A step-by-step guide to using Audacity to get a polished audio
Target audience: nonprofits, NGOs, educators, citizen journalists, individuals who require media skills
Guest post by Adam Hyde and Adam Willets
Tactical Technology Collective
This is one in a series of training articles that convey new media skills to organizations.
It’s simple to record an audio interview — say, of a guest speaker in your office or at an event. Don’t miss the chance to capture the event so that others who couldn’t be there can share in the experience.
Here’s our guide to recording and editing a two-minute interview with a minimum of equipment. (Don’t be put off by all the steps below — once you’ve done it, it becomes simple the second time around.) There are lots of ways to do this — you can begin with an iPhone as the recording device, for example — but for our purposes, we’ll show you the steps using just one microphone and a laptop.
You will need:
- a microphone
- a computer (with Audacity installed)
- someone to interview
This guide will show you how to record the interview to the laptop using Audacity, an open-source audio recording and editing program that can be installed on Windows, Linux or Mac OS X. Once you’ve recorded the interview, we’ll show you how to edit your audio using Audacity.
You’ll need to have a microphone that can plug into your computer. The mike must have a 3.5mm plug at the end of the cable, like the picture below.
If the plug at the end of your microphone cord doesn’t look like this, then you won’t be able to plug it into your computer. Have the right plug? Then plug it into the ‘mic-in’ of your computer.
The microphone input can look different depending on the computer you’re using. Here is an example of a mic-in — the blue input on the far right — in the image below:
After you plug in the mike, place it close to your interview subject. You may want to hold the mike in your hand so that when you ask questions you can turn it toward both you and your interview subject. Getting this process right takes a bit of practice. Avoid bumping or rubbing the mike — it’ll be picked up by mike. Be sure to move it steadily and quietly.
Recording the interview
Now that you have the mike plugged in, you can begin the recording process. You’ll need to have Audacity (a free download for both Windows and Mac) installed. Launch the application and follow these steps:
Before making the recording, it’s important to preview the loudest section of the source audio so that you don’t end up with a distorted recording. First, switch on the input meter on. This can be set in the main interface. Simply click on the bars above the microphone symbol or click on the arrow next to the microphone symbol and select “Monitor input” like so:
Now ask your subject to talk loudly. While they do, look at the input level meter.
At their loudest the red bars should be at about -12. You can adjust the input level by moving the slider next to the microphone symbol.
Ask them to keep talking while you adjust the input level until it peaks at about -12. Once you have done that, click the “Stop” button :
You don’t need to keep that preview recording so select “Undo Record” from the “Edit” menu.
Now you’re ready to record
Now you’re ready to make your proper recording. Click the “Record” button.
Start the interview. Once you’ve finished, click the “Stop” button.
Your recording is now complete. Save it immediately by selecting “Save Project” from the “File” menu.
Your interview is completed and saved. You can play it back by clicking the “Play” button.
Editing and exporting
Basic editing with Audacity
The process of editing requires that you first know your source file: the file you will edit. Play the audio file and listen for where you want to make your first edit.
Once you know the part you want to edit, select the area by clicking on where the cut should start, holding down the mouse button, and dragging the mouse to the end of the area to be cut. If you do this correctly, the area to be deleted will be highlighted in gray. (Don’t worry if you make a mistake, you can undo it: control z on a PC, command z on a Mac.)
In the above example, you can see we’ve highlighted the area from 1 minute (1:00) to one and a half minutes (1:30). To delete that segment, I can now click on the Edit menu and choose ‘cut’:
When you release the mouse button, you’ll see that the selected area has disappeared and your file has become shorter.
Focusing on the area to be cut
When you open an audio file, just press the green play button to listen to the entire file:
Once you have listened to it, you may want to take some notes to help you decide which area you want to delete. It’s also a good idea to replay the area that you’ve decided to cut to make sure you’re selecting the right area. To do this, select the area as described above and then press the play button and Audacity will play back only the selected area. If that isn’t the segment you want to delete, then start again by selecting another area.
If you need to focus closer to the audio to make a “finer” cut, then press on the magnifying glass icon:
This will enlarge the time scale shown and give you a close-up view of the audio. (You can zoom out of the audio again by pressing the magnifying glass with the minus sign on it.)
If you want to shift audio from one place to another, Audacity make it easy. First, select the area you want to move. Let’s use the same area I used in the cutting example:
Now choose Cut like you did in the above example.
The audio will now be cut from the track. Now click on the audio that is left at the point where you want this audio to be shifted to.
In the above example, you can see that I’ve inserted the audio at the 4 minute mark. Now choose the Edit menu and select Paste:
The audio has now be inserted. If you look at the Audacity window, you should see the selected audio in its new place :
Exporting with Audacity
Projects created in Audacity are always saved in Audacity’s own unique file format that cannot be opened by most other software. So you’ll want to export, or convert, your file into a common file format that can be played by other audio software or media players.
Audacity can export to the following formats: AIFF, MP3 and Ogg Vorbis.
AIFF files provide uncompressed CD quality audio, so this format should be used if you want to open your Audacity project with other music production software or CD authoring software.
MP3 and Ogg Vorbis are both compressed audio formats so they have lower sound quality but much smaller file sizes, making them ideal for use in media players or online distribution. One important difference between these two formats is that Ogg Vorbis is completely open source while MP3 is not. Many audio players however don’t support the playing of Ogg files, so you need to consider that when distributing your audio. Most people have a ton of MP3 files on their home computers.
To export your file, click “File” then click on the format that you want to export as.
You should now see a window like this:
Use this window to edit the file name and select or create a folder where you’ll save the new file. Next, simply click on “Save” to begin exporting. The time it takes to export the project will depend on the length of the recording and the speed of your computer.
When exporting is complete, you should now be able to see the file in the folder that you chose to save it into looking something like this:
Congratulations, you’ve finished!
You can now enjoy listening to the results of your Audacity project through other audio software or transfer it on to your portable media player or upload it to the Internet (you can host it yourself or use a service like Libsyn.)
No sound from the microphone
This is a common issue. There are a couple of things you should check.
- If the microphone has an “on/off” switch make sure it is turned on.
- If the mike is turned on and you have no sound, then you may need to check the microphone’s battery and replace it if necessary.
- Have you selected the microphone‘ audio input in Audacity?
- You may need to turn on or “unmute” the microphone input in your computer’s sound preferences. Where the preferences are located depends on your operating system.
Distortion in the audio
This might be caused by any number of reasons, here are a few possibilities:
- Your levels might be too high. Recheck your recording input level in Audacity.
- The connection between the microphone and the computer might be loose. Check to make sure it’s a tight fit. Move the microphone plug a bit while recording to see if this is the issue. If it is, you may need to replace the plug or, as a short-term solution, use some tape to hold it in place.
- Your microphone might be damaged. Record more audio and speak directly into the mike. If the microphone is damaged, you may hear distortion in your recorded voice.
- It could be that your headphones or speakers are actually damaged and your recording is fine. To check this, use something else to listen to the audio. The easiest thing to do is to find a set of headphones and plug them in.
Creative Commons image at top by cliff1066 on Flickr
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included here: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/fdl.txt. This article originally appeared at Tactical Technology Collective.