My Session in the Recording Studio

Last weekend I spent 14 hours in a recording studio taping the audio-book for The Squeaky Wheel. It was my first visit to a recording studio of any kind and as might be expected I was nervous. "You'll be recording in that booth," the director said, pointing toward a glass window through which I could make out a broom-closet sized room with a small desk, chair and a microphone. "Won’t the back-up singers feel cramped in there?" I asked jokingly. The director didn't respond. I turned and saw she already had her earphones on and was busy flipping switches. I decided to ditch my ‘Let's take it once more from the chorus!" joke I was saving for later. Feeling no less nervous, I assumed my position in the tiny room and waved my hand to let the director know I was ready. "Just talk,” she said. “I can hear you." Her voice came through speakers that hung above the window. I promptly gave myself a metaphorical smack on the forehead. Of course she could hear me! I’m sitting in a recording booth! "Let's take it once more from the chorus!" I quipped before I could stop myself. Not even a giggle came through the speakers. I looked up and realized the director had removed her earphones and was busy shutting the double doors that separated our two rooms.

The director returned to her seat, put on her earphones and pointed at me with her finger—which even I understood meant that I should begin. I was taken aback. Were there no sound checks? "Just start reading?" I asked. "That's how it works," she responded. "No sound checks?" I inquired. "Can't really do those until you read something," she explained patiently. I quickly gave myself another metaphorical smack on the forehead and began to read.

Four hours and two chapters later, we broke for lunch. It turns out lunch can be a problem when recording audio books. Not the meal per se but rather the gastrointestinal process that follows it. Our digestive systems make tiny sounds while breaking down say, a California wrap with chicken, avocado, roasted peppers and greens. My stomach was making very faint ‘eep’, ‘broop’ and ‘wromp’ noises and my saliva glands were still set to ‘high’. Consequently the next hour featured me trying to read and the director interrupting every few sentences with comments such as, “stomach noises, do it again”, “nope, too many smacking sounds” and “don’t burp into the microphone”.

The next morning I arrived at the recording studio slightly panicked. Seven hours of reading the day before had left my vocal chords feeling sore and scratchy. We got right down to business before I could voice my concerns. Much to my dismay, my voice kept breaking at the end of random sentences and going into high pitched falsetto. It made me sound like I was whining…or going through puberty. Neither option felt especially appropriate for a book about complaining. I found it really annoying when my voice broke while reading the word ‘squeak’. It made it seem as though I was trying to incorporate ill-conceived sound-effects.

Worried as I was, my director remained calm and professional throughout, not to mention tactful. “You’re sounding a little froggy,” she commented after a couple of unfortunate squeaks. “That can happen on the second day. Your voice will get better as we go along,” she reassured me. Although I am not an expert on frog biology, I doubt many of their mating calls involved high-pitched squeaking sounds. But I didn’t argue the point. Sure enough, within thirty minutes, my voice stabilized and we continued the read.

Despite my initial nervousness and the intensity of concentrating for hours at a stretch, I found the process of recording the audio-book tremendously enjoyable. It had been many months since I had delivered the completed manuscript to Walker & Company and I had not seen the text in quite a while. Reading the book anew got me back in touch with how excited I feel about the publication date drawing ever nearer. For me, January 4, 2011 cannot come soon enough.