Audacity - A Quick Start Guide
Audacity is a very powerful and very complex program and is capable
of doing many things with audio. To a new user, it may at first
seem a little complicated, maybe even daunting.
But that's only because you're not familiar with the program yet.
You probably felt the same the first time you tried to use Microsoft
Word (I know I did)!
But just as Microsoft Word is completely familiar to us now and
a breeze to use, so is Audacity. All you need to do is get over
that initial learning curve and familiarise yourself with how
So here's a very quick start guide to help get you on your way.
Opening an audio
file in Audacity
Opening an audio file in Audacity is the same as opening a
file in any program. Go to the menus at the top left of the program
and select File > Open.
Just bear in mind that Audacity primarily deals with WAV files
so won't open file types like WMA etc. If you want to use a WMA
files you need to convert it to WAV format before opening it in
There are loads of free audio converters that will convert your
WMA file to WAV, just google it and you'll see dozens. Look out
for one called Switch which is particularly good.
Connecting A Microphone To Audacity
If you want to record vocals using Audacity, first you need
to connect a microphone to your computer. The quality of the microphone
you use is obviously very important, but so too is the type of
connector (jackplug) on your microphone:
(1) Microphones with small
minijacks can plug in to the Mic In port on your computers soundcard
(2) USB Microphones plug in to...erm...ehh...the
USB port (a bit obvious that one)!
(3) For stage microphones with
standard 1/4 inch jackplugs, I highly recommend an adapter like
the iMic from Griffen - it's basically a 1/4 inch jack to USB
If you are a singer, you probably already own a good quality stage
microphone you use at gigs so it makes sense to use that microphone
in conjunction with the iMic adapter (3).
If you don't have a microphone,
you could use your computers built in microphone if it has one,
but remember, these are only designed for speech so don't expect
good quality results.
Saving your work in Audacity
Audacity works a little bit different from normal programs
when it comes to saving a file. Most computer programs require
you to go to File and select Save (or Save as..).
Audacity is an audio editor so it works a little bit different
Using the Save command in the Audacity File menu actually saves
your entire project rather than the finished sound file (File
> Save Project).
Being able to save a project is a fantastic facility to have.
It means you can go back to your song at any time and continue
recording or make more edits to it. You could spend days, weeks
or months recording your album if you want (some people even spend
years working on an album)! The good thing is that the ability
to save your projects allows you to work at your own pace.
Exporting a file is different. When you export a file, it means
all the project files are consolidated in to one final file and
saved as a completely new file. So, when you have finally finished
working on your song (i.e you have completed your project and
you're happy with the way it sounds), then you EXPORT it. The
exported file becomes your "finished product" and is
the file you will then use to "burn" your song to a
CD or upload to the Web etc.
So, just to recap...
---> Save Project,
saves a project that you are still working on
---> Export creates a new file of the finished song.
It's very important that you fully
understand the difference between saving and exporting before
you go any further with Audacity.
Remember that your project file only exists as a bunch
of digital data inside Audacity and is unique to Audacity so can't
be recognised by other programs like mp3 players or a CD writers
etc. Your song doesn't become the finished article until you export
If you're still not sure, read the above paragraph over and over
again until you do! If you don't get this distinction right you'll
only waste your time.
Here's a tip. I always save and keep my project files, even after
I've finished a song and exported it. This is because you never
know when you may want to go back and remix or re-do something.
Also, if you ever lose your exported file or it becomes corrupt,
this way you can load in your original project file and export
it again as a new file.
Editing audio is not as difficult as you may think. Audacity
uses pretty much the same basic keyboard controls you would use
in Microsoft Word.
To delete a part of your recording, click, hold and drag
to select the section. Then hit the Delete key on your
keyboard (this won't work though unless Audacity is stopped
- pausing it won't work).
If you make a mistake don't worry. Hit Ctrl+Z on
your keyboard to undo it and restore it back to the way
Cut & Paste
To cut and paste or copy and paste a section of audio,
select it as above. Use Ctrl+X (to cut) or Ctrl+C
(to copy). Place your cursor at the point you want to
paste it in and hit Ctrl+V. Simple.
Just be careful if you're copying and pasting pieces of
audio when you're running more than one track. Cutting
and moving audio on one audio track will change the length
of the audio on that track so you risk losing any sync
it had with the other tracks in your project - you have
The good thing about copying and pasting though is that
once you get the hang of it you'll be able to sing the
chorus of a song just one time and then copy and paste
it throughout the whole song.
One of my favourite features of Audacity! To duplicate
a full track or a segment of audio in a track, hit Ctr+D
on your keyboard. This will duplicate the selected segment
of the track and copy it in to a brand new stand-alone
track, leaving your original track unchanged.
You can use the Time Shift Tool to drag your new audio
clip into position in its track.
Select the whole track or segment of audio you want to
adjust (click and drag to highlight it). Use the envelope
tool to adjust the volume.
Another of my favourite tools. You may find that when
you record your vocal, it also picks up some unwanted
background noise (like the hum of your computers power
supply or the whirring of the fan etc). You may also hear
a bit of hiss on your recording. This is caused by your
sound card - generally the cheaper the sound card, the
worse the background hiss and noise.
To clean up unwanted noise:
1. Select a section of the audio that is silent except
for the noise you want to filter out (usually the first
couple of seconds works best).
2. Go to Effect > Noise Removal and click on
the Get Noise button.
3. Select all of
the audio you want to filter.
4. Go to the Effect > Noise Removal again, but
this time click on the Remove Noise button.
If you make a mistake or
don't get the results you want, use Ctrl+Z to undo
it (or select Edit > Undo from the file menu).
Remember, pretty much nothing works
in the Audacity menus if you have your project paused...Audacity
needs to be stopped (the big red stop button) before most of the
file functions become available.
Exporting the completed file
When youve completed your recording
or editing, you'll probably want to export it as an mp3 file. At
the time of writing this article, Audacity doesn't have a default
MP3 export function, so you'll need to download the LAME MP3 encoder.
Get it at:
When you've downloaded it,
unzip the LAME file.
Remember exactly where you've unzipped it to because the first time
you try to export an MP3 file, Audacity will ask you where the LAME
encoder file is.
It'll only ask you the first time you use it. After that Audacity
will remember where it is.
Now you can export your work as
To do this, first select each of
the tracks by using shift (on your keyboard) + left-click (on
your mouse) until all the tracks are highlighted.
Then go to the Project menu and select Quick Mix.
On the Edit > Preferences
make sure the Quality tab is is set to 44100 Hz (Audacity
should do this at default).
On the File Formats tab (next to the Quality tab)
set the MP3 bit-rate to 128. You can set it higher than 128 if
you want, but whatever you do don't set it any less or you'll
get poor quality.
When you're finished, click OK in the Preferences
Go to File and Export As MP3.
You can leave the ID3 tags blank
or fill them in with your own information if you want.
You now have an MP3 file ready
for uploading to the Web or if you prefer you can burn it on to
Article Written by Kenny Campbell
(This article cannot be reproduced without express
(all rights reserved)