For the recording, I use Amadeus Pro. I’ve tried Audacity; it’s good but I find the interface much more confusing. Must say, I haven’t tried GarageBand. I opened it once, closed it immediately and went back to Amadeus Pro, professional, very good interface, just as powerful as Audacity but totally Mac-like and more intuitive.
And I totally agree with Pigfender on the rest, albeit from a Mac point of view.
For important recordings in China I used a pair of Sennheiser mikes — they’re over there and I’m in the UK but I think they’re e625S cardioid dynamic mikes, though Sennheiser seem to have replaced them with newer models. Which mike you use is up to you and your budget, of course. But go for cardioid — that means their sound capture is in a figure of 8 back and front in relation to the mike, cutting out extraneous noises from the side — or something directional.
The mikes were plugged into a small Behringer mixing desk, in my case UB802 — behringer.com/EN/Products/FCA202.aspx — to give me Firewire input to my Mac. There is a cheaper and simpler Behringer route for you, giving direct USB output: the XENYX Q502USB — one microphone jack — or the Q802USB — two microphone jacks. But there are many, many mixers/interfaces on the market.
Whatever you use to make the recording, the one thing you really need is a good pair of studio headphones. You need them to be able to hear all the glitches in the sound that you need to cut out or deal with. Again, mine are Behringer HPS3000 — behringer.com/EN/Products/HPS3000.aspx
In terms of where you do your recording, PF is absolutely right … you need to find an environment which doesn’t have an echo — that was one of my problems, especially in the flat I moved to on the university campus, which was impossible. My current thoughts are that if I have to do more, I will cobble up a couple of open boxes lined with carpet — or perhaps with papier maché or exploded polystyrene egg trays or similar — into which each mike will go to eliminate echo from behind or the side, and create some sort of frame onto which I can hang a rug or some thick bath-sheets to eliminate echoes from behind me.
Another tip … for each mike, get a small round ebroidery frame, stretch over it a bit from a pair of old tights that you no longer wear, and find a way of hanging that an inch or two in front of the mike(s). You can then be close to the mike(s) while you’re reading, but it will cut out the popping sound that the sudden burst of air on word initial voiceless plosives — [p], [t] and [k] followed immediately by a vowel — produces. The commercial screens for that which I’ve found are horrendously expensive for what they are!
For you, a few of pieces of advice:
Print out your text onto paper at a size you are comfortable with and in a serif font as they are easier to read — I’m happy with 12 point TNR, but you need to suit your eye-sight. It’s much, much easier to read from paper than from a computer screen.
Print it so that each page ends, preferably at the end of a paragraph, at worst at the end of a sentence. Don’t have any sentences that run on over a page break. If you do it like that, as you read, each page comes to an end at an intonational break. You can then wait a second before moving your paper and wait a second to get settled, and then start on the next page. That makes it very easy to cut out the sound of the page turn as it shows up clearly in your editing software. If you have sentences breaking across physical sheets, it is much harder to maintain your intonation so you can cut out the page turn and have a seamless join as if you had read that sentence in one go.
If you make a mistake, and we all do, stop, wait a moment, start again at least from the beginning of that sentence, or if it is practical from the beginning of the paragraph. Again, it makes seamless editing much, much easier.
Do a trial recording of a page or two to get comfortable with the whole process. Most people are nervous the first time they do a recording, and that comes across as when we are nervous, our voices lose the lower frequencies. You need to get comfortable so you can read in the lower half of your vocal register, whatever that may be, because that comes over to the listener as relaxed and comfortable.
While you’re recording, do it as if you are doing a reading in front of an audience, not to yourself and not as if you’re speaking to the microphones. If you read to your microphones or as if you’re reading out loud to yourself, it simply doesn’t come across. There are intonational/intensity differences between reading to an audience and reading to yourself or a microphone just in front of you; in the latter circumstances there is a significant tendency to drop the voice on the way — I’m doing some editing at the moment of recordings done by someone who does that all the time, and it’s the very devil … the recording almost loses the end of the sentences. So imagine there’s someone about 5 yards or more in front of you and read to that person. Keep your intonation up for descriptive and narrative passages; you can bring your imagined audience forward, as it were, during any dialogue, but how you’re going to deal with the voices of different characters is up to you.
Don’t eat immediately before you do a recording, and only drink water. Eating, or anything with milk in it, coats your vocal folds and your voice will lack clarity afterwards.
Hope that helps.
EDIT: I forgot to say that, on reading speed, I found that using TNR 12 point (justified) on A4 paper with 2 cm right and left margins gave good results at 6 secs per line. If I used 1" (2.54 cm) per line gave 5 secs per line. I think if you read faster than that, again it sounds nervous and gabbling.