background noises

I’m sitting in my living room, listening to the early morning sounds.  Birds chirping, neighbors revving their truck engines, planes flying overhead, the refrigerator running…. And now that I think about it, these sounds are present throughout the day, more or less.  Sounds I am aware of because, time and again, I record audiobooks at home.  Audiobooks that I don’t want full of birds tweeting and engines revving and dogs barking.  Audiobooks in which the thumpa-thumpa of a car stereo’s too-loud bass competing with its ill-tuned engine (well-tuned to produce the most noise, that is) is simply not appropriate.  My hearing is not perfect, not by far, and I often have trouble making out speech over background noise – a cocktail party is basically a place where I have no idea what most people are saying to me.  (Not to mention, I’m not much good at small talk, which is all the talk most people in such situations seem to want to have.)  Still, my hearing is good enough -attuned enough- that little noises like these become big annoyances.

There seems to be less traffic noise in the mornings, after everyone has gone to work and before they begin to be released from it, so I tend to try to record in the mornings.  My sleep schedule has been bizarre, of late, and I’ve been sleeping starting at roughly 3AM-7AM and -despite my best efforts (hampered significantly by an ongoing and severe bout of depression) to get out of bed after only a few hours- running through the middle of the afternoon.  Today it’s further off – I put myself to bed last night at 10PM, managed to fall asleep somewhat quickly, but then my mind woke me up at 2:30AM.  I tried to sleep, I fought against waking, I felt quite … I don’t know whether I’m physically or mentally tired, but … tired, but at 3:30AM this morning, I gave up on it.  Got up.  Started laundry.  Played the Free Realms Beta for a while…

Mandy’s up now, eating a breakfast I made for her, and as I finish writing this, she’ll be getting ready for school today.  I don’t think I knew how noisy getting ready for the day is until I started recording audio books.  So, in an hour or so, she’ll be done with that and I can try to begin recording.  I’d like to get a couple of hours of recording done today, if my voice works that long.  I need to get ahead of my podcasting; trying to record at the last minute doesn’t always work, especially when I’m depressed and/or my sleep schedule is severely kinked.  Last minute is where I’m at right now, actually.  I don’t have today’s podcast episode edited yet.  Realistically, I give myself until midnight of the day I’ve said it will go up.  Preferably, it always goes up on the morning of that day.  Which, for episodes longer than a minute, means I have to have it recorded ahead of time.

((For the episodes going up on, I really need to be done ahead of time – in my experience, if I fail to have my episode uploaded & ready to go there by late Thursday night, chances are it won’t hit the site until Monday.  Which feels like I’m three days late, even if I uploaded it at 7AM Friday.  Even if it was on my own feed at 7AM Friday. feels like the “real” venue for my audiobooks.  So I really need to be ahead.  Consequently, I think I’m going to let the Podiobooks feed run a week or so behind my direct feed for the next few books.))

Recording a half-hour episode takes a lot longer than half an hour, by the way.  (Assuming I’m not doing multiple voices, which takes even longer.)  The actual recording part tends to take me about double, so about an hour.  (Last night I tried to record in the evening, since I seemed not to have a choice, and it took me over 100 minutes to record what will be about 30 minutes of text.)  Editing what I’ve recorded – selecting takes when I’ve recorded multiple takes, cutting out dead air, background noises, mouth noises and the like – takes about double that, so about two more hours.  With my new computer, mixing together the intro, outro, multiple sections of an episode & transitions between them, leveling everything so volume matches within and across episodes… actually only takes a few minutes.  I haven’t timed it, but I seem to be able to do both versions (MEPod & PB) in under half an hour, now, including compression.  Then I have to listen to the entire episode, to be sure I didn’t miss anything during the edit.  I usually do this while uploading it to both servers & writing the episode description.  So, for a typical 30-minute episode (without character voices), it takes me 4 hours of work.  All of it while listening carefully not just to my own voice, but also to tiny background noises.

This is not work I can do eight hours a day, five days a week.  And not merely because wearing the over-the-ear headphones becomes annoying well before the 4-hour mark.  I am certainly going to try to put in a few long days over the next few weeks, though.  I am certainly going to try to get the other 8 episodes of this book recorded, edited, and ready to go just as fast as I am able, and on to the next book.  Theoretically, it should only take me a total of 40 hours to complete this entire book (not to mention I’ve already got the first episode done), so why not?  The next two books in the series are each almost exactly the same length book – so three 40-hour work weeks and I should be done with the entire series, right?

Except I’m also an artist.  And I’m also writing a book on my Self Publishing experiences.  And I’m also creating a deck of Christian cards (and a book to go along with them).  And I’m also a househusband – cooking and cleaning and the like are part of my responsibilities.  And I’m also a marketer.  And a web developer.  And a blogger.  And a filmmaker.  And involved in social media.  And emotionally unstable, currently depressed & off-kilter.

It’s only 1 week until the next First Friday, when I have another Art Walk to show at.  (If you’re in the Phoenix area, come down and see me!  I’m among the ‘Roosevelt Row‘ vendors, and I’m usually near 5th & Garfield.)  I’d like to produce some more new art before that happens (though I have plenty in stock, right now – more than I could possibly show), so that cancels out part of the next week.  I’ve only just begun writing that book on MicroPublishing, and I’d like to build some momentum in the writing of it, instead of letting it perhaps wither with only a couple thousand words.  I can’t record every day (I can’t recall now which day it was, exactly, but one day this week I managed to stay up late enough that I thought I could record in the morning, after Mandy left, at the end of my waking hours – but apparently that was when Bulk Trash Pickup decided it was time to slowly and noisily scour my neighborhood.) and I can’t usually stand to work on audio all day, when I do.  Oh, and because I want to continue posting two episodes a week to my feed, I’m doing poetry episodes again – a one to two minute episode of which seems to take 30-45 minutes to create.

So maybe I’ll get ahead by a couple of episodes in the next week.  And hopefully I’ll get ahead by the rest in another week or two.  Mandy just walked out the door.  I’d better get to it.

Productivity, Profitability

Still having trouble with staying focused. I feel like I’m not productive enough, almost daily. Things are getting done; the podcasts are all running on time, I’m doing two or more Art Walks/Fairs/Detours a month & I’ve painted a dozen new paintings since the first of the year. I’m even blogging semi-regularly, which you already know, reading this. But I could be doing more.

Yesterday I only did three or four hours of audio work, and even though I know I worked on other things, it feels like I didn’t get anything done, since it’s harder to tally the hours and to quantify what’s work and what isn’t. Does Twitter count? Reading publishing & other blogs? Blogging? It’s all part of connecting with people, with building an audience and building myself as a “brand” and educating myself about what’s going on, what’s working, and driving ideas forward. So in a way, yes. Then there’s the oft-repeated idea that everything an author does and experiences is a sort of reasearch for future books; this is somewhat true, but feels like a sort of excuse.

In addition to feeling that perhaps I’m not being productive enough, I also think a lot about my not being profitable enough. Even with the reduced up-front costs of doing business the way I am, not a single one of my books has even reached break-even, yet. The art, comparably, has been doing great – not bringing in enough to live on, but if not for the cost of going to Tools of Change in New York (ie: if not for a big, extra publishing expense), I’d already be profitable this year on art sales alone, with only bluer skies on the horizon. The margins on the art, even with prices basically cut in half & then frozen since 2004, are great – not just in money, but in time. It takes me hundreds of hours to produce a book, and somehow it’s harder to sell a copy of the book for $14 (or less) than it is to sell a painting (that took me less than 10 hours to create) for $150.  Lately I’ve been creating a lot of “Mini Paintings”: 8×10″ for $20, 5×7″ for $15, and 4×4″ for $10, right now.  Most of them are done in under 1 hour of work (though admittedly, some have taken up to 3), and they earn me as much as or more than a book does, usually without having to try to sell them at all.

Obviously, the art sales can only scale to the limits of my creativity & time to produce original works – I’m not sure what the upper limit is, but perhaps dozens a month. Certainly not hundreds.  Whereas the book sales can scale without proportional extra work on my part – Lightning Source prints however many copies people order, whether it’s dozens a month or thousands.  If/when I “hit it big” the books will quickly win in this regard.  Not to mention I can sell a book more than once, and without doing prints (something I am currently opposed to), I can only sell an original work of art once.  So it takes orders of magnitude more work to produce a book, but I can keep selling it over and over again forever, instead of just once.

If only my sales numbers were orders of magnitude better.  Did I mention not a single one of my books has yet earned back the costs associated with its production, yet?  That’s with $0 value associated with my time, no less.  Which is to say: if I were more productive (of books), I’d perhaps only be digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole.  Being more productive of art is good, but when I really need to figure out is how to be more productive of profitability.  I need to produce more book sales.  That’s a hard one.  The podcasting thing is meant to be helping with that – it certainly puts my writing in front of a lot more minds than everything else I’ve been doing, even if it is for free, right now.  Something approaching five hundred times as many people have downloaded Dragons’ Truth from than have purchased a copy of the paperback (not counting sales to family) – that’s a huge multiplier.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it hasn’t translated directly into interest in my other podiobooks or in sales of my paperbacks or eBooks.  Gotta keep it up, though.  Gotta keep working on it.  Gotta get back to work, right now – I’m supposed to be editing together next week’s episodes of Forget What You Can’t Remember, right now.  Gotta go.

starting work on Lost and Not Found audiobook

I’ve begun work on recording the audio version of Lost and Not Found this month. I recorded the first 14 pages or so, though I need to re-listen to them … I think I may have been reading a little too quickly. I want to set a good pace, speak clearly, and really create a professional product. The current plan is to record at least half a dozen episodes and at least one promo and get it started online on under their “normal model” – which is to say, one episode a week until it’s done, somewhere between a normal podcast and a limited run series. They require 5 episodes done before they’ll start you, anyway, so that’s easy enough. Theoretically I could record them all in a week or so and get started as soon as they get the book started online. Due to some system changes they happened to be putting into effect at the exact time I submitted it, it was several weeks after I submitted it that they put Dragons’ Truth online. Since I’m known, since I’m already set up in the system, and especially because I hold myself to such a high personal quality standard (I really want to be putting out as professional quality of work as I can), it shouldn’t take as long with Lost and Not Found.

Depending on how recording goes and how quickly I read and how long each episode is (there are no chapter breaks in Lost and Not Found, so I have to find places in the story where it makes sense to stop), I expect to have somewhere in the vicinity of fifteen to twenty-five episodes for the full book. This puts the length of time for the serialized release at roughly three to six months. I would like to have the novel I’m currently working on come out concurrent with or prior to the completion of that audio program, since it is almost -but not quite- a sequel to Lost and Not Found, and the cross-promotion should probably be helpful. Also, since I expect to be able to do most or all of the recording of the audio version of this new novel during that period as well, so that people could start listening to one immediately after finishing the other. I’m trying to build an audience, see?

In order to get even a single episode of the audio book ready for publication I need both the text of the book recorded and to [select|compose] a [piece|pieces] of music for the opening, closing, and as a bridge in between different sections of the same episode. There is also the question of “bed music,” which I understand means music which plays softly in the background of the entire audiobook. Bed music has the benefit of covering the tiny amount of background noise which cannot be avoided without [buying thousands of dollars of gear plus building a soundproof recording booth | removing it in post-production and somewhat distorting the sound of your voice in the process], but also represents the challenge of finding music which relates to the story and setting without becoming distracting or annoying to readers, plus that of finding thirty to sixty minutes’ worth of it for each episode (depending on the length of your episodes). On one hand, I’d like to have bed music, to create the perception of a better recording. On the other hand…

Well, on the other hand, I don’t like to select music, I like to compose it myself. Not that I have any experience composing music – I’m certainly not trained, and I’d pause before describing myself as self-taught. I haven’t even looked up a basic how-to online. I just like to screw around once in a while, whistling, with an instrument, or in GarageBand on my iBook – and I’ve only spent perhaps a total of a few weeks in my life (a day here, a couple days there) doing anything musical at all before this year. On the other hand, I sit in front of an piano or pick up an accordion or a guitar and, after a few minutes of re-acquainting myself with the interface, music comes out. I sit down with an instrument and melodies build from my fingers. Not proper songs, usually, but in opposition to what I’ve seen happen with other people at untrained instruments (how do they get it to sound so bad?), something musical. Anyway, starting with Dragons’ Truth I began composing my own music and I plan to do so for my future audio releases.

For the purpose of opening, closing, and bridge music I only need about sixty seconds of music, max. For podcasts it’s a good idea not to put more than about thirty seconds of anything in before getting to the story itself, or more than about sixty seconds of anything at the end. More than that, and people tend to skip it. For some listeners, even sixty seconds it pushing it for a closing. Most promos (which theoretically I could get other podcasts to play in their episodes) are sixty seconds or less, as well. So for these things you don’t need more music than this. Easy, right?

Would you believe I spent the better part of last week (nearly four full days) working on the music I want to use for Lost and Not Found, and the end result -at four thirty in the morning yesterday- was a sixty second audio file? What if I told you it was just a first draft? That I spent the first three days scrawling in a notebook, obsessively crunching non-base10 math by hand, creating page after page of numbers, up to 24 digits in length (so far), and that I spent the fourth day transcoding the results into the computer as music? Music that I couldn’t guess the sound of before I was finished entering it in and hit play. Music that I think I like with a little faster tempo so maybe I’ll have to do another several hours’ math to get to a full minute again. Oh, and incidentally, music the math for which also creates the possibility of a generic sort of non-repeating but boundless melody, which I may be able to use as bed music? Which simple mathematical variations on could change the tone to match the four different stories in the novel that I’d like to each have individualized music? Hooray, crazy! Hooray, math! Maybe.

I’ll have to spend a couple more days entering the numbers into the system in various configurations to see if the calculations continue to sound good or if I’ll need to start from scratch (or worse, just modify this melody system heavily – I prefer the beauty of math right now) to create working music. And once the music is ready, it can be combined with the spoken word recordings of the book’s text and the book’s promos, and once that’s done I can submit it and start serializing it. Which reminds me, I really need to write a promo for Lost and Not Found. If you’ve read it, how do you think I could sell it to new [readers|listeners]?

One other little thing on the subject of the audiobook – since we don’t really have the room (or the money) to create a dedicated (or even isolated) recording space, I’ve set up in the bedroom. The other day while trying to adjust after working so that people could get by, a piece of equipment fell down and the jack on my headphones broke. These are relatively nice, closed ear headphones of sufficient quality to do near-professional quality audio work (really, my ears aren’t trained to do well enough to know the difference between these headphones and the ones that cost 5x-10x), and the only thing wrong with them right now is they can’t plug in to an audio source. All they need is the jack cut off and a new one spliced/soldered on, though I don’t trust myself to do a good enough job repairing them to end up with quality sound. So I took them to a local repair shop Monday (and called a second one) and the cost to have a professional repair it is the same as the cost to order another set online (depending on shipping cost). Sigh. I can’t really record any more until I have [new|repaired] headphones. So in reality it’s a good thing I’m spending days and weeks on the musical portion of this project right now, since I can’t get any more done on the spoken portion.

I’m sure I’ll post again when I have a promo. Oh, and when I have a site design for, which I would like to be able to launch simultaneously with the Podiobook, and whose design should allow for the new book to be advertised along side it. Sigh. What should that look like? What should it do?

The white noise of diminishing returns, OR: How not to record an audiobook

Shoot, is it Thursday already?

My life is Hell, in fast forward, sometimes.

Did you know that making good, clean, audio is tricky? Yeah. Like, a week and a half, out the window, because I didn’t know I was doing it wrong, and I still haven’t quite got figured out how to do it right. Call it two weeks lost. And now there’s a garbagetruck, I don’t know, revving its motors outside.

Free movie might be better than art walk. Stubbing my toe might be better than recording the audio wrong again. So I’m frustrated and paranoid, tweaking and adjusting and fiddling with things. I probably won’t know when it’s “good enough” anymore, since I thought it was good two weeks ago and have since learned that it’s not. Sigh. I don’t know what to do.

Go have breakfast, I guess. In an hour, I get to drive across town to pick up the generator to power the lights for my space at First Friday. Too bad I can’t listen to my iPhone in the car, or I might have been able to catch up on some podcasts.

Hope you’re having a better life than I am.