Paraka (paraka) wrote in ai_podfic,

Podfic 101 Tutorial

Podfic: it's an audio recording of a fanfic, like an audiobook, how awesome is that? Fans from all over put their voices out there so you can enjoy fanfic on the go or just in a different way. To find out more about podfic, why we do it and how to get started, check out pod_aware on LJ or DW.

So, over a year ago, I started this comm and started planning to make a podfic tutorial. I got almost all the way to the end last December but the edits to fix it up seemed like too much at the time and I kind of forgot about this tutorial.

In honour of pod_aware I decided to revive this tutorial and post it here (where it was originally intended for).

A while back, for a different comm, I did a sort of intro to podfic explaining what podfic is and why you, yes you should try creating it.

This tutorial, however, will be more about the how. I've had people asking me recently how I make podfic or how they could get started so I want to make a tutorial from step one of "hey, so let's try this" all the way to posting it.

The Basics
You're going to need 3 basic things.
1. A quiet space to record.
The better the ambiance of your recording, the better the final product will sound. While you can edit out sudden noises, it's really hard to edit out the sound of your furnace blowing away in the background.

2. A microphone.
You probably already have one of these. A lot of computers come with one already installed. Or maybe your earphones have one. One of my roommates actually uses her mp3 player and I've known others to use things like their cell phones. Check out the options you have and see which one is easiest to use and has the best sound quality.

3. A computer with sound editing software.
If you're reading this, I'm assuming you have access to a computer. You might already have a sound editing software too. If you have a Mac, it comes with GarageBand. However, if you don't, there's a great, open source, aka free, program called Audacity which works with Windows, Macs or Linux. That's the program I'll be using for this tutorial.

When you download Audacity, make sure you get the LAME MP3 Encoder as well. Audacity won't let you make mp3s without it. Just download it somewhere you can find later, and a window will ask you to locate the file the first time you try to create an mp3.

Story Choice
Now that you have your equipment set up, let's talk about story choice. I suggest that you read through at least some of the story out loud before you make any sort of commitment, even to yourself. There are fics that I absolutely adore but I can barely get through a sentence of without stumbling. If the author's written style is too different from your speaking style it can be really hard to get the story out.

Most podficcers like to get permission from the author to record a podfic before they start recording. A lot of work goes into making podfic and it would suck to finish one, only to discover the author doesn't want podfic out there of their work. It can be a little scary approaching an author though. If you've written fic, it can be a good starting point to try recording one of your own. That way you know you have permission and it'll probably be easier to read since your writing style will likely be close to your speakings style. Some people will ask their friends who are authors.

I'd suggest checking out the list of authors who have given blanket permission. ai_podfic has a list of American Idol authors who have given blanket permission. There's also a large multifandom list on Fanlore. If you choose one of those authors, you can start a podfic knowing you have permission but don't have to approach an author or commit to anything you might not finish.

You'll also want to consider starting small for your first project; choose a short ficlet as a first try. Deciding to start with the fandom's giant 150K+ word fic is a sure way to frustration and heart break (I am totally speaking from experience here as that's exactly what I did).

To give you an idea 10K = about an hour of podfic. The example podfic I use here is 7 minutes and 20 seconds long, finished. It took me at least an hour and a half of solid work to make it. That doesn't could getting distracted or breaks and the like, that's just time actually spent working on it. And I'm an experienced editor. So be aware of the time commitment when choosing a fic to record.

Dear Author Letter
If you are going to ask an author for permission, I'd highly suggest having a "dear author" letter written somewhere you can link to. A dear author letter is a letter addressed to all the authors whose works you are going to podfic. In the past, when I've asked authors for permission, I've had some come back and say that they had never heard of podfic before. They have no idea of what it means, to you a podficer and to the podfic community as a whole, when they agree to let you podfic their work. It's better if everyone goes into this with a clear understanding of what's going on to avoid awkward situations later.

This is my Dear Author letter, but you can see some additional ones here at amplificathon.

Mine lays out why I want to podfic the author's fic (because I love it! And want others to love it as I do) and who I'm making it for (my audience; which may or may not include the author). What I expect from the author (basically, just their permission, anything else, like appreciation or pimping is gravy, for me, you might have different expectations) and what they can expect from me:
-credit for the original story and links back to their fic
-that I'll keep my podfic within fandom, as best I can (it is the internet)
-where I'm hosting the podfic (namely my website and the audiofic archive)
-how they can contact me if they need to

I also try to make it clear that while the story will remain theirs, the performance of it is my fanwork.

Having this kind of letter will help the author realize what it is they're agreeing to and can help them out in the future if something ever comes up.

My Example Fic
So, to recap, we've got our equipment set up and ready to record, we've chosen a fic, and we've got permission to record.

For this tutorial I'm going to be reading Crabwise by jerakeen, who is one of the authors that's given blanket permission (although I still spoke to her about permission to use it for this tutorial). Let's take a look at her blanket permission statement (as of Nov 6, 2011).

I highly suggest checking the statement each and every time you record. I've recorded jerakeen's fic before but I know she's changed her permission statement since then. Some authors might remove their blanket permission altogether or drastically change it. So, to be safe check it out.

The highlights of her permission statement is that:
-she wants the podficcer to keep the header intact and a statement that this is just fanfiction.
-she's open to discussion if you'd like to edit/change the story when podficcing it.
-she's acknowledging that the podfic of her story will be under the podficcer's to control, within fandom.
-she wants to know when you post it (which I suggest doing for all podfic, even if the author doesn't specifically ask you to).
-she's also wants you to know that she plans to host a copy of the podfic on her webpage (but will delete it if you ever decide to take the podfic down).

She finishes off, clearing reminding us, that she's only giving blanket permission for us to use her fic for fannish purposes, and if we want to do something non-fannish with the podfic we need to talk to her first.

jerakeen's permission statement is a lot more detailed than most authors, however it's a good one to show, since I think a lot of authors take this for granted instead of spelling it out when they give permission. Like I said, I always let an author know when I've podficced their work, and I do not take it for granted that I can use their story for some non-fannish reason.

Last Minute Prep
Find a comfortable place to record. If you're constantly shifting around, your mic will pick that up and it can be really hard to edit out sometimes.

I also have a drink sitting at the ready in case my mouth gets dry.

Make sure your area is quiet. Turn off any noisy appliances you can. I always check the temperature to make sure my furnace or A/C isn't going to turn on while I record. Things like that.

The Reading
Some reading tips:
-If you mess up, just go back and reread the section without stopping your recording. Try not to get too frustrated, not only is it not fun but it'll come across in your voice.

-Don't be afraid to get emotional. When I record, it always feels over the top to me and I'm generally waving my hands around. What feels over the top to you though, might come across as just enough on the recording.

-Be aware of the noises you make. I try to make sure not to page down when I'm speaking since my mic will sometimes pick that sound up and I want to be able to cut it out later. If you're reading a print out, be aware of shuffling the papers.

-Don't get discouraged! Everyone messes up when they read through a podfic, it's natural. I've read this example fic through at least a dozen times out loud and I still make a bunch of mistakes.
->It's a good idea to read through a fic at least once (out loud or in your head) with podficcing in mind. Think about how you'll pronounce certain phrases, catch any words in advance that you might not know how to pronounce (sites like are great, since they will have audio files of how to pronounce words).

To record, open Audacity. The recording control panel is really simple.

As you can see there's the standard (from left to right) Rewind, Play, Record, Pause, Stop and Fastforward buttons.

For this tutorial I recorded everything in stereo, but revolutionaryjo suggested that it might be better to record in mono, since it'll make a smaller file size but won't change the quality of the recording. To do this, go to Edit -> Preferences. This will open a preferences box, the recording settings are under Audio I/O make sure you choose mono, not stereo.

To record you simply press record and a track will open:

I'd suggest doing a couple of test recordings before you really get into your podfic so you can make sure your sound quality is good.

To get rid of the test recordings and to start over press the "x" button at the top left hand corner of audio track (highlighted above) and that will get rid of the whole track.

When recording, if you need to stop the recording for a moment but plan to come back, rather than pressing stop, press pause instead. If you press stop and then try to record again, a new audio track will open, rather than continuing to record on the track you were on before.

Now all you need to do is record your fic. Make sure to save your fic when you're done. You can save as an mp3 or wave file (among other formats) however I suggest you only save your final version in that kind of format. For your working copy, you can save it as an Audacity Project file (.aup) which saves much faster (make sure to regularly save as you edit).

If you're recording something longer, you'll probably want to record in more than one file. Don't forget to save as you go! Sometimes Audacity is finicky and you don't want it to crash when you have 4 hours of unsaved recordings up! revolutionaryjo's suggestion is to not go over 20 minutes per file.

For my example, I read Crabwise by jerakeen. Here's my un-edited recording (as an mp3).

Not so pretty, eh? Now we need to edit it into something pretty.

Ok, now for editing. This is what my recording looks like in Audacity:

We need to do a few things to make the editing easier. You're going to want to zoom in on the timeline:

The magnifying glasses in the upper right will do a horizontal zoom. If you hover your mouse over the strip near the left (where there's a box over 0.00) your cursor will turn into a little magnifying glass. If you left click it will do a horizontal zoom in (right click will do a horizontal zoom out). Make sure to click on the 0.00 mark, otherwise it'll zoom on whichever plane you click putting the audio lines off centre.

I also suggest playing with your sound levels before you start editing. Depending on your mic you may have to increase the volume on your recording so that it's easy to hear. Nothing is worse, as a listener, than downloading a podfic only to find that you can't hear it, no matter how much you increase the volume on your player. Each mic will require a different level of amplification, with me, I generally put it up about 20 DB.

To change the volume press Ctrl+A to select the whole timeline. Then go to the menu bar and choose Effect -> Amplify. This will open a box where you can choose the amplification in decibels or on a scale.

Increasing the volume before you start to edit will make sure that you can hear everything that your audience will and also helps with visual editing. As you can see below, what was flat before now shows little bumps which are an indication of background noise (such a bump is highlighted):

Now to start editing. You can edit the audio track in much the same way you would a document. To highlight a section simply move your mouse over the section in question while holding down your mouse button. If you find you didn't quite highlight the section you want, hovering your cursor over the edge of the highlight will cause your cursor to change to a hand with a finger pointing at either the start or the end of the highlighted section and you can use that cursor to fine tune the start/end.

If the section you have highlighted is a mistake, you can simply cut it out (through either the edit menu or pressing ctrl+x). In fact your normal editing tools work, cut, paste, copy, undo, etc. You can use the playback controls up top to stop and start the audio, but pressing the space bar will start the audio playing.

Now you need to go through the recording and edit out any mistakes you've made.

Everyone has their own way of editing.

There are a lot of experienced podficcers that will do "visual editing" as a first round. Visual editing is when you can tell what needs to be cut out based on how the audio track looks, without having to listen to it first. When you've done enough podficcing, you begin to recognize what your mistakes look like (a too long pause, a section that doesn't look like speech, etc.). Other podficcers will add visual queues in when they're reading (making a loud noise or something when they make a mistake so it stands out on the time line).

If this is your first time podficcing, chances are you're not ready to start visually editing yet. The best way to edit would be to start listening to the recording and making edits as you go.

For those interested, these are the steps I go through when editing:

1) Noise removal. You know when I said above that it's hard to cut out ambient noise? That was a bit of a lie. Audacity has a noise removal tool that can remove some ambient noise. It's still better to record in a quite place since noise removal only does so much and can make your voice sound tinny or robotic if you do it too much.

To use this tool, you're going to need to find a place on your time line without you talking (there's normally some right at the beginning or end of the recording) that's representative of the background noise you want cut out.

Highlight that section and go to Effects -> Noise Removal. This will open a box with two parts. First you need to choose "Get Noise Profile" which will close the box.

Then select the entire track (or which ever part you want to remove the background noise from) and go back to that window (Effect -> Noise Removal).

This second part deals with the rest of the options, you can play with the settings to see which ones will work best for you, it might take a couple tries. For the first try I suggest just going with the default and hitting "Remove Noise". It might take a minute or two to process (depending on how big the file is).

2) Listen through the recording for mistakes. This is where I'll cut out all the stumbles I've made, repeated sections or particularly loud breathing.

3) Rerecords. If during step #2 I realize that I've made a mistake that no amount of editing will fix, I'll go back and rerecord that section to edit into my podfic. I try to avoid rerecords if I can or will rerecord an entire section (or perhaps fic if it's short enough) because most of the time when you edit a different recording in, it'll sound different from the rest of your recording (your voice could be different, your volume, the background noise, etc).

4) Edit the pacing. The next thing I'll do is listen to the whole podfic and see how the pacing is. Did I leave too long a pause between sentences? Did I not leave enough? Can you tell that it's a different person speaking? Adding in or cutting out dead air can make the podfic flow much better. If I'm adding in a pause, I try to find a quite part near the section to copy over. I don't want to add in muted time, since it'll sound weird if there's low level background noise in the other parts.

5) Final listen through. Once I think I'm done, I'll give the podfic a final listen to. I try and listen to it as I would any other podfic (often when I'm at work), that way I can see how it stands up. I can make sure the volume is where it should be and that I can follow the story as I multitask.

6) Send off to a beta. I'll admit, I don't always use a beta for my podfics but if I do, this is when I'd send it off to them and repeat as many of the previous steps as needed to get to the final product.

(see the section below on exporting before sending off to a beta, it's much easier to send an .mp3 of the podfic rather than the Audacity Project files)

Having a beta can be pretty important though. A lot of people kind of zone out when editing podfic and might miss a repeated section. Or they won't notice that, hey, in your recording Cook is declaring his love for himself instead of Archie because you said the wrong name. Or, as has happened to me, sometimes that word that you said? You know, the one that you've been reading for years but haven't actually heard anyone say out loud before? It's not actually pronounced the way you've been saying it in you head all these years.

Once you and your beta are happy with the final result, you're done editing! Yay! (seriously, editing is the least fun part of podficcing for me.)

Just to give you an idea it took me 55 minutes to edit this. How fast people edit a podfic depends on the podficcer however I don't think I've heard of anything less than 3-4 minutes of work for every minuted of finished product. Personally, I'm closer to 10-20 minutes of work for every finished minute.

Exporting as MP3
Ok, now you're ready to save your podfic in a version other people can listen to. The three shareable files that Audacity supports is .wav, .mp3 and .ogg. Wave files are really large and I doubt you'll ever have much use for an .ogg file. Exporting as an .mp3 is best.

To do this go to File -> Export As MP3.

If this is your first time exporting as an mp3 in audacity a box will appear asking where the LAME encoder is. Simply choose browse and locate the LAME encoder you saved earlier (remember you downloaded that way back when you downloaded Audacity? Remember where it is?).

Once you have the LAME encoder located a typical Save As box will appear asking you what you'd like to name your file (with the project file name coming up as a default) and where you'd like to save it. When you click save, another box will open:

This box asks for information on what kind of meta data you want saved with your podfic. Everyone has their own style, you can see mine above. Just fill this out or leave it blank as you'd like then hit ok, and the exporting will start.

As you'll see, exporting to mp3 take much longer than simply saving the project as an .aup.

And voi la! You now have your podfic as an mp3. Here's the edited version of this example, Crabwise.

Adding a Cover
It can be fun and useful to add a cover to your podfic. It can work a bit as advertising when you make your announcement post and it'll also help people find your fic on their player later when they want to listen to it. I was actually surprised when I came across a meta discussion by just how important people find covers.

If you're an artsy person, you can create your own covers (suggested minimum size is 300X300). Or, if you have no graphical abilities, you can beg and/or bribe others into making them for you. Sometimes a fic will already have cover art, in which case just make sure to ask the artist if it's ok for you to add their art (I've never been told no) and make sure to credit.

bessyboo has started a tutorial series on how to make podfic covers if you want some help on that front, I'm too new at graphics editing to be of any help. :)

Once you have a cover, you then have to attach it to your mp3 file. If you use iTunes, apparently it's really easy. Here's a For Dummies tutorial on it.

Since I don't use iTunes, I use a free program called Media Monkey instead.

Open the program and find the file in question. You can import your audio library, or if that's too much effort just go to File -> Open URL or File and find the file in question. Doing it the second way will start playing the file but you can just stop it.

To add the art right click on the file and choose Properties.

This will bring up a window with 6 tabs along the top, you want to pick Album Art. Once there, click Add and choose the cover you want to use.

Make sure you have "Save image to tag (if possible)" selected. Click OK and your done! Cover art added!

Creating a Podbook
MP3 is the most common and universal format for audio, if you're only going to put out one file format make it an mp3. However many podfic listeners enjoy having the option to download podfics as a podbook.

What's a podbook? It's a .m4b file. If you listen to podfic on an Apple product, it'll recognize .m4bs as an audio book and will keep it separate from any music on that device and other benefits that I'm unaware of (since I don't own any Apple products).

If you're on a Mac, here's a post by cybel explaining how she makes podbooks.

If you're on a PC, you can use Chapter and Verse which is a really simple and free program.

Unfortunately Chapter and Verse only works on .m4a files, so you'll have to go back to your Audacity project and export the podfic as an .m4a.

Clicking the Add button will open a browsing window where you can track down the m4a version you just saved.

Next you can jump over to the Metadata tab and add in the same information you added to the mp3 file. Chapter and Verse also lets you add a cover to the podbook so you don't have to go through Media Monkey (I've already added it in this example, but to add it yourself just click select artwork and find your cover).

Here's a download of the podbook.

Sharing Your Podfic
Now all that's left is to share your podfic with the community. I have a personal server where I host all my podfics however there are plenty of free sites to (temporarily) host your podfic at, like:
-Send Space

If you'd like to offer a streaming version of your podfic, I wrote a tutorial on how to stream from a personal webpage here (I also offered to host anyone's podfic if they'd like to stream but don't have personal webspace).

There are also websites out there, like soundcloud that offer limited amounts of free streaming.

I'd suggest having you podfic added to the Audiofic Archive, which is super easy to do. You can either contact the site and ask that your podfic be added, or you can make an announcement post for you podfic at the multifannish podfic comm amplificathon.

If you made an American Idol podfic, please post it here as well.

If you still have questions after reading this tutorial, I encourage you to ask questions. You can leave comments here (and I'll get to them as soon as I can, although the week of pod_aware is going to be super busy for me so it might take a few days for me to answer) or really, most podficcers would be willing to help if you approach them. podfic_tips is also a great resource.

I'd also like to thank revolutionaryjo and diurnal_lee for beta reading this tutorial and offering suggestions. ♥
Tags: tutorial
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