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 🙂 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’ 🙂

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 🙂 x

Back to basics: So you want to write a novel?

How Not to Write a Novel

First – read this…

I’ve realised that a lot of my posts preach to the choir. Lots of in-jokes about indie writers, the behaviour of authors and reviewers on Amazon, and how not to make a twat of yourself online or while sending in submissions. Not to mention how much money you won’t be making, and the joys of sharing your book launch date with anything in the region of 10,000 other writers publishing their books on the same day.

But supposing you’re fresh to the blank page, taunted by ideas waiting to take on a form, and in love with the idea of holding your own book in your hands or gazing at it on your electronic tablet? (Trust me, if anyone’s going to be holding it in awe, you’ll be that person).

So I’m going to go all Delia Smith on you, and start at the beginning.

Starting with the simple egg – your idea, before it has hatched.

The Idea:

You start with an idea. But what genre is it? It can be anything, but it will need a description when you publish or submit, even if it’s only ‘general fiction’.

If it’s not your own idea, and another author is already minted by it, it’s only legal when it’s a ‘parody’. Make sure it has some decent jokes in, change the key names of characters and locations (viz, Barry Trotter), don’t write their exact prose, storylines, or copy their cover/title/author name verbatim, and you won’t be likely to get sued. Parodies are HUGELY popular. If you’re going to parody something that’s already massive, such as Harry Potter or Fifty… (of anything), make sure you Google search all of the “(Original title) parody/parodies” that are already published first. Even self-published authors can get stroppy if you write the same thing. Some of them are also lawyers in their spare time.

Writing parody is a good exercise if you’re new to writing, or have previously only written fan-fiction. You can’t publish fan-fiction with an ISBN or sell it online (that way litigation lies), but you can publish parody. Some territories are still sensitive about it, so the more you make it your own story, the better.

‘Memoirs’ are another opener onto first-time writing. But be aware that to avoid slaps from friends and family, and visits to Jeremy Kyle, it’s best to change all the names in your diary, and possibly your author name too. Change a few more things, then a few more, and hey presto – instant fiction, inspired by real life. But don’t publish something as ‘true-life’ when it clearly isn’t. That imaginary gryphon will be demanded as evidence.

Play with your idea for a while. Write down a list of “what ifs”. What if this happened, what if that happened? What if one of your characters turned out to be XXX? What if it was set in an asylum rather than a school? (Don’t use that one, it’s the plot of Girl, Interrupted and the movies One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sucker Punch, among many others). Keep playing until you’ve come up with the most exciting and original version of your initial idea that you can think of.

N.B: If you are writing a children’s story, avoid any themes that involve strange creatures, hairy or otherwise, hiding under their beds or turning up in their bedrooms and talking to them. Seriously. It’s just wrong. Go and have a serious chat to yourself, and start again. If you’re going to be a trusted author for young readers, any bodily hair envy and bedroom loneliness needs to be put aside while you write. These things have a way of turning up inappropriately in plotlines and passages written by the amateur author.

The audience:

It’s a good time to begin thinking about your potential audience (that’s assuming it isn’t ultimately limited only to yourself). What sort of lifestyle does your future reader have? What are their interests? (Also assuming that their primary interest isn’t to be in competition with you, feverishly typing away at their hors d’ouevre – sorry, latest ouverture/magnum opus – in their bedroom, wishing that they had a hairy chest and some good company).

Remember that if you are hoping to write with authority on any given subject, you may be in luck – and your first unknown reader will be that very expert you dream of being. So make your research the best it can possibly be. Try not to quote directly from Wikipedia, though. Especially not in speeches made by Churchill, or adventurers describing the landscape and population of Peru. You don’t want your first ever review announcing that you have quite clearly never set a heathen foot in Royal Tunbridge Wells, where the imaginary Mafia underbelly of your Victorian-era thriller is set. Yeah – better do some research first…

Characterisation vs. caricature:

Again, this where you have to make a distinction between general fiction, and parody.

If your hero is a time-travelling sock-puppet salesman assisted by various young Earthlings shanghaied on a mission to save the Universe repeatedly from the threat of laser-firing wheelie-bins powered by small gelatinous blobs, via the magical depths of his flying Portaloo – especially if his name is Doctor Why (more of a medical query than a name) – enjoy your own joke, and try again.

Or perhaps he is a 19th Century sleuth, Padlock Homes, who plays the cello, freebases Brylcreem, and stalks the streets of London in a Burberry Pack-a-Mac and matching sou’wester hat, haunted by the crimes of his nemesis Monsanto, to the ongoing befuddlement of of his male PA/secretary, Dr. Whatsapp.

We all love a quirky character. As well as making your character original (see above – or not), try not to give yours so many quirks that they are effectively crippled the moment they have to interact with anything. Whether it’s a bottle-opener, reading the mail, having a shower, talking to a shop assistant, or touching anything in the fridge.

Not every passing butterfly has to bring back six pages of traumatic (or idyllic) recall to the mind of your character. For a story to happen, your role-players need to have some functions that do not involve thoughts of a dead past love or an irrational fear of toilet paper.

You now have all you need to get writing.

Seriously – this is as good a time to start as any. Titles can come later. Synopsis can come later. Draft chapter plans if you want, or make prompt cards for certain events or plot points if you like. But the sooner you start, with your key ideas and key characters, the sooner you’ll find out if it’s an idea you want to run with, or something you lose interest in quickly, and drop. If it’s the latter, you don’t want thirty years’ worth of preparation to go to waste. Thirty minutes is long enough to have a story idea and a character idea ready in your head – and if you’re already an expert in any chosen subject matter, you don’t even need to do the essential research, because it’s already inside you.

Jump in with both feet – and remember: Innovate* don’t imitate**

*Unless it’s a parody…

**Credited to various, including Apple 😉

Let me know how you get on – and if I can answer any questions, I’ll do it in the next post.

L xxx

Fly-tying – part two

See previous post for details – all footage (c) Lisa Scullard 2002

 

Angling for information

Does anyone know this fly-tying fisherman?

I shot this footage in 2002 as a test sequence for a tutorial video concept, and still have another hour’s worth of unused material I can edit together for anyone interested in tying their own flies. I’d like to credit him and send him a copy, if anyone knows who he is. The filming was set up and arranged by Steven Milton, in St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex.

Apparently this fly-tying expert is well-known in the world of fly-fishing, but I don’t have any record of his details to go with the film. Any information would be appreciated!

Enjoy 🙂

Content Copyright Lisa Scullard 2002