Recording _ Working with Audio

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Recording & Working with Audio
Equipment for Recording Voiceovers
Traditional microphones capture sound in what's called analog form – in waves. The first
problem of getting sound into a computer is that you must have some sort of go-between
gizmo to convert this analog source into the digital format recognized by computers. The
second problem of getting sound into a computer is that most microphones record at a low
level and then use some sort of amplifier to boost the sound. So even if you have a digitizing
gizmo, you may also need an amplifying gizmo. Sound is difficult. It's the most difficult and
expensive part of this process.

Here are some options:
Option A: If your computer has a nice soundcard, which you often don't know until you
start experimenting with audio recording, you may find that a $20 USB mic plugged into
your USB port works fine. Logitech makes decent USB mics, and it's worth trying these
before moving on to more expensive and complicated options.

Option B: Samson makes a nicer USB mic, called the CO1U. You can get one of these for
about $80. They are supposed to be "plug-and-play," meaning you just plug them into your
USB port and start recording. Unfortunately, they rarely are – you have to download some
free and fussy software to be able to amplify the signal enough so that it's audible.

Option C: You can buy a mid-range, dynamic microphone and a USB preamp. I have a
Shure SM58 mic ($90) and an M-Audio Mobile Pre ($150), and this setup works quite well.
You also need an XLR cable to connect the two, which runs about $20.

Option D: If you want portability and/or do any kind of work where you might like to
record other audio (meetings, interviews), you might consider a minidisc player with a
dynamic mic. This is my preferred setup. I use a Sony MZ-RH910 minidisc ($150) – this is
an older model, the newer one is the MZ-RH1 ($300) – and a Shure SM58 mic ($90). I also
need a Shure A96F Low-to-High Impedance Transformer ($36) to connect the two. When
I'm recording meetings and interviews, I plug in a Sony ECM-DS70P mic ($80). The
minidisc disadvantage: you have to use some software to make your files editable and/or
transcribable (it's free and fairly straightforward software).

Option E: Recently, a few companies have begun making portable digital audio recorders.
The Edirol R-09 and M-Audio Microtrack ($300-400 range) are examples. These are very
handy because they record instantly usable files – no conversions necessary – and they don’t
require an external microphone.

What won't work: digital voice recorders, like those made by Olympus; mics that plug into
the mic jack of your computer; iPod mics; built-in computer mics; mp3 players.

Overall: start cheap and work your way up, making sure that you buy from places where you
can return items that don't work! Computers are very idiosyncratic in the way they handle
sound, so you might have a pleasant surprise of finding the $20 USB mic works just fine.

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Accessories: You'll need to buy a mic stand, and you should buy a pop filter – a $5 item that
keeps P's and B's from sounding bad. Headphones are also necessary.

You will always need to do a little editing to clean up voiceover recordings. But note that if a
recording sounds lousy in terms of recording quality, there's really no way to fix it.

Editing can be kept at a minimum if readers follow these instructions:
   1. Practice! A few read dry runs are always a good idea.
   2. No paper rustling as you read. If you must turn pages, stop reading, rustle all you
        want, stop rustling, and then start reading again. The rustling can be edited out later.
   3. Feel free to take long breaks and breaths between paragraphs, or, occasionally,
        between sentences. Pauses are pretty easy to cut out.
   4. If you mess up, no problem. Just start reading again at the beginning of the sentence
        you made your reading error in. If you're unhappy with an entire paragraph, reread
        the paragraph.
   5. Keep close to the mic, and keep a consistent distance away. Avoid touching the mic
        or its cords.
   6. Be comfortable. If your posture is stiff, your reading probably will be, too.

Editing can be done using free audio editing software:
         PCs use a program called Audacity --
         Macs use Garage Band, which comes preinstalled on most Macs.

These programs are quite easy to use, and all you really use them for in the digital storytelling
process is to cut out pauses, rustles and misread sections, and, if necessary, to raise or lower
the volume of the recording.

Other Audio
       Digital storytellers sometimes import voices they have recorded into tape or
        digital recorders into their stories.
       Music is another useful way to add mood and meaning to your story. As with
        images you get off the internet, you must take care to use uncopyrighted music
        and be sure to cite song names and performers in your credits. See the handout
        titled “Getting Legal Music for Your Story’s Soundtrack” later in this packet.

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Getting Legal Music for Your Story’s Soundtrack
Creative Commons, again, is a great source for legal music. CC has a number of music sites
linked to their page, but CC Mixter has the most songs, and the easiest search and download
system. Here’s the procedure for finding appropriate tunes…

   1. Go to
   2. On the left side of the screen, look for the small “Browse Tags” link. Click on this
   3. You’ll see a page full of tags (the font size reflects the popularity of the tag). Choose
      one that represents a genre of music appropriate to your video.
   4. You’ll then be presented with a lot of links to songs. You can further narrow your
      search by clicking on the “+” next to another tag from the right side of the screen
      (for example, selecting the tag “guitar” and then adding the tag “instrumental” will,
      theoretically, give you only instrumental guitar songs. Since it is up to users to tag
      their own music, the tags are not 100% reliable. Note: be sure you click the “+” and
      not the word representing the tag.
   5. Now, your task is to browse through the hits, listening for tunes that seem
      appropriate. You can cut the time on this by doing the following before listening to
      the song:

                  Check the license. You only want songs with the Attribution, and
                   possibly Non-Commercial license. Music has a fourth possible license,
                   Sampling-Plus --      -- songs that use this license are fine, too.
                  Scan the other tags the artist has used to file the song. If you see a
                   “male_vocals” or “female_vocals” tag, for example, you don’t want the
                   song – vocals will interfere with the legibility of your own voiceover.
                  Look for some editorial guidance. Some songs are rated by listeners, and
                   some have been designated an “Editorial Pick.” You can get a sense of
                   the song’s quality from these ratings.

   6. Listen until you find something you like. If you want to use the song, click on the
      download link, then right-click on the mp3 link and “Save Target As” or “Save Link
      As.” Navigate to your “Lisa Audio” folder, and save the song. CC typically names
      the file with the artist’s name followed by the song name, which is helpful when
      you’re later compiling your video’s credits. Double-check this, though – sometimes
      the artist’s name is incorrect. If so, write down the artist’s name for later reference.

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Using Audacity
These instructions move more-or-less chronologically, walking you through the basic steps
of a creating and editing a sound project. Note that when you make a change that you don’t
like, you can undo it by hitting CTRL-Z.

Also, opening the HISTORY window (VIEW  HISTORY) while working on a project
lets you step back to earlier versions of your project, undoing changes you don’t like.

1. Getting your music and other sound files into Audacity
Go to PROJECT IMPORT AUDIO… and select the file you wish to import. You should
see each file you import appear as a separate track in Audacity. Music files often display in
what looks like 2 tracks (but is really 1 split track) – this is because they’re in stereo.

Getting Music into Audacity from iTunes
      Open iTunes, highlight the song you want, then right-click it. One of the options on
       the menu should be "Convert Selection to mp3." Click that option, and your song is
       now an mp3, available for use in Audacity.
      Go to Audacity, and choose PROJECT  IMPORT AUDIO. To find the song, go
       to My Documents  My Music  iTunes  iTunes Music (these are all folders);
       open up the iTunes Music folder, and in there, you should find either your song, or a
       folder titled with the artist's name, with the song in it. Click on the song, and it
       should import in.

Getting music into Audacity from Windows Media Player
(Note: these instructions are for Version 10 of Windows Media Player. If you see right away
that you can’t follow them – for example, if you don’t see a “Rip” button on your screen in
Windows Media Player, then you have an older version. To get an updated version, go to
Help  Check for Player Updates and download the newest version.)
     Insert your CD, and open it via Windows Media Player.
     Hit the “Rip” button near the top of the screen.
     Right-click on the Rip button, choose Tools  Options, and click on the “Rip
        Music” tab. About 2/3 of the way down the screen, you’ll see a box, with “Format”
        written above it. Click on the drop-down menu next to that box, and select mp3.
        Note: you only have to do this step once; after that, the player is configure to save
        songs as mp3s.
     Now, highlight the song(s) you want to use in your project, and then click on the
        small “Rip Music” button at the top-right side of the screen.
     The song is now available for use in Audacity; in Audacity, choose PROJECT 
        IMPORT AUDIO, and find the song(s) you’ve ripped in your “My Music” folder.

2. Saving the project
FILE  SAVE PROJECT AS… Save the project into your Lisa Audio folder.
IMPORTANT: When Audacity saves a project, it saves two important items, a .aup file,

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which is a bunch of code that tells Audacity how to construct the project, and also a folder,
with little bits of audio in it that are stitched together by the Audacity. This means that if
you’ve been working on one computer and want to offload your project to work on it
elsewhere, you need to be sure to move both the .aup file and the data folder.

3. Moving around within and listening to different parts of a sound file
You can move to different parts within your clip simply by clicking at different places in the
blue waveform. Note that you have to click ON the blue area, not in the ruler above it.

You can play by hitting the green arrow button, or, by simply hitting the space bar.

You can return to the beginning of a track by hitting the button with two purple back

4. To select the part(s) of a clip that you want to work with
Follow these instructions if you want to chop up a file and use bits of it.

Make sure the Selection Tool is on (top left of screen, looks like “I”). Find approximately the
area you want to select, hold the mouse button down, and drag over that area – it will
highlight in grey. You can listen to this section by pressing the space bar.

The easiest way to make adjustments and capture exactly the clip you want is, with the clip
still highlighted, to listen to the clip; if you need to adjust the start or end points then, with
the selection highlighted, hover over the edge of the selection until a hand appears. When
this hand is visible, you can drag the edge of the selection to the right or left. After you’ve
made an adjustment, hit the space bar to listen to the new clip. Keep adjusting as necessary.

You can make other trimmings or expansions to highlighted clips by holding SHIFT and
either clicking to the side of the highlighted area (for big changes), or using the left and right
arrow keys (for smaller changes). You can listen to each expansion or contraction you make
by hitting the space bar. Basically, you need to fiddle until you get it right.

* Another hint: If you want to snatch just a small part of a clip, it helps to stretch out the
waveform, so that you can see more clearly the shifts in pitch. You can make the waveform
stretch by clicking on the magnifying glass in the top-left corner of Audacity, then clicking
anywhere on the waveform. Repeated clicking magnifies the waveform more. Right-clicking
zooms you back out.

5. To get the selected clip into a new track
With the section you want to keep still highlighted, go to EDIT  SPLIT. A new track
opens, with your new clip pasted in. You can listen to this track by hitting the MUTE button
on original track. Once you’ve gotten all of your new clips into individual tracks, you can
delete the original big track by hitting the X at the top left of that track.

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* Every time you split a clip, you should rename the new clip. Do this by hitting the
downward arrow in the box to the left of the clip; a drop-down menu will appear, selecting
NAME lets you create a new name.

6. To move audio around in a track
Click on the TIME SHIFT TOOL in top left (< -- >). Now you can drag audio to the left or
right in its track.

7. To add effects
Select the area you want to add an effect to (fade ins or outs, echoes, tempo changes), go to
the EFFECT menu and select the desired effect.

To change the volume of a section of a clip, select the part you want to amplify. Go to
EFFECT  AMPLIFY. You can also use the Envelope tool, which is the upper-left hand
corner, second tool on the top row.

If you’re working with a group of audio files, it’s good to set them all to the same peak
amplitude – that way, if/when you listen to them together, you don’t have to be constantly
turning the volume on your speakers up and down. To do this, select your entire project
(CTRL-A), go to EFFECT  AMPLIFY, and set the peak amplitude to -3.0 db (a good
peak level).

8. For easy viewing…
As you get more and more tracks on the screen, you might want to reduce the height of each
track, so that you can see the whole mix. Go to VIEW  FIT VERTICALLY.

VIEW  FIT IN WINDOW shrinks the tracks so that you can see the project from
beginning to end on one screen.

9. Exporting your final project
FILE  EXPORT AS WAV… exports the file in .wav format. Wavs are big, but they
sound good, so that’s what we’ll use.

There are lots of other features in Audacity – you can discover some of these by hovering on
the menu icons, paying close attention to the various options on the drop-down menus,
and/or reading the help manual on Audacity’s web site (google “Audacity” to find this).