Inspiration and book trailers – using open source Audacity and sound FX to create audio

What started out as a music track remix turned into something else once I got distracted¬†ūüôā¬†Click here for alternative link¬†if you can’t see the video above.

I was reading a blog post somewhere recently about free and Open Source software tools that authors can use in their promotion packaging, and came across a mention of Audacity, a track-mixing and recording desktop program, that authors can¬†set up to record their own voice-overs, music, and mix their own copyright-free audio material to use in book trailers. This grabbed my attention initially, because one of my hobbies is music mashups over video (click here for an example of a soundtrack¬†I made using Holst’s ‘Planets Suite’ recorded electronically by Isaio Tomita, combined with Rob Dugan’s epic dance anthem ‘Clubbed to Death’ and a loop sample by Brandon Billings, dubbed over NASA’s Mars Rover 10-minute promo animation).

Having used demo versions of track-mixing software in the past, I was on the lookout for a full version of a program with no nagware attached and unlimited potential.

I found a starter tutorial for Audacity on Youtube, and it seemed pretty similar to other programs I’d tried out, with a lot of additional features.

Like Tony¬†says straightaway, I downloaded it from the official Audacity site. It’s not a huge program file, and was installed and ready to use within a few minutes. I haven’t used the recording voice-over tool so far, but there’s a lot of instruction on this in the above video.

I found that music and sounds can be imported on the ‘File’ menu from MP3 files already saved elsewhere on my computer, which is my usual practise. I’d had an idea for a tune I wanted to mash up, and imported the original track (‘The Politics of Dancing’ by Re-Flex) and imported then trimmed and¬†made a loop from the intro of another track (‘Humanoid’ Cry Baby remix by Stakker Humanoid).

At this point, I made a cup of tea, and got distracted by thoughts of scenes for another Zombie Adventures novel. When I sat down again with the laptop, I found a file saved on my computer called ‘Whoosh Pack’ from SweetSoundEffects, a free FX downloads website by Zach King, and also one called ‘Ultimate Fight Sounds’ which I’d used when dubbing sound effects for the short film ‘How to Train Your Zombie’ directed¬†by Junior for one of her home school projects:

Listen for the crunch and stab sounds from 03:41 to 04.54 – the recording of sound effects on film dubbing is done by a ‘foley’¬†ūüôā

What I’d found on the above film, when adding sound FX directly into Windows Movie Maker as a separate track to music, was that the music volume would become inconsistent and ‘fade’ temporarily while the sound effect was playing (as you can hear). I hadn’t discovered a fix for this in Movie Maker, and wanted to find a way of controlling the volume/gain or fade of each individual effect and music track so that they wouldn’t override one another automatically.

In Audacity, you can control every track you add in exactly that way – including where you want a fade to begin and end by selecting that area of the track – you don’t even need to split it. Each effect you add has its own separate ‘layer’ with individual controls, just like a full paid version of other programs. So you can mix and save a complete soundtrack to add to your book trailer or movie as a single MP3 file.

So, over the beginning of my Re-Flex re-mix, thinking about zombie mayhem for my next book, I added fight sound clips, whooshes, screams, and knife sounds. Having too much fun at this point, I went back to SweetSoundEffects online and downloaded more free audio FX samples, including gun sounds and explosions. These arrive via email link to download in a zip file, which you then extract on your computer to your chosen documents location.

The great thing about Audacity is that so far I’ve found no limit on the number of layers you can add and control on¬†your soundtrack, so a single gunshot through a window noise¬†with a hit and a scream added will consist of¬†four or five different sound effects overlapped in separate layers, all timed to create that ‘event’ in the soundtrack. I think the most separate sound clips I’ve added at the moment to a complete soundtrack is about 100.

I was pretty pleased with the¬†zombie battlefield din that I’d created (could perhaps use some groans, but I didn’t want to overdo it first time), so I cropped the soundtrack to about a minute and a half, and exported it as MP3.

Again, as the tutorial says, if you haven’t downloaded the required MP3 conversion program ‘LAME’ from where Audacity directs you to already, at this point you’ll be prompted and directed to the instructions and download link. Don’t click in the big sidebar adverts saying ‘download’ – make sure you select the right one beneath the instructions for LAME MP3, for your computer. Once installed, you might need to click on ‘Browse’ for the LAME MP3 program the first time you export your track from Audacity, but otherwise the file will convert and save automatically in your chosen location – I use ‘My Music’ files to save all audio.

You can then make a Windows Movie file using the complete soundtrack. Import your images or video first (I used a single image for the first track, as it was an experiment), and then your audio. Select the MP3 file of your complete, mixed soundtrack, and it will appear as a single track in your ‘My Movie’ project. Your images, movie or slideshow will then need to be edited in ‘running length/time’ to match the length of your soundtrack, given in seconds. Alternatively, decide on the length of your movie and fade out the soundtrack accordingly – it’s up to you. Add any captions or titles that you want to include. Then save and export your movie file as normal – the usual for upload online is to export it as a file ‘for computer’ although you can also write to DVD etc.

This method is ideal for book trailers, where you’re not trying to sync dialogue, and just want an easily-manageable soundtrack.

So, having succeeded, and wanting to play with adding a few more sound effects to my ‘battle scene’ soundtrack, I re-opened the project in Audacity, saved it as a different file name so as not to over-write the original, removed the music, and added an MP3 of different music and samples¬†that I’d remixed¬†earlier, to make another version:

O-Ren Ishii

Click here for ‘Chill Bill – Lucy Loses It Remix’ (contains strong language)

After that, and playing with more ideas for backing music and an even longer battlefield audio scene, I downloaded some aircraft sounds, extended the mix, changed the music again, made a tribute slideshow, and eventually ended up with this:

‘Nightmare Before Apocalypse’ – audio remix (backing track: Danny Elfman). Click here for alternative link if you can’t see the video above.

Not only did I have a ton of fun with this, I also got several new story ideas while mixing up music and FX – so whether you’re planning on making yourself a free book trailer and need to record voice-over, sounds and music, or are wondering what your battle scenes might sound like, or even just want some inspiration, it’s a great way to get even more creative.

Enjoy ūüôā x

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The two-week wobble

Yesterday, I got notification of my first royalty payment from Amazon Kindle! To celebrate, I made cookies. Which I’m only allowed to eat so long as I don’t eat anything else. They are chocolate-choc-chip-macadamia-cranberry made with 1/3 wholewheat flour, so technically quite balanced. I think four of those totals probably about 1000 calories (!).

I’m doing all right on the diet otherwise – managing to keep away from late-night mealtimes, and currently comfortably losing at the steady 1lb-per-week rate after dropping an initial few pounds immediately, as usually happens. A couple of weeks in is usually a weak point. I had my day off (a sensible Sunday lunch) and didn’t crack after that, and the reward of seeing the scales creeping backwards when I weigh myself every day is motivation enough – not to mention the clothes I’m looking forward to fitting back into. I have some really cool stuff collected when I was working and earning the occasional dress and shoe-shop…

Last week I was working for Sophie Neville again, finishing her book trailer for Funnily Enough. I’d followed a tutorial online by Declan Conner to¬†format an illustrated version of¬†Sophie’s eBook on Amazon Kindle, which has turned out really well – all the cartoons in it are her own, and I’m very inspired to do an illustrated eBook myself, having seen how great it looks in colour on the Android screen (Kindle app for Android available free from Amazon, or the Android app store).

This was done using Windows again, and the music is from an AVP copyright-free music library CD, that I already had knocking around. Sophie wanted a combination of cuts and transitions, which suits the quirky style.

I tried to do some watercolour painting last night, but it turned out more water than colour. That’s what you get for using children’s paints costing ¬£1.99 – sigh. I was trying out an idea for a book cover on one of my other stories – but it turned out looking like a Comic Relief Red Nose instead of a menacing big red button. Karmically this is probably good news, in some alternate universe.

Today, I’m procrastinating about more everyday things, like the car needing maintenance. And avoiding editing one of my film scripts to mail out, as I’ve decided what my writing needs is an agent to do the selling for me. I’m not into selling. I’m into earning, but not ‘selling’. Selling implies that what you have to offer¬†is not in fact necessary for survival, or is a gamble, like a luxury item or high-risk investment. Although what is high-risk about a two-quid electronic novel (or ten-quid paperback) could be a mystery, and as for necessary to survival – well, I’m not Ray Mears. But you might learn a lot about what it takes to get by in the nightclub scene.

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