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My Garageband Settings for Audiobooks (ACX/Audible)

Hi folks! A while ago I posted about recording an audiobook for my novel Where the Hell is Tesla? (I used Garageband for recording and exporting to ACX/Audible.com).  The post got a lot of positive response, and just the other day I got a request from Mark Clason for the actual settings I used in Garageband. I thought this was a great idea, but since Garageband has a kind of loosey-goosey user interface without a lot of specific numerical settings, I decided to do two things:

• 1. Here’s a link to download a sample Garageband 10.1 file

It’s got all my settings for a Master Track and a”Chapter 1″ track for your audiobook. Just load it up and give it a go!

• 2. Here are some Garageband screen shots/descriptions showing the settings and the (built-in) plugins that I used.

Special note: I am NOT a professional sound editor. I do have lots of experience recording voiceover and music, with professionals, but I’m the first one to say I don’t know everything, just enough to be dangerous, and for higher-end stuff I usually have other people at the controls. So if you see something here that looks wonky or wrong, let me know and I’ll update/fix it, so you’re more prepared to record your own audiobook.

1. Master Track – EQ

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 11.36.28 AM

Make sure you can see your Master Track (Track > Show Master Track), then start editing your plugins (the Master Track already has plugins in there, you just have to turn them on). For EQ, I just left it flat, deciding instead to have individual EQ settings for each chapter, in case I wanted to tweak as I went. I didn’t tweak the individual chapters too much, however, so if you wanted to just use a master EQ, that should work no problem. (You can see my Chapter 1 EQ settings below.)

2. Master Track – Compressor

I turned on the Master Track Compressor. Applying compression to a track in Garageband lowers the volume of loud sounds to the same level as the quieter sounds. You can then raise the overall gain of the track, having reduced any peaks or troughs in the volume. I left the default settings:

Garageband Compressor settings for Audiobook Master Track

3. Master Track – Limiter

I turned on Limiter plugin. According to ACX production guidelines, “Each uploaded file must have peak values no higher than -3dB”, so I set the Limiter’s output level to -3.0db to follow their peak limit:

Garageband Limiter settings for Audiobook Master Track

4. Chapter 1 Track – EQ

Okay, that was it for the Master Track settings (though you can also play with the master volume, but we’ll get to that in a minute).  For the Chapter 1 Track, (and all chapters started with these settings), I wanted to add bass to fill out the sound, give it some gravity, take out a little of the middle, or leave it flat, to make it less “mushy,” and punch up the high end just a little to make sure it was crisp and not overly bassy. I changed the default EQ values as follows: (Note that if you start a new Garageband file to record your audiobook and choose “Voice” as the project type, it’ll give you lots of tracks/options to play with.)

Garageband EQ settings for Audiobook Master Track Garageband EQ settings for Audiobook Master Track Garageband EQ settings for Audiobook Master Track Garageband EQ settings for Audiobook Master Track Garageband EQ settings for Audiobook Master Track Garageband EQ settings for Audiobook Master Track Garageband EQ settings for Audiobook Master Track

I totally recommend playing around with them visually, but if you want the exact numbers, download the sample Garageband file, or use these:

Frequency 92.0 Hz; Slope 24dB/Oct; Q: 0.20
Frequency 160.0 Hz; Gain +20.5 dB; Q: 1.10
Frequency 80.0 Hz; Gain -0.5 dB; Q: 2.20
Frequency 6000 Hz; Gain +9.5 dB; Q: 0.71
Frequency 1160 Hz; Gain +0.0 dB; Q: 3.20
Frequency 3500 Hz; Gain +0.0 dB; Q: 0.71
Frequency 7000 Hz; Gain +0.0 dB; Q: 0.71

5. Chapter 1 Track – Compressor

For each chapter track, I turned on the Compressor, and tweaked the values. I wish I could say there was a math to this, but I just did what sounded good. (Remember to use headphones, preferably good headphones, when tweaking values like this). Here are my values:

Garageband Compressor settings for Audiobook Chapter Track

6. Chapter 1 Track – Noise Gate

When you’re recording your audiobook, unless you’re in an amazing sound-proof room (which is awesome if you can get it), you’re going to have at least a little ambient room noise. Depending on your microphone and your recording levels, you can have quite a bit of control over this, but I found that I still needed a noise gate to cut off a certain low-end of noise so that I could have silence when there was supposed to be silence! (Although a wee little room noise can be okay, and sound perfectly natural, so don’t overdo the noise gate.) ACX wants your noise floor (the ambient noise level when there is no speaking or sound) to be no higher than -60db. So here are my settings: (Note that they change a bit from chapter to chapter.)Garageband Noise Gate settings for Audiobook Chapter Track

7. Volume Control

You’ve got so many different places you can affect the volume: the Record Level on your input, and then for output you have your Master Track, Your individual Chapter tracks, and your Master volume.Garageband Volume Controls for Audiobook

And none of these have numerical inputs (that I know of). So there’s no way around it: you’re going to have to play around with these inputs/outputs to get the right volume. (And you also have your headphone/speaker volume to contend with.) But this is the way I went about it:
• Left the Master Track output volume at default
• Started with Chapter track output volume at default
• Tested recording vocals, and played with the recording level to get this:

Garageband Volume Target for Audiobook

That’s a volume output that tends towards the upper-mid-to-high end of green, extends into the yellow for peak moments, but never goes into the red (though your Compressor and your Limiter should eliminate that anyway). I know this all sounds inexact, and it is, but it worked great for my audiobook, and I haven’t gotten a single comment from listeners about volume issues.
• Then tweak as necessary. Honestly, I didn’t worry about ACX’s instruction “Each uploaded file must measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS.” But as I said, I put a Limiter plug-in on the master track of -3.0db to follow their peak limit

8. Mastering/Export

I received a comment recently from someone concerned about the ACX / Audible.com “mastering” requirements. I’m not sure what they mean by this, as I didn’t do anything extraordinary on these files and they worked out great. As I showed above, I simply played with plugins on the Master and individual tracks. I guess you could call that mastering. (?) Then, I literally just exported with Share > Export Song to Disk > MP3/HighQuality 192 kBit/s. Boom. Done.

Garageband Export Settings for Audiobook ACX, Audible

Feedback from ACX and audiobook reviewers

My files, using the settings above, went through no problem. There were a couple of chapters that they kicked back, because I didn’t leave enough head and tail (beginning and end) silence. So I’d recommend a healthy 3 seconds of absolute silence at the beginning and end of each chapter.

As far as reviewers, I haven’t received a single negative comment about production quality, and in fact have gotten some really nice production-related feedback:

“★★★★★  The production quality is top-notch and the voices are spot on.”

“★★★★★ The narration is superb with a good range of voices.”

“★★★★★ This guy has a future writing and reading. I have over 500 audio books. This is right near the top of the heap.”

“★★★★★ In the company of recent great reads/listens like John Dies, Ready Player One, Lost and Found. I love this funny sci-fi stuff and the narration is fantastic.”

(If you’re so inclined, you can read some of the other 240 reviews of Where the Hell is Tesla? over at Audible.com. If you’re inclined to listen to a sample chapter, head on over. Oh, and of course you can purchase it there too. 😉 )

Final thought

Seriously – if you have additional (more expert than li’l old me) advice, or corrections, or more questions, I’d love to hear from you — just leave a comment below or email me. I’m planning on keeping this post updated, to help out as many folks as possible. And if you find this post helpful, let me know! (And as a small publisher, I rely on word-of-mouth for exposure, so a Facebook/Twitter share of this post would be awesome.)

Good luck recording your own audiobook!

1 Comment

  1. rachelm1122
    September 2, 2016 at 3:47 am — Reply

    You are an absolute lifesaver! Thank you so much for this post – I’m just about to record my first audio book and trying to figure out how to use Garageband correctly has been a nightmare! Hopefully I’ll be able to find all the settings you mention!

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