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So now that you’ve had some time to play around with some of the basic functions of Audacity such as cutting, moving, copying and pasting, let’s take a closer look at the editing process, and some more tools and strategies which will save you time and energy. (For the previous installments, begin here and then follow the links at the end of each installment.)

The most important strategy in editing, in my opinion, is working from big to small. That is, cut away the big useless sections first, and then start working more precisely. Again, sculpting is a very useful metaphor here: think of chopping away big blocks of stone before you start doing any polishing. There’s really no sense in beginning by obsessively cutting out each “umm” or “err,” if  that whole portion of the conversation is going to be cut out anyway.

What should you be cutting? Generally, you want to be able to cut enough back so that the listener can sense a clear through line of the argument or intention. Of course this is going to vary vastly from speaker to speaker. But it’s not uncommon for a person to say something like:

“I owe my life to Jane. Jane was married to a guy named Saul who worked in a little candy store down by the Bowery. He was a tall guy who always wore plaid and never liked me. In fact he went out of his way to avoid me. Anyway, Jane was the one who taught me everything I know about poker playing. She taught me how to count cards and bet correctly…”

Now if you have the time, you can leave in the bit about Saul, but really (and the “Anyway,” is the big clue) it would be more clear and direct to edit it so it said,

“I owe my life to Jane…Jane was the one who taught me everything I know about poker playing, etc.”

It is also often the case that a guest will make a statement and support it, say, with three examples. Much of the time, you can cut out one or two of those examples.

“I was always a dreamy kid. I would sing to myself in school and the teachers would yell at me for making noise. Then at home I would lock myself in the bathroom for hours reading books. My parents were flabbergasted by that. And of course when I was sick I would pretend to be the star of my own variety series and use the bed as a stage.”

They’re all fun to hear about, but if you are fighting for time, it could look like this:

“I was always a dreamy kid…When I was sick I would pretend, etc.”

But sometimes the cuts need to be even more drastic, and need to be made based on what topic you are going to focus on. For example, I had a very interesting conversation with a woman who had written a book about the history of segregated schools in the US beginning with the Civil War. I had to make a decision to focus the edited version solely on twentieth century history, with just the briefest nod to the important 19th century era. Sometimes you will be sad about what you had to leave on the cutting room floor, but it is all about working within the constraints you have.

Let’s look more closely at what needs to be done in Audacity to achieve these edits. First we’ll take a look at what I call the “name area” of the track on the far left. There are a couple of important functions hidden away here. And also some buttons and sliders you don’t want to mess with:

name area

The top slider button marked -…+ will change the volume level during playback. Leave this slider alone; there will be times when you want to adjust the volume levels, but you don’t want to do it from here. Likewise, the slider directly beneath it changes the output to the left or right speaker. Again leave that slider in the middle. Instead start off by clicking on the inverted black triangle at the upper right hand corner of the name box. When you do, you should get something that looks like this:

Name Controls

First I will name the track, by clicking on “Name…” at the top and entering a track name. In my example, I call it “penny interview.”

title traack

Since in my example, I started with a stereo track, and I want to work with a mono track, I click on the inverted black triangle as before, and then click on the line towards the bottom that says “Split Stereo to Mono.” (If your track is already mono, you won’t need to do this.) You will now have two separate identical tracks. You are going to get rid of the bottom track by clicking on the “x” in the upper left-hand corner of the name area of the track. (Remember you can bring the track back again by “Undo”-ing the action by going to Edit—>Undo).

Okay, so let’s say now you’ve decided on a chunk of the track you’d like to delete. Highlight the selection by dragging over the area with your mouse. You can extend the selected area right or left by pointing the mouse at the very border of the selection and waiting until it turns into a finger-pointing hand icon, then clicking and dragging the border carefully with your mouse.

Once selected, you can listen to how the track would sound without the selected part by pressing the “c” on your keyboard. You will hear a few seconds of sound from before the selection and then a seamless cut to a few seconds after the selection. In other words, this is what your track would sound like after the selection is deleted. This allows you to adjust the borders before you do the deletion for the best cut.

To help you achieve accuracy, you should use the Zoom function, by clicking on the magnifying glass with the “+” inside.

zoom controls

The more you click, the more zoomed-in you will be. To zoom out again, click on the magnifying glass with the “-” inside it. Notice the time markers immediately above the zoomed in track cover a much shorter length of time now in one screen.You would have to scroll horizontally to see more of the track. For example, this zoomed-in track only covers 33 seconds:

zoom time

This is a lot, so just one more thing about editing for now: if you want an edit to sound natural, the general rule is to cut on the breath. That is, leave the person’s intake of breath before s/he speaks. So let’s say the original audio was: “The CEO was incredibly incompetent and incredibly stupid. What’s more, he was a drunk.” If you want to edit  out the phrase “and incredibly stupid,” make sure to leave in the breath before “What’s more.”

After you make your cuts, save and quit, and next time we’ll talk about adding other tracks to your interview for texture. See you then.