Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

I would like to try and move away from the clippy dictaphone I have mentioned before.

I already have a cheap mic that I use to speak in for calls so going to see how that holds up rather than jumping in and buying one of these fancy musicians’ mics.

My only goal at the moment is to record without clipping in the second octave (of whistle) so just would like advice for the best settings for that in audacity.

I haven’t even tried recording on it yet so maybe it will not be an issue so perhaps I am jumping the gun.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Audacity, which I would hate to be without, does take a bit of learning, so don’t expect to master it in a day. There is software configuration to be done at the beginning to make it work at all, then lots of facilities, many of which you won’t need.

That said, the vital question of recording level is handled easily. You’ll see a slider for recording level near the top, and one of those jumpy bars that indicates the current level. Then as you record, you will also actually see how the volume is going on the waveform display.

With those tools you can then just suck it and see.

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Audacity might not be the best software for what you are trying to do. I would suggest you look at Reaper (or another DAW - there are several ranging from free to very expensive, but all do basically the same job.)

Although you can record in Audacity, it’s prime purpose is as an audio editor for working on existing recordings. A Digital Audio Workstation is primarily focussed on making recordings.

The biggest difference you’ll notice is that in Audacity when you want to apply EQ, reverb or another effect you have to guess at the settings, apply it and then listen back to what you have done. In a DAW the effects are applied in real time, so you can make adjustments as you listen to the track.

Audacity also has a very dated user interface, which is not very intuitive and has a steep learning curve, whereas DAWs, although much more powerful, are more intuitive (particularly if you have ever worked with a ‘real’ mixing desk) and faster to learn.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

hmm I couldn’t care less about ‘dated’ but what kind of effects will DAW add I mean is it worth it in that will I use those effects or they useless features? What kind of effects are added in realtime that will be useful for our usecase? just auto correcting levels and stuff or what?

I will look into daws if you recommend them as being much more useful for this use case, but wondering in what ways?

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

I would second what Mark says regarding DAWs. You’ll find it much easier to set the correct recording level and EQ the results. There will certainly be "useless features" in any DAW, in that there will be features you don’t use (mid/side EQ?) but that shouldn’t stop you using a DAW, many of which you can get in free versions (and in the free versions many of the "useless features" won’t be available).

I would also recommend investing in a decent microphone. It doesn’t have to be "fancy" but it’s not guaranteed that a cheap mic designed for speech will capture the sound of a musical instrument well. The quality of a recording is limited by the quality of the microphone used in that recording. If you are using recordings to critique your playing, you don’t want that to be uncomfortable in terms of sound quality.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

If all you want to do is use it as a tape recorder, Audacity is perfectly adequate, though I agree as soon as you want to work with the recording then there are better alternatives.

98% of the quality of your recording will be between your instrument, microphone, and what the microphone is plugged into. That’s where the problems happen; clipping is just a symptom of it.

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

CountryRoads,
‘Dated’ doesn’t just mean ugly looking, it means harder to use: selecting regions and adjusting envelopes is much harder, even things like looping one phrase so that you can practice it - in audacity you have to wade through the main menu each time, or trawl through the manual to discover that you can press shift and spacebar, there are no clues. On a DAW there is a ‘loop’ button right there in front of you on the screen. Even simple things like setting the recording levels is easier, with big controls and indicators in logical places, rather than the little sliders tucked away in random places in Audacity.

As to effects, there are two that are vital to what you are trying to do at the moment: you will need an EQ (tone control) to take the harshness off, and a compressor to help level out the volume difference between the 1st and 2nd octave of of your whistle and prevent clipping. Both of those need fairly fine adjustment, which is impossible unless you can hear what each adjustment does to the sound as you twiddle the knob. In time you may decide you want to use other effects, and this is another area where the DAW wins hands down. In Audacity you are stuck with the effects they supply with the program. In a DAW the effects are ‘plugin’ units. There are literally thousands of plugins available, many of them free, some very powerful and complex, but others specifically designed to be simple and easy to use.

But the real advantage for someone in your position is the user interface - a DAW (even one of the free ones) is much easier to learn and use than Audacity.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Country Roads, to answer your request for how to record in audacity without clipping, it’s fairly simple. First let me say I’m not an expert at this and I may use layman’s terms to describe things so the real experts may feel the need to correct me but I think I can get the general idea across.

In audacity on the top slightly right of center there is a readout showing you the volume level. The two bars you see will change color as the gain or volume increases and decreases during playing. They will go from green to yellow to red and at the peak of the volume they will leave a small bar on the grid to show you the highest volume you have recorded or are about to record. Before you start recording there is a message on those bars that says click here to monitor. Click there and then as you play it will read out in real time what you are playing (you will not be recording anything at this time just monitoring your volume levels). Play the part of your tune that is in the 2nd octave and see what colors the bars are. Adjust your volume down if they are in the red. If they are mostly in the green and just reach in the yellow from time to time you should be able to record at that setting without clipping in the 2nd octave. Once you have the volume set you can click on the record button to start your recording. You may find that in order to record without clipping in the second octave that your mic is not picking up the lower octaves loud enough. You will just have to try it and see.

This should allow you to record and see if the equipment and programs you are now using will meet your recording needs. I suggest as the others above have suggested to invest in a better mic. You will not regret it.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

If someone wants to record to hear what their playing sounds like what do they need to do and not do? That’s a question to the experts above.

As Wayne Gandy says recording in Audacity without clipping is fairly simple. Just adjust the input level, as on a recording device that has one. I guess some EQ to take off harshness from the microphone, room, instrument etc shouldn’t upset appraisal of ones own playing. But compression? How to find out if it’s needed to sound ‘realistic’ ?

I’m terrible on whistle for inadvertently blowing some notes off pitch do get some dynamics. So I would be wary of compression if it fooled me into thinking I didn’t have to play the tune in a way that took into account the volume changes across the range.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

OK guys, I’ve used Audacity for years, but your comments are seriously tempting me. Specifically which DAW would you recommend? Free, (or with a free version for starters), suitable for Windows 10? Any favourites? And what would I (might I) still want Audacity for? Can I do away with it? My needs are fairly simple.

Someone mentioned Reaper - would that be the way to go?

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

There would be no harm in giving Reaper (which I’ve never used) a try if it doesn’t cost you anything but time (and time is what you need to get comfortable with any unfamiliar program).

If all you are doing is recording yourself to be able to hear what you sound like then you don’t really need to do anything complicated.
However, you might eventually get to the stage where you are quite pleased with your playing and want to make it sound as good as possible for the ears of others. That’s when EQ (with high/low pass filters and shelves and sweepable parametrics to tame troublesome frequencies), compression (to reduce dynamic range and so allow quieter bits to be louder), reverb (to make the recorded sound more natural), etc, become useful.
In a DAW these things are very easily done. There are a lot out there, some for PCs some for Macs and some for both set ups.

But… I’m no expert.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Hmm I will have to have a play and see 🙂

I too am leery of what fella above says about compression? What next autotune 🙂?

The point is to lay your playing bare to hear your mistake (should they arise) it would be a terrible impediment for the recording to automatically cover them up.

However clipping and overblowing are not one and the same for me, my current recordings clip no matter what (unless I heavily muffle it and then it muffles to the point that all sounds are muffled, both high and low) on the voice recorder I have.

Anyway I am not into anything fancy. I am from the days before HD everything that seems to be demanded by everyone now. You can still enjoy and get a lot out of those tinny recordings of the great old players you hear on brother steves’ channel, those tinny 20kb or so 20-30 second clips; it is just the clipping that makes it awful to play back so my requirements are modest; only to get rid of the clip although the daws sound interesting in terms of being more made for the purpose of live recording.

I had a quick look today and saw there are one or two open source offerings thought didn’t take note of names on my cursory viewing.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

CountryRoads, fancy recording setups do not cover up mistakes, if anything, they make them more noticeable.

Compression, as I said above, is for reducing dynamic range. It does nothing to pitches or timing of notes. Used well, I reckon most people would struggle to hear the difference between uncompressed and compressed sound.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

"Setting up "audacity" - make I make so bold as to ask about yr boldness mate?

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

CountryRoads,
FX serve two different functions: the first is what you probably think of when someone mentions effects: to change the recorded sound to make it sound better or different to what was actually recorded. As you rightly surmise, there is little need for that in this type of music. But their second function is to correct deficiencies in the recording system. The two most important FX here are EQ and compression. By far the most important is compression: Just as your eyes adapt to different light levels from near darkness to bright sunlight, your ears also adapt to loud and quiet sound, meaning you can hear things from very quiet to very loud. No recording device can do that, they have a limited dynamic range, so that if you set the gain so that you can hear the quiet bits the loud bits will be too loud and clip, if you turn it down so the loud bits don’t clip then you can’t hear the quiet bits. The compressor is just a device that makes the loud bits quieter and the quiet bits louder, so that the whole dynamic range of the music fits within the range of the recording system. Every single piece of recorded music you have ever heard has been through at least one stage of compression, and without it you are just turning your computer into an expensive version of your voice recorder, which will have the same shortcomings.

EQ may not be strictly necessary if you are just recording yourself for learning purposes, but for better recordings is needed because no microphone has a flat frequency response, they are more sensitive at certain frequencies than others. And every room you record in has resonances - certain frequencies where the room resonates and makes the sound louder than others. Your brain adapts to the environment you are in so that if you play a scale at even volume your brain corrects for the resonances and you hear an even volume. But a recording device captures the sound as it really is. EQ enables you to tailor the recording to mimic what your brain does naturally.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

I have done a lot of home production and will second the praise given to Reaper. It really is the most powerful DAW out there, and one of the cheapest, at a mere $60 for a home license (last time I looked). Much of its core is written in assembly language and as such is super fast and efficient.

HOWEVER! You won’t need all that power for just recording yourself on one track (I used to run projects with 100+ tracks, running dozens of software synthesizers and "analog modeled" plugins and believe me, you need the power), and the main thing that puts newbies off Reaper is that it does have quite a learning curve. Because of its power and customizability, the menus and options are very extensive. Having said that, Kenny Gioia has an excellent YouTube channel which takes users through the basics.

There is an excellent DAW that I believe is free these days - Cakewalk. It has a long pedigree - it started off as Cakewalk back in the 80’s, then later was rebranded to "Sonar" which I used for many years (and spent years on its beta testing team), and then when Bandlab bought them out the name changed back to Cakewalk. It is a full featured professional DAW like Reaper, not quite as powerful or customizable but is still enough to run fully pro music projects, and it’s a bit more accessible and user friendly than Reaper.

For recording solo performances, there’s not much you need in terms of post processing or plugins, but it does help to have good ones. I believe Cakewalk comes with a good range of basic plugins. The main ones to look at are EQ (for correcting less than perfect room acoustics & mics), compressors/limiters (for evening out the dynamics so that nothing jumps out at the listener and it doesn’t clip) and reverb (if you’ve close miked your instrument to take as much of the "room sound" out of the recording as possible, it can sound a little dry so it’s nice to mix a little reverb back in). If you really want to get into polishing/enhancing the sound, there are some great plugins these days - stuff that models analog recording/mixing equipment to give a warmer, more organic sound. Just mixing in a tiny bit of saturation or distortion can go a long way to making a recording "pop."

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

On that note, can I just use the aftereffects to get rid of clipping on the voice recorder? Because that would be much easier as I am already very familiar recording with it and from what has been said above, unless I buy a fancy mic, then the sound probably won’t improve on the computer - apart from me having level control.

Still if I can just ‘unclip’ after then it is still easiest to continue with voice recorder because the quality is very clear other than that and the computer mic I remember only paying like £2 for some years ago.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

"On that note, can I just use the aftereffects to get rid of clipping on the voice recorder?"

I would say not. You can add distortion to a sound but you can’t really subtract it without some very specialist skills and software.

"…the computer mic I remember only paying like £2 for some years ago."

Yup. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

> can I just use the aftereffects to get rid of clipping on the voice recorder?

Clipping is when one of the components between the noise you are making and your computer (or recording device) can’t handle the noise level. It’s a loss of information and can’t be undone. To repeat what I said above:

> 98% of the quality of your recording will be between your instrument, microphone, and what the microphone is plugged into. That’s where the problems happen; clipping is just a symptom of it.

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Nope, once distorted or clipped, it’s game over.

If you want to continue to use the voice recorder you have, then either:

1) You need to figure out how to lower the input level when recording using the mike built into the voice recorder.

Using Audacity or other DAW software, you can later normalize lower-level sound to bring up the level, with some loss of dynamic range that will depend on just how low the level is on the recording. Always better to record at a lower and normalize than to have clipping, where there is nothing you can to recover the lost information.

2) Try an external mike, and if the levels are still too high, then you might be able to put an attenuator in-line with the microphone, assuming the mike isn’t powered by the voice recorder.

Again the goal here is to get an unclipped recording.

3) Buy another digital voice recorder that has a level switch, or at least a decent auto level feature.

Those are you three options at this point from what I see if you want to continue to use a voice recorder.

What make and model voice recorder are you currently using? That would be very helpful to know to get more specific advice.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

To me. though I know little when it comes to recording technology (I always take notes of Mark M’s advice) your troubles seem to stem from that thing you call a ‘dictaphone’. I record (in mono) from a Tascam DR 40 voice recorder. They are good! It takes a bit of experimentation to set the duel microphones to best fit the room I’m in (see artisanchipcrusher’s post above), but the recording is *frightfully* true, and then I simply transfer the MP3 file to my lap top and adjust it with only compression and graphic equalisation. I have never had clipping. Are these dictaphone things really up to recording whistles?

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Gobby, I think the Tascam DR 40 voice recorder might be one of those fancy mics.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

I suspose so Donald, but it’s as you said earlier, you get what you pay for.

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

@mike I am able to stop the clipping, I just muffle it by putting in a toilet roll or pillow.

So I could do that then do edits after to clean it and bring the levels up from what I gather of the above comments.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

I use a Zoom the same way Gobby uses his Tascam. It’s like when your eyesight has been quietly deteriorating for years and you are fitted with glasses for the first time. Versatile too, you can use it almost anywhere, from the street to a silenced cubicle with no computers in earshot. Not the cheapest solution, but not the most expensive either.

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

I’d also recommend learning to use a DAW - and I’d thoroughly recommend CakeWalk by Bandlab - it is entirely free and extremely fully featured - I used to use Audacity and still do for quick editing. The only caveat is that although Audacity is ‘dated’ looking, it is extremely easy to use initially - start it, press record, press stop, press play… any DAW will look more intimidating, but actually can quickly do exactly the same and then a whole lot more.

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Of course one of the drawbacks of getting into the world of DAW’s is that there is so much incredible software technology out there, it becomes dangerously easy to "fix" things like performance mistakes. I have the full version of Melodyne and it’s just insane how clever it is. I can go into a recording and fix any timing errors or bum notes. I can "quantize" a performance (not that I’d usually want to) and given that the full version of Melodyne works polyphonically, I can even fix individual notes of a single musician in an ensemble. I once fixed a guitar part that had been recorded on a guitar with a flat G string and was basically able to tune the guitar properly with Melodyne. It’s nuts, and the reason why I don’t even trust what I’m hearing in modern productions these days.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Yes, I got into "fixing" things but eventually realised it was much easier just to rerecord the bit that needed fixing.
The thing about most "modern productions" (and I’m not talking solely about trad here) is that they’re not about trying to recreate sound exactly as it would be by a live band. It’s more about trying to create music that will attract listeners.
Just as there are a lot of visuals created using software tricks in the film industry so there are a lot of sounds created using software tricks in the music industry.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Yes I really prefer the overall sound of folk music recorded in the 70’s and early 80’s than in later years. I often cringe at the level of fake reverb in 90’s albums - and while today’s productions are incredibly vivid and immersive, many have fallen victim to the modern scourge of over-compression and loudness. It’s a shame when nuance and dynamics are sacrificed for a flatter "radio ready" sound.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Am I missing something? Just had a look at Cakewalk and it seems all you download is an "assistant" but you use the software itself online. Is that right?

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Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

I recently used Cakewalk to record for a friend’s new album. Works great! I was a Cakewalk user for years (then it became Sonar for a while, which I also used). Now, Cakewalk for the PC is free. It takes a bit to learn, but it is very powerful, allowing you to take multiple takes on a track and then pick and choose bits and pieces of each take to place in the final mix. There are many, many other powerful tools as well.

Cakewalk was purchased by BandLab, so go to the BandLab website to get it.

Re: Tips on the best settings for setting up audacity for recording my playing?

Cakewalk can be a little confusing to download - the price you pay for ‘free’ is that they are trying to nudge you into their Bandlab ecosystem. You use the Bandlab assistant to download Cakewalk - after that you can just launch Cakewalk as a stand alone application from its own desktop icon, and you don’t need to interact with Bandlab again unless an update is required.

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