How to record an audiobook during a pandemic.
The house was empty. I climbed to the third floor, hoping for more silence than existed outside my front door. The loft at the end of the hallway had been the game room and napping headquarters. When my husband took it over, guitar stands sprouted across the carpet and an aquarium took up residence near the low transom window.
It’s the quietest room in the house, he bragged. But it wasn’t.
With a microphone and laptop gear in hand, I immediately heard the pulsing of the fish tank motor. The rooftop A/C unit buzzed in my ears. I turned off the fish tank motor. Surely, the white cloud minnows could live for a time without it. After all, the longest-living fish in our household had swum into our lives via a church festival. I unplugged the fish tank light and saved the ghost shrimp from the bright, whirring interrogation.
How would I finish recording my audio book, I’ll Have Some of Yours, surrounded by clutter and noise?
A Random Mention about Audiobooks
In late December, I had visited the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) to record an interview with the host of a book show. The host’s father had died weeks before the interview about my mother’s dementia and death. An omen for our budding connection.
I arrived at the Cincinnati-based offices where he and I chatted for a bit, and got down to the interview. We discussed the mistakes and regrets of family, the readiness of entering a nursing home, and why audio clips of one’s voice were important to preserve.
While retrieving my coat, I mentioned recording my book on audio. There were many reasons to do so — a sister and an uncle both were impaired and could listen. I wanted a way to preserve my own voice, when very little of mother’s voice remained (listen here).
Jennifer, the manager of volunteer services, overheard me. “Did you say audiobook? We’re starting a service for authors here, a social enterprise…” I next heard guinea pig and let’s talk.
I bolted out the door to begin research on price points and delivery methods for recording audio books: the average reading aloud rate is 5950 words per hour. Add an hour or two for additional edits. Do NOT read more than 45 minutes per day. The industry standard for audio book recording is set by ACX.
Through snowy and sunny days, I visited the offices of CABVI twice a week for recordings with a studio engineer, Charlie. Like other dedicated volunteers who read newspapers everyday to an audience visually impaired, Charlie accepted all my little quirks.
I would whisper “taking a break” into the microphone. He chuckled during outtakes where I talked to myself. With humor and grace, he applauded my rituals to prepare with throat spray, Vitamin E and a scarf, and my need for near-perfection or at least completion. Over a month, we recorded thirteen sessions with little interruption except for my travels to Puerto Rico.
Then, offices and buildings began to take precautions because of the coronavirus . Sanitary wipes appeared in the studio next to the cough drop basket. My heart pounded. We were so close to finishing. Charlie had already edited the do-overs and empty airtime. In a rare of display of inefficiency, I took an entire week to listen and listen again. I wasn’t enamored by the sound of my voice, but afraid to finish. My throat was raw. Could I finish?
We scheduled one final taping session. It required fifteen minutes of studio time, including setup. Fifteen minutes.
The morning of our designated studio time, I received an email. The offices closed. We had to stop. We could pick up later. Each passing week, the news grew grim, in particular, regarding deaths in nursing homes and long-term care settings. The very audience I wrote about. The pause would go on.
In the corner of my home office lay old recording equipment. Could I record those last snippets from home? Charlie agreed I should make the attempt. However, he was certain we would be back soon.
The days turned into what felt like years. I had been worked on my Mom project for so long, as a daughter and blogger, then caregiver, writer and marketer. The sound of my voice on various edits and corrections now sounded like whining in my ears. The makeshift audio testing didn’t work. The pre-amp picked up noise clearly not coming from outside my home, or in my office. Perhaps it was the humming in my head.
I was a pusher. I had to change my actions to change the outcome.
The Key is the Closet
My husband and I lived in a three-story Italianate-style home with a brownstone floor plan. On the third floor, there were two lofted areas (one for fish, one for business), and two bedrooms for guests. Inspired by TV weather forecasters and show hosts like John Krasinski of SGN TV, I had an idea.
I entered the closet in the first guest room to find the space jammed with our son’s college textbooks and high school sweatshirts. I opened the double doors to the closet in the second bedroom, nearly emptied out after one daughter’s holiday task. I stacked two plastic storage tubs to chest-level. There was no overhead light and left the closet door open.
My reading notes were angled on the tubs and I pressed record on my iPhone. I didn’t know if this would work. Charlie didn’t either — actually he didn’t know I was trying to make this work.
I read the first correction — a section title with five words. I read a second edit with a chapter title and subtitle. I corrected a paragraph where I stated my mother’s care home was located near my husband’s high school. Technically, this was true but the context and text required the insertion of son.
Still an echo on the playback.
Enter the bedspread.
My mother’s green crocheted afghan sat on her bed or rocker for six years until I carried it home after her death. It was my shield when I was scared, and my covers in the cold. The blanket now lay in a heap of castoff quilts used only when the house filled. I grabbed it, shut the closet door and flipped on the flashlight. Holding the blanket’s edge with one hand, I flung it over my head into a hood. With my other hand, I pressed record, grappling for the flashlight again while keeping my balance in the narrow confines.
That afternoon, I sent Charlie the audio clips. He must have worked some kind of magic because after we uploaded the files to the distributor, Findaway Voices, an up and coming, Ohio-based audiobook distributor, I learned, We only contact you if there were no problems. There were no problems with your upload.
Charlie responded, I have been waiting for the Death Blow, but I guess we were spared!!
Months ago, the CABVI staff assigned me to an engineer, knowing of Charlie’s technical knowhow and dedication. But they couldn’t have predicted the pandemic and my need to use little ingenuity — plus an afghan and a flashlight — to battle the virus on my terms.
I’ll Have Some of Yours on Audiobook Sites
You can find I’ll Have Some of Yours at the following audiobook sites: