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

Master Track EQ settings for Garageband Audiobook

Master Track EQ settings for Garageband Audiobook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 1,216 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!

28 Comments

    • Hi Pearl — I don’t have an iOS version of the template. And I checked out how to transfer existing Garageband files to iOS and it is pretty darn involved! If I tool around with it in the future, I’ll post my findings and a reply. Good luck with your recordings!

  1. Hi Rob, Thank you. They just added new mixer controls to the iOS version, but it doesn’t have numbers. I hope one day they’ll make it available, even if I have to purchase it. I am going to look at the screen shot of your settings and try to mimic them. I’ll record something and send it in; that’s the only way that I know to test it. If I figure it out, I’ll save a template and send it to you. If you can test it before I send it to Audible, let me know.

  2. Hi Pearl – awesome! Let me know how it works out, and whatever you learn, I can update this post with your learnings (and credit you, of course). Good luck!

  3. Hi Rob, excellent recording and pointers. I downloaded your sample, but for some reason all EQ readings show as flat. Am I missing something? I’m totally new to this, trying to record my book. Thanks!

    • Hi Alexander! Okay, I didn’t put the custom EQ in the Master Track, so make sure you have Chapter 1 selected. Then make sure you’ve highlighted the little EQ button in your smart controls, and UNCHECK the little “Master” button. You should see the custom EQ setting I have set up. Let me know if you still don’t see it.
      — Rob

      • Thank you, I can see them now. Being new to this, I like the way your book sounds so I’d like to use your presets. Would you mind telling me how to record my track with your settings? Do I delete your track and record over it?
        Thank you for helping us out. Really helpful stuff.

        • Apparently, it’s possible to save settings as a template. It would be huge help to me and others, I think, if you posted a template file like that. Either way, thank you for blogging about this.

        • Hi Alex,

          I left the audio content in there for new narrators to hear my volume, the breath edits, pacing, etc., and I think most people who download find that helpful. So in that case, you would just delete my content and replace it with your own. But if you want a totally blank file with just my settings, here’s the link! (http://bit.ly/2bu5fq1) Note that Garageband does NOT allow creation of template files, you’re just creating a blank file with certain settings, so when you open this up, remember to immediately “Save As.” Hope that helps!

          • Also, if you found this post/my comments helpful, I’d humbly ask you to share the love on your favorite social media – facebook, twitter, G+, whatever. Thanks dude!

  4. Rob:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with Garage Band and ACX!

    I tried recording using your settings, and it sounded great! Then I edited some breaths that were too loud and saved it. Now there is a loud click sound at the beginning and end of each recorded region. You can see the LED’s on the track bounce up to about 50% when the play head travels over the beginning or end of each region. I tried recording on new “Chapter” tracks, and get the same result. It’s not coming from the mixer– I disconnected that to see if the hardware was the issue. Any suggestions?

    • Hmm. I haven’t seen that before. I’d first try to expand all the way out so you’re seeing the smallest waves in the Editor window (click the little scissor icon). Then I’d see if there is any sound wave you can actually see. If not, there’s something up with the playback hardware/software combination. Tool around with it a bit, and if you’re still having problems, contact me through the contact page, and I’ll have you email me a “saved as…” copy of your file with one example of the problem and I’ll take a look.

  5. Thanks Rob. Still no joy on solving the pop problem. I can’t see any audio indication on the region where the Pops are occurring. I’d appreciate it if I can mail you a short sample so you can look at the file to see what settings I have missed.

    Please let me know the best email address to use and I’ll send it over to you.

    Best regards,
    Bruce

  6. Hey Rob! Did you find any way of exporting the tracks as individual mp3’s? Or did you just unmute one track at a time?

    Great information on all other points. I used this to convert an old cassette audiobook that isn’t available for digital download or even CD. I used a simple cassette player with a male to male headphone cord plugged into the cassette player an the line in on my mac mini, then used quicktime to record the front and back of two cassettes. Then I put the whole long files into garageband, spliced it up (using command-T) into separate tracks. Pretty slick.

    • Hi Kenny! — Yes, in my case I record chapters on individual tracks in the same Garageband file, then when I’m read to export I mute all tracks except the one I want, and use the “cycle” tool to select the time range I want to export. Then I Share>Export Song to Disk> and select “Export cycle area.” And btw, love your solution with the cassette!

  7. There may be a difference btwn our GB, I am 10.1.3, but I don’t
    understand why you would Export to disc rather than Share to ITunes. And then do the conversion to MP3 in ITunes. Seems to me that is where the files are going to be archived anyway for upload.

    • You could totally do it that way, especially for songs or something you’re going to be listening to later through iTunes. But since I’m outputting for Audible, I just go Garageband > Export to MP3 > Upload to Audible, not involving iTunes at all.

    • Perfect! Yes, every room, mic, and voice is a little different, so it ultimately all comes down to your ear and how the end product sounds.

  8. One last ques – I send off my Audible stuff w/ “room noise” of about 1.5 sec at top and :03 at the tail per their regs. R u recommending :03 silence beyond that or including it?
    Thnx.

  9. I want to thank you for this very helpful post. The first audiobook narration I produced was just published yesterday and I think your helpful advice helped me to pass ACX’s quality control checks with no problems. You really helped me out.

  10. Rob, this is fantastic. One question. When you export your files from garageband, do you have auto normalize on or off? It’s in preferences>advanced on GB 10.

    • Hi Joe – I have auto normalize OFF for my exports. I personally feel like you’d be better off controlling volume/gain/limiting inside the file, but I haven’t done any tests with it, so if you do, I’d love to hear your results.

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