Recording (closet) Studio

Recording (closet) Studio
Carpet Installation

“Hot Ash” colored carpeting was installed in my closet and office on Monday morning. It is the thickest of the thick, the plushest of the plush. The store was having a deal on a free carpet pad upgrade, which will really be nice at my standing desk and when I stand to do my narration. That means under the plum pudding colored pile is the very best cushioning on offer in the carpeting world today.

So I put it on the wall. And the ceiling. As you do if you are an audiobook producer.

Color Blocking

I already had other, smaller, creme brulee colored carpet rectangles to work with. They were sitting by the side of the road with a “free” sign about five years ago. The stacks were brand new from some neighbor or other also treating themselves to the barefoot sensory decadence of wall-to-wall.

I scavenged a dozen or so scraps back then, knowing clean carpet squares are hard to come by. Also believing they would be useful in a myriad of ways as dog, “Get on your spot” spots, and hatchback floor protection.

In order to make my recording (closet) studio, I had to try to figure out how much material I had and how much cutting I would need to do. I taped out the floor, creating a pattern to indicate the sizes of the walls.

Blue Tape For President!

Then I laid out bits and pieces to determine easily matching sizes and shapes. (HINT: There were only two pieces in immediately useful sizes. This is the point at which I gave up on full coverage and kicked myself for not ordering a dozen extra square feet). The ceiling layout I was able to conveniently pattern off of the floor.

Convenient Ceiling Layout

Finally, after much of the fiddling had been done, my husband helped me find the long staples (Thanks, Sweetie!) and I went to town. The satisfying Ka-CHUNK-a! noise of my Dad’s staple gun started in one corner, and then I worked my way along, smoothing and stapling. First the little triangle bits went onto the ceiling, then the biggest chunks on the main wall, lastly filling in any holes.

Ceiling and Main Wall

I knew I didn’t have enough of any one color or material to do a single wall, or indeed even group things attractively, so I went for as hodge-podge as I could. You can see where I used actual audio foam to finish out smaller gaps. The foam was leftover from creating the other “wall” of the studio: a wooden folding room screen that can be moved out to give more space when I’m recording, or used to visually block off the closet completely when I’m working in the office.

Screen

The screen is pretty to look at from the front side and keeps any casual visitors or clients from touching the sensitive recording equipment.

I was worried that I wouldn’t like the hodge podge, but I absolutely love it. There’s just enough sizes and shapes of rectangles and triangles, lights and darks, thicks and thins, to make going into the space exciting and energizing. Exactly what I need when I’m heading inside to record.

Small World After All

It reminds me of the shapes and designs of It’s A Small World at Disneyland, which is fun. Best of all, the dog likes the new carpet.

Olieo Approval

 

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The Top 10 Things I Love About Viola Roberts

The Top 10 Things I Love About Viola Roberts

When you narrate multiple books–“play” a character over and over–you feel like you know them. It is different from just reading a novel and archiving it off your kindle. Some months (like say, April, May, June), I’m living with Viola Roberts during every waking moment: recording her voice, hearing her thoughts, embodying her attitude.

Best of all, when I am preparing, recording, and editing the Viola Roberts Cozy Mysteries, I find myself spending a lot of time laughing. What I love about Viola is how much humor there is in her everyday life. She is always ready to crack a joke, express some silly self-awareness, and lighten things up. Like Murder. (Except not really. Murder is serious. Seriously fascinating.)

As a character, she can be a little blind-sided by her loyalty and love for her family of choice. She can be equally dismissive and judgemental about the competence of law enforcement (for no particular reason). But overall she is the writer I know with the most entertaining procrastination plans.

The Stiff in The Study is Book 2 in the series, and what I liked best about performing it was what I learned about the heroine. With that in mind, here are the top 10 things I love about Viola Roberts:

 

10. Like me, Viola loves small-town life. There’s nothing like knowing that if you go out, you’re probably going to run into someone you know.

9. Appreciation for the human form: Viola acknowledges beauty everywhere. Luscious and curvy, spare and lithe, blonde, red, white, black, male, female. Viola hasn’t come across a trans person yet, but I believe she doesn’t care. If they’re rocking their look, she sees it and it rocks her world.

8. Yes. That’s right. Viola saw that. I love someone who’s paying attention.

7. Architecture turns her on. Viola is aware and appreciative of buildings and interior design.

6. Pastries. I love a woman unafraid to scarf baked goods at a stakeout. Or take them to an interrogation. Hell, I love any woman who loves muffins the way I do.

5. Viola is polite (most of the time). Even if she won’t eat your pot brownies, she appreciates that you offered her one.

4. BFE! Viola is your Best Friend Ever. She’s got your back, whether it is getting you out of jail or supporting you at your latest book signing.

3. Ooodles of self-esteem. Viola is okay on her own. Family and friends are great; romance is fun; but at the end of the day, she can–and wants to–take care of herself.

2. Someone finally agrees with me that a beverage that “smells vaguely of rotten mulch,” should not be imbibed.

1.  The girl really knows how to turn a fork into a weapon.

 

Catch this amazing character in book 2, coming soon to audiobook!

 

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Reading Aloud: Tips Prepared for The Braille Institute of Santa Barbara

As part of the Library Week Open House, I’ll be speaking at the Braille Institute of Santa Barbara about being an audiobook narrator. The interview and discussion are open to the public, and if you’re at loose ends Thursday afternoon, please drop by!

 

 

The institute asked me to write up three tips for reading aloud to kids and adults, and I figured why not share them with my blog peeps, too?

Three Tips for Reading Out Loud to Kids

1) Repetition: Kids (of all ages) love repetition. This is why we love to sing along with the chorus; it may be why it is such fun to hear a favorite quote from a movie and be able to blurt out the next line! We love it when we can anticipate language, and then get the reward of hearing what we wanted to hear. So when reading to kids, find the repetition and make it dramatic. If possible….

2) Participation: …Encourage kids to fill in the blanks! One of my favorite, very long, Shel Silverstein poems, “Peanut Butter Sandwich” basically has a repeated “chorus” of (you guessed it) PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH! There’s nothing more fun than saying it together, every time it comes along.

3) Attention: Reading with children is about more than an entertaining story or teaching them to read. It is about giving them your undivided attention. If you are merely reading to them because you “have to” and it is part of the “routine,” they know it. So anytime you pick up a book, be ready to give the book, and therefore your audience, your undivided attention. Take a very deep breath. Decide to do nothing else. Enjoy just that one, simple thing and do it really well – no multi-tasking! Don’t even THINK about what’s next on your list. All your energy should be on the words (maybe pictures) and your listener.

Three Tips for Reading Out Loud to Adults

1) Know your audience: Ask the person you’re reading for what they like. Do they want a performance with voices? Do they want the reader to emote? Are they trying to learn something? Do they just like the sound of your voice? This is a lovely way to talk to someone about what they need in that moment. Reading aloud to someone is a special gift of time and shared intimacy, but listeners and readers don’t always want the same thing all the time from reading. A quick check-in can ensure the interaction is pleasant for both the reader and listener.

2) Choose good material: Read something that interests both the reader and listener. You’ll enjoy reading it more if you like it, so practice being curious. If you have no interest in the material, then be fascinated with the language itself. Each word, sentence, punctuation, and context must be clear to your listener. They should be able to HEAR commas, semicolons, and parentheses.

3) Hydration: drink lots and lots of water at least 4 hours before reading for any length of time. Have warm water handy and drink it at chapter breaks. Well-hydrated vocal cords are happy vocal cords!

I can think of TONS more tips for making reading aloud more fun, but do you have any favorites? Please let me know in the comments!
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Black Tea with Lemon and Honey

For the first time, I tried drinking my morning black tea with honey and lemon. The honey was a diluted buckwheat honey water (we are almost out of our honey stash and I am using up the last little bit). The lemon was a Meyer lemon, with a peel almost the pale orange of a sunset.

I tried it because with the cough I have had for almost a month now, the most significant advice given by the nurse at my PCP’s office was “reduce dairy and increase fluids.” Gah. For someone who tries to drink 64oz of water a day, plus 3-5 cups of tea, I know that I can ignore the second piece of advice. But give up dairy?!?! Dairy is my life. I love milk in my tea. I love bowls of cereal, I love cheese with fruit for my afternoon snack. Reducing dairy is no easy feat, but it is also one of the most common suggestions I have read for managing mouth-noise and assuring good vocal health.

I gave it a try. I cut the lemon and squeezed it into the cup, poured in the honey water, and added hot tea. It wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t the comforting, sweet and milky substance that makes me relax instantly. That somehow conveys, tongue to brain, “everything will be alright.”

It was a different set of flavors – but not flavors that were wrong, bad, disgusting, or horrible…as I had always projected they would be. The assumption that tea with lemon was awful has always been based on assumptions I had about the individual pieces-parts of the beverage.

Tea is a little bitter. I have historically not enjoyed the flavor or mouth-feel of bitter things. Lemon is sour. Same reaction. Honey is overwhelming – TOO sweet, too heavy somehow, and I had never enjoyed it, in whole, or as a significant part of a food.

Based on my reaction to the three component parts of tea with lemon and honey, it is understandable that I never experimented. My husband has a food theory that he lives by: If you like all of the things that make up a dish, chances are, you’ll enjoy the food. I never tasted tea with lemon and honey because I didn’t like any single bit going into the beverage.

Luckily for my dairy-reduction-therapy, Tea with lemon and honey is like Rice Krispy Treats. I don’t like marshmallows, and I can take or leave Rice Krispies, but add the butter, and melt it all together and BAM! An instant way for me to put on 20lbs! Magically delicious (yes, I know that’s the wrong cereal, but seriously: MAGICAL).

Somehow, the sour and sweet of the lemon and honey balance out the bitter of the tea. Together, the three components become a new flavor, one that is soothing, without being milky.

I’m very happy to know that I have tasty options for drinking my tea, especially since as my audiobook and voiceover work increases, I will probably eat less and less dairy on a regular basis. There’s still the issue of caffeine, which also dries out the vocal cords, but my experiments with green and herbal teas may be helpful in navigating my vocal health as well.

Do you have a favorite tea recipe? Clearly, I’m in experimentation mode, so please share!

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Adventures in Narration: Poison in the Pudding

Adventures in Narration: Poison in the Pudding

Pickups (fixing mistakes) for Poison in the Pudding are finished! Now on to the editing and mastering. This new novella and accompanying audiobook will be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes in October!

I tried a couple of different things for this holiday season piece by Shéa Macleod, including a slight pose to embody a particular character, and a height shift for another. During the VO classes I took, the instructors indicated that even slight shifts like these result in a different sound in the voice.  It will be interesting to see how the voices turn out because while they sound VERY distinctive in the microphone monitor…ehhhhhh…not so much…in the actual recording.

Some of that might be the fact that I learned “mastering” from tutorials at ACX. My novice mastering is evening out my voice, removing all those subtle differences, and frankly, I’m sure it could be done better.

Still, I’m sure listeners will enjoy the sweet, short whodunnit. Viola is a great character, and I’m in love with both her escapades and how supportive her community is. Well, not the law enforcement community, but there are always toes in the way of a powerful woman…

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Team CITC: Shea and Yvette talk about creating The Corpse in the Cabana together

Team CITC: Shea and Yvette talk about creating The Corpse in the Cabana together

Collaboration is my speed. Seriously. Why make great stuff unless you can make it for, and with, people who are awesome?

With that in mind, today’s post is a behind the scenes opportunity to hear just a little bit about what it was like for Shea and me, “Team CITC,” to put this audiobook together for you!

 

Q: What was your favorite thing or the best part about having CITC produced into an audiobook?
Shéa: My favorite thing was being able to work on my first self-published audio book with a real life friend. It made it a lot more fun and we could tackle the learning curve together. It was a great feeling to be creating something readers have been asking for.
Yvette: When you’re trying out something new that you’ve never done before, the learning curve can be brutal. In my case, I am a bit of a perfectionist and therefore, my own worst critic! The best thing about working on this project with Shea was her trust and encouragement. Early on in the project, she would quality-check the chapters and send me messages like, “Holy crackers! Ch 1 & 2 sound GREAT! Especially the ending of Ch 2. Shivers!” The audio editing work can be grueling, and the fact that I was giving Shea a fun new experience with her own work, kept me going.

 

Q: What was the hardest thing or worst part about having CITC produced into an audiobook?
Shéa: Listening to the finished product was actually really difficult for me. Not because it wasn’t amazing (it is TOTALLY AWESOME), but because it was so strange listening to someone else speak the words I’d written. It was a little surreal. The learning curve was also a bit of a pain, but we got there in the end! lol! Next time I’m sure everything will go smoothly (Hope springs eternal).
Yvette: The hardest part was acknowledging it was THE FIRST. First everythings usually aren’t that great (THIS audiobook is the exception, of course). Great cooks never make something entirely untested for a formal party, which is why my friend Angela insisted on a test cake prior to our Easter Tea. Only by making mistakes (like turning your carrot cake green) can you avoid them. Mistakes were made. And fixed. If I missed any, I trust you’ll let me know!

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Adventures in Narration

Everyone around me was so supportive and curious about my first job as an audiobook narrator that I wrote many facebook posts and journal entries about the day-to-day process. For launching my new website, I decided to gather them all together here and share the ups-and-downs.

 

May 09, 2016 1:15pmdog-on-mats

So, when I was doing over voice and video production for my last employer, we turned the closet in my office into a recording booth. I got laid off, so I decommissioned it.

Now I’m planning to record audiobooks and I am re-installing. These cushy gym mats will be the floor (I like recording standing), if I can get them out from under the dog….

 

 

May 09, 2016 9:37pm

Chapter one, in the can, Shéa MacLeod. Editing tomorrow, which is where the real time is spent. I’ll also be laying down the voice tracks so that I can keep the voices consistent. The new microphone my husband bought me is LIKE BUTTER…

 

May 24, 2016 11:38am

Mary, Colin, do you ever feel completely narcissistic enjoying listening to your own voice? I have a lot of fear that it is like enjoying my own story: Am I hearing something no one else does? How does one acquire objectivity without a director or client on-site? I am trying to stay objective so I can do the work, and DOUBT IS CRUSHING ME…

 

May 25, 2016 9:15pm

In today’s edition of Confidence in Audio Recording 101, “Trust yourself, you know what you’re doing,” is exemplified by the number of times the first take is waaaaaaay better than that second one you did.

 

Audio Clip
Audio Clip

May 25, 2016 10:01pm

Audio editing takes a lot of focus. Sometimes you start seeing things. A faux tipsy recording of “We’re all tired” looks like a butterfly (left).

 

 

 


May 26, 2016 3:01pm

I admit, I am tearing up with joy. You are all invited to celebrate with me as my dreams come true in real-time: I uploaded audiobook files I’m working on and received this feedback from my “rights holder”:

“OMG, that sounds GREAT! I love how you do NAME, especially during the drunk scene. So perfect. And you’ve really got NAME’s voice down. AWESOME!”

<sniffsniff>

Never give up, people.

Get out there and become/live/do/be whatever you always Wanted To Be When You Grow Up.

Oh, and this is really important: Work with great people and let them help you. I’m looking at Mark, Shéa, and a special shout out to my audio mentor, Phil Mayes of http://philandmaude.com/. Phil’s book just came out and if you have an interest in great relationships with a side of excellent puns, check it out!

 

June 28, 2016 3:06pm

Switching to my split-shift workdays so that I can record in the evenings, sleep, workout, edit, nap and begin again.

 

July 06, 2016 3:49pm

Lordy, sometimes work is just work. The learning curve on Audacity is ridiculously steep.

This may be unrelated, but I am feeling a little competent about something and want to share:

For each character I “voice” (meaning I change my voice slightly in some way to distinguish between characters) I lay down a track with their name on it in a separate audio file. My INCREDIBLE audio mentor, Phil Mayes taught me to do this so that when the character shows up later in the book, I can go listen to what they’ve said at the beginning and mimic/recalibrate myself. (SIDE NOTE: I also make actual notes in a spreadsheet about how to stand, hold my mouth and what their voice FEELS like.)

I was just laying down a voice track for a new male character and I noticed, because they are all in the same file next to each other, that the vocal signatures –what the waveforms looks like– all look VERY different from each other.

I can actually SEE in my file that the characters are different. The pacing of their words is different. The roundness of speech is different. And each character has an internal consistency that is visual.

I’m not saying that sometimes I won’t slip and not quite do a voice 100%…it can be hard to remember that Kyle says sure with two syllables, “Shoo-wer” instead of “Sure” like Viola, but I feel good about training myself to be better and better, and notice these things over time!

If anyone I know does audiobook narration or audio-editing work and has tips for me, everything is always welcome!

 

July 08, 2016 10:01am

#1 – don’t wear anything that makes noise when you record. I’ve been told this over and over, but one day last week, I forgot. Well, more like neglected to sufficiently audio check.

#2 – Stupid happy to have just removed the fabric-rubbing noise from the background of my audio. LEARNING IS FUN!!!

 

July 08, 2016 11:28am

It’s the little things: I just edited my Audacity Keyboard Shortcut Preferences to better match my editing needs. YAAAAAAAAY!

Does anyone else find that working at a standup desk makes you hungry faster than sitting? I mean, I guess that is OBVIOUS, especially since I try to do yoga stretches, plies, and belly dance shimmies most of the time I’m working, but damn, HUNGRY!

A thing that cannot be done while editing audio/video: eating snacks. Chewing makes too much noise in my head…
July 10, 2016 2:30pm

I am just over 25% done with the audiobook I’m producing, at a run time of 1:25. It has been tough, but I hope that I’ve learned enough lessons in the 60+ hours of work I’ve put in to get my ratio of finished audio/editing time down. Spending 45 minutes to an hour per every minute of finished audio is…not good.

 

July 12, 2016 3:48pm

Christopher is a prince among men. His call with moral support reminded me to remind ME that 60 hours is not long at all in the working world.

After less than two weeks of practice, expecting myself to be a perfect director, voice actor, character voice actor, narrator, audio engineer and audacity software specialist…maybe my expectations of myself are a little high.

Tanis reminds me that I “like big challenges,” but that doesn’t mean harshing on myself when I don’t magically achieve them.

Exuberant Optimism vs Dispirited Realism feels like a CON roll of 6 for this lifetime. Luckily I have Dawg +3, Party of Friends +4, and Hubby +5, so I’m good to go!

 

July 13, 2016 4:09pm

Audiobook chapters 7 & 8 delivered. I’m getting faster. It’s getting easier. I’m trusting the process. Two more tomorrow and I’ll be at 50% done. My goal was to be done by now, but hey, this is a learning process. Hey, Ma! Watch me Learn! #nosafetynet

 

July 19, 2016, 1:52am

Two chapters of audiobook and 30 minutes of “interview” questions recorded for another client. Thankfully I’m only recording the interview content, editing is someone else’s problem.

If I can record 2 chapters a night, reviewing for any errors the next day, I’ll be finished by Saturday, in time to leave for a week of classes in SF.

The classes I’ll be taking are about creating voiceover characters. Followed by a week of how to narrate audiobooks.

Sometimes life gets oddly out of sequence.

 

July 21, 2016, 11:40pm

Voice acting is hard. Here’s an example:

I am pretty sure I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to make the one-word dialog, “Lies?” sound like the sentence, “I’m not sure I believe you. Are you really telling the truth? Because I kind of believe the other guy.”

It does help that in the follow-on content the other person gets really angry, but Da-yam! Tough! No matter how much I picture it and emote, it wasn’t coming out in-your-face enough to warrant the response from the other character.

Ah well. I can only do my best. I’m almost certainly overthinking now and making it worse. Calling it done and moving on.

Holy Moley! After scaling “Mount Everest, the learning curve,” the end of this audiobook is near. I can taste the sweet, sweet sense of accomplishment. Now I cannot wait for my friends to experience Shéa MacLeod‘s hilarious Cozy Mystery, The Corpse in the Cabana! Keep your eyes peeled for an announcement as soon it becomes available!

 

July 23, 2016, 6:38am

I woke up strangely early for a Saturday, which was great because all is quiet at 5AM – a perfect time to record…except that I usually record at night. My voice was cold from six hours of sleep.

I was extra gentle with my stretching and voice warmups, and extra careful to run lines a few extra times. I listened skeptically to my pickups, not sure I could get them to match because my voice was cold, but I was pleasantly surprised that my voice is…my voice. I can make it do what I need it to do. Full of WIN!

The other thing my audiobook reading has taught me is that I need to be a better actor. Specifically, I need to put more exercises in place to “tune my instrument” and get WAAAAAY better at “preparation.” Luckily, I think my cousin can help me with that!

When I make careless choices – or no choices – about the interpretation of the words of the book, I can tell. And when I move my vocal range too far (too low, to do dude-voice) it is really hard to maintain that abnormal sounding voice AND be emotional. So I think many of the men in the book are flatter than I would like.

And I’m probably going to get flak for bad dialects, but I did what I could with the basic info I found on YouTube. I should probably learn a LOT more about how to study up, practice, and have someone “check” them before recording.

 

August 06, 2016 9:26pm

The main thing I have learned over the past two weeks is that I am not an actor.
My voice sounds edgy, sardonic, harsh, commanding…no matter what I’m thinking about on the inside…my imagined thoughts are not hard wired to my emotions. This shocks me.

I suck (now) at substituting a real person, experience, emotion, while I read copy. And I can’t ground, call up attitudes, opinions, emotions, and infuse my voice with the physical and mental gymnastics I’m doing. My internal experience does not match the external.

But I listen to my audiobook and it’s funny. The comedic timing is there. The snark of the main character is hilarious. I am absolutely encouraged to go on with my projects, even while recognizing they are not yet “professional” VO level.

I also paid for a 1:1 with the school owner. I have no doubt what her voice related feedback would have been, after the classes over the past few weeks. I know what I need to practice. Instead, I asked her to critique two things:

1) the ambient sound of my recording booth & equipment

2) my editing/mastering skills based on the raw/edited clips I gave her.

I am heartened that she said I “could be proud” of my final edited product sound. Not the content – that’s a whole different issue; too flat, sibilant, etc. etc. But from the limited perspective of assessing the final sound…it’s all right. I’ll take it and sleep on it.
‘Night all!

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Breathing Required

I can’t breathe.

Running out of air and struggling with the very loooooooooooong sentences my authors write (and I have to read) prompted me to pay for an el cheapo singing class through my local lifelong learning center. I surmised that if I could go back to the singing basics of breathing, supporting my voice, and using it properly, I would be closer to faster audiobook production.

At the first class, my teacher spent the first 30 minutes basically talking about how frustrated she was with “adult” classes, bad descriptions, and no one actually wanting to learn. I thought that she was about to throw things at the six of us and walk out…
…But whatever we said, whatever she decided, she turned it around and I learned something INCREDIBLY REVELATORY.
After 43 years, I learned a new way to breathe.
And damn, it’s easy.
Suck, don’t squeeze. The instructor used this video of Madeleine Harvey to assist her instruction.
Now, I am ready to be a rock star.

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