed can be controlled.


Minimise Noise

For a home recording, the best room is one with a carpet and soft furnishings, such as a bedroom or lounge. Kitchens and bathrooms are pretty useless because there are so many hard surfaces for the sound to bounce off.
 
I have audio engineered in both studio and homes, and trust me, some budget studios have really bad acoustics compared to some bedrooms.
 
Do some test recordings in different rooms, and you should hear the difference.
 
When deciding on your recording room, find one you are comfortable in and make sure there are no external noises that will ruin your recording session. If you do a test and you can hear the traffic outside or next door's TV then a different location is needed.
 
Also, remove any nose generating items, such as clocks, fans, heaters, mobile phones etc.
 

Really? 

OK, this may sound strange, but stay with me…. Gather any soft furnishings, like cushions, duvets, old curtains, even soft toys and beach / bath towels, and even your pile of ironing will help. Basically anything that will absorb sound.
 
Your mission is to make a mess with these items in your chosen recording room. You need to cover and deaden as many hard sound reflecting surfaces as possible. This will take some experimentation and test recordings, but it can make the difference between an okay recording and a great recording.
 
So, shut the curtains if possible, drape bedding over mirrors, wood furniture, TV screens etc.
 
If you have big expanses of wall try to drape old curtains across them. If possible build a tent / den made of duvets around you and your H1. You will look like you have gone crazy but as you do test recordings you should hear a clean / dry recording that will be ideal for editing and processing later.


Finally...

If you follow this guide, you will have the three basics covered for getting professional quality audio recordings.
 
To recap, they are: -

  • Equipment
  • Microphone technique
  • Recording location

There has never been a better time to do this. Back when I started in audio, this would simply not have been possible without spending a lot of money. I know because I did at the time. At the start of the 90’s you would have been spending £10,000+ to achieve the same results.
 
What I have covered here will save you lots of money in the long run, especially if you are planning numerous recordings.
 
However, there is one further stage that is crucial; the editing and production of your audio. This takes your quality recordings and turns them into a finished product complete with audio processing and music and sound effects.
 
To cover audio editing/production in detail is beyond the scope of the article, so I am going to point you to 3 options.

  • Get a quote from us for your editing and production
  • Find a freelance engineer / producer of your choice
  • Use audio editing software and teach yourself editing and production skills

 
The first two are self-explanatory, but I will explain option 3.
 
Audacity is a free open source software that you can download and install on your computer for audio editing and production. It enables you to layer tracks, for example, your voice elements, music, sound effects, and nature ambiences.

Also, the H1 comes bundled with Wavelab LE software. Both software are widely supported on the web and YouTube.
 
If you do wish to explore the DIY production option, there are lots of tutorials and forums on the web that support the Audacity software, so you can really get high production standards on a budget if you put the time in.
 
I have tried the software myself, and although I don’t see it as a professional tool (in the sense I could use it in my business), I do highly recommend it as a first step. If you invest the time you will be able to produce a professional sounding product with my recording advice and the Audacity software. Best of all, it won’t cost too much money and you will have developed skills you can use again and again.

During your editing and production you can really give your product added professionalism by licensing music or sound ambiences that you can mix with your voice tracks. Additionally, hiring a professional voice over for titles/intros can be very effective also.

Here are some links to areas on our website that may be of interest.

I hope this guide has helped and inspired you to get started. Please feel free to share this page with your social contacts and any feedback would be most appreciated.

Written by: Lee Pritchard
Edited by: Adam Barber



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Disclaimer: This content is for guidance only. We have no connection with any companies mentioned, this is my opinion. The links to Amazon may contain an affiliate ID which means we get a small commission if you buy via our link. All graphics for H1 are copyright of the Zoom organization and are for illustrative purposes only.


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