By now you should have a rough cut of your interview, which is approximately the desired length of your final mix. In this installment we’re going to get into some more tools of Audacity which will allow you to refine your work further. (For the previous installments begin here and then follow the links at the end of each installment.)
In the top menu, you’ll see a menu item, Effects. If you click on it you’ll get a long list of choices:
There is so much that can be done with Audacity, but the truth is, to produce interviews and spoken word broadcasts, you will only need to use a few of the pictured effects. Of course, afterwards you can play around with all kinds of special effects such as Echo, Reverb, Wahwah, and so on for fun, but we are just going to concentrate now on the indispensable effects that you would need in normal use: Fade Out, Fade In, Amplify, and Change Tempo.
When you click on most of the effects, there will be some default settings. The defaults generally give a good result, so I don’t recommend messing around with those settings for now. The first ones we will look at are the Fade In and Fade Out effects. Suppose you have clapping or music at the end that you want to fade out; you simply highlight the section on the track from the point where you want the fade to start to the point at the end where you want the sound totally muted. Then simply click on Effect—>Fade Out. You’ll see that you can use the effect over the same area more than once if you like. Likewise, with Fade In: often you want to fade in the music leading into or out of an interview. To do this, simply highlight an area and then click on Effect—>Fade In. Also remember you can always undo an effect with the Edit—>Undo menu item.
Next, let’s look at Amplify. An uneven sound level is a very common problem, and if the volume in general is too high or too low throughout the audio track, or variable throughout the track, we will deal with that later with an effect called Compressor. The Amplify effect, however, is most useful really for small areas where you need to bump up or tone down the volume. Perhaps someone turned away from a mic for a moment, or there was a loud unwanted background noise.
If you click on Effect—>Amplify, you’ll see that there’s a little box that says Allow Clipping. You want to make sure that that box is not checked.
Clipping means that the volume has reached such a high level that the sound is going to become distorted. Most of us have experienced that distortion when, for example, we turn up the sound to maximum on inexpensive speakers. So we want to be careful when working with sound that we keep the volume within certain limits, so that the vocal frequencies are not clipped. There are two main ways that clipping can be introduced into a mix: 1) either during recording, the source is too close to the mic and the recording volume is set too high (in which case most recorders will flash a red warning signal) or 2) using the Amplify effect in editing the volume is too high and so clipping occurs. By leaving the Allow clipping box unchecked, Audacity will prevent you from bumping up the volume too high.
How do you know if you’re clipping? Go to View—>Show clipping(on/off). Make sure there’s a check mark next to it. If not, click on it.
If the recording or the editing has introduced clipping, you will see it represented by red lines in the waveform:
While a little bit of clipping is not a disaster, in general, you certainly want to avoid adding more. We will learn how to handle extensive clipping in the next installment, but for now, we don’t want to add any more of it through injudicious use of Amplify.
Amplify, interestingly enough, not only is handy for bumping up the sound, but also for making the volume softer when it needs to be. Your main control, after you highlight the area you wish to change, will be the slider you see when you click on Effect—>Amplify. Moving the slider to the left will decrease the volume (shown as a negative number of decibels); moving it to the right will increase the volume (a positive number of decibels). The general rough rule of thumb is that every + or – 6dBs doubles (or halves) the perceived volume (it depends upon many factors including the frequency of the sound and human psychology.)
The final effect we’ll discuss is a very useful one named Change Tempo. If you look at the first picture above, you’ll notice two other similar sounding effects, Change Pitch and Change Speed. But those are not going to be of much use to us. Change Tempo does something very interesting. Within limits, it changes the duration of a selection without changing the pitch. If you think about it, normally if you speed up a recording it also starts making the voices sound like chipmunks. But the Change Tempo effect shortens duration without affecting the pitch of the voices. It does so by cleverly shortening the spaces between words. Practically what that means is that if you are fighting to cut the last few seconds from a track in order to get within your time constraints, you can do so using this effect.
Now, to be sure, you cannot shrink the time of your track by very much before it becomes noticeable; I find, however, that you can submit a 2-3% tempo change cleanly without any apparent difference in sound quality—and the elimination of those few seconds (say, about twenty seconds for a fifteen minute piece) may be just what you need to make your time limit.
So there you have the most effective effects you can apply to your track. Next time we’ll talk about adding more than one track so that you can have overlapping music, and we’ll also talk about how to prepare your final mix for export. See you next time.
The guest on the October 13, 1953 edition of What’s My Line (exactly 65 years ago) had just celebrated her 69th birthday. Unlike other more recent occupants of her job, she had never been a high-fashion model, served on the boards of exploitative corporations, nor killed her friend by running a stop sign at 50 mph. Nevertheless, she managed.
Thanks to YouTuber What’s My Line?
Woody Guthrie’s rendition of Goebbel Reeves’s “Hobo Lullaby,” a song about a heaven where there are no policemen around to harass anyone.
That’s David Carradine playing Woody hopping the boxcars in Hal Ashby’s film, Bound For Glory.
Thanks to YouTuber FreeNeverSaid
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:
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:
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.”
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.
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:
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.
The next installment is here: https://jackshalom.net/2018/10/19/radio-interview-production-workshop-11-effective-effects/
A Walk in the woods, Anne Tyler, authors, B. Traven, Bill Bryson, book, books, Bruce Kayton, Clock Dance, Government, Jennifer Tepper, novel, Radical Walking Tours of New York City, review, The Untold Stories of Broadway, writing
For the past decade or more, my reading habits have been very cyclical: for months at a time, I can’t seem to pick up a book, and then all of a sudden, something will kick in and I’m reading a lot. So, since it’s been a while since I’ve done a non-magic edition of Book Nook, here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed reading lately:
Government by B. Traven
This is the first of the mysterious B. Traven’s Mexican “Jungle novels” a sharply provocative and humorous set of novels set in Mexico just before the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s. This initial book is a masterpiece of dry humor and wry observation. It’s major subject is the petty and not-so-petty corruption of government officials at every level of society. But Traven makes clear that the corruption of the local officials in their drive to exploit every peso and drop of sweat out of the local Indian population is just a reflection of the larger overall exploitative capitalist system happening on the national level. The author pulls no punches and names things for what they are. It’s a system where friends and family catapult you into power, but you must always watch your back or you’ll get stabbed by one of them. The parallels to today couldn’t be more apt or timely. This is a book that shows you the blueprint. Especially remarkable as well is a contrasting passage where Traven describes how the tribe of local Indians choose their leaders democratically, in a way that ascribes grave responsibility and accountability to the chosen one.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
I enjoy Anne Tyler’s novels because when reading her books, I get the sense that she is in no hurry. She’s a writer who knows that after this one’s finished she’s going to write another one, and the current one is a wave in the larger ocean of her work. She doesn’t feel that she has to put everything she knows in one book. So this story is a small one of a woman’s life viewed at several milestone years. Externally, not a lot happens. But we see how a child of promise slowly has her options closed off as life proceeds and what it might take to find some sense of freedom in the end. Tyler’s characters always feel real enough so that you feel a sense of loss when a book is over, loss for the people who you have met in the course of reading the novel.
Radical Walking Tours of New York City by Bruce Kayton
It’s rare that one can read a guide book straight through like a work of fiction, but Radical Walking Tours of NYC is one such book. It takes us on over a dozen walking tours of several neighborhoods of NYC, and vividly depicts the rich labor and political history of this city which has been home and host to so many great figures and stories. Along the way you’ll learn a lot about history they never told you about in school. Whether it’s the location of Allen Ginsberg’s apartment or Emma Goldman’s massage parlor, you’re sure to find out something new here. Bruce Kayton is well qualified for the task as he for many years led such tours through the city.
The Untold Stories of Broadway by Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Years ago, Mary Henderson wrote a seminal work on the history of New York City Theater buildings, The City and the Theater, and now Jennifer Ashley Tepper has come out with an oral history of the people who worked and performed in those buildings in The Untold Stories of Broadway. The multi-volumed series is organized by theater building, and in each chapter the people who worked in each theater on various productions tell what it was like to be part of that experience. The author has interviewed scores of people. The work is valuable in the 360-degree view that the book gives you of theatrical production. So, for example, in a chapter on the Shubert Theatre, you not only get the point of view of the actors who worked on such shows as Spamalot, Rent, and A Chorus Line, but you also get commentary from the house manager and even the concession stand operators. You’ll also learn a lot about the physical layout of each theatre, and why some theaters are suitable for one kind of show, while other buildings are better for other kinds.These stories are not necessarily juicy remembrances of gossip, but honest, workaday accounts of people’s experiences from the inside. Many books purport to give a “backstage” view–this one really does it. Highly recommended for Broadway Babies.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
For years, my friend Tom has been trying to get me to read Bill Bryson’s books, and now I finally understand why he is such a fan. Bryson is a very entertaining writer and this account of his attempt to walk the Appalachian trail is a fun read. A gentle humorist in the vein of Dave Barry, Bryson takes you along his sometimes grueling hike, and introduces you to a wonderful set of characters, both those who join him to walk the trail, like his unprepared but faithful companion Katz, and the variety of hikers he meets along the way. Bryson is funny, but he also succeeds at communicating the awe-inspiring nature of the path, and the sheer doggedness and courage it takes to accomplish completing the trail. At times, the tale proves unexpectedly touching. For myself, I was very happy to sit in my easy chair and nod my head saying to myself, “Yup, that’s why I’m sitting here.”
A socialist revolution in the United States in 2044? In activist Mike Albert’s new fictional journalistic account, RPS/2044, you can learn how it happened. This is the second part of the interview with Albert that I produced for the Arts Express radio program. Mike talks about what a Revolutionary Participatory Society might look like, why it’s important for present-day activists to lay out a vision for the future, and how we might get from here to there.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
You can listen to Part One here.
(And for local listeners to Arts Express on WBAI 99.5 FM and wbai.org be advised that Arts Express has been moved to the new edgier time slot of Tuesdays at 11pm.)
It’s great that you now have your interview file ready to be edited in Audacity. (For the previous installments begin here and then follow the links at the end of each installment.) Go to the project folder on the desktop, and double-click on the .aup file to open your project.
The blue waveform is the sound of your file (if you recorded in mono you’ll have only one waveform or track, as it is called). If you click on the green arrow Play button in the toolbar above the waveform, you’ll hear your interview. The black square button will Stop the “tape,” and the double vertical line button will Pause and UnPause the tape. The black left arrow returns the cursor to the beginning of the track, and the right black arrow sends the cursor to the end of the track. The red button, which we will not use at all, is to record directly into the program.
Click on the green Play button and you can watch the cursor move along the waveform as your interview progresses. Click the Pause button to pause the sound, then click it again to re-start the sound from where you left off. Then press Stop, which moves the cursor back to where you started at the beginning. If you now click the mouse anywhere within the waveform while it is stopped, the cursor will move to that part of the track; so if you now click Play again, the track will start playing from that new cursor position. If you click Stop, then clicking either the black left arrow or the right arrow will move the cursor position to either end.
Play around with these controls for a bit to get a feel for them. They’re really no different from what you would find on a CD player or in iTunes.
If you are conversant with any of the common word processing programs like Microsoft Word, you are already familiar with the way the basic functions of Audacity work.
Think of the blue waveform as the text of your document. Just as in a Word document, you can cut, delete, copy, and paste. Just as in a Word document, you can also do multiple undos and re-dos. It’s nice to know that you can undo any step that you’ve done, so let’s learn that first!
Click your mouse somewhere in the middle of your blue waveform. Now hold down the mouse button and drag over the wave form a bit, just as you would over a portion of text in Word in order to highlight and select it. (To deselect a portion of the waveform, simply click anywhere within the waveform.)
If you hit the space bar while a portion is selected, the program will Play the audio within the selected portion. Hit the space bar again or the Stop button to stop the audio.
You can now perform one of the basic editing functions on that selected sound. Let’s try Deleting that selected portion (don’t worry, we’ll bring it back in a moment). Simply press the delete button on your keyboard, and your selected audio is gone—the waveform no longer shows that piece of audio, but the rest of the audio remains untouched. It’s just as if you had snipped a piece of tape from a tape reel and spliced together the remaining ends.
Let’s bring back the deleted part now. Click on the top Audacity Edit menu, and then click on the top line of the submenu to Undo your Delete.
You’ll see your selection is back in your waveform, highlighted.
Now let’s try moving a piece of audio from one place to the other. Select a piece of audio by clicking in the wave form, holding your mouse button down and dragging it a short distance to highlight a section of audio. Then click on Edit—>Cut. Your highlighted section will be deleted, but the contents of the section are now stored in your Paste buffer. Move the cursor to a new place in the waveform—say, by clicking the mouse at the beginning. Now click on Edit—>Paste, and you’ll find you have pasted the selected audio into its new cursor position. If you begin the player now from the beginning, you’ll hear the selected part which has been moved from the middle to the beginning.
Now, let’s Undo that by clicking on Edit—> Undo. You can undo (and redo) multiple times as long as you do not save your work. Once you save the file, the buffer is cleared out and you cannot go back to a prior step.
Okay, one last function we’ll look at, the Copy function. Just as in a text document, sometimes you want to repeat a selection. For example, it can come in handy when you want to lengthen a silence. So, select a portion of audio, and then go to Edit—>Copy. Your selected audio will still be there, but a copy of it is now in the Paste buffer. Click in the waveform to where you would like the copy to appear—let’s say, this time, right after the selected audio. Click on Edit—>Paste. You’ll now have a copy of the selected audio at the cursor, but the original selection will still be in its original place.
And…let’s Undo that again by going to Edit—> Undo, and you should be back to where you started from at the very beginning.
Remember, even if you screw up somehow and the Undo isn’t working for you, your original recorded file is still sitting in your project folder. If need be, you can always start off from scratch by importing that file into a new Audacity project.
Play around with these functions for a while to convince yourself that you can recover if you make a mistake. It will give you the confidence to proceed further.
When you’re finished, go to File—>Save, and then quit the program with File—>Quit.
Next time, we’ll learn more about Audacity, and talk about some editing strategies. See you then.
The next installment is here: https://jackshalom.net/2018/10/03/radio-interview-production-workshop-10-editing-strategies/