In our last article on audiobook recording, we discussed some of the basics on what to look for when hiring a company or individual to record your audiobook, and whether you as the author, should record your book. We presented the potential negatives as well as some possible benefits. We also took an example of a 52,000 word book, dissected the costs of producing the audiobook. What an hour of finished audio means and how many actual words that an hour of finished audio is, along with the average costs on recording audiobooks, hourly rates and what we generally charge.
In this lesson we’ll focus on common production mistakes with audio gates and loudness maximizing software when recording your book. It would seem that in the digital age, many of the problems of the past would be done away with, minimized or automatically detected and fixed by software. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case. And to compound the issue, many software users, experienced and newbies alike, have the attitude or inexperience that says, “If I have the ability to do this or that with the audio, then I should do it” – whether it actually needs it or helps. Whether it helps in such a way where it is detrimental to the production and audio quality – now that’s the question.
For instance, “louder music and audio sounds better” at least that’s what people think and so many in the industry maximize loudness of the audio to make it sound louder. But do you know what generally happens when software is used to make things sound louder, especially in a recording setting where you hear the sound of lighting, computer hard drives or the subtle HVAC noise in the background? It brings up the whole audio signal, noise floor and all, because the software is compressing the audio to such a degree to make it sound louder and now it also needs a limiter, so the audio doesn’t clip or sound over recorded. Now a voice over recorded for your book that would have been passable for most people, is now much louder along with the noise floor and now it’s not so passable. It sounds louder and much harsher to the ears I might add most of the time, and the noise floor is much louder. To compensate for this, what users do, because the noise floor of the mic, equipment, lighting, HVAC etc, is much higher in the audio now to make it sound louder, is they gate it. Understand though, that every piece of equipment has a certain level of what they call self noise – even the best of mics, pre-amps, etc have noise or pass it off or contribute to the audio signal when recording, hopefully a good engineer has minimized it along with the HVAC and lighting- self noise is just inherent in the electrical properties of audio recording gear (electricity passes through the circuits and tubes and creates some noise), with most of today’s equipment being much quieter than years gone by – that really helps. Still, we’ve raised the whole audio level including the noise floor, to make it sound louder, and now need to gate the signal.
What’s a gate do? It’s just like it sounds, it opens and closes with the audio and they are very useful and we use them all the time on audio that is reasonably quiet. A gate opens when the signal reaches a predetermined level and then shuts closed as the sound tapers off – now the listener doesn’t hear anything until the voice over or the singer starts back in and the gate opens up. Meaning that any low level noise, can be dealt with in a way where the listener doesn’t hear the noise at all, because the gate closes between words or phrases in the audio and the noise level is low to begin with. How quickly the gate opens and closes and what level it opens at, can all be adjusted. What can’t be adjusted when making the audio sound loud, is the fact that there is a lot of noise in the actual file – the same noise floor was there before, but now it has been boosted with the whole signal to make it sound louder and while we can gate in between phrases and words of the voice talent, you now hear the noise within the voice over itself and it all gates in and out. It’s distracting, the audio most likely sounds harsh, and the noise being up that high is irritating to listen to. You actually hear the hum or the hiss with the voice over going in and out with the help of the gate.
It’s true that the digital age and digital recording sure have made things easier, and more accessible to the average person, but sounding better than analog or tape and the old ways of recording, is not necessarily the case.
Why is that? Well, most users have gone out and purchased affordable gear. The average person if they save a few dollars can get a pretty inexpensive recording system that does a pretty good job. The problem isn’t the gear, they haven’t gone to school to learn the basics of recording, and much of the basics haven’t changed with digital, it’s just made it much easier to edit files and easier to enter the recording field with lower prices for mics, recording software, etc We’re all for everyone being able to obtain affordable recording gear, it’s just the mass of poorly recorded and engineered song demos and in this case audiobooks, that has entered the playing field needlessly.
How do you avoid that? Well, you learn the basics of recording or go to a company or hire voice talent that can get the job done right.