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 is to learn a little about music production and recording techniques yourself and use your favorite tools on your computer to record your own music.
For some musicians, the process of recording yourself is a learning exercise, designed to let you know precisely what you sound like so you can improve your performance. But whatever your reason for recording yourself, it’s good to know a handful of decent techniques for the best free software available – and that software is Audacity.
Before you start recording, make sure you get the latest version of Audacity. Currently, it’s version 2.0.0 released in March 2012.
Prepare Your Recording Equipment
Before you make an audio recording, make sure you have researched a little about the best methods to record your instruments, including microphone placement and the best microphones to use. You may also wish to upgrade your sound card before you start recording. Finally, check your preferences in Audacity to ensure you are recording with the best quality possible.
In Audacity, recording voice or another instrument with a microphone is as simple as ensuring the microphone input is correct, pressing record and later pressing stop. This will record a single channel which shows as a wave form and can be edited individually.
Previously recorded backing instrumentation in most file formats can also be imported to Audacity (although you may wish to check the legalities of using them). The imported track will also have its own individual channel within Audacity.
Multi-Track Recording In Audacity
It is possible to record multiple channels at once in Audacity if you have the right gear and software to do so. For most amateurs though, this is just not feasible. Therefore, the simplest way to record multiple tracks is to do so one by one.
Start by importing a previously recorded track (or recording the whole band playing at once) which can be used to keep you all in time. Then record each instrument individually, ensuring the person playing has headphones, so they can hear the original track, but that it is not picked up by the microphones. In Audacity, ensure the “Overdub” selection is checked so that new tracks are generated.
If a section of the recording is not quite right, it can be deleted from the track by highlighting and choosing Remove Audio > Silence Audio or Clip Boundaries > Split New. Don’t delete it or cut it as that will join the sections either side together and make the music out of time. A new track can be recorded to replace that section, starting just before the deleted part by clicking on the timeline bar.
When all the individual channels are recorded you can mute the original scratch recording (but don’t delete it – just in case). Play the rest of the channels together and move them around a tiny bit if there is any lag. Do this by clicking and holding, then moving left and right in the timeline.
Basic Music Production Effects In Audacity
To use sound production effects in Audacity, simply highlight the section of the channel in which you want the effect, then go to the effects menu and apply it. If you’re new to using effects, make back-ups of your Audacity file before applying them so that you can compare the sound and revert easily if need be. Also, duplicate channels or section of channels before applying effects, so that you always have your original sound.
Use the Amplify effect to adjust the volume of a section of a channel. For instance, to make the vocals louder against the instruments. You can also use the Fade In/Out effect to create smooth transitions. Normalizing the sound will make it as loud as possible without distorting it.
Pitch can be changed without affecting the tempo. However, most people would advise using this feature sparingly.
Effects such as Reverb, Phase, Wahwah and filters are best tried and tested by you, as it’s difficult to imagine how it will sound before you try it. Just remember to keep your original channels as you can use them to apply different volume levels to the original and the effect.
Equalization is more difficult to apply as when you click on the line you will see a node which can be pulled in many directions to reduce the bass frequency and increase the high frequencies. What this does is adjust the tone and make the sound clearer, however when it comes to actually applying the effect you will just have to try it and see how it sounds.
Use Panning to move the audio from one speaker to another. You’ll find the Panning slider next to the volume for each channel.
When your sound production is sounding complete, you can add a final compression effect to your music in order to lessen the volume difference in your music.
Audacity has many available plug-ins to achieve specific effects, like reverb and auto-tuning. To install plug-ins or work with other tools, install the Audacity VST Enabler first.
Saving Your Music
When saving, you save the Audacity file itself, with all of the multiple channels represented for tweaking later. If you want to give the music to someone else or to upload it, you’ll need to export the Audacity file as another format, such as MP3.
More Audacity Tips
MakeUseOf has previously covered Audacity for many different sorts of uses. These articles might also be useful to you:
- How To Remove Ambient Noise From Your Audio Files Using Audacity
- 3 Audacity Tips To Enhance Your Recorded Interviews
What’s your best tip for recording and producing vocals using Audacity?