Multimedia Tips: Resolution for 2009: Learn Audacity

Guest column by Peter Welander, Control Engineering process industries editor.

Just before the holiday break, Dan challenged us to learn “new media tools that are ready and waiting to be leveraged. The biggest obstacle is simply the will to try.” Here’s a very specific suggestion: learn Audacity.

Audacity is an audio editing platform, and one of the most basic tools of creating podcasts. There are many more sophisticated audio tools available, but this one has been a favorite of podcasters over many years (relatively speaking) for several reasons:

  • It’s free;
  • It’s approved internally for RBI use;
  • It has all the major features that you need for a podcast;
  • It lacks a lot of confusing things that you don’t need; and
  • It isn’t all that hard to learn.

Audacity is published by SourceForge works very well on PC based platforms. (Stick with version 1.2.) I won’t go into all the detail of its features because you can read them here. Suffice it to say that it has all the capabilities you need to edit a podcast you recorded on a separate digital recorder, or directly to your PC. (See earlier posting about recording directly to a computer.)

(I’ve also tried it on my Mac, but personally I like Garage Band better. If you work on a Mac, you can use either.)

There are dozens of other editing platforms available, and you may be tempted to think you need something more sophisticated. My suggestion is that you ignore that impulse, unless you have a hankerin’ to be the next basement indie rock band producer. Most editing platforms have all sorts of virtual instruments and fascinating things that you need to do multi-track, multi-instrument recording. If that’s what you want, go nuts. But you don’t need such capabilities for doing a podcast and they will likely just get in your way. Audacity has some of that, but not enough to be a problem.

Since it has been used very widely, there is a whole lot of stuff on the Web that will help you learn. SourceForge has a number of tutorials on its site. There are many others, including some you can watch on YouTube.

I have a very useful manual called “Podcasting with Audacity: Audio Editing for Everyone” by Dominic Mazzoni and Scott Granneman. I recall downloading it as a PDF from somewhere for the whopping price of about $6, but now I can’t find where I got it. If you have better luck with some searching, it’s well worth buying.

The larger question that you may be asking is: “Why should I learn to edit podcasts myself? Isn’t there enough to do already?”

The ability to record and edit your own podcasts gives you the tools to control the content:

  • Choose what phrases stay and what get cut;
  • Change the order of questions if you don’t like how you handled an interview;
  • Make your interviewee and/or yourself sound better by removing those umms and ahhs;
  • Leave your interviewee sounding like he or she really did by leaving in those umms and ahhs;
  • Combine multiple interviews into one recording as you want to; and
  • Lots of other reasons.

I used to have a cartoon on my refrigerator at home that showed a crabby looking couple in a kitchen. The husband was banging a can of something on the edge of the counter while the wife looked on, scornfully rolling her eyes. A can opener was lying there on the counter in full view of the husband. The caption read: “The less it looks like you know how to do, the less you’ll have to do.”

In an economy where publishing isn’t exactly flourishing, any effort to deliberately limit or refuse to expand your skill range doesn’t strike me as the most useful strategy for remaining employed. Audacity skills might not exactly be a ticket to job security, but I don’t think you can ever know too much. This is a very useful one you can develop without a huge amount of money, time, or effort. All you need is the will.

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