7 steps to recording great sound clips with Audacity

For many of the mobile apps we're developing at ReignDesign, we need to record MP3 audio files. Audacity is a great cross-platform tool for recording and editing sound files, but it can take some tweaking to make clear audio files. Here's seven steps to get you started.

1. Install Audacity

Download the appropriate installer for Windows, Mac or Linux from the Audacity site and install it on your computer.

2. Get the LAME mp3 plugin

For legal reasons, Audacity doesn't ship with a MP3 encoder. You need to download a separate file to enable exporting to MP3. Follow the instructions on the Audacity site to download the library. For example, on Windows, you'll download a file called lame_enc.dll. Audacity will prompt you to locate this file the first time you export as MP3.

3. Start Audacity

Make sure your headphones and microphone are plugged in, then run the Audacity program (in Windows, from your Start Menu). The main Audacity window will appear. Take some time to explore the menus and toolbars.

audacity1

4. Record your audio

To record audio, just press the red record button. As you speak, you can see a waveform representing your speech appear on the screen.

If the recorded audio is too quiet, the waveform will be small like this. You can increase the microphone level by dragging the microphone slider.

too-quiet

If the recorded audio is too loud, the waveform will be clipped at the top and bottom, and you should reduce the microphone level.

too-loud

It's easiest to record all your sound clips in one 'take', pausing a few seconds before each item. If you make a mistake, just repeat the clip (it's easy to remove errors in Audacity later)

Here are some more recording tips:

  • Record in a quiet room.
  • Make sure the microphone is not too close to your mouth.
  • If you find that you hear a 'popping' noise when you say hard consonant sounds like 'P', you can try placing a piece of cloth like a scarf between your mouth and the microphone.

5. Check amplitude levels

Once you've finished recording, check the volume levels are not too loud or too quiet. Drag to select the whole audio file, then choose Effect > Amplify. By default, Audacity will choose the greatest amplification possible without clipping.

amplify

6. Remove background noise

Inevitably there will be some humming or background noise in your recordings. Luckily, Audacity provides a powerful tool for removing background noise. First, select a portion of the audio recording where you are not speaking

removenoise

7. Export each clip as an MP3

Now you should have several clips separated by a few seconds of silence. Select a clip, and press space to preview. If you're happy, then go to File > Export as MP3... If this is your first MP3 export, you'll be prompted for the location of the file you downloaded in Step 2. Once this is set up, you can choose a filename for your exported MP3, and optionally set ID3 metadata, like title and genre.

Export as MP3

And that's it! You can now include your MP3 files in your programming projects.

Matt Mayer

Matt Mayer is a founder at ReignDesign. Matt is from the UK and was based in Shanghai for ten years. He is now living in Bangkok, Thailand.

7 comments

  1. 1. Is there any difference if steps 5 (amplification) and 6 (noise reduction) are done in reverse order?

    2. If the original recording is like the first image in step 4 (not loud enough), will amplication help
    it or will it create artifacts or distortion?

  2. @Doug,

    1. Shouldn’t matter, though its easier to hear the effect of noise reduction after amplification
    2. It will help, though it will of course make the background noises louder as well as the audio you’re trying to help. Its better to re-record if feasible though. Audacity can only do so much if the audio is only a little louder than the background.

  3. Hello, thank for the tips, I have a question.
    I want to ensure that my recording is at the best quality possible.
    1. After recording do you recommend that I raise the gain levels to say +13 before saving?

    2. Can you kindly give a more detailed guide on what a podcaster should do, with audacity in terms of features and options? Thanks a lot for your time and information, and all the best!

  4. Hi,

    I’m trying to record some instruments through a microphone but the sound is just awful. They are not loud instruments. I just can’t get that professional sound. Is there any information you can give me on how I can achieve this?

    Thanks,
    Rajan

  5. When I do this, I can get read of the buzzing sound, but my voice doesn’t seem natural anymore. It becomes kind of like robotic.

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