Friday, March 28, 2008

My Recording Studio Smells Like Socks - Deborah Smith

Real voice actors don't have these problems. I spray a little citrus air freshener on the dog bed in one corner, shut the closet door firmly to keep out the cats, then step in front of the professional microphone perched grandly atop its slender stand next to the dirty clothes hamper. I'm dressed in my professional "acting" clothes: sweat pants and a t-shirt with a fading yin-yang symbol.

I am one with the audio universe inside my master bedroom closet.

I plug the microphone into my laptop computer, which sits atop a stack of suitcases sandwiched between the rack crammed with my husband's everyday shirts and the shelves where we store fashion artifacts such as the straw hat I wore to the Olympics in Atlanta and a pair of Santa Claus Christmas slippers.

I double-click on the icon of the freebie audio program Hank (aka my husband) found on the Internet. I open a file, then slip some headphones over my ponytail. The headphones tell me exactly what the microphone hears -- every sniffle, snort, word, breath and grunt I make, plus every outside noise that creeps into the closet.

I hear crows cawing outside in the yard, and then the wind chimes on the front porch. I wait.

When a window of reasonable silence opens up, I click "Record" on the laptop.

"Testing, testing," I drawl into the mike, watching the meter rise and fall on the audio program's volume gauge. I adjust the microphone, test my voice some more, then give myself a thumbs up. I open a well-worn copy of ALICE AT HEART, a fantasy novel I wrote a few years ago. I find my place, take a deep breath, blow it out, and start reading.

Another production day has begun at Hillbilly Studios.

Over the years, five of my novels have been produced by major audiobook companies. But now that I write primarily for my own small press, BelleBooks, the only way to get an audiobook made is to do it myself.

My BelleBooks' partners are excited about the prospect of producing audio versions of all our titles, so we started the Hillbilly Studios experiment a few months ago to see what we can accomplish. Since I'm the only voice actor we can justify hiring for the test program (I work for free) and Hank's the only sound engineer we can afford (because he works for free, too,) the process has included a big learning curve and lots of pitfalls.

Like learning to breathe. "How do I tell the audio program to erase all my nose sounds and extra breaths?" I asked a musician-friend who knows all that techie stuff.

"There are no magic buttons for that," he replied. "You just have to practice breath control."

Rats. I hyperventilated at the thought of all the chapters I'd already recorded the wrong way, that is, actually breathing while I talked. Who knew breathing could be such a pain?

And then there were the more esoteric issues. Like the fact that I'm not a professional actor, although I did minor in drama at the University of Georgia.

Every character voice I create sounds an awful lot like the same southern woman from Atlanta. My character archive can be listed like this: Southern Scottish, Southern Yankee, Southern British, Southern Hindu, etc.

But the upside is, hey, this isn't brain surgery. The audio program is simple to use, the recording process is basic, and the end result is a surprisingly high quality sound. The biggest downfall is time: It's tedious to record an entire novel -- my average studio process for a complete book takes about fifteen hours -- and then Hank spends an equal amount of time editing, tweaking the sound levels, etc.

There are some small additional costs if we want to add stock music for our introduction and scene breaks, but royalty-free music is easy to find on the Internet and I can buy everything I need for well under fifty dollars.

Marketing the finished product will be as simple as uploading it to a site like, which partners with Amazon to sell audio downloads.

BelleBooks hopes to launch several audio projects this year, but a lot depends on how fast the work goes at Hillbilly Studios. I've run into several other technical obstacles. All of them have fur and whiskers.

"What's that noise in the mike?" I asked Hank as we sat in the closet with our headphones in place. "There it is again."

Meeeeerroooow. Meeerrooow.

Cats. Outside the closet door. Wanting inside. Nothing intrigues a cat more than a closed door. They were insistent.

"Let one in. What could it hurt?" Hank said. "He'll lay down and go to sleep. It'll be fine."

So we let in my favorite, Smudge, a tuxedo cat who weighs close to twenty pounds. He flopped in the floor at our feet. We started recording again.

"Stop. What's that noise?" I said.

Purring. Smudge has a twenty-pound purr, and the mike picked up every bit of it.

Oh, well. It adds ambience, we decided. When you listen to a BelleBooks' audio, tune your ears to the secret, encrypted underscore and imagine a lovely Southern day in the mountains above Atlanta. Crows caw, windchimes chime, and obese tuxedo cats purr at your feet.

I defy the big fancy audiobook companies to be that entertaining.

Here's a sample of my very first audio work from BelleBooks' Mossy Creek Hometown Series. Just double-click the url.

Deborah Smith is the New York Times best selling author of A PLACE TO CALL HOME, SWEET HUSH, THE CROSSROADS CAFE, A GENTLE RAIN and others. A Gentle Rain is a RITA finalist in addition to being named Best Small Press Romance by Romantic Times. Visit BelleBooks at


Pat Cochran said...

Thanks for blogging with us today
and for an audio sample.I definitely
could hear the "Southerness" in your
voice! I've been a lector/reader/
choir member in our church for 30+
years and regulating your breathing
at a microphone is most important!
You are doing a good job, didn't hear
you breathe once! Again, my thanks!

Pat Cochran

Gigi said...

Hi Deborah,
i just wanted to tell you what a fan I have been of your books. They have such a great southern flavor.

It is so neat how you turned your closet into a recording studio.

I am beginning to appreciate the audio books lots more as my eyes get older.