Using Audacity

Open up Audacity (a free download & worth having).

You can use audacity with a microphone to record to your computer, you can import MP3 recordings, you can record things that are playing on your MP3 player, or you can record things that are playing on your computer. To import MP3s, go to Project-->Import Audio. This is pretty easy, so let's try something that's a bit more complicated, recording something that's playing on your computer.

Recording Sound That's Playing On Your Computer

On the right of the screen, you'll see a drop down menu with three options Stereo Mix, Microphone, and Line In. Stereo Mix lets you record things playing on your computer, Microphone lets you record your voice onto your computer, and Line In lets you record things playing on your MP3 player.

Note: if you don't have this drop down menu, you can still record using these three options. But you may need to "enable" some features in Windows that the Vista designers thoughtfully disabled. Here are the directions for doing so, but if you run into problems, call me & I'll walk you through it.

To record something playing on your computer, set Audacity to record Stereo Mix by choosing this option on the drop-down menu.

Let's get an audio clip. Go to YouTube and find a speech you like or a bit of dialogue or just Click Here.

Once you've found a clip you like, go back to Audacity & click the red record button (see below). Then go back to Youtube & play the clip. Then go back to Audacity to watch the magic happen.

You should be able to watch the audio waves appear on the screen (see below).

Lower the volume (at the top) if the sound waves are filling the entire track, as they are at the beginning of the track above. To adjust the volume, move the nob next to the mircrophone (see below). If the waves go off the track because the volume is too high, you'll get a messy-sounding clip.

Cleaning Up the Clip

Let's play with this clip. First get the cursor (click on it in the top left corner of your tools column).

Now use the cursor to highlight the first part of your audio clip that (probably) doesn't contain any sound and hit delete.

Cutting Up Long Clips

Now let's move individual clips into separate tracks so we can play around with the editing (and so we can keep track of what clips we have).

Hit play and watch the sound waves. Keep an eye out for a good stopping and starting point in the clip. If you brought in headphones, just listen for a good stopping/starting point. Click your cursor on the end point of the first clip you find. Highlight the single clip you wish to remove.

Edit-->Cut.

Now go to Project-->New Audio Track

and paste the clip into the new track.

Adding Music to the Background

Now let's get something else to play with...some music to play in the background.

Go here, click on the song in the "song spotlight," and follow the earlier instructions for recording sound off of your computer. Stop recording when you have a sound clip that's about 45 seconds long.

Note that if you use music from PodSafe Audio, you have to abide by the Creative Commons copyrights for that music (this usually means that you'll need to acknowledge the musician in your work...in the credits for your movie or digital story or in the phrase"Music by So and So from PodSafe Audio" at the end of your podcast). You can also do a google search for music in the public domain (music that the copyright has run out on, so it's okay to use it) or go to http://www.pdmusic.org/. Or go here & create your own music to play/record using Stereo Mix.

To the left of the track you just recorded (and every track), note that you can adjust the volume (top line) and adjust where the sound comes from (left or right speaker). Make the music low. Remember that we want it to be in the background. You can also play around with the stereo feature. For example, you could have one audio track coming from the left speaker and the music coming out of the right speaker. Click play & see what happens.

Inserting Silence

Let's insert some silence into the speech you recorded so we have some room to add in additional clips or to allow the music to dominate for a bit.

To Generate Silence, first find where you want the silence to appear and click on that spot. Then go to Generate-->Silence. Click Okay.

Then decide how much silence you want. As a test, set it at 30.000.

Once you have some silence, you can also move clips around so that they play during that silence. To do this, grab the move tool (see below) and click/drag the clips you want to move.

Playing With Effects

Grab the cursor tool you used before (the one that looks like a big I). Then highlight the beginning of one of your sound clips, go to Effect-->Fade In. Highlight the end of one of your clips and go to Effect-->Fade Out.

Highlight different parts of your recordings, go to Effect & play around with things like echo, repeat, and change tempo. Click play before those areas to see what happens.

To isolate one track at a time (so you can hear the different effects without background music, etc.). Simply click the "mute" button next to the clip you want to mute.

Record Your Voice

Go back to the dropdown menu where you found "StereoMix" and change this to "microphone." If your computer has a built in microphone, just click the red record button & start talking. If your computer doesn't have a microphone or if you want better quality audio, purchase a cheap microphone, plug it into your computer, and record away.

Note: I posted audio responses to my students' group projects last semester. Typically my written responses take 40-50 minutes each to write (allowing for both a few specific comments and many global comments & suggestions). But I managed to cut that response time down by more than half by jotting down notes as I read & then speaking my comments into audacity & posting the MP3s to Moodle. & my students suggested they understood and appreciated my spoken comments better than my carefully-phrased written ones. You can record comments using a special feature in Adobe, but I prefer Audacity because it allows me to edit out all of my "ums" " ahhs" and "ers."

Now to Save & Export

To save your project so you can work on it later, just go to File-->Save and do what you normally do. Now you can return to this project at any time to play with it. But you will also want to share your work, or just listen to it on your MP3 player.

To export your project as an MP3 (so you can listen in your car or save a copy for all of us to listen to in our cars or at the gym) go to File-->Export as MP3.

Note: You should have downloaded the LAME MP3 encoder when you downloaded Audacity. If you didn't, do it now. Without that encoder, you will not be able to turn your audio into an MP3.This is another free download that you need to get only once, by going here, & you're good to go.