DON'S FREEWARE CORNER - AUG 2017

RECORDING AND DIGITIZING AUDIO WITH AUDACITY - PART 2

2017 Donald R. Snow - This page was last updated 2017-08-11.
These Freeware Corner notes are published in TAGGology, our Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group (UVTAGG) monthly newsletter. They are also posted on my Freeware Corner Notes page on http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html where the links are active and there may be corrections and additions and other related notes and articles.

DIGITIZING ANALOG RECORDINGS

Part 1 of this was in last month's TAGGology (Jul 2017) and is posted on my website (see above). It was an introduction to why and how to convert old analog recordings (tapes, phonograph records, etc.) to digital format and how to do that with the free program AUDACITY. The URL's to download and use AUDACITY are repeated here: http://www.audacityteam.org/ , http://manual.audacityteam.org/ , and http://www.audacityteam.org/help/documentation/ . The tutorials and manuals are helpful and the manual is included in the AUDACITY file itself. In Part 1 I mentioned that one of the the hardest things about recording and converting sound is getting the equipment set up and working with your computer. A tip that may help with this is when you have your devices plugged in, in AUDACITY click on Transport > Rescan Audio Devices. This may help your computer recognize the devices, if it doesn't already. Also, closing and restarting AUDACITY may help.  To estimate how long it will take to digitize something, a rule of thumb is it will take at least twice as long as the audio is. This includes the set up time, playing, and editing. Before converting tape recordings, either cassette or reel-to-reel, they should be fast forwarded to the end and back to relieve the stresses in the tape. This also helps avoid "print through" of magnetism from one tape layer to the next. In this note we will see more AUDACITY features and how to use them and will assume that you have a recording available in AUDACITY already. This could be a recording you made with a microphone, from an analog tape player, or recorded or downloaded from the Internet. Digital audio recordings in supported formats, e.g. .wav, can be opened directly in AUDACITY. Keep in mind that audio files are very large files, but computer storage media is very inexpensive these days.

EDITING AN AUDIO FILE WITH AUDACITY

In the main window or windows in AUDACITY you see the wave form of the recording. There are two parallel windows, one above the other, if it is in stereo; one is the left channel recording and the other is the right. The numbers above the windows are the time from the start. They are in seconds, then minutes, and then hours. If you expand or contract the wave pictures with the + or - icons at the top of AUDACITY, these numbers become more accurate and include down to 10ths and 100ths of seconds. When recording from a tape or record, it is usually wise to start AUDACITY recording before starting the tape player and then stopping the tape player before stopping AUDACITY. This puts a "leader" and "trailer" on the digitized file. These can be edited out easily later and you don't run the risk of missing anything. To eliminate the "leader", find the place where the recording starts and click to put the cursor just to the left of that point. If need be, you can use the + icon at the top to expand the wave pictures. With the cursor at any point, clicking the Play icon in AUDACITY (the small green triangle at top left) starts the file playing from that point. I usually include about one second of silence before the recording starts so it doesn't start with a jolt. To eliminate everything before the point you want, put the cursor there and then drag the scroll bar at the bottom back to the start of the file. Then, while holding down the Shift key, click the cursor at the start. This highlights the part that you will eliminate or "blank out". You can either cut this highlighted piece out, which shortens the whole audio, or just silence it, which keeps the whole audio the same length. To do either of these there are icons near the middle of the top of AUDACITY, one with a scissors and one with a short horizontal line between two wave forms. The scissors icon cuts out the highlighted section and the straight-line-between-waves just silences it, but leaves that length the same. Whichever you do, AUDACITY keeps track of the edits and everything is reversible. To undo any edit click Edit > Undo or just CTRL-Z. If you want a part to fade in or out, highlight it and click Effects > Fade In or Effects > Fade Out. There are many other edits you can do in AUDACITY. One that I use frequently is to amplify the file or part of it by highlighting and clicking Effects > Amplify. There are various options for the Amplify and one asks if you want to allow clipping, i.e. cutting off the loud peaks. This is not usually a good idea since it decreases the quality of the audio and causes distortion. Amplification is very helpful, if the original recording was low.

LABEL TRACKS

To add a label track in parallel to the audio track(s), put the cursor where you want the label and click on Tracks > Add Label at Selection. Then enter any text you want there.  This can be a title, date, time, or anything else, to mark where something occurs in the audio file. These labels can be moved around, if need be. They are not audible, but are helpful to find various points in the audio file. Later, these labels can be used to break up the entire audio file into pieces, each starting at that point and labeled with that title. This is helpful when you are digitizing a recording with many parts, for example, a journal that was recorded at different dates, but all on one tape, or a phonograph record with many songs. To find where the new parts start in the large audio file, look for the blank spaces (flat lines) in the wave format window(s).

SAVING THE AUDACITY PROJECT

AUDACITY keeps track of every edit you make and, if you save the project, you can open it again later and continue editing or redo any part. Saving the project is different than exporting the audio, which will be discussed below. I sometimes save the entire project a couple of times during the editing process, just for safe keeping. Save the project by File > Save Project As, give it a name, and tell AUDACITY where to save it. The saved format is an .aup file with an accompanying folder of the same name and containing the data. Be sure to change the name for a new save or it will overwrite the old file and folder.  This aup file and data can only be opened in AUDACITY and is not the same as exporting the audio file to produce a file that will play in other programs.

EXPORTING THE AUDIO FILE

When you are done editing, to export the audio file, so it will play on other devices, click File > Export Audio and select the format in which to export it, e.g. .wav or .mp3. I usually save archive copies as high quality .wav files.  Then I can make low quality files from them for distribution, posting, etc. Remember that you can always get lower quality files from higher quality ones, but not the other way around, so archive originals in high quality. AUDACITY has several other high quality formats besides .wav for exporting, but .wav is a standard format playable on many devices. As you export the file, you see a screen where you can enter metadata such as the date, where the original file came from, who and what it is, etc. I don't usually put this information in the metadata, but in the file name to make it searchable. Exporting to mp3 format yields a much smaller file, but is much lower quality sound. If you have saved the project, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, you can always go back later and re-export it in different formats, high or low quality. Audio files in .wav and a few other formats can be opened directly in AUDACITY to edit and save in different formats.

CONCLUSIONS

This is the second in a series about AUDACITY and some of its many uses in family history. It is a wise idea to digitize old analog recordings, especially tapes, as soon as possible, since they deteriorate. It is also a good idea to keep the old analog items and don't throw them away, since there may be better ways to digitize them in the future, and, if your digitized version becomes unplayable, you can't reclaim part of it the way you can with parts of analog recordings. Happy digitizing.
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