How to create a basic audiobook with Audacity.

There are many free Audacity tutorials on the web. This is for an author that does not want to spend money on studio-grade microphones or building a soundproof room. As YouTube has demonstrated, a lot can be accomplished with basic tools. You can download Audacity for free, here.

You will need at the least, a set of over-the-ear headphones with a built-in boom microphone. You don’t want to try and record with the microphone that is built into your webcam.

Also do not expect to get it perfect the first time. You are going to make mistakes and practice makes perfect. Don’t start with a 100k word novel. For your first few experiments, record a page or three of short story or poetry.

Once you finish a few minutes of finished product, you can proudly upload it to share with the world.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn. It’s actually a fun process.

1 Setup Script

1.1 Preparation

1.1.1 Review your document, line by line.

1.1.2 If you plan on using alternate voices, highlight and color-code all of the quoted lines.

1.1.3 Don’t forget Author, Publisher, and Copyright information at both the start and end of the story.

2 Record Chapter(s)

2.1 Record

2.1.1 Start a blank Audacity window.

2.1.2 Click the red ‘record’ button and say nothing for ten seconds. Let it record the background (ambient) room noises.

2.1.3 Start reading your script.

2.1.4 Take your time! Read slowly and distinctly. Your goal is clarity and ease of understanding.

2.2 Screwing Up

2.2.1 You WILL screw up! Don’t worry. If you cough, stumble, mis-pronounce, or just read the wrong line… Stop speaking and let it record blank for at least five seconds. Then drop back at least one full sentence and start over. Errors like this can be taken care of in the post-production phase.

2.2.2 If you are interrupted by a knock on the door, your telephone or shots fired, just stop the recording until you answer it or return fire. The “Stop” button has the little yellow square symbol.

2.2.3 If you have stopped, when you are ready to start again, hold down the Shift Key when you click on the Record button. That will append the next sequence right where you stopped.

2.2.4 At the end of each chapter, save your work, clear the recording window and start the next chapter. Be SURE to Save-As with a NEW filename for each chapter. For example, MyStory01, MyStory02, MyStory03, etc.

3 Post Production

3.1 Noise Removal

3.1.1 Unless you’ve spent the time and money to build a soundproof studio, all rooms have some form of background noise. This includes the cooling fans in your computer, your HVAC system, and thousands of noisy things just outside your window.

3.1.2 Remember I told you to record ten seconds of nothing at the beginning? This is where that will pay off.

3.1.3 Use the mouse to highlight that ten seconds of blank a the start of your recording. Notice how it is a small, wiggly line?

3.1.4 From the menu, select Effect/Noise Removal.

3.1.5 Click “Get Noise Profile” button.

3.1.6 Press Ctrl-A to select the entire recording.

3.1.7 From the menu, select Effect/Noise Removal.

3.1.8 Click “Ok”. You have just removed the ambient background noise from your recording.

3.2 Volume Adjust

3.2.1 Press Ctrl-A to select the entire recording.

3.2.2 From the menu, select “Effect/Amplify”.

3.2.3 Click “Ok” and the automatic setting should set everything to a full volume.

3.3 Editing

3.3.1 Pressing the “Home” button on your keyboard should return the cursor to the beginning of your recording.

3.3.2 If it is a long recording, you may want to use the magnifying glass (zoom) tool to select just the first 30 seconds.

3.3.3 Click the “Play” button and listen carefully. When you come to one of the places where you screwed up, stop the playback in the middle of the blank spot and highlight the area back to where you started that sentence.

3.3.4 Press the “Delete” key on your keyboard and that section will go away. You might have to adjust the spacing so the new sentence starts smoothly.

NOTE: If you make a mistake, you can press Ctrl-Z on your keyboard to “Undo”.

3.4 Cut/Copy/Paste

3.4.1 The same keyboard commands used in Word Processing work in Audacity.

3.4.2 Highlight any section of your recording and press Ctrl-X to cut, Ctrl-C to copy, and Ctrl-V to Paste.

4 Final Production

4.1 Create MP3

4.1.1 Once you are satisfied with your overall recording, from the menu, select “File/Export”.

4.1.2 Choose the MP3 option and give your new recording its final name.

This might take a few minutes since it is converting from the AUP (multiple files) native format of Audacity into a single, consumer MP3 file.

Good luck!

19 Responses to “Audacity for eBooks”

  1. Odille said

    Brilliant article! Thanks v much! I didn’t realise you could remove background noise for example. And love the “shots fired” and “return fire”! 😀 That’s actually why I HAD to leave you a “like” and a comment!
    Going to go and get started recording now, feeling much more confident having these instructions! 🙂

  2. samantha said

    Thanks!! Im planning to have my extended family record audio books for my kids for Christmas. This is a great tutorial.

  3. Just as an update. I finally bit the bullet and got a new microphone. These days, I’m using a Blue Yeti microphone that connects to a USB port. It has much better sound quality than my old boom mike.

  4. Edward M Wolfe said

    Anthony, has recording with this method enabled you to have uploads approved by ACX? I’ve spent hours trying to figure out how to identify my RMS so I can determine if it’s not over -60dB.

    If all I need to do is Noise Removal and the default setting on Amplify, I’d have spent days recording instead of researching and experimenting. I just don’t want to do 30 chapters until I know I have the specs within approval range.

    Are your recordings meeting with approval?

    • Edward, to be honest, I’m not going to be dealing with ACX. But there are several ways to control level in Audacity.
      #1 Experiment with a minute or two while setting up your microphone and recording environment to avoid breath sounds and clipping. Here’s a video clip on it. http://youtu.be/JE9hiiM1Sgw
      #2 Selected sections of a recording may be adjusted with the Effect/Amplify tool.
      #3 The Effect/Leveler tool will “smooth out” the entire recording to a similar level. This can add some odd echoing sounds, so experiment with the best effects in your environment. http://wiki.librivox.org/index.php/Levelling
      This page is a handy quick tutorial on some of the editing features of Audacity. http://www.uwec.edu/help/audacity/track-edit.htm
      #4 Record and completely edit a few short items before you attempt to create a 30 chapter audiobook. If you don’t have any short stories, find a copyright-free short story or poem (http://www.gutenberg.org/) and use them to hone your voice, recording, and editing techniques.
      Good luck and be sure to let us know when you’re ready share a tale.

  5. Edward M Wolfe said

    Thanks for the all info, Anthony. I’ll go over all of that, and I’m going to try your advice and do some experiments with the mic, and then try again.

  6. bolgajeff said

    Thanks so much for sharing this tutorial, Anthony!
    I actually created my mp3 files using DropVox while doing the recording directly from my iphone 5 while comfortably seated in a recliner. 🙂 The quality is surprisingly good, although I will eventually invest in a Yeti, as you did.
    My question is thus: do you have any good tips on how to import my 60 mp3 files into Audacity, and patch them together as a finished audiobook, in the simplest manner possible?
    This initial version is only intended for basic presentations of a book I have translated from Norwegian into English (Jeg vil leve / I will live by Oscar Magnusson), and I only want to do some basic edits and corrections in a few of the mp3 files before finalizing it.
    Thanks in advance for any suggestions you can provide.

    • You’re quite welcome.
      Open a new Audacity file and give it the name of your final product, for example WholeBook. Then, open the first chapter file in another Audacity window. Select the whole chapter by using Ctrl-A, then press Ctrl-C to copy it. Switch to the WholeBook window and press Ctrl-V to paste it. Save WholeBook and continue this process, pasting each chapter on to the end of the WholeBook. Be sure not to skip the Save portion after adding each chapter.
      Once you have assembled all the chapters, you can add opening and closing sequences. Remove background noise and level the entire thing.
      Finally, export as an MP3 file.
      I hope this is useful.

  7. bolgajeff said

    Thanks, this was very helpful advice.
    I’m now exporting the whole book to an mp3 file.
    My first method of assembling the various parts into an audiobook was using iTunes. However, Apple makes it so difficult (i.e. impossible) to share the finished audiobook – even when it is 100 % self-composed – that I had no choice but to look for other methods.

    P.S. Do you know of any online groups that might be interested in doing a review of my audiobook? I Will Live is my unpublished translation of an autobiographical account of a Norwegian resistance fighter’s being caught by the Gestapo and subsequent struggle to survive his years in various concentration camps. He was ultimately liberated by American forces in April 1945. It’s quite a story.

    • Have you checked out http://podiobooks.com/ ?
      You might want to join their blog.
      You can also sell it through Audible, but they only deal with Amazon and iTunes at this time. Another option is to setup your own eCommerce webpage and sell it there.
      BTW – I gave up on Apple a long time ago and refuse to add any money to their coffers.
      If you like, you can chat me up on either Google or Yahoo Messenger. The handle is masteranthonystevens.
      Good luck!

  8. Fantastic blog. I wish I had found this before starting my daughter’s audio-book — 36 Week Jam Session, by Aimee McCarthy. It is currently an e-book with Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. About to be a paper book with Amazon. Want to make into an audio book for ACX, but not exclusive. Right now it is free and I want to keep it that way. Looking to donate it to libraries for the blind. In post production right now. I did buy a Blu Yeti on E-bay for $100, also a sound box. The narrator and I go to the library and get a conference room in the reference section. Quietest place in the library. Have used the post production tips of Leveling and Sound Removal you describe so well. Next step is to remove all the breath sounds and some other edits.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Patrick McCarthy
    Skype: Patrick07604

  9. This didn’t help me at all. I know how to read script, as I’ve taken tons of voice over classes. What I’m having trouble with is fixing all my files for ACX. I recorded my entire book and it sounded good to my ears, until I received their email basically saying every file has at least 2 or three things wrong!! I have no idea how to fix DMS or dynamic, etc. So, I’m thinking I have to redo my entire book, but how do I know I’ll have the correct settings this time and not have to redo the book a third time??

  10. Kathy said

    Thanks for the Audacity Ebooks info. I’m just starting and want to record a book on CD for a blind relative. After saving each chapter, will I be able to export a multiple track MP3 to record to CD?

    • You’re quite welcome, Kathy.
      You should have no problem creating a CD with MP3s for each chapter. I would caution that if you are creating separate chapters in this manner, to make sure the audio levels (volume) is similar for each one. You don’t want to have the next chapter shouting or whispering. Good luck!

  11. Karpy said

    Great! Nice stuff!
    After some research I found some online services that provide audiobook productions. At first I was thinking of narrating my own and then have
    http://www.e-audioproductions.com/audio-book-editing do the post production (they have better rates and gave great tips for self recording) but I am thinking of doing a full production with a pro narrator with them now instead. Has anyone had any experience with such services?

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