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Jumpstart your recording career for free with Audacity

Brad Chacos | Aug. 20, 2013
This handy-dandy beginner's guide walks you through the basics of getting started with Audacity.

Music soothes the savage breast, but newcomers to the sonic scene may screech louder than a dubstep-tinged turntable session when they see the cost of professional audio-editing software. Fortunately for folks who don't want to take out a second mortgage to fund their podcast, there's Audacity, a powerful open-source audio editor that offers excellent basic production capabilities for a very reasonable price: free.

Audacity isn't as complicated as its full-priced DAW (digital audio workstation) brethren, but the program's dizzying array of buttons and options will stymie most novice users. This handy-dandy beginner's guide walks you through the basics of getting started with Audacity.

Fussy file types
You know a program is complex when a beginner's guide has a section dedicated to getting files running. In Audacity's case, the traditional File > Open command works as you'd expect it to, but you may run into compatibility issues when you try to open a common file type such as AAC, M4A, or WMA. That's because Audacity doesn't include rights for some proprietary file formats. Out of the box, it supports playback of only six formats: AIFF, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, and Audacity's own AU.

Fortunately, a third-party plug-in enables support for Dolby's AC3, Microsoft's WMA, and Apple's AAC, M4A, and M4R files. Head to the LAME library download page, and download and run most current version of the FFMpeg Binary available for your operating system. (You'll have to restart Audacity afterward, if it's open at the time.)

While you're mucking around on the LAME library website anyway, take time to download and run the latest version of the actual LAME file as well (LAME_v3.99_3 at the time of publication.) It lets you export (read: create) audio in the MP3 format, which Audacity can't do by default.

Audacity doesn't include the ability to rip audio from CDs, either, so you'll have to rip the CD to your computer using a third-party program--Windows Media Player includes CD ripping functionality, for example--and then edit the digital files. Be sure to rip the CD to a supported file format.

Making tracks
When you load a track, its waveform graph appears in the middle of the screen--and Audacity activates (left to right) the Pause, Play, Stop, Skip to End, Skip to Start, and Record buttons on the upper-left side of the window. Pressing Play will start the track from its beginning by default. Clicking a specific time on the graph and then pressing Play will start playback from that part of the track, instead. In the Audacity Transcription toolbar, the slider to the right of the secondary green Play button controls playback speed. Moving the slider to the left slows the audio down, while moving it to the right speeds the audio up to Alvin and the Chipmunks velocity.


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