The Ultimate Christmas Gift

December 3, 2009 · 6 comments

Can’t find the audio book you want? Record it yourself.

Last year I wrote a post for another blog called “Gift Of The Year Idea.” In short, I recorded a book for my wife as a Christmas present. Necessity really is the mother of invention. I did this because I could not buy what I wanted – a quality unabridged version of Les Misérables. In fact, I could only find one unabridged version. It was restricted by the vendor. I couldn’t burn it to a CD, and only listen to in on a computer. I refused to buy it.

Even as the idea formed I started asking myself what if. What if she didn’t like: My voice, the book, the less than professional sound quality, my audacity thinking I could record a book, and other issues long forgotten. I tried to talk myself out of even giving it a try. Lo and behold, It was more successful than I would ever have imagined.

The first success was so inspiring, I not only recorded the unabridged book Les Misérables, but three other books as well. She loves listening to books she may never have time to read, and I love recording them. After Les Misérables, I recorded:
Truman” by David Mccullough
All Quiet On The Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque
Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes

A side benefit that hadn’t occurred to me is, as she listens to the books we can discuss them. Her commute to work takes about 30 minutes, and she rarely skips a day listening. At dinner, after the routine “how was your day” conversation, we slip into a discussion of where she is in the book. We share opinions, insights and shades of meaning from these discussions, making the entire experience of the book more meaningful. Our “Limited membership” book club is has become one of the most enjoyable events we share.

Equipment

mic-monitors-deskI started with a cheap headset-mic combo and an equally inexpensive recording application. I was half way through Les Misérables before I happened to listen to one of the recordings in her car. Her tolerance level is far beyond mine; the hiss from the mic was annoying and distracting.

She had only a CD player which limited the capacity for me to record very many tracks to a disk. We talked about the enjoyment each of us would gain if I continued to record for her. There was no doubt, we both loved the idea. I set about thinking of ways to alleviate the recording and disk problems.

For recordings such as this think podcast. In order of importance, you will need:

1) A quality microphone If your budget is limited (mine is) you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars. You can get all the quality you need for less than $100.00. After a lot of research I chose the Snowball By Blue-Microphones. This mic has worked well for me, nearly complete elimination of hiss, and the voice quality is excellent.

2) A mic stand I found I needed to adjust the position of the mic about 8 inches from my face for the best quality. Without a stand or swivel mount I could see no way to do this. A mic stand is very inexpensive – about $30.00. I bought mine locally at a music store.

3) Recording software I use a Mac with WireTap Studio. I have made few adjustments to the output, even though many options are available with this program. With Windows or any OS, you only need to be sure that your recording output can be set to common audio formats, mp3 for example. In fact, I record using the mp3 format, 128kbps Variable Bit Rate. This is a medium quality output, sounds great, may even be more than I need for voice recording. Note that I am not an audiophile and if you are, the input/output is subjective.

4) An mp3 player This is a highly personal choice item. Since my recordings are heard in a car, I record to a CD. “Truman”, about 1000 pages and (guessing) 300,000 words took 5 CDs to record. I do not recommend a small mp3 player for the car. I have never been able to find one that “remembered” where it stopped. Besides this, they are dangerously small to fiddle with in a car. I had her original car stereo replaced with one that can play mp3 CDs.

5) Time You may think it will take a lot of time to record a 1000 page book. I read almost every weekday for about 45 to 60 minutes per day. At this rate, allowing that I don’t read on weekends it breaks down like this:
25 pages per day
125 pages per week
About two months to completion
Obviously, this is an approximation. Many variables will determine the time required to finish, how fast you read, the type of book, time spent each day, etc. In depth history – “Fatal Shore” for example – is more time-consuming than “All Quiet On The Western Front.”

In the words of Hugo, Voilà. Reading enjoyment, learning, sharing and customized notes can be yours for little money or time invested. Keep in mind that this can also be reversed. If you are the person who would like to listen, put this on your wish list. I suggest you start with something small, even a magazine article if you don’t want to tackle a book. I’ve already asked the “what ifs” for you.You may find this, as i have, one of the most rewarding gifts you will ever share with someone.

Note: I never sell, rent, lend or make money from these recordings. They are for personal use only.

{ 6 comments }

Karen Black December 3, 2009 at 6:05 pm

You have the best ideas. Keep them coming.

Hal Brown December 3, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Thanks Karen. Go read a book. :-)

Ken Kurosawa December 4, 2009 at 1:21 am

When you read into the microphone, do you take precautions when you pronounce certain words? Maybe the microphone already has algorithms built in that cancel or minimize popping sounds like when you pronounce words that start with 'p' or 't'?

Hal Brown December 4, 2009 at 5:47 am

Not necessary using the 'Snowball'. I had more problems with 's' than anything else. With this mic my voice comes out very natural, no popping, hissing etc. Even background noise is canceled, assuming little to begin with.

Ken Kurosawa December 4, 2009 at 7:21 am

When you read into the microphone, do you take precautions when you pronounce certain words? Maybe the microphone already has algorithms built in that cancel or minimize popping sounds like when you pronounce words that start with 'p' or 't'?

Hal Brown December 4, 2009 at 11:47 am

Not necessary using the 'Snowball'. I had more problems with 's' than anything else. With this mic my voice comes out very natural, no popping, hissing etc. Even background noise is canceled, assuming little to begin with.

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