Audio

Progress update: 11/1/2018

November! The start of NaNo, which I won’t be participating in, but that’ll be in its own post. This is my daily progress update to keep me honest!

I didn’t get anything done yesterday. I went on a field trip with my kid which ate up most of the day, and when I got home I was so exhausted that I took a nap that lasted just long enough for me to feed the kids and go out for trick or treating.

Today was more productive from a writing standpoint! I wrote 13,223 words and revised 9,951.

On the podcast front it was also a productive day. I finished chapter 8 of Dice Mage and will be launching that in the next couple of days. I also changed the intro and outtro to a couple of episodes of a podcast about writing that I’ve been working on. I’d originally conceived of the podcast as daily, but if I’m also doing fiction podcasts that’s not possible so I’m changing the bumpers to reflect the new weekly schedule.

That should launch here pretty soon as well considering I have quite a few episodes in the bank.

All in all it was a productive day. Here’s hoping I continue the streak tomorrow!

Progress update: 10/30/2018

A bit of a slower day today. Didn’t get much sleep the night before because of a sick kiddo, and as such I ended up sleeping a good chunk of the morning away which hit me right in the productivity.

I wrote 8336 words today and revised 4,129. Not a bad day, but I didn’t get much other work done aside from writing because the morning was shot.

On the podcast/audiobook front I recorded and finished chapter 7 of Dice Mage. I also submitted a support ticket to the good people at Libsyn to get the slug for the hosting I’m paying for there switched to reflect Dice Mage rather than Blake Byron, which I’ve abandoned for the moment. Once that’s sorted I’ll upload the first seven chapters and start my great experiment seeing if podcasting is a decent way to build an audience!

That’s it for today. It was an abbreviated day so it’ll be an abbreviated day.

How to: securely mount acoustic foam to the wall

Acoustic foam
Acoustic foam mounted to drywall.

Over the past year I’ve been working on putting together a small recording studio for podcasting and audiobooks. I say “small recording studio,” but in reality we’re talking a small walk-in closet that I’ve converted for recording. It’s small, but it works for my purposes.

One of the last things I did after cleaning the closet out was put up acoustic foam. For awhile I’d relied on clothes in not-so-converted walk-in closet to dampen sound, but eventually I got tired of the cramped space and cleaned the clothes out. I needed something to deaden the sound in the room so acoustic panels it was!

It turns out mounting acoustic foam to walls can be a real pain in the ass. I tried a couple of different methods, and I figured I’d write about them here to hopefully help out someone else in a similar situation. Putting together your own studio to record your audiobooks is something a lot of authors might consider at some point considering how expensive it is to have an audiobook produced, and it’s my hope that this might help someone out there and save them some time!

Mounting options:

Double sided velcro/tape

This was the first thing I tried. It seemed simple enough. Get some double sided velcro, put it on the acoustic foam and on the wall, and stick it up there. The only problem was the stuff didn’t stay up. Sometimes the foam panel would fall down overnight, and other panels stayed up for a couple of weeks. Eventually they all fell though.

I ran into the same problem with double sided mounting strips. Think the kind of stuff that’s advertised for mounting posters and pictures to the wall. It was even worse than the double sided velcro for mounting to drywall, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

There is a good use for that double sided velcro though! Read on to see how I ended up using it effectively.

Spray adhesive

When I was at the audio store they helpfully sold spray adhesive that was supposed to be specially designed for mounting acoustic foam to the walls.

Hint: It might’ve been specially designed for acoustic foam, but they need to go back to the drawing board because it didn’t work.

What the stuff did do is stink to high heaven. We’re talking I couldn’t use my small closet recording studio for several days because I had to leave the closet and the windows in our guest bedroom open to get the smell out. There are warnings not to breathe too much of the stuff in an enclosed space too, so it’s got that going for it.

That all might’ve been worth it if the stuff worked after the smell went away, but it didn’t. It was the worst of the three things I’m covering in this blog post. It also stained the hell out of the drywall, to the point that I’m going to have to repaint in there if I ever decide to sell the place.

Acoustic foam mounting spray drywall damage
The not-so-lovely aftermath of using acoustic foam spray to mount the foam to drywall.

All in all I’d call the spray adhesive $25 of disappointment that rendered my studio useless by stinking up the place. Don’t waste your money on the stuff.

Cardboard and T-Pins

Cardboard and T-Pin foam mount
Cardboard and T-Pin foam mount

This is the solution that ultimately worked for me. I bought some T-Pins in the sewing section of the local department store. I grabbed the 1.5″ which provides enough room to push the pin through the adhesive foam and into the wall. The beauty of these things is it only takes one or two to get the foam up on the wall, and once it’s up there it doesn’t fall.

I did have some issues mounting foam to the door though. The pins wouldn’t push into the solid wood no matter how hard I pressed. So I improvises and cut some squares off of a cardboard box, pinned the foam to the cardboard, and then used double sided velcro to stick the cardboard to the door.

See? I told you the velcro would come up later!

Summing up:

Double sided velcro/tape all by its lonesome: doesn’t work

Spray adhesive: doesn’t work, stinks the place up, and costs way too much

T-Pins and cardboard: works like a charm!

If you’re looking for a way to mount acoustic foam to drywall with minimal damage and without spending too much money then T-Pins and cardboard is definitely the way to go.

Dynamic vs. Condenser microphones for home studio voice over

I’ve been spending a lot of time getting acquainted with microphones over the past couple of years. I’ve gone through several different microphones while attempting to launch a writing podcast and each time life got in the way and I ended up not launching.

I got really serious about it back in April of this year though. Starting a podcast is something I’ve always wanted to do and there are two that I’m working on launching. I’ve been waiting, though, because I tend to be a perfectionist when I’m launching a new project and I’ve been trying to find the perfect microphone for a home studio setup.

Which brings me to today’s post and a lesson that I learned the hard way. Which is better for a home studio? Dynamic or condenser?

The short answer is a dynamic microphone all the way, but there’s a longer version of this that takes in some nuance you’ll need to consider if you’re putting together a home studio of your own for podcasting or audiobook narration.

Dynamic Microphone Pros

  • Not as sensitive so they will have a much lower noise floor
  • Because of that lack of sensitivity they work well in home studios that aren’t perfectly noise proof
  • Tend to be a lot cheaper than condenser microphones

Dynamic Microphone Cons

  • The lack of sensitivity means that there is some vocal nuance they won’t pick up which can be a problem for audiobook narration where that nuance can be important
  • A lot of the more popular dynamic microphones are quiet which means you’ll have to have a good audio interface that can provide a lot of clean gain. Alternatively you can get a gadget like the Cloudlifter that adds clean gain to your signal, but it’s another cost on top of already laying out some decent money for a good dynamic mic.
  • A lot of dynamic microphones are designed more for radio work than for audiobook narration. The practical upshot is that they tend to be very “boomy” with emphasis on the low end, think that big radio voice on the local Top 40 station. This can be taken care of with a high pass filter, but it’s still a consideration.

Condenser Microphone Pros

  • They have all that vocal nuance mentioned above. There’s a reason why a lot of voice actors and audiobook narrators prefer condenser mics

Condenser Microphone Cons

  • Condenser mics are sensitive. Ridiculously sensitive. I have a neighbor with a muscle car a few houses down and every time they started it up the Rode NTK I was working with would pick it up. It would also pick up mouth noise that drove me to distraction and was ultimately the reason I abandoned my condenser. That sensitivity might be great in a professional studio, but it’s not going to work as well in most home studios which aren’t acoustically clean.
  • Condenser mics are expensive. The Rode NT1A, the microphone recommended by ACX for getting started in audiobook narration, is reasonable at a couple hundred bucks, but they only go up from there. Condenser mics can cost as much as a cheap new car unlike their dynamic brethren which tend to cost maybe five hundred bucks at the most.

I absolutely loved the way the Rode NTK sounded. It had that crisp condenser sound to it and it picked up nuances in my performance, but ultimately the sensitivity was the deal breaker for me. No matter what I tried it picked up too much background noise and too many mouth noises. I realize the mouth noises are more of a performance problem than an equipment problem, but I eventually settled on a nice dynamic that didn’t pick up any of that and saved me a ridiculous amount of editing time.

In the end I went with an Audio Technica BP40 dynamic microphone after trying out several mics. Including some industry standard mics that underwhelmed me, but that’s a subject for another post. The BP40 had the best sound with my voice, and best of all it shows a lot of that condenser nuance but in a dynamic mic that doesn’t pick up room noise or mouth noise or a house fly farting on the wall of a house on the other side of the street.

If you’re thinking of setting up a home studio for podcasting or audiobook narration and you have an environment that’s less than acoustically ideal then a dynamic microphone is definitely the way to go. Condensers might look all shiny, but ultimately you need to go with the tool that works and not the tool that looks the nicest.

 

Daily update: 8/21/2017

I should really start doing these daily writing updates again. I’ve had to start really regimenting my time because I’m taking care of my daughter during the day. It’s one of the perks of working for myself, but it also means I have to be a lot more careful about how I spend my time.

And I need to spend some of my time building this blog. Both because it’s fun and because it’s part of the whole long term strategy I’m working on to publish stuff under my own name.

So with that in mind, here is what I accomplished yesterday to advance my long term business goals:

Writing

Romance: 2044 words

SciFi Romance: 2039 words

Erotica: 1007 words

Paranormal Thriller/Comedy: 2041 words written, 2400 words revised

Fantasy Audio Drama: 1049 words

Total daily word count: 8180

Podcasting

I really ran into some frustration with this yesterday. I’ve been trying to get my recordings to work with a Rode NTK Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone. For those unfamiliar with audio there are two kinds of microphones that are used for audiobook and podcast narration.

Dynamic microphones are less sensitive and have a little less vocal range and nuance. They’re the kind of microphone preferred by podcasters, livestreamers, etc. because they provide that big boomy “radio” voice.

Condenser microphones are way more sensitive but they pick up a lot more nuance in your voice. So they’re popular with audiobook narraters and voiceover artists because it catches more of the performance.

The problem with condenser mics is that super sensitivity also means they can pick up everything which isn’t necessarily a good thing if you’re in a home studio where the kids are playing down the hall and the neighbors are out chatting and your wife is watching CSI: Miami in the bedroom on the other side of the house. You inevitably pick up the sound of play, the neighbors, and Roger Daltrey screaming to punctuate David Caruso making a clever murder related quip.

I’ve been trying to make the Rode NTK, a wonderful microphone with a great sound, work, but I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s just not right for my setup right now. A small walk-in closet in an out of the way part of the house that ain’t a studio no matter how much I gussy it up.

Basically I’m spending so much time “fixing” things that sneak into the recording in post-production that it’s causing major delays and making it so I couldn’t release my big audio drama I’m planning on a reliable schedule, so I think it’s time to move back to dynamic mics for now and see if the results are any better.

Because right now I’m way behind the schedule I want to stick to, which is frustrating.

That’s the thing about being an indie though. You’re going to run into problems like this, and part of the fun and the frustration is figuring out solutions to these problems. Sometimes you get it right and it’s amazing, and sometimes it’s days of frustration. Yesterday was one of the frustrating days on the podcast front, but here’s hoping that won’t last much longer!

Conquering audio

State of the art closet home studio!

So I have one hell of a huge sense of accomplishment. After months of effort I’ve finally got the first episode of an audio drama podcast I’ve been working on in the bag and it’s something I’m happy with.

It’s been quite the journey to get to this point. So far I’ve had to:

Get audio equipment I was actually happy with.

This might not seem like much, but it ended up taking a good chunk of time. I started out with an Audio Technica 2100 back when I was just thinking of doing a podcast about writing. I then upgraded to a Shure SM7B but for a variety of reasons I could never get that mic to work the way I wanted it to in a home studio setting.

I finally did a microphone shootout of my own and tried a bunch out to see which one worked. There are a lot of mic recommendations out there, but I found that ultimately it takes trying a microphone out in your setup to see how it’s going to work for you. Not all microphones are created equal and suited to the wildly differing environments in a home studio.

I ended up settling on the Rode NTK which I loved, and I’ll probably end up doing a post about my microphone shootout for anyone else out there who’s interested in that sort of thing.

Setting up my home studio

This also took some time. I initially set up my studio in my basement where I keep my office. The problem with that is my fish tank is in the basement along with our furnace which creates a lot of noise. I tried a couple of band-aids to try and get the microphone to work in my home environment, but ultimately I had to change where I worked to suit the recording setup rather than trying to get the recording setup to work in a suboptimal location.

So I moved all my stuff up to a walk-in closet attached to a guest bedroom that hardly ever gets used. The clothes in the walk-in closet were perfect for dampening sound, and it’s on the other side of the house from where most people are living so I can close the door to the closet and the room and have a pretty quiet environment without any sound treatment which is great. Recording in the closet studio has seriously improved the quality immensely.

Of course moving to that location wasn’t without issues. I had to install a monitor in there because the fan from my laptop was making too much noise. So now I have my laptop sitting outside the closet on the other side of the door where it can make all the noise it wants and it doesn’t get picked up by the mic. Meanwhile I have a bluetooth keyboard, magic trackpad, audio interface, microphone on a boom arm, and my iPad set up on a little laptop desk that faces a monitor bolted to the wall.

It works surprisingly well aside from an uncomfortable folding chair, but what can you do?

Learning Adobe Audition

I started out with Audacity and I really wanted to like it, but there were just too many things about it that annoyed me. I’ll probably do an entire post of its own comparing the two, but suffice it to say the difference between Audacity and Adobe Audition is like night and day and well worth the $20 a month Adobe charges. Plus I’m already familiar with Adobe and how their software works so it wasn’t much of a learning curve there.

It was a learning curve getting used to working with audio though. I worked through the entirety of Adobe Audition Classroom in a Book because I wanted to do this right and make sure I knew the software I was using inside and out. I was working through that around the time my daughter was born so it took a month or two to get through the whole thing, but that book is indispensable for anyone considering getting into audio.

Another book I picked up more recently is Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks by J. Daniel Sawyer. He goes into just about everything you’ll want to know if you’re interested in doing audiobooks, and all his lessons work just as well for podcasts. Which is great for me since I’m going to be trying out a podiobook model to start and see where things go.

Get used to the idea that yes, that’s what my voice sounds like

This was probably the biggest hurdle of the whole experience. I hear these narrators with these clear voices that don’t have much in the bass range, and with my voice I just didn’t like how it sounded. I tried a couple of different microphones and messing around with settings in Audition and eventually…

I came to have peace with the way I sounded. My wife told me it just sounded like me, and she eventually got annoyed when I would play two different files from two different microphones or processed two different ways. She claimed they mostly sounded the same, and I realized that I was overthinking things and I needed to get down to recording and working rather than spending time obsessing over making everything absolutely perfect.

Totally worth it

I’d say all that effort was worth it. I finally have an audio product that I can be proud of and that doesn’t have any lingering audio issues I encountered when I was working with Audacity. Sure I had to learn a whole heck of a lot to get to this point, but if you’re in the independent creator business you have to have a lifelong love of learning or you’re not going to make it very far in the business.

And I’ve discovered that I love working with audio. I enjoy getting into Audition and editing things, and I’m stoked about future projects and hope that all this investment will be worth it as I try to break into audio. Today wasn’t the first step in that process, but it was a big step!