Opening up Audacity, you may not be totally lost - the record, play, and stop buttons are pretty obvious - but the rest might be a bit more daunting if you've never worked with editing software before. If you have, this is pretty straightforward, but for the beginners, let's take a look at some basic terms and functions:
Connecting the Microphone
The microphones I recommended are all USB microphones, meaning they should be able to plug straight into your computer and will be recognized as a Input (Line In) Device automatically by any programs that can record audio. Input/Line In devices are things your computer will see a taking sound into your computer and it will process it as an audio signal to whatever your program is using. As a Mac user, USB mics are almost exclusively plug and play right away, but if you use a Windows machine, you may have to install some addition drivers or software if your mic comes with a CD and the instructions to do so.
I highly recommended making sure your microphone is plugged in before opening your recording program. Audacity in particular struggles to see your device if you've plugged it in after the program is open. Simply quitting or completely closing out of the program and restarting it will allow it to discover your mic. The same goes for anytime the mic is unplugged, so it's a good tip if you use a laptop where this happens a lot!
Learning the Edit Window
Your Edit Window is simply the window of the program where any audio editing takes place. You can record into the edit window by hitting record and then stop, but a lot of what you'll do in any DAW is editing, especially when you're playing engineer.
The awesome thing about DAWs is that once you learn one, you'll recognize identical features in all of them. Some may have more capabilities than others or place their tools in different places, but the principles are the same no matter where you go. As an editor, I'll try to break things down in stages so you can explore one step at a time, but a break down of the basics is a good place to start.
Let's take a look at Audacity, since that's the most popular option that everyone has access to:
2 - Editing Selection Tools - After your audio is recorded, these are what you'll use to make adjustments, such as removing pauses, extra takes, and adding effects. The selection tool (top left) is what you'll use almost exclusively, the same way you would use a cursor to edit a word document after you finished up typing your content in via the keyboard. I'll talk more about the others later.
3 - Input and Output Levels - If you're thinking about your DAW as something to takes sound in and reproduces sound, these sliders are pretty self explanatory. The slider with the microphone icon (Input Level) controls how much sound your mic takes into the program and the slider next to the speaker icon (Output Level) is how much sound will play back regardless of what your computer's sound settings might be set to! Your Output will usually stay in one place, but you'll probably play with the Input a lot depending on what you're doing. For example, you want the Input to be higher (collecting more sound) when you're whispering, and lower (collecting less sound) when you're screaming.
4 - Input and Output Selection - With the same icons as before, these drop downs will show you all options your computer sees as available for your Input and Output. Remember, if your mic doesn't show up under the Input at first, try restarting the DAW. Usually, it'll pop right up when you open it up again.
5 - The Timeline - Any kind of audio, whether it's music, voice, or sound effects, will always be measured in time. The timeline is a window that allows you to see a visual representation of your audio along a Timeline, making it easier for you to visualize the sounds you're about to manipulate. The Zoom Controls are what let you adjust how much Time you are looking at at once.
6 - The Track - A Track functions as a container for a single line of audio at a given time. Voiceover only requires you to use a single track (because your voice is a single piece of audio at any given time) but you're able to add more than one track to most DAWs if you want to try adding more sounds at the same time. In fact, advanced mixing in Hollywood usually involves a minimum of hundreds if not thousands of tracks of audio! (My mixing teacher told me once that a single Transformer in the Michael Bay films reserved over 500 tracks for their arm alone.)
- By default, Audacity will automatically create a new track for you each time you hit the record button.
That should be enough for us to get started. If you're brand new to this, don't worry too much about if what you're doing is right or wrong. Just have some fun getting familiar with the setup and I'll discuss more about editing in the next article.