This is a comprehensive guide to recording audio poetry that will give you all you need to know to record a poem in .mp3 format for the Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast.
- The first part of the post is about creative confidence and craft.
- The second part of the post is about using the simplest possible tech
- The third is about editing and submitting your post
Please note: if you need technical support to make your audio submission, contact Howard Lovy, Multimedia Manager at the Alliance of Independent Authors, who will be able to answer your questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow the tips below to record a poem you can be proud of listening to yourself, not only on the Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast, but as part of your body of work.
Recording Audio Poetry: The Craft
A lot of poets fret about tech but this is often displaced performance anxiety. The technology, when you get down to it, is straightforward. Most often what’s going on is that performance anxiety is being projected onto the technology.
Many of the techniques and technology tips for poets are the same as recording any other spoken-word media but poetry does have some specifics, around presentation, attitude, and voice (see below).
Like any creative effort the more you record your poetry, the easier it gets.
For many indie poets, recording the poems becomes part of the process. Poems should be readable aloud.
In reading for a microphone, instead of just in your head or aloud for yourself, you discover those lines or stanzas that are not as readable, not as poetic, not as perfect as you first thought.
And poetry, more than any other form of writing, is the art of the perfect.
As you become a better performer and reader, you will become a better poet.
I changed my poetry process when I started to do audio poems for my patron on Patreon and produce audiobooks.
- I write my poems, often in handwriting in a notebook but also using my voice into my phone.
- I publish short poems on my Instagram or blog.
- Enter audio. I record the best poem of the month exclusively for my patrons on Patreon.
- This audio poem goes into my next audiobook and the text (often modified by the audio experience) into my next chapbook.
What process would work for you? Write it down.
Recording Audio Poetry: Creative Confidence
Most poets do like to perform their poems, but it takes creative courage, time and commitment to get going.
The biggest barrier is lack of confidence. “I’m too nervous.” “I hate the sound of my own voice.” “The recording sounds weak and shaky.” “I sound so different, so much better, in my head.”
To record our own poetry we muster our creative courage and do what we all find scary: reveal ourselves. Put ourselves out there.
When we do it, it’s the most wonderful feeling.
Recording in audio for the Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast or SoundCloud is less challenging than doing a video on YouTube or Vimeo, which is less scary again than standing behind a mic in a pub or on stage at a festival.
We can build our confidence by taking these steps in order. Confidence is a muscle, strengthened by risk.
When you write a poem, you give the reader insight into what is going on in your mind and heart and maybe even soul. You are writing what you feel and, unless you’ve formally decided otherwise, you are writing it in your own voice. (And even if your poem has another narrator, something of your voice is also there).
Page poetry, two imaginations meeting in the written word is a beautiful experience. Audio poetry adds the attraction, and intimacy, of the human voice to the human ear.
When you take your poem off the page, give it life by speaking it out loud, you must be the poet who wrote the poem. You must be poet-you, not self-conscious you.
Think about the words and the listener, about helping the listener to feel what you felt, see in their mind’s eye what you saw in yours.
Helping them to understand.
Recording Audio Poetry: Learn It Off
Don’t think you can record a poem in one take. All singers and performers spend a lot of time getting their performance right
I often record my poems five or six times before I get into the zone. And the poems I read best are teh ones that I’ve completely memorised.
If you’re a performance poet, you’ll already know the value of learning your poems off by heart.
There is a reason that’s the expression we use: by heart. When the words have become part of our memory, the emotional heart of the poem can be revealed.
To completely own their piece.
Learning a poem is a matter of repeating it slowly, over and again, each line and then each verse at a time. It takes time, usually a few days, but once you’ve repeated it to yourself often enough, your mind automatically begins to recognize how the end of one line or stanza connects to the first word in the next.
- Isolate a few lines
- Write them out separately on a notecard
- Read the lines, slowly and out loud, pronouncing each word fully.
- Repeat them over and over, in different ways. Say them slowly, say them fast, say them in funny voices. Use your hands. Make funny faces.
- Make the words part of the muscle memory of your mouth. Know when the pauses should happen and when to slow down or speed up.
- Think about when to take in a breath, when the words are tangential, when they are core.
- Note the connecting line then repeat with the next section.
- When you have the whole poem, keep on repeating. Do it in bed, in the bath or shower, while out walking, in front of the mirror.
When you believe you have it, try it in front of a friend and see if you can go start to finish from memory. That practice run may well indicate areas that need further practice.
Learning your poems by heart is essential if you intend to perform them on stage. It allows you to connect to the audience with your eyes,to use your hands, to move about, to use the stage as your playground.
But even if you never intend to go beyond audio recording, memorizing your poem allows you to own it, in every sense.
Page poetry is literature but spoken word is drama. And audio poetry is like radio drama. When you can’t be seen just the sound of the words and the tone of your voice have to do all the work of engaging, entertaining or enthralling your audience.
You want them to understand what you have understood, to feel what you have felt: inject some drama!
The key to doing that without sounding forced or false is to learn your poems off.
Recording Audio Poetry: The Tech
For audio podcasts, standards need to be set high. People expect crisp sound when listening on their headphones or in their cars. You are the listeners’ companion while they do chores, exercise, or relax in their homes. If there are annoying, extra sounds, or if what you say is not clear, they will turn off.
That means good recording techniques above, you need to choosing the right microphone and recording software.
The simplest way to do this is use your phone (see below) or you may prefer to record on your computer. Whichever you choose–and full instructions for both are below–you’ll need to record in a quiet place, preferably a small place with padding.
You’ll also need to get comfortable with the sound settings on your computer or phone. To record your poetry you need to understand input–your voice going into the software for recording–and output, your voice as played by the software during and after recording.
Recording Audio Poetry: Using A Phone
The simplest way is to use your
Most cell phones and other electronic devices have a recording option, so you can record and upload voice files.
Recording Audio Poetry: Using A Computer
Microphone: If possible, use a quality USB microphone such as the Blue Yeti. The next-best thing is your computer’s microphone.
The microphone on your headset/earbuds can sometimes give poor quality, as it picks up noises from your mouth and breath and if the wire brushes off your clothing. Use the computer mic instead.
Output: Do not use your computer speakers to listen as you record. Your microphone will pick it up, giving you double trouble.
Unless you particularly want to hear yourself closely, you really don’t need to wear headphones as there is nothing to hear back unless you are rapping to music.
For many people new to recording, hearing your own voice through headphones is disconcerting, so leave the headphones off and just get on with recording.
You will find more tips on configuring your sound settings here:
Recording Audio Poetry: The Process
Once you know your poem by heart, it’s time to:
- Get your mic set up correctly and the recording levels adjusted (see below).
- Sit or stand in front of your microphone and tell the story of the poem to one person. Standing is best for most people though if your poem is of the intimate, let-me-whisper-in-your-ear type of work, sitting may be better.
- This is your first recording, the warm-up recording. Focus on helping the listener to understand and to feel the feeling you felt when you wrote it. When you’re finished, don’t play it back. Just erase it and do it again.
- Repeat the reading. This is your draft recording. Again, don’t play it back. Erase it and do it again.
- Your third attempt will be more fluid, graceful and attuned to the nuances of your words. This reading is for keeps unless you make a mistake or have pops, whistles, breaths or an unwanted background noise. These are things that are difficult or impossible to edit out:
- Pops: a blast of air on the mic. Often caused by the letter P, but also B and Qu.
- Whistles: air through the teeth on words like shoot.
- Breaths in the wrong place
- Background noises under words. Be careful not to shift your chair, move a computer mouse across the desk and so on. Any noise under the words is impossible to edit out. If you get noise, record again.
- Clicks and Wet mouth. Something you never noticed before but become attuned to through record is how you mouth clicks if wet. Some can be edited out, but there are the few that can’t. Don’t spend hours struggling, just re-record the line.
Don’t let it pass. If it doesn’t feel just right, do it again.
Recording Audio Poetry: The Edit
If you do make a mistake or stumble or know you could have done better, go again. Again, and again until you get a version you’re happy with.
Now play it back.
Your relationship with the words has changed since you first thought about recording audio and were projecting your nervousness onto the tech or the hard work.You are less likely now to hate the sound of your own voice and more likely to be surprised and pleased by what you hear.
Even if you feel that way, you are thinking like a professional now. Thinking about quality and how the listener will experience the recording. Your self-conscious self no longer dominates.
And even if you don’t love it, now it is definitely good enough. You are ready to upload it and send it in.
And to think about learning a new poem off by heart. And maybe even getting a little fancy someday. Experimenting with volume to emphasise points. Recording background sounds that play while you read. Maybe you’ll try video too or even a film poem or animation?
Mastering audio poetry is a huge confidence builder for a poet. xxxx.