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Recording Music Using Audacity Part I

Overview

Looking to record a new song but don’t have the software or knowledge to do so? No problem! A lot people have been there before (including me). At Musicians Unite, we've got you covered!

Let’s take a look at the great free music recording / editing computer application called Audacity.

Audacity is an open source free digital audio editor and multi-track recording computer software program that can install across various platforms. So it is available on different operating systems, such as Windows, OSX and Linux. Audacity was created by Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Dannenberg at Carnegie Mellon University. The software main web site is here: http://www.audacityteam.org/

In this article we will go over computer microphone input settings, the recording automation tool bar, and some of the basic plugins and exporting the tracks into a single file. Let’s get started!

First, you need to download and install the Audacity application on your computer. So for the sake of brevity and space of this article, please closely follow the installing directions for your operating system below, and please “do not” forget all the steps, including the LAME mp3 encoding software that is included in the same instructions:

Installing Audacity on Windows

Installing Audacity on Linux

Installing Audacity on Mac OS X

Ok, once you have Audacity installed on your computer. Let’s take a look at the hardware connections that you can use.

Hardware

There are two computer jacks that we can use to record audio. There is the 1/8 sized microphone jack and also the Universal Serial Bus jack, or more commonly called USB for short. The main difference between both is cost and noise. First, let’s look at the 1/8 microphone jack.

As the picture indicates below some computers, both desktop and laptops, most commonly have a microphone jack (sometimes indicated as red or pink), and you also may see a line in jack (sometimes indicated by blue) and also a speaker out (sometimes indicated by green). Most likely, if you are on a desktop computer (tower / workstation if you prefer those acronyms) you probably have speakers hooked up to the green speaker jack. Also just for information, on a laptop computer, this also may be listed as a head phone jack as well, and could be black in color.


Most likely you have a common ¼ patch cable or more commonly called a “guitar cable” that goes from your guitar or keyboard to your amplifier. You’ll need another cable and this 1/4 female to 1/8 male adapter which can be bought from Amazon or at other online and local dealers. You can also buy an entire 1/4 male to 1/8 male cable also which may be less heavy on your computer microphone jack when plugged in, but that’s a choice that you’ll have to make.


USB Audio Interface

The other method that we can use to physically hook up a guitar, keyboard or a dynamic microphone to our computer is a USB Audio Interface. The USB Audio Interface may be a female 1/4 jack to a USB-A cable or also may be a USB Audio Interface “box” as shown below such as the Behringer UMC22 (which I use) or the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.

Notice the ¼ jacks? Also notice on the left picture (and two on the right picture below), there is a bigger black TRS jack, which is a combined ¼ jack and a XLR jack so you can use either style of cable (some dynamic microphones have an XLR male 3 prong plug).

While this gives us a better signal (as USB picks up less audio interference), in some instances, you still may need to amplify the signal from an amplifier line out or headphone jack or a small pre-amp box, all depending on the instrument’s raw output (for example, an electric guitar that has weaker eletro-magnetic pickups), but these USB Audio Interface boxes help out a great deal. However they cost you more money out of your pocket versus the 1/8 microphone cable or adapter that we read about above. Again it’s your choice, try one or the other or both. The other thing to think about is to make sure you read the system requirements for any USB Audio Interface that you are thinking about purchasing before you actually buy one!


Both a USB Audio Interface cable or USB Audio Interface box (that have a USB cable with them) would plug into the USB port on your computer. As an extra tip, if you have both black USB ports and also blue USB ports, use the “blue” color ports (as shown below), as they are usually USB 3.0, and allow faster data transfer rates from the device to the computer (wow, love that hi-tech talk !)


Now with the hardware explained and sorted out, let’s record some tracks! Before starting the Audacity program, hook up and plug in your equipment to either the 1/8 microphone jack or USB Audio Interface box/cable to the USB port that you are using. In the next article we'll be starting by opening up Audacity and getting into the program's settings!! Catch you next week!!


-Thomas Rawding - MU Columnist


*Thomas Rawding (AKA: Mr.Tom) is an multi-instrumentalist, singer and a registered songwriter currently under BMI, Inc. He has been playing and recording music for more than 20 years and continues to write and record songs in South Carolina, for both retail sale and commercial licensing.


Tom's Music on Songtradr
Tom's Music on Luck Stock


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