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Wednesday
Oct212009

Create Your Own Audio Books

If I hit traffic at the wrong time, I can be in the car up to an hour each day traveling from home to my office and back. Sure, I like music, but just not that much. It seems a bit mindless after awhile. Talk radio? Even more mindless.

So I listen to a lot of audiobooks, podcasts, lectures from iTunesU and other sources—you get the idea. I import them into iTunes and then I transfer them to my iPhone.

You've heard the old saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Well, for me this afternoon, it was the mother of discovery. See, I'm teaching a six-week Wednesday night class at my Baptist church on understanding and dialoguing with Jehovah's Witnesses. Just as I do with my Sunday morning Bible study, I like to over-prepare. Certainly, I don't mind saying, "I don't know the answer to that; I'll get back to you," but I'd prefer not to if I don't have to.

So this afternoon, as I was packing up to drive home, I thought to myself, I wish I had an audio book about Jehovah's Witnesses to listen to on my commute home. I wondered if there was something cheap at christianaudio.com. There wasn't. I also looked at a couple of other places.

Then, from the far recesses of my mind, I had this vague memory of reading about Mac OS X Snow Leopard's ability to convert text to iTunes spoken audio. See, I knew I had content because I knew I had Zondervan's Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult in Accordance. The question was how to convert it to audio.

First I found the article in Accordance. After highlighting all the text, I right-clicked on it. Nothing in the contextual menu. Accordance has been able to "read" text verbally for a long time. Most Mac applications can, but that wasn't what I was after. I wanted to make an automatic recording. Then, I remembered—it was part of Mac OS X's Services menu. But looking there, I saw nothing related to converting speech to text. However, I did see Services Preferences. Clicking that, I got this dialogue box:

Screen shot 2009-10-21 at 4.19.04 PMNoticing the fourth option in the right pane above (it was technically under the "Text" section), "Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track," all I had to do was check the box.

 

Going back to Accordance with my text selected, I went to the Services menu and chose that option. A little gear showed up in my menu bar and began turning. Then iTunes came to the front and displayed a message that it was converting the text into audio. Then, it was through. Of course, I had no idea where it was. I finally found it under Music with the title "Text to Speech." I looked at the length. I had an a 1 hour and 17 minute audio track! I changed the name to "Jehovah's Witnesses."

 

How long did it take to create it? I went back and created it again, this time using the timer on my iPhone to keep track of how long the process took. It took approximately two minutes! To gain some perspective, I copied the text of the article from Accordance to my clipboard and then pasted it into Word. That produced a 30 page, single-spaced document (with a space between each paragraph).

 

So think about this—a thirty page document converts to an hour and 17 minute audio track, and it only took two minutes to create!

 

Of course, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Yeah, but you have to listen to that mechanized computer voice. You're right, but so what? I've got my speech voice in Mac OS X set to "Alex," and while professional audiobook readers have nothing to worry about, the voice itself has very much improved over the years. Plus, I've spent countless hours of my life listening to people drone on in academic settings using lesser-sounding voices (that's meant as humor).

 

Regardless, the possibilities here are endless. This opens up whole new doors. In Accordance alone, I have more material than I could probably ever read in my life anyway: books, theological journals, reference works, Bibles and more. Further, the ability to convert any text to an iTunes audio track works with any text on my computer, regardless of the source. So, if it's an article from the internet, PDF, word processing document—they can all be converted to audio tracks which can be transferred to my iPhone.

 

What great technology! I also assume that with time, the speech synthesis quality will improve, too. In the meantime, Alex will have to do.

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Reader Comments (10)

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by R. Mansfield, Rick Bennett. Rick Bennett said: Can your PC do this?! Slick! http://bit.ly/3oVUhH (via @thislamp) [...]

Good going, Rick! I wish I could listen to *anything* while driving that wouldn't distract me. I can handle a little music and a little news, but nothing that takes much thinking. I can multitask to the extent that I can eat carrot or celery sticks while doing long distance driving, so I won't fall asleep.

We need a similar app for PCs--there may be one that I haven't heard of. I've done short text-to-audio conversions on a PC before, but never anything long as you have just done.

October 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Leman

That's awesome. BTW, I have a recent JW convert in my church. 20+ years as a Witness. Great testimony

October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKen Steele

"Sure, I like music, but just not that much. It seems a bit mindless after awhile."

While I generally like your blog I am not so sure about this comment. There IS mindless music out there, that much I will grant you. But as with every art form music is not meant to be a passive experience. A listener must enter in to the music and allow the music to enter them.

Mozart, Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, The Beatles, Beethoven etc. etc. are not background "noise". These are artists of the highest caliber and one must give the music the attention it deserves if one wants to really gain from the experience.

The same holds true for reading, and viewing art. These are not passive activities. America has a problem separating art from entertainment. They have two different functions and are both important in their own way. This is not to say everyone needs to go and delve into the full catalog of Beethoven BUT I do contend if the music just seems mindless then either it IS truly mindless music OR the listener is not actively engaged.

And I do practice what I am preaching. I have always had a rough time appreciating visual art forms. Yet I always knew it was I who had the problem NOT the art form itself. So I have taken the time to really try to understand certain artists and spend time with their works. I still prefer to read and listen to music but I have been greatly rewarded by becoming a more active participant when viewing any visual arts.

October 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertommyg

Tommy, fair enough--point taken. What I should have said is "Listening to my Boston/Steve Miller Band mix seems a bit mindless after a while." And that's only because I've listened to it way too many times over the years.

In reality, I've not allowed myself to be moved by music in a very long time. If I have the choice between the two, I'll usually read a book over listening to good music. I'm not saying reading a book is better than listening to good music, mind you. I'm just saying that's what I tend to do.

And if I can convert that book to audio for listening on the road, so much the better.

October 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Great tip! You should charge your battery though. It is down to 36% :-)

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Miller

this is a great find! thanks Rick!

i'm going to add this to my blog as well.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbob turner

Thanks Rick - what a great concept to transfer all those books we have. BTW, I really enjoy your blog.

Cheers

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Mercer

Rick,

I cannot locate this menu? I wanted to give it a try myself but when I click on System Preferences and then Keyboard, the window I get is much different than yours? OS 10.5.8 any ideas?

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbrentwalker

Brent, it's a Snow Leopard (10.6.x) feature. Time to upgrade!

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

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