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Using Audacity, Part 1: Downloading and Basic Functions

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 by | Filed Under: Free Downloads, Multimedia

A few years back, I tried to get a small, independent audio book company off the ground using works in the public domain, as well as works that I had written.  This idea still struggles to see light, but one very good thing that has come of it is my discovery of the free audio recording program, Audacity.  Audacity can be downloaded here:

Once you install and open the program, you get an interface that looks like this:

Audacity Basic Interface

The first thing that will probably pop out at you will be the media control toolbar, which looks like this:

media control bar

This is pretty much like the media bar on any media player or creator, with the functions from left to right being pause, play, stop, skip back, skip forward and record.  Pretty basic.  When you’re ready to start recording, just click on control and you’re on the air.  When you’ve finished recording your track (or a section of your track), click stop.  To play it back, click play.  If you want to record more on the same track, simply click at the end of the existing track, and you’ll pick up right where you left off with no noticeable lag.

The next thing that you’ll want to look for is your device toolbar, which looks like this:

device toolbar

The first selection here is “audio host”.  This defines the interface that your computer will be using to record the audio to your computer.  My advice is that, unless you have some powerful recording software on your computer (in which case you’re probably NOT using Audacity anyway), just leave it on the default.  Play with it if you want, to see if you can get better results with anything else, but I’ve found that MME works just fine for me.  Next is the output device.  Basically, how are you going to listen to your audio?  After that, the input device.  I suggest getting a decent microphone.  A headset mic works really well, unless you’re happy with holding a professional mic in front of your mouth for however long you’re going to record, or investing in a mic stand.  Most laptops and many desktop monitors these days come with integrated webcams and microphones.  I would suggest not using the integrated mic, because your mouth is going to be at least a foot away from this at any time.  The result sounds something like talking on the phone with a Bluetooth device.  The final piece here is the input channels.  Honestly, I can’t see any reason to record in mono, so I’d just suggest setting it at stereo and leaving it there.

The last toolbar that you’ll need for basic functionality is the selection toolbar, which looks like this:

selection toolbar

This will show you the start and stop point (or length) of your selection when you click and drag on your audio, or, if you simply click, the position that you’ve chosen.  The basic display is hours, minutes, seconds, although there are a number of other options, such as hours, minutes, seconds and milliseconds or film frame time at 24 frames per second.

This should be enough to get you up and running on Audacity.  In part 2, I’ll cover some of the advanced features, including the tools menu, inserting silence in your track and sound effects.

~Randal Schaffer


One Response to “Using Audacity, Part 1: Downloading and Basic Functions”

  1. Jeff Taylor says:

    I recently downloaded Audacity to my computer with intentions of converting old cassettes to mp3. I watched the you tube video you have and it all seems pretty straight forward. How do you listen while recording? Cant figure it out. I’m not a guru when it comes to stuff like this, but I have a moderate understanding. Can you help me? Thanks

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