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Audiobook in production

Recording an audiobook of The Wizard's Harvest Table is going well, but it is a long book.

I wandered into the local RockShop and bought a FocusRite: Scarlett Studio Solo mic/headset/interface combo. The interface lets you add gain to the vocal, and monitor it on headphones. With the gain, you get vampire hearing, where everything that's far away and super quiet is audible. The interface also lets me record electric guitar!

I'm processing the audio through Ableton Live Lite, and editing in Unreal Engine 4.

I've made a UI to let listeners bookmark their progress, rewind and advance using sliders, and jump between chapters from a list (the actual book doesn't have chapters but the audiobook is chopped up into sections for ease of use; each one is about 30 minutes or so, depending on the nearest good beat in the story).

It's surprising how long an audiobook is. I've currently recorded up page 30 - already over an hour. Narration requires far more concentration than I imagined, especially if there's more than one speaker. In my best low slur, I've managed to come up with voices for Balkan (sort of Carl Sagan), Doctor Foss (sort of David Attenborough), and with some rehearsal can swap between them. The hardest thing is making sure from day to day the audio levels are consistent, especially if recording out of sequence.

Unreal Engine 4 has a tool called Sequencer, which is built for game cinematics. You can fire events during playback, that trigger sounds or images or UI elements. I'm extremely tempted to add pictures to the playback, but first I have to complete the recording and edit. Here's a screenshot of the edit in progress. On the left there's the imported WAVs exported from Ableton after some filters are added to make it sound cleaner, and on the right there's the 'takes' that are added to the master timeline, with trims and different versions cut together.

The most often repeated advice to writers is to read the manuscript aloud. It's so true. Recording, where you have to act and emote the scene, definitely enlivens the experience of the book in a way I hadn't expected. But the corollary for that advice is, for making an audiobook, to read it aloud many times! There's no perfect single take, so getting as many takes as possible, and reviewing the audio quality often, ends up saving time. Still, if I had to estimate how long it will be before this particular project will be ready though, currently I'd have to say 'forever'.

Here's a work-in-progress of the UI. The chapter list is scrollable and touch controllable. It tells you what chapter progress you've made using a counter and a circular progress graphic (by Tom Looman). And you can also use the radial progress to interactively rewind/advance, or switch chapters.

The main feature is you can reliably Save/Load your progress to file. Of course, this application is for my own curiosity; the final recording will probably be on iTunes as a download when it is done.

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