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Getting Good Audio on a Budget: How to Edit Sound

Digital StorytellingMultimedia & Design

This is part two of our "Getting Audio on a Budget" blog series. Check out part one, "How to Record Sound".

Editing your audio is just as important as recording it.

To get quality audio, we need to spend time in post-production to polish our work.

Here are some simple steps you can take to increase your audio quality.

Choosing Audio Software

Using audio production software to edit your audio files allows you to fix any hiccups in the recording so the final product is seamless.

If you can purchase professional software, like Adobe Audition, it’ll serve you well. You can get Audition through Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite which is discounted by 60% for TechSoup Canada members.

However, for those on a budget, we recommend Audacity as a free, feature-rich, open-source software option.

There are other great options available too!

Why We Edit in Mono

When we edit sound into a final product, we always edit in mono (except for film!). This is for a number of reasons.

  • Mono is a more consistent sound. Because there is no panning effect that you get with stereo audio, your audio is consistent regardless of what it’s being played out of - particularly when someone’s listening from only one earphone.
  • Mono is easier to edit because you only have to manipulate one sound wave.
  • Mono sound is more direct, in your face, and sounds like it’s “in the middle”, making it easier to hear and more impactful.
  • Mono files are half the size of stereo files, and therefore take up less bandwidth.

Tip: To convert your stereo tracks to mono in Audacity, select your audio track and then click ‘Tracks’ from the top menu and select ‘Stereo Track to Mono’.

Removing Unwanted Sound

We can polish our audio by eliminating unwanted sounds like ‘ums’, ‘uhs’, coughs, or anything else that distracts the listener.

You can seamlessly cut out any section of your audio, as long as you edit at the lowest point of sound; in other words, if we make cuts in the audio track at points where no sound is being made, listeners won’t notice because the edit is imperceptibly silent.

For example:

DON'T:

 Wrong way to edit out Ums

In the above image, we cut the audio halfway through the 'um' sound. Although this example is exaggerated, making a cut in the middle of sound makes the audio 'jump' and is jarring for listeners.

 

DO:

In the above image, the cut is made at two points where there is no sound. This is a clean cut and listeners wouldn't be able to tell that you removed an 'um' from the audio.

To cut audio in Audacity, place your cursor at the left part of the audio you want to remove, click, and then drag to the right to make your selection - then press Delete.

Note: Don’t edit out breaths! Breathing is a natural part of speech, and your audio will sound uncomfortable without it.

‘Normalizing’ Audio Files

No matter what microphone you use, or how well you record sound, there’s always going to be inconsistencies - places where syllables pop, or moments when someone speaks louder than normal.

Therefore, we must ‘normalize’ our audio by adjusting the volume of certain sections so it’s consistent on the whole. The standard for radio is to normalize to -6db.

For example, you would decrease the volume of a section where someone was shouting, and raise the volume of a section where someone spoke softly, to even out the sound.

Then, once the audio wave is even, you would raise the overall volume to a level that was loud enough to hear clearly, without forcing the listener to turn down their volume.

The end goal of normalization is to have even, consistent sound throughout your recording to create a smooth listening experience.

Most audio software, like Audacity, has a function that automatically normalizes your audio. However, if there’s one large spike in your audio wave, the normalize function will make the rest of your audio too quiet as a way to compensate for it.

That’s why it’s important to manually adjust big discrepancies in your audio, and then use the normalize function to take care of the little adjustments; this is the most effective way to get clear, consistent audio.

Tip: Listening to your audio with your eyes closed helps you focus on your hearing and better identify sections of audio that need adjusting.

 

Here’s a step-by-step way to normalize your audio as described above:

 

Step 1: Decrease the volume of big spikes in your audio.

In the image above, we select just the spike to reduce it's volume so the audio doesn't pop. You can do the same thing with entire sections of audio, as described below.

 

To decrease the volume of an audio selection in Audacity, click ‘Effects’ from the top menu, then select ‘Amplify’ and choose a db value (generally we choose around -2db to reduce the volume of a section).

 

Step 2: Decrease the volume of entire sections of audio where sound is too loud.

 

Step 3: Increase the volumes of entire sections of audio where it’s difficult to hear words.

 

Step 4: Eliminate unwanted sounds - as described earlier!

 

Step 5: Use the normalize function

To use the normalize function in Audacity, click ‘Effects’ from the top menu, select ‘Normalize’, and then set your db value to -6db.

 

Step 6: Fade in and out the first and last 1-2 seconds of audio, so that it doesn’t start or stop abruptly.

You can easily create fades in Audacity by selecting a section of your audio and then clicking ‘Effects’ and selecting ‘Fade In’ or ‘Fade Out’.

Tip: You can decrease the volume of a section of audio as much as you see fit, but never increase audio more than +3db or else the section will sound artificially loud! In other words, you’ll hear that part of the conversation suddenly jump up in volume, which is confusing for listeners.

Multi-Tracking

Multi-tracking is the process of layering, or blending, multiple audio files together. You can have different sounds play at the same time, fading in and out as you see fit, to create an auditory landscape that supports your message.

Here’s a basic introduction on how to multi-track in Audacity.

First, import all the audio files you want to use. Click ‘File’ from the top menu, hover your cursor over ‘Import’, and then select ‘Audio’.

We’re going to import voice-over audio and background audio so we can blend them together (as shown below).

In the image above, importing two audio tracks and lining up the sound is enough to achieve an impactful layering effect.

 

We can adjust the volume of our background noise by selecting the audio track and using the 'Amplify' function so that it’s balanced well with our voiceover.

When you’re satisfied with the balance, click ‘File’ from the top menu and select ‘Export’. This will save a single audio file that layers both your voiceover and background audio.

We hope you found these tips useful! We hope you get the best quality audio you can for your next project.