Audacity is a robust, powerful open-source audio recorder and editor that can do far more than you’d expect from a free programme. Its interface is a little cryptic in places, so you may feel a little overwhelmed the first time you use it.
Method 1 Recording
1. Connect your equipment. Set your instrument’s output destination in the instrument preferences. Set the Audacity input to match the output of your instrument. In this example, the signal is routed from a software synth’s output to Audacity’s audio input via the Soundflower interface.
While sound cards and interfaces differ, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your actual instrument to avoid latency issues. It’s difficult to find your groove when playing because latency is always a factor when monitoring the recorded signal. Set your preferences in Audacity as shown:
2. Confirm your connection. To ensure that your outputs and inputs are properly routed, select Start Monitoring from the popup menu below the input metres (by the microphone icon), then play your instrument.
The LR input meters should respond.
If the meters are hitting 0dB, use the Input Volume Slider to lower the input level so that the meters only approach 0 during the loudest sections.
3. Select how to start recording. When everything is properly connected and your levels are set, you are ready to record. You have two choices:
Start playing by pressing the Record button. In most cases, there will be some silence at the start of your track. When you’re finished recording, you can remove this section.
You can also enable Sound Activated Recording in your Recording preferences. Select the Sound Activated Recording checkbox, then enter a value for the Sound Activation Level (DB)—the lower the number, the quieter the sound that will trigger recording. This is useful if you’re recording in another room and don’t want a long silence at the start of your track as you walk back and prepare to play.
4. Make a track of it. It’s now or never, depending on which method you use. When you’re ready, press the red Record button (or “R”) and begin playing. As you play, you’ll notice wave forms written to your track.
While this should not be the case in most cases, if you are flat lining (i.e., the waveform displays as a straight line) when recording, it means that signal is not getting from your instrument to your track. Confirm your connections and try once more.
5. Stop the recording. When you’re done, click the square yellow Stop button. You should see something that looks like the image above.
If you selected Sound Activated recording, Audacity will automatically stop recording when the sound level falls below a certain threshold.
To add new tracks while listening to previously recorded ones, check the box next to “Overdub: Play other tracks while recording new one” in Preferences: Recording.
6. Set a record date and time. Timer Record is an alternative recording option that most software sound recorders do not have.
Select Timer Record… from the Transport menu, or press Shift-T. You can set the Start Date and Time, as well as the End Date and Time or the Duration, in the resulting window. This allows you to programme your recorder to start recording when you are not present. Why would you do something like this? Because you are capable!
7. Make your recording longer. If you want to add new material to an existing recording, press Shift-Record or type Shift-R, and the new material will be appended at the end of the current track.
Method 2 Playback
1. Examine your recording. Give it a listen once you’ve finished tracking. Press the triangular green Play button (or press the Space bar). Your track should begin playing and will automatically stop when it reaches the end.
Shifting while pressing Play or the Space bar will cause your track to loop until you click the Stop button or press the Space bar again.
To loop a specific section, first enable the Selection Tool, then click and drag over the section you want to loop. Note: After you’ve made your choice, press “Z” to have the software automatically find the zero-crossing point: the point at which the start and end waveforms have the same amplitude (start and end at the same sound level). Depending on the nature of the loop and the source material, this will frequently result in a very clean loop with no clicks or pops.
2. Adjust the playback speed. You can easily change the playback speed, which is useful if you’re practising a solo or trying to learn a difficult piece of music.
Drag the Playback Speed slider to the left to slow down the track or to the right to speed it up, then press the green “Playback at Speed” arrow to play your track at the new speed. Adjust the speed and click the arrow again to make changes.
3. Select your preferred track view. The waveform in linear form is the default view. Without getting into too much detail, the linear scale is viewed as a percentage of level between 0—or silence—and 1—or maximum level. You can also listen to the song in other formats:
Waveform (dB) displays the waveform in decibel levels. In general, it will appear “larger” than the linear view.
Spectrogram, which is a colorful FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) view of the audio.
Pitch, which shows pitches from high at the top of the track, to low pitches at the bottom. It’s very interesting with rich textures, and chords.
4. Tracks performed alone. If you have multiple tracks playing and want to listen to only one of them, click the Solo button in the Track control area to the left of the waveform.
Except for the tracks that are soloed, all other tracks will be silenced. This is very useful if you want to get a good level between the bass and the drums, for example.
5. Tracks should be muted. If you have multiple tracks playing and want to silence one or more of them, go to the Track control area to the left of the waveform and click the Mute button.
All other tracks, except the muted track or tracks, will continue to play. This is very useful if you want to compare two takes or temporarily thin out the mix.
6. Set up your pan and levelling. The Pan control positions your sound in the stereo field, from left to right or anywhere in between. The volume for that track is determined by the level control.
Method 3 Editing
1. Trim your path. Trim your track to only what you intend to keep if you’ve recorded more than you need to save editing time. Begin by creating a backup in case something goes wrong, and then proceed as follows:
From the toolbar, select the Selection Tool. Choose the audio that you want to keep. Select Loop Playback (Shift-Space) and listen to your edit a few times to ensure it’s satisfactory. Adjust as needed until it sounds right, then select Remove Audio, then Trim from the Edit menu, or simply press Command-T. (Control-T on a PC). The track’s audio on either side of the selection is removed.
After trimming, move your audio, if necessary, to the correct location by selecting the Time Shift tool, and dragging the sound to the proper location.
2. Use effects. You can use a variety of effects, including those built into Audacity, VST effects, and effects native to your operating system.
Select all or a portion of your track using the selection tool.
Select your desired effect from the Effect menu. In this example, we’ll use Echo on a simple click track.
Set any parameters requested by the effect, listen to the preview, and then press OK when everything is as you want it. The result will be processed and displayed by the effect. The raw click track is on top, and the echoed click track is on the bottom.
The same track can be processed with a variety of effects, though it is possible to overamplify the waveform, resulting in unsightly digital distortion. If this happens, go back to the step before the distortion began, and instead of applying your next filter, use an Amplifier effect set to -3dB. If your next process still produces distortion, undo the distorting and Amplify effects, then redo the Amplify effect at a higher level. -6dB would be ideal.
It’s always a good idea to duplicate a track (Command or Control-D) before doing any waveform editing.
3. Experiment freely. Try all the filters, and see what they do and how the sound with your source material.
4. Save your completed sound file. When you’ve finished editing, mixing, trimming, and polishing your sound file into a rare gem of musical beauty, you’ll want to save it for posterity as well as potential fame and fortune. Select Export… from the File menu, then select the desired format—from AIFF to WMA and many others in between.
Method 4 Dig In
1. Although Audacity is free, it is an extremely powerful sound application. It comes with a tonne of cool effects, sound generators, and a fairly flexible editing system. You’ll be able to produce some fantastic work once you’ve figured out how it feels.
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