Are you frustrated as a professional storyteller? Which of these are true for you:
You have more good stories to tell than you have time and money to hire a studio and record them.
You're tired of struggling to earn a living solely from your performances and workshops.
Too often, you're hired by folks who don't really appreciate your brand of storytelling.
You're not getting enough work from your website, which lacks multiple online samples of your telling.
If one or more of the above apply to you, many professional and semi-professional tellers share your frustration. I know, because I have coached many of them. And I have helped a good many find a way to reduce those frustrations on several fronts.
But there is a key piece that can help with passive income, with preserving and publicizing your stories, with attracting customers who truly appreciate what you have to offer, and with increasing your bookings.
What piece is that? Recording your stories!
Why Don't We All Do More Recording, Then?
If recordings can help in all those ways, why don't we all make lots of them? Well, they are too expensive and time-consuming. Most paid storytellers need to be strategic about both time and money. And, at least until now, that's what professional-grade recordings have demanded lots of: time and money.
But what happens when we lack the recordings our storytelling careers need? What happens when…
when we don't get our lovingly-developed stories out where more people can hear them;
when we don't have enough recordings to make a sizeable part of our income from selling them;
when potential customers can't hear the right kind of story to suit their audiences;
when our websites don't feature enough story samples to attract our best customers?
Without enough high-quality recordings, we lose potential income—through missed download sales, missed CD sales, and jobs we weren't hired for because the customer couldn't be sure we had the right material for the job. This doesn't even take into account the jobs we might have been offered through someone who heard one of those recordings we never got around to making!
We also lose audiences who would have loved the stories we worked up years ago but don't tell any more—and, in fact, don't tell because not enough folks ask for them to make it worth re-learning them. A recording, though, if we had made one when the story was in our active repertoire, would generate more demand now and make those old stories into money-makers. In economic terms, we get less return on our artistic capital. In artistic terms, we put our hearts into too many stories that never have enough of a chance to do their share to support us.
All of this means that we struggle harder to earn a living. As a result, we have even less time to work on our art, which, in turn, means we have less new great material and therefore lose potential income, which feeds back into the cycle. In short, our art does not develop as fully as it might.
As if that isn't bad enough, our lack of recordings makes it harder for new potential audience members to find us and be bit with the "story bug." That's a loss of audience not just to us, but to all storytellers.
It's Not Like We Haven't Been Trying!
I don't mean that we haven't been doing our best to record our stories. But there haven't really been easy and cheap ways to get the job done.
For example, in 1998-9 when I recorded my Jewish mystical epic tale, the Soul of Hope, I was lucky to get a skilled engineer (with experience recording storytelling!) at a bargain rate: $50 per hour. Recording, re-recording and editing took more than 50 hours of studio time, so the total cost was over $2500. Then I had manufacturing expenses, of course, so, before I repaid my expenses from sales, I had to sell over 200 copies. That doesn't count even a penny for my own time in the studio, much less my time creating, rehearsing, and listening. I couldn't afford to invest that much time and money very often!
Some people tried to get around these hard economic facts by cobbling together free or cheap services. They'd tell a story on a local public radio station, take the resulting tape or (later) digital master to a local project-studio for editing, find an off-shore duplicator who would do a bare-bones CD case at a discount, etc.
I still get requests from folks who put that much effort into saving money on their recordings, but never got a final product. They ask me to extract stories from an old radio station tape to use on their websites, because the editor who worked for them years ago as a student is now gone to parts unknown.
It turned out, most often, that whatever you saved in money you lost in time. So it was no wonder that we didn't record as often as we wished we could!
The Digital Hope...
In the last years, digital recording equipment has brought down the cost of owning our own high-quality recorders. For the past 3 or 4 years, in fact, there have been a steady stream of new products: small, even pocket-sized digital recorders claiming to be able to record high-quality sound.
I have followed every new introduction with interest: Will this one be perfect for storytellers?
Sadly, every one failed. Some were too big. (Who has a pocket that could hold a large paperback?) Some were too expensive ($1800 or more). Some were way too hard to use. Others had low-quality sound in spite of their digital specifications. Most of them didn't work well with pro-quality microphones, which usually require something called "phantom power."
(Phantom power is battery power provided to the microphone by the recorder. By the way, it needs to provide enough voltage, which most portables with phantom power don't do.)
My friend Derek Burrows spoke highly of one product, the Microtrack 24/96, which, with a list price of $500, was definitely small enough and easy to use. But it had several fatal flaws:
The circuits were too full of hiss.
There was phantom power, but not enough voltage to be useful.
There was no limiter to prevent digital distortion on loud passages.
The battery was rechargeable but not removeable, so, after 2-3 hours you couldn't record more without plugging it in to recharge for hours. Three hours is enough for an ordinary performance, but not enough for all day at festival, much less a day-long training.
In the fall of 2007, however, the manufacturer announced the upcoming Microtrack II, with several important improvements:
Improved, low-noise circuits.
Full-voltage phantom power.
A true analog input limiter
A $100 price reduction
I was getting excited about this, even before it was available to buy.
But there was one problem: it still didn't have a removeable battery. Darn! That was a deal-breaker, because I record my trainings and workshops—6 to 8 hours of talk in a day.
The Accidental Discovery
Then, one day while searching the internet for something else, I happened upon a forum post by a happy user of the original Microtrack, who said that he had gotten around the battery limitation by simply plugging in a battery box made to extend the charge on an iPod.
Whoa! If that work-around was effective, the Microtrack II could be the pocket digital recorder that storytellers have been waiting for!
Eager to try all this out, I ordered a Microtrack II from a private dealer (before they had even hit the stores in the U.S.). Then I began testing it out in a variety of circumstances (and buying over $100 worth of battery box possibilities).
Results with the Microtrack II
My tests confirmed my hopes and the early reports: the Microtrack II is easy-to-use, small enough to fit in a pocket (even with my favorite battery box attached), works well with my 3 favorite professional mics (more on those, later), and, most importantly, records excellent-sounding audio—good enough for fully professional recordings.
I have been using my Microtrack II intensively for the last few months. I use it for recording my telephone coaching sessions, carrying it in my pocket. I have tested it with my favorite microphones, and found that it gives quieter (less hiss and mic noise) recordings than even my $1000 flash recorder. In other words, I can vouch for this being everything I claim it is.
At last, quality, cost, design, ease of use and technology come together in one package. What a relief, after all those years of searching!
The problem was solved! (Uh, almost.)
What About Software?
Recorders like the Microtrack II use digital storage cards, which can hold 2 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours or more of CD-quality recordings. You can swap them out when full. You can also use them to transfer your recordings to a computer, where you can edit them, and you can erase the old files from your storage cards after you've saved the files to your hard disk or burned a CD of them.
But once you have your files in your computer, you have to edit them to remove unwanted silence at the beginning and end of the recording, and any extraneous noises or slips of the tongue.
Equally importantly, you need to use specialty programs known as "plug-ins" to accomplish important modifications to your recording, such as evening out the volume (a process called "compression") so that, if you were playing such a recording in a car, you wouldn't have to keep turning up the volume on the quiet parts and lowering it on the loud parts.
This was a sticking point in my dream of easy, inexpensive recordings for storytellers. Why? Well, the pro-quality software was expensive. The basic editor I have used on my Mac, for example, is Bias Peak, which lists for $599 and has a definite learning curve. And the compression plug-in I use is part of a bundle of plug-ins that costs another $375.
Is Audacity Enough...?
Of course, there are a variety of free or inexpensive sound editors. The last time I had checked them out, however, (several years ago) they had lacked the ease of use, power, and integration with plug-in technology required to prepare a professional recording.
But the Microtrack II came bundled with the new version of Audacity, a free, "open-source" audio editing program supported by a community of coders and users. Since the makers of the Microtrack II were offering it, I decided to check out what it had become since I had last looked at it.
Happily, all its significant shortcomings (like those of the original Microtrack itself) had been addressed. Audacity is now a fully professional sound editor, capable of doing whatever needs to be done to a storyteller's recording file. And it's easy to use!
How Will You Know How to Use It?
There was one more problem left to solve: how would a storyteller like you know how to use the Microtrack II and Audacity? They are really quite simple, but that doesn't mean there is nothing to learn.
I had learned by reading books and online forums and by lots of trial and error. But I'm also a teacher who is known for taking complicated subjects and explaining them clearly and simply. What if I offered to teach people how to use this equipment?
For a while, I considered offering individual tutoring in making your own recordings. But I realized that would cost you too much and take too much of my time.
But there was a problem with this idea: so far, my online courses had involved written pages and phone calls. But to teach you to make recordings, I need to combine pictures of the equipment with actual software demonstrations using Audacity.
After another two weeks of online research, I discovered the perfect solution: a website called Yugma.com, which will allow you to see me use Audacity on my computer as I talk about it over the conference call, in real time. (For that matter, it will let you see me perform all the other computer tasks necessary to create a professional recording and upload it to a commercial story site.)
Now, all I had to do was decide what to include in the course! Here's what I'm offering:
This course will take you from the absolute beginning—taking a Microtrack II out of the box—step by step to uploading your finished story to iTales.com, where your story will start making you money! Of course, the skills you'll learn will be perfect for recording your stories for practice and documentation, for issuing on CD, for placing on your own website, etc.
The course will feature lessons you can see and hear, and video and audio archives of any lessons you miss or want to review. Every process will be documented with step-by-step, illustrated summaries. So, even if you don't use these skills for a while, you'll be able to jump back in at any point. And you'll have access to the website for life (my life, not yours).
Plus, I will coach you and the other course members on your recording and editing. You'll hear my suggestions for improving specific recordings, then you'll hear the actual results!
You will learn to record and edit your stories through this course—or I'll refund every penny of your tuition. I'll even pay you an extra $100 out of my own pocket, to compensate you for the time you wasted. That's how confident I am that you'll learn!
Starting the week of April 14, "How to Record Your Stories" will last 10 weeks (with time off for my travels, we'll be done by the end of June) See the registration form for the full schedule, which is still somewhat flexible to accommodate your preferences..
On five of those weeks, you'll watch and listen to a lesson. On the other five, you'll ask questions and watch and listen as I answer them, coach you through difficulties, and demonstrate additional techniques for solving specific problems. (By the way, the lessons and coaching calls will roughly alternate between weekday afternoons and Thursday evenings, so that everyone should have a chance to hear at least half the sessions live. The ones you miss live will be available online, usually within 24 hours.)
What will you learn to do exactly?
You'll learn to use a Microtrack II to record stories, transfer them to your computer, and edit them. By the end of the course, you'll have recorded and edited one complete 5-10 minute story, and uploaded it to the iTales.com website, where story listeners can download it for a fee. In short, you'll have a product on the "storytellers' iTunes" website that can start earning you money immediately.
Altogether, you'll learn all this:
How to take your Microtrack II out of the box and charge its battery.
How to connect your microphone and headphones to the Microtrack II.
The four simple steps for recording a story onto your Microtrack II
The three crucial settings on the Microtrack II
How to save, delete, or playback a recording you have made.
How to install the Audacity program onto your computer (Audacity works with Windows, Macs, and Linux!)
How to open, play, and maneuver in the Audacity test file I'll mail you.
How to remove extra silence at the start and end of a file; how to remove a cough.
How to save your file, make a backup copy, and listen to it when it's done on the included earbud headphones.
How to connect the Microtrack II to your computer.
How to see what files are on your Microtrack II; how to rename them and transfer them to your computer.
How to make a backup of a file and open it in Audacity.
How to select and delete part of your story.
How to move a sentence from one part of your story to another.
How to convert a file into MP3 for uploading.
How to upload a file to the course website.
The three technical "must not forgets" of recording yourself.
Who to practice your stories with, and how.
Who to record your stories with: the pros and cons of the four options.
Recording at home: the three warnings.
How to edit your own story file, with a demonstration on an actual course member's file.
How to replace a single muffed word with the same word from another part of your story—and how to know when this will not work.
Moving a sentence or section from one file to another.
Compression: how to even out the volume for your listeners' convenience.
Gating: how to diminish background hiss.
Equalization: how to remove any hum. How to export your finished file.
How to register at iTales.com
What you need to know about the policies at iTales.com How to upload your story to iTales.com
How to put a sample recording on your own website.
In this lesson, I'll also save some time for additional issues, problems, and techniques that have come up for members of the course and that require a prepared, more detailed explanation than could be given in the coaching/question-and-answer calls.
After every lesson, you'll have specific, supported assignments (and two weeks to do them). The coaching/question-and-answer calls will come mid-way through that period, giving you support when you'll most need it.
By the end of this course, you'll have a storytelling recording on iTales.com where it can begin making you money!
What Will This Course Cost?
If you bought just 7 hours of my time to teach you all this, you'd pay $977. That wouldn't get you access to the course materials, the detailed instructions, or the chance to learn from your fellow students.
I've decided to make this course—which will enable you to earn an unlimited amount of additional income through recordings—available for just $597. That's less than $60 a lesson, not to mention the website materials and lifetime access to the step-by-step videos, audios, and illustrated summaries.
At this point, you may have doubts and questions. Here is my attempt to answer the likely ones. (If you have one not covered here, please contact me with it.)
Is this too good to be true?
By now, you may be thinking, "Sure, some people could learn all that. But I'm not technical. I'd just fail."
I admit: you require some existing technical skills—but they are very rudimentary. If you can't send and receive your own email, for example, this course will be too hard for you. But if you can already surf the web, use a word processor, or fill out web forms, you already have the computer skills required.
Do I have the kind of internet access I need?
Good question! For this course, you will definitely need internet access. To watch the lessons live, you'll need access (for a total of five hours) to a broadband connection (not dial-up). Of course, if you don't have that in your house, you can go somewhere (a friends, a company, or maybe even a library) where you can use a broadband connection (as long as they'll let you be on the phone at the same time).
If possible, try to arrange broadband access to the coaching/question-and-answer calls, too. I may demonstrate answers to software questions.
What about the phone calls?
You'll be calling in (a total of 10 times) to a phone number in the U.S. If you live in the U.S., your total long distance charges will not be too onerous, especially if you already have unlimited long distance or use a low-rate calling card or dial-around service, etc. Once you register, I'll send you complete info about how to call and where to learn about cheap rates.
If you live outside the U.S., you might try Skype or another service that lets you place calls over the internet. Again, the prices can be very reasonable.
Will my recording really be top quality?
Another excellent question.
I guarantee that, if you use the equipment I recommend and follow the instructions I'll give, your final recording will be good enough for a professional CD, downloaded file, etc.
Will it be as good as what you'd get in a top-of-the-line professional studio charging $200 an hour or more? No. But no one is likely to be able to notice the difference, short of recording engineers and the high honchos at NPR. If you require the absolute state-of-the-art highest sound quality, you need microphones costing thousands of dollars and the expertise of a seasoned audio engineer.
But if you want recordings you can proudly sell, give away, or offer for download, I promise you'll get them.
Will You Coach Me on My Story?
Not in this course. I assume you have at least one story already worthy of recording. I'm happy to coach you on performance in another setting, but this course isn't set up for that.
Will This Really Make a Difference in My Income?
Yes—and maybe. You'll get a story that will start earning you a few dollars on iTales.com, but that won't buy you a new car or even pay for a new cell phone—by itself.
If you apply what you learn to recording more stories, though, you will start down a path of increased recording-related income, sample stories that attract more of the right customers, and more demand for a variety of stories in your repertoire. In the end, the cumulative effect can double your income! Obviously, what use you make of these new skills and equipment will determine your results.
I recommend you buy a Microtrack II, at least one storage card, and a high-quality microphone. With those three items, you'll be able to record conveniently and often.
Of course, if you have a way to borrow this equipment, you could learn the skills before investing.
If you already have another high-quality digital recorder and/or professional microphone, you can use those for this course—but I won't be giving you the kind of step-by-step, sound-and-pictures instructions or support I'll give for the Microtrack II. I'll still try to help you, but if you have problems I can't solve with equipment that I'm not familiar with or is not up to snuff, you'll be on your own for solving them.
What follows is a description of the equipment I recommend and will be willing to buy on your behald and ship to you. Please feel free to buy these items on your own if you prefer; I am offering this service as a convenience to you.
Is the following overwhelming? Do you wish someone would just tell you what equipment to buy? If so, send me a message using my contact form. Tell me what your desires and concerns are. I'll email you back with my personal recommendations for you (or with further questions).
For Your Convenience, I Will Sell You The Equipment
To make the equipment shopping easier for you, I'm offering to ship you these items directly as options when you register.
You definitely need number 1 and 2 below, and your choice of one of the three microphones. (Everything else is optional, and won't be critical to this course.)
Want to see the total cost of your choices? Go to the registration form, make your choices at the bottom of the page, and click "Add to cart." Then you'll see your total cost. (And it won't be too late to remove it from the cart and make different choices, if you like.)
Want the cheapest method? Get the Microtrack II, the 2Gb card, and the overstock lavalier mic, below. Add the adapter cable and your total cost for equipment: $548. That's amazingly inexpensive for high-quality recording!
1. A brand-new Microtrack II $357 $297
The Microtrack II comes with a USB cable, AC charger, single-point stereo microphone and cable (good for informal recordings, not for highest quality), and a basic case with a belt-loop. Since I first offered this course in May, 2008, the shortage of these has eased and the street price has reduced!
I have used high-speed CF (Compact Flash) cards from the high quality manufacturer PNY. Since the high-speed cards (266x) are only available in 2GB (3 hours, 22 minutes of CD quality) or or 4GB (6 hours, 45 minutes of CD quality) sizes, that's what I'll offer you. Other, less expensive cards would probably work, but I haven't tested them with the Microtrack II.
If you wish more than one CF card, use the "comments" form on the order form to specify what you want; I'll charge the additional items to your credit card and include them in your order.
3. Your choice of three professional microphones:
Professional Lavalier Mic
My favorite lavalier (clip-on) microphone, the Audio-Technica AT-831b. (List price: $229.) New: $147; New overstock (unused from overstock): $109; Like-new: $99 I have made several commercial recordings using this mic (including "Can You Hear the Silence"). My price: Note: I have four of these that I bought from a pro-audio store that was going out of business. I can sell them for $109 each - a $28 discount. I also have one used AT-831b which I will sell for just $99.
Professional Headworn Mic
My favorite behind-the-neck headworn mic, the AKG c520. (List price: $319; new: $239; like new: $189).
This mic is the lighter successor to the c420, which I used in my office to create the last 20 lessons of the Storytelling Workshop in a Box™. Because it's closer to your mouth than a lavalier, you get better sound and less room noise. On the other hand, when performing live your listeners will notice the black windscreen next to your mouth. (See photo)
Professional Earset Mic
My favorite over-the-ear, "so small you can hardly see it" microphone: the Countryman E6. (List price: $514.60) New: $409.
In my opinion, this gives the best sound of the three mics (although the AKG headworn mic gives richer lows). From onstage, your listeners will have to squint to even tell you have it on. As they say in the "sound biz," if your listeners are noticing this mic, your stories aren't interesting enough.
The Countryman has several options available, including different skin-colored cables ranging from black to light beige. My used samples are both tan (nearly invisible on most Causcasians, including those with Middle-Eastern lineage like me). If you want a different color, include that in the comments box when you confirm payment. Also, you can buy an additional cable for this mic that will let you also use it with a wireless system if you have one.
4. Adapter Cable $19
With any of these three microphones, you will need a one-foot adapter cable in order to plug the mic into the Microtrack II. I have located a source of these on the internet and will happily ship you
In addition, you may want one of these three items, which I have tested and recommend for use with the Microtrack II:
These have one function: to allow you to continue recording past the 2-3 hour limit of the internal Microtrack II battery, without recharging. If you don't need to record longer than, say, 3 hours at one stretch, you don't need any of these items.
Battery Extender 1: Battery Box $27 (optional)
If your Microtrack II built-in battery is charged, you can plug this Datexx USB battery box (which holds 4 AA batteries - I recommend high-capacity rechargeables; see below) into your Microtrack II and record for 2-3 hours before the internal battery begins to discharge at all.
If you need the extra time, you can replace the AA batteries with fresh ones and have another 2-3 hours before the internal Microtrack II battery discharges.
Once you completely discharge the AA batteries AND the internal battery, you'll have to recharge the internal battery before using the Microtrack II further. In other words, the internal battery must be charged in order to use the AA batteries in the external box. In addition, there is no easy way to check the charge left on your AA batteries. Still, this is a usable work-around for the recording-length limitation of the internal battery. Price: $27
Rechargeable AA batteries and charger $29 (optional)
To run your Microtrack II from the external battery box, you'll need high-capacity batteries.
This set of 4 AA, nickel-metral hyrdide batteries (rated at 2500 mAh) comes with its own recharger. The charger is quite versatile, since it runs on any voltage from 100-240V (I've used it in Singapore and Austria with just a simple adapter) and it includes features such as Alkaline battery detection, temperature and voltage safety controls.
The case folds closed for easy transport of your batteries. I've used these on the road for several years and have found this set flawless.
You'll need a second set of batteries for each 2-3 hour segment you want to be able to record before using fresh batteries. If you want additional sets, include that in the comments box when you confirm payment and I'll charge the additional items to your credit card and include them in your order.) Price: $29
Battery Extender 2: APC UPB10 Mobile Power Pack
This lets you record for an additional 7-8 hours without recharging—long enough for a full-day workshop or festival! (Cost: $73.)
The only downside compared to the Datexx Battery Box plus rechargeable batteries (Battery Extender 1, above) is that it must be re-charged at the end of the 7-8 hours; you can't just pop in some AA batteries from the drug store, like you can with the Datexx.
But, as long as you're careful to charge it and the Microtrack II the night before you record, this is the simpler, easier solution. It's the one I use whenever I need to record longer than 3 hours or so.
Telephone Adapter $33 (optional)
This adapter allows you to use your Microtrack II to record both sides of telephone calls if you are using a phone (such as a wirelss handset or cell phone) that has a headset jack built in. You'll need your own headset (email me if you want a recommendation of one), but you'll get decent-quality recordings of your practice tellings over the phone, etc. The sound quality can't be top-notch, because you're recording what you hear over the phone. Still, this is what I use almost daily to record my talk-throughs and phone rehearsals. Price: $33
To assure individual attention to everyone, I'm limiting this course to the first 20 to sign up.
This is a course whose only pre-requisite is that you have at least one story worth recording and selling.
At the end, you'll know everything you need to know to make high-quality recordings for downloading. You'll even have a recording for sale on iTales.com.
Plus, I guarantee that you'll have learned recording, editing, and uploading your stories. I'll work with you until you feel comfortable! If, after completing the course, you feel that I've failed, I'll refund every penny you've paid in tuition—plus $100 more of my own money.