#52Tech Week 42 Soundtracks for Books with Booktrack

Last week I profiled 8Tracks — an internet radio station full of writing playlists. But playlists are, and have been for many decades, a big thing for many people. Nowadays with the freedom of selecting a lot of free music to listen to, many readers are also getting into the game of assigning music playlists to their favourite books.

But at least one service is now available to give authors control over what sounds might be associated to their own books.

book playlistListening to music as you read is hardly a new thing. Back in the 80’s as one of the first generation to be raised on television, when studying for my Secondary School exams, I got on better with a radio station blasting purple-noise (not white-noise, for some reason I think of radio babble as purple) in the background. My teachers were still of the “you must study in silence” ilk at the time.  Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1

Now I have a passion for movies, and one will win me over easily if it’s got a good soundtrack. A large part of Guardian of the Galaxy’s success must be put down to that soundtrack of 1980’s music – retro for much of the audience, but down memory lane for many of us. The Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is one of the most popular collections sitting on many of the streaming services listed below.

Users, viewers – and readers – are now demanding an immersive experience which includes not only text, but audio themed to what they are reading, and many are going out there to produce this themselves.

8Tracks is only one of many music streaming services where many of us can select and listen to a large collection of music and playlists. Alternatives include Spotify, Pandora, Last.fm, and of course YouTube or Vimeo where many bands release their first tracks in advance of new albums.

Free worksheet for students via Teachers Pay Teachers.
Free worksheet for students via Teachers Pay Teachers.

User defined playlists sit on all of these and many more. And for reading, reader groups are also putting together playlists for their favourite books. Here’s one example discussion in the Goodreads Young Adult forums – playlists for books. I must admit that I haven’t heard of half the music put forward for some of the books, nor am I aware of some of the books – but the readers are, for sure.

Of course, including audio and even video in an enhanced ebook is certainly possible nowadays, and part of the initial wowza applauds for when ebooks became more mainstream – except most of us as ebook readers, don’t go for the rich media we were promised, even when available. That’s because it all comes at a cost of download bandwidth, and storage.

As authors we can’t go out with a Hollywood producer’s budget and purchase – or have made – a full music playlist with royalty payments from musical artists. Nor can we create a playlist through one of the music streaming services above, and have control over enforcing it for our books. But through Booktrack we have some control over the ambient and musical sounds associated directly in our text, should we wish.


The Booktrack bookshelf through iPad app.
The Booktrack bookshelf through iPad app.

Booktrack is a service that promises to give self-published authors the control over adding a soundtrack to their ebooks. The service provides both an e-publishing platform and an e-reader app which plays through iOS or Android devices. If you open Booktrack through Chrome, FireFox, Opera or Safari browsers, you can also buffer and read the free books from the site directly.

The free app allows people to record or purchase licensed audio (so not only music but sound effects too) and insert these into the text of an ebook. Typically this would be to the first chapter of your selling book. So the booktrack books work as a promotional offering, with links to external retailers (Amazon, B&N etc) where readers can find the full book to continue with. Future Booktrack features will include the potential for Authors to sell full Booktrack books through the store, but at the moment using the apps to read or create Booktracks is totally free.

The books then must be accessed (and in the future, sold) through the Booktrack Bookshelf online, which includes hundreds of the typical royalty-free classic literature books available in the domain.

Note that many of these free-to-use classics are only available as excerpts or first chapters, where soundtracks have been initiated by the Booktrack team. Readers are also required to scroll through pages with arrow keys, but reading rates can be changed to speed up or down the little arrow key which flows down the text to show you where your reading and listening focus sits.

However, there are a fair few “completed” books available, including Sherlock Holmes, H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator and Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. I’ve linked you to Peter Rabbit, so you can read it through your browser, and appreciate just how fun the environment might be.

Pinocchio on Booktrack
Reading a Booktrack through a browser

The audio contents play when you hit that particular reading section of the book, within your device or browser, so typically you would read the book with headphones on.  You also require an internet connection, as with any audio streaming service.

As an author creating Booktrack documents, you must uphold the terms of the service, which requires that you hold licenses to use any audio files you insert into your text. This means you won’t be able to use popular music tracks owned by musicians out there, but can source music and effects from many of the music publishers out there.

Audio files are limited to WAVE format, 16 bits, and a maximum size of 50MB, so your books will also be limited by those conditions. But if you’re after creating a more immersive experience for your reader, Booktrack is a good start.

Illustration by Mikey Burton, via Fast Company Booktrack article.
Illustration by Mikey Burton, via Fast Company Booktrack article.

If you’re after a completely controlled experience, this may take quite some work. Read this Fast Company article on the creation of Salman Rushdie’s short story, In the South – which took months to create, including the use of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to record new music written for it. But as the article points out –

The era of crotchety old ladies yelling “Turn down your book!” draws nigh.

Booktrack also supplies a large library of usable sounds for your books. This also provides an interesting thought for those currently writing a book – if you do this through the inbuilt text editor, you can use the sound library to provide inspiration.

As a content creator, there are two packages – a teacher/classroom signup, or the Booktrack Studio. You can signup using social media credentials, and currently it’s all free.

Link: Booktrack.

#52Tech: This was Week 42 post in the #52tech goal – to investigate and share one technology post once a week for 2014.

You can find all the posts indexed via the #52tech tag, or top menu option at hunterswritings.com

#IWSG: Free Motivation in Ebooks and Manifestos

Being totally insecure as a writer right now, like many I appreciate some quick motivating reads. Several writers are coming out with free short-length PDF’s and manifestos lately.

Here are a few I’ve found motivating.

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