Making the DAISY Format Book – Part 2

Picking up where I left off in the previous post, I’ll continue to guide you through the steps I’m taking to bring Tears of a Machine to you in an accessible format.

Step 4 – The Recording Application

TOBI is a free and open-source application programmed by DAISY Consortium members. It’s a flexible application that lets you work with your text and audio in a few different ways. You can record right through the application or if you want to use other software that’s more familiar to you, then you can import the audio files into TOBI later, matching up sections of the file with sections of the text. There are other applications on the market, some of them quite expensive, but TOBI’s basic features are enough for me.

Loading the new project is pretty easy. I just point TOBI at the .xml files that I got from the Save As DAISY operation in Word. After a quick conversion it opens up the file as a TOBI project.

The Tobi interface

Here’s TOBI!

Step 5 -Setting Up To Record

I was a music student before I was a game designer so I’ve got some advantage here, owning a collection of different microphones and a small mixing console. However, this gear is heaped up in my tiny office where I have to contend with the fan noise from my computer, the echo off my walls and the occasional dog barking outside.

One of the issues that makes most audio sound cheap is a distant sound. A hollow sound full of background reflections like what you get when you’re using the microphone in the screen frame of your laptop. To counter that effect, I use close mic’ing, with my mouth very close to the microphone pickup and a pop filter that keeps the wind noise of my breath from getting into the recorded sound. I also set up some blankets on portable garment racks around me to create a screen of soft, sound absorbing material so that I don’t have a ricochet echo from front wall to back wall and then back into the microphone. You can do a lot to build a temporary recording booth with blankets and pillows!

The space and the tools that you have available will decide what you need to do to make good recordings of your own. Set aside a few hours to test out microphone placement and to tinker with your settings. Keep a reference recording open on your computer that you can listen to for comparison; an audiobook or professional podcast you enjoy. Once you can put together a comparable sound, you’re ready to go.

Amazon.com’s ACX program offers some good, basic advice on what to listen for in your book audio, but a Google web search can also net you good results. (As an aside, check out the rest of the ACX program. There are some great ideas to work with others and get more audio books out there, though it is intended for commercial use.)

Step 6 – Recording and Marking

Now that my microphone is set up and my files loaded, it’s time to get the voice down and matched to the audio. I decided to record right in to the TOBI application and to mark and add navigation points as I go. The advantage of working this way is that I can read my book off the TOBI screen. One downside is that the TOBI audio engine isn’t the highest quality, translating the recording right into MP3 files. I might go back and record a better quality version of the book one day.

I set up the XML file to mark each paragraph in the book. That means that when someone is listening and reading along the screen will be highlighted paragraph by paragraph, advancing with the timing of my marks. As I read to the end of each paragraph I click the advance button and begin reading the next one. Sentence level highlighting is now preferred but it’s more time intensive. (Another reason to revisit the recording after this first version is done.)

At my desk with microphone and TOBI

Recording in my office. Note the anime wall scrolls that provide necessary sound absorption in the most geeky way possible.

Step 7 – Checking Recorded Work

When I’m on a roll I prefer not to stop and correct errors as they happen; making a mental note and sometimes clapping to put a spike on the audio display (like the slate they use in movies) lets me keep my momentum and then go back to find and correct the flaws later. Every five pages or so I’ll take breaks to listen to the work I’ve done and make those corrections and check that the rest of the work is good quality. It’s a good opportunity to rest my voice for a little while and to sip some water or tea. In addition to correcting any stumbles or mis-reads, I also listen for extraneous noise that slipped in through the background (like those neighborhood dogs.) It’s important to have over-ear headphones with good isolation when monitoring and reviewing your work so that you don’t hear distracting sounds in the present mixing in with the sounds of the past few minutes.

I’ve still got a lot of pages to read ahead of me but in a few more weeks I’ll be able to move on to finishing the book and creating the release version for DAISY and ePub 3.0. Look for another update on the recording process and maybe some sample files soon.

Some Thoughts On Output

In the past year ePub 3.0 has really taken off. Most of the DAISY community is looking to change it’s output format over to rich media ePub 3.0 files. The crossover between the formats is so strong now that there are plenty of tools that will let me convert the finished DAISY book into ePub 3.0 with minimal fuss. For future projects, I’ll aim for ePub 3.0 as my primary format.

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Filed under Accessibility, Game Design, Tears of a Machine

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