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Audacity is a free audio editor that you can use to touch up interviews, voiceovers, music, and whatever other sound files you have. Want to move beyond simple cut-and-crop jobs? Then listen up! Knowing just a few Audacity tips can make your audio-editing life a whole lot easier.

Not sure if you need Audacity? Here are 10 ways you can put it to use 10 Creative Uses For Audacity That You Probably Haven’t Thought Of 10 Creative Uses For Audacity That You Probably Haven’t Thought Of You've probably heard of Audacity. It's a free cross-platform application for recording and mixing, which also happens to be incredibly powerful and versatile. You can use it to record vocals, instruments and other sounds, mix... Read More , which covers everything from podcasting and making ringtones to practising foreign languages and improving your reading skills.

audacity-tips-record-what-you-hear

Manually Record “What You Hear”

Have you ever wanted to record the sound coming from your computer? If so, then you’ve probably tried putting a microphone up to the speakers. In doing so you were probably pretty disappointed by the results. Fortunately, there’s a simpler and better way.

You’ll need the following:

  • 5mm male-to-male stereo audio cable
  • 5mm audio splitter cable (optional)
  • 5mm headphones or earbuds (optional)

Here’s what you do:

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  • Plug the stereo audio cable into the audio output port of your computer. This is where you’d normally plug in your headphones. It’s usually color-coded as green and indicated by a headphones symbol.
  • Plug the other end of the stereo audio cable into the line-in port of your computer. It’s usually color-coded as blue.

Optional: With this setup, you can’t actually hear the audio anymore. To fix that, plug the audio splitter into the audio output port (green) and then plug the stereo audio cable into one of the audio splitter’s ports. Then, plug your headphones into the other port on the audio splitter.

Now you should be able to use Audacity to record the sound that you hear.

Remove Background Noise

We’ve covered this tip a few times but it’s so useful that it bears repeating. If your microphone recordings tend to “buzz” or if they have a lot of “background static”, then this simple procedure will help you get rid of it.

  • Highlight a section of recording where no deliberate sounds were made.
  • Select Effect > Noise Removal in the menu options.
  • Click on Get Noise Profile.
  • Now highlight the entire recording from start to end.
  • Select Effect > Noise Removal in the menu options again.
  • Click OK.

audacity-tips-amplify-and-normalize

Amplify vs. Normalize

If you have an audio file that’s too soft or too loud or a mixture of the two, this tip might help. In fact, it can prove immensely useful when recording interviews 3 Audacity Tips To Enhance Your Recorded Interviews 3 Audacity Tips To Enhance Your Recorded Interviews Read More . First, you have to decide:

  • Is the entire track too soft or loud? Then Amplify.
  • Are only certain aspects of the track too soft or loud? Then Normalize.

Both of these options can be found under the Effect menu. To use them, you just have to highlight a portion of the track (or the entire track if you want) and apply the effect from the menu.

For more information, check out the Audacity Manual page.

Truncate Silence

Here’s a common problem for people who work with voice recordings: frequent gaps of silence. The immediate solution is to highlight each gap by hand and press the Delete key, which works fine if your recordings are short (less than a minute).

But if you’re doing that for a 2-hour recording, that’s a lot of unnecessary work. Here’s how you can cut all of that work down into one mouse click:

  • Highlight the entire recording.
  • Select Effect > Truncate Silence from the menu.
  • Min Duration, Max Duration, and Silence Threshold are used by Audacity to determine which parts of the recording count as “silence”.
  • Silence Compression determines how much of the silence is removed. Instead of removing all silence, Audacity simply compresses it. Example: using 4:1 compression, a 4-second period of silence would be compressed down to 1 second.
  • Click OK.

For more information, check out the Audacity Manual page.

audacity-tips-sound-effect-generator

Generate Sound Effects

If you’re trying to create sound effects but don’t have any samples to work with, let Audacity provide the samples for you. The Generate menu has several options to help you get started. Explaining each option would be worthy of its own article, so check out the Audacity Manual page for more information on how to use each option.

Of course, these sounds probably won’t be useful on their own. Try combining the generated sounds with some of the effects in the Effect menu and you might be surprised by some of the results you can achieve.

Rip Audio From Video

Ripping the audio from a video file is simple and straightforward. The only requirement is that you install FFmpeg for Audacity and LAME for Audacity, both of which you can download here. Scroll down and install the right versions for you (only available for Windows and Mac).

Once it’s installed:

  • Open the video file in Audacity with File > Open.
  • Select File > Export.
  • Choose MP3 as the export file format.
  • Click Save and you’re done.

audacity-tips-good-source-audio

Start With Good Source Material

This final tip is more of a general one: if you want audio editing to be a breeze, always start with good source audio. Whether you’re using Audacity or a professional solution that costs thousands of dollars, you can only clean up an audio file so much. The same isn’t so true for video, which can be manipulated and passed off as “good enough” – none of the same tricks work on audio.

Rather than working to fix a poorly recorded file, change your setup to produce cleaner recordings. You’ll thank yourself down the road. There’s a lot that can be said about this, but there are some good starter tips in this post about recording home music with Audacity A Beginner's Guide To Producing Home Music Recordings With Audacity A Beginner's Guide To Producing Home Music Recordings With Audacity For many musicians, the cost of paying a professional sound engineer to record and produce a demo CD or demo tracks for an online talent profile is just too high. A much more affordable option... Read More .

How Do You Use Audacity?

Hopefully you find some of these tips helpful. Do you have any other tips to add to the list? Audacity is powerful with a lot of options and I’m sure there are plenty of other tricks that we don’t know about.

Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Image Credit: Microphone and Headphone Via Shutterstock, Hot Sound Levels Via Shutterstock, Blue Sound Wave Via Shutterstock, Studio Recording Via Shutterstock

  1. AnonGuy
    March 9, 2015 at 7:26 am

    I used it a couple of times to cut program music.

    I ditched it for Sound Forge Audio Studio on Windows, and I think I'd rather pay 1-300 on my iMac for a decent commercial product than deal with Audacity's user interface and poorer documentation.

    I really wish they'd dedicate one release cycle mainly to polishing up the UI and making the app actually look native (or at least closer to native... or at least attractive) on the platforms it runs on. Also, some of the menus are beyond bloated. When you have to scroll a menu because it's twice the screen size on the average Notebook PC, something is seriously kind of wrong there...

    I continue to use Sound Forge Audio Studio 10 on Windows, but I am looking for a solution on Mac as the version of SF in the App Store is over 3x what I paid for the Windows Version (but I want the Event-based editing and easy cross fading! lol).

    I just cannot deal with Audacity's user interface. I cannot.

    • Joel
      March 12, 2015 at 4:07 am

      Unfortunately, you're right. Audacity is awesome with regard to the features you get for its nonexistent price tag, but the interface could use a LOT of work. It doesn't feel good to work in. It doesn't get me excited. At worst, it can impede productivity.

      Maybe there's a big interface revamp planned for the future? Let's hope so!

  2. Peter Sampson
    November 5, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Sorry but you are totally wrong about Amplify versus Normalize - they both perform amplification to the selected audio. The key difference is that Normalize also incorporates DC Offset removal (but note with a lot of modern computers there is onboard hardware/software to correct for that at source). If you want a more even loudness the you need a Compressor (not Normalize). Audacity has an in-built compressor but even better is a plugin you can use with Audacity Chris' Dynamic Compressor. See this page in the Audacity Manual on Amplify & Normalize: http://manual.audacityteam.org/o/man/amplify_and_normalize.html and this page for Chris's: http://manual.audacityteam.org/o/man/chris_s_dynamic_compressor.html

  3. Dave
    October 28, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    I use Audacity a lot. Still running an older, simpler version. Go easy on the noise removal tool though. It can make recordings sound "phasey" if overdone. I use it for noisy vinyl, using the technique mentioned by sampling a "blank" part of the disc and set the reduction at a very low level, which is normally enough to clean things up without wrecking the sound. The other tool I use extensively is the pencil tool for manually eliminating large clicks and pops that can't be handled by the built-in de-clicker. Expand the waveform at the point where the offending click is located until the sample points are visible and literally re-draw the waveform. A bit laborious if there are a lot of glitches but worth the effort. Copy-and-paste is always worth a try also for really vicious glitches. Again, expand the waveform and copy an equivalent section in time just before or after the offending item and paste it over the glitch. If it's small enough, the alteration won't be heard. Audacity is a great program for free. There are numerous plug-ins also available for the more serious worker.

  4. Saturday
    October 28, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    "Manually recording" what you hear from your computer is a terribly desperate strategy. Having digital audio converted to analogue , transferred through some cheap (split) cable, then reconverted to digital is probably the farthest thing from ideal. At best you're going to get inaccurate sound, at worst you're going to get heavy feedback. A better solution is to purchase Virtual Audio Cable, or use "stereo mix" if your sound card supports it. You can also use Open Broadcaster Software (or most any screencast software) to record, then rip the audio from the resulting video file. Virtual audio cable is ideal because it will let you record the same bitrate of audio that your computer is playing, while OBS forces you to lossy encode one extra time. Still a better option than converting to analogue and back, imo.

  5. suzybel
    October 28, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Years ago, I transferred cassettes to cd's using a software program. I really didn't know much about what I was doing and they all ended up as one track per cd with a lot of hiss at the beginning and in the silent spots. I later replaced many of the cds with purchased ones, but a lot of music I couldn't find. I used Audacity to remove the noise, clean up the tracks and separate into individual tracks , worked great. I also use Audacity to remove the vocals from tracks to make Karaoke tracks and to change the tempo faster or slower. a great free program.

  6. John
    October 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    You need to be careful with the "remove background noise" function. I tried it on some records, and it made them sound like they were recorded in deep caves with the squeaky artifacts you get from severe processing. I tried the same function in the commercial program Adobe Audition (Cool Edit Pro) and I got a much cleaner, more natural sound.

    You should always test and tweak, but I was surprised how "destructive" the sound removal preset in Audacity was as opposed to that in Audition.

  7. AussieintheUSA
    October 28, 2014 at 6:33 am

    I found an old WAV of a demo song I did years ago. Listening to it, I wished I'd done a key change towards the end to give it some life. Chucked it into Audacity, found the point where I wanted to go up a tone and hit "Change Pitch". Sounded fantastic!

    • Joel Lee
      October 28, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      It really IS that easy. :)

  8. RWD
    October 27, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    May also need to go into Windows Control Panel, Sound, right click an open area and check "Show disabled devices". Then the sound card can be set as the default recording device.

  9. Henk van Setten
    October 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Update to my previous post:

    I forgot to add that to get the Audacity settings right for direct loopback recording, under Edit -> Preferences -> Devices, you may also need to check the Host dropdown: make sure it's set to "Windows WASAPI" (on a Windows PC, that is).

    But that's really all there is to it.

  10. Henk van Setten
    October 27, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Yes, Dave is right about recording. Joel Lee hasn't done his homework here. Even with the latest Audacity version, such a messy cable setup isn't necessary at all. You can use Audacity for recording directly, just by choosing the correct software settings.

    In Audacity, under Edit -> Preferences -> Devices, in the Playback device dropdown make sure you select the audio device you normally use, and in the Recording device dropdown make sure you select the same device (with "loopback").

    That's all. Next, just Press Audacity's red Record button, then in your PC's music source (browser page, media player software, whatever) start the music and it will be recorded. While it's being recorded, you will hear it being played as usual.

    With this simple setup, there's just one important thing to keep in mind. The volume level of this kind of direct recording cannot be set from within Audacity itself. Due to the direct data loopback, the recording sound level will depend from the sound level of the music source (such as your media player).

    All this is explained extensively in the online Audacity tutorial at manual.audacityteam.org under "Choosing the recording device in Audacity".

    I just tested this setup in Win 8.1 x64 with Audacity 2.06, using Audacity to directly record a song played by my media player. It works fine. So there's really no need for that hassle with cables.

    • Joel Lee
      October 28, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Thank you, Hank. There are some sound card setups where "Record What You Hear" is not possible OR the quality is too poor. Your way doesn't require any extra hassle and should be the preferred method, but in cases like mine, the cable technique is a viable workaround. :)

  11. Dave
    October 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    with older versions of Audacity you used to be able to set the input to "record what you hear" without the need for the setup described above to capture what was playing on your computer. I'm not sure if newer version allow this configuration.

  12. peter
    October 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I love using Audacity when I make music clips for quiz nights.

    Being able to fade in and fade out songs to make a shortened playlist of, say TV themes or pop hits, is really easy and being able to burn them to a cd is really easy.

    I have also made (fake) interviews using sound clips from samples sent by my friend via email and cut and pasting them together to make seamless sounding clips.

    It really is a great tool considering it's free.

    I'm sure I will be able to make use of these tips.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Joel Lee
      October 28, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      It's a wonderful tool, definitely. Free and powerful. I hope the tips prove useful to you! :)

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