Day 3: Yesterday was my first real attempt to record a decent quality audiobook. As expected, numerous problems revealed themselves. My goal for today is to tackle these problems one by one in a logical and systematic way. There’s no hurry here. If it takes a while to sort things out, that’s fine. Humanity has done just fine for the past 100,000 years without a Smoke Monkey International audiobook. A few more weeks isn’t going to spoil the party.
Issue #1: The couch cushion tent fort recording studio.
I need to ask myself if this is a realistic thing to set up and dismantle on a daily basis. Is this really the ideal recording space, or do I just like building cushion forts? I need to try and be mature here, and professional. I need to face the fact that I’m being ridiculous. But beyond that, I need to really think about what I know about sound recording and sound proofing. Which raises this fundamental question: Is the purpose of a good recording space mainly to keep sound in, or to keep sound out? I don’t actually know the answer to this question. The reason I went with the cushion fort studio idea was because I figured all the padding would protect and massage the sound waves, give them a nice place to land. This in turn would lend a warmth and fullness to the sound of my voice. But now I’m suspecting that the real purpose of a recording studio is to block extraneous noises from fouling up the recording. I’m sure on some level a good recording space is supposed to do both of these things. But my cushion fort sure as hell isn’t keeping any sounds out. Cars and busses and even airplanes make a lot of noise in my apartment. I accept the fact that if I am going to record in my apartment, I might as well do it in a more comfortable and spacious location, because there’s no blocking the sounds of the city. Earlier in the day I listened to three episodes of the podcast called “Podcasting for Dummies.” The narrator made a good suggestion. He said you can record in a loud apartment and just pause whenever you hear a bus go by. Then make lip smacking noises so the sound waves on the recording program show you where you need to splice when you edit. Then resume. Podcasting for Dummies indeed. I set up my recording gear at the desk in my office (which is also my bedroom).
Issue #2: The mic.
I need to do something about the popping sounds I make when I read words that start with certain letters. I’ve read I can make a screen out of pantyhose. I call my wife to get pantyhose location info, as well as permission to destroy a pair. My wife is great, but between cushion forts and pantyhose vocal screens, I know I’m pushing some kind of unspoken limit. Years ago we bought sauté pan splatter screens in a set of three. I find that slipping the pantyhose over the smallest of these creates a nice air blocking screen with a convenient handle. I’m proud of my resourcefulness. I do some sound tests and, wow, the thing works like a charm. Except for the fact that the pantyhose are black (sexy!) and I can’t see through them to verify that the mic is positioned properly, which you might not think is a big deal, but it turns out I blow a few long recordings because the mic has swiveled without my noticing. Podcasting for Imbeciles!
Issue #3: Hardware and software.
I learn today that the version of Garageband for iPads is very different from the version on an actual computer. The computer version allows you to fool around with the recording and fix some big problems, like background humming. It’s possible to do raw recording on the iPad and then transfer the file to the computer to deal with cleaning it up, but that process doesn't work for me for a couple of ridiculous reasons. First of all, I literally can’t figure out how to do this basic operation. I’m not an ignoramus when it comes to using technology, but I do have a young child. My brain sometimes just stops working. I look online, I watch tutorials, and I just can’t do it. It’s incredibly frustrating and time consuming. Additionally (and these two issues might be related) my Mac computer is a work issued computer and I am not an administrator. The iTunes version on the computer is too old to work with Garageband, so when I try to move files from the iPad I’m told I need to update the version, which I don’t have the authority to do. Alternatively, I do have a Windows PC and a Windows laptop, but they can’t run Garageband. But why am I married to this idea of using Garageband anyway? Jesus. Through some trial and error I accept the fact that my best option is to record directly onto the Mac computer using the full version of Garageband. This is the right move I’m certain, but I’m disappointed to learn that I can’t make my iPad do this one cool thing I want it to do. At least I can still use it to read from while I record.
So I’ve sorted a lot of things out at this point, and the day is nearly shot. I’ve moved the recording studio to my desk and accepted the fact that I will have to accommodate ambient noises. I’ve settled on a hardware and software situation. And I’ve got a pantyhose screen guard. So I’ve fixed some of the fixable issues. But there are still more problems.
Issue #4: My voice.
I finally start recording and find that while I can control the gain level coming off the mic, I cannot control the saliva level in my mouth. And so, what the fuck, Mouth? You can talk all day without Noah’s flood pooling against your tonsils, but when I need a nice clear delivery for my audiobook it’s like you've set up shop on the Olympic Peninsula. The same thing happens to me at the dentist. So I’m recording and pausing to swallow and smacking my lips three times like the guy told me to whenever there’s a problem or an outside distraction, and I finally get through a chapter.
Issue #5: Editing.
Editing on the Mac computer goes great, except for the fact that when I take out a problem section and splice the file back together, the voice sounds slightly different from one side to the next. The final product sounds like it’s been cut and pasted together, which it has. I’m hoping there’s a way to smooth all of this over. But I don’t know what that way is. And I’m still not happy with the tone of my voice. If I leave off effects it sounds too realistic, like a guy reading. If I put some effects on my voice I can get a nice filtered sound the resembles the audiobook quality I’m familiar with. But there’s a slight electronic edge to the vocals and you can tell they've been digitally manipulated. Maybe that’s what you get when you do it yourself, or maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing yet. We’ll see.