Updated: Apr 11
I can’t stress how important editing is for podcasts. It can often make or break a show. Your strengths can be enhanced and your weaknesses obscured. But if you’re new to podcasting, you may be wondering what to use for editing. You have a lot of choices. Some are downloadable software, and some are in-browser services. Some are free, and some are pricey. I’ve been a podcaster since 2017, and my software of choice has been Audacity. So, today I’ll give you a primer on the basics of this powerful tool.
What is Audacity?
Audacity is a free open-source sound editing software first released in 2000 by Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Dannenberg. It works on all major operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Linux, and Unix-like. Because it’s free, it’s been the go-to for many beginners (and professionals) for music editing and, of course, podcast editing. This has made it incredibly popular, with over 114.2 million downloads since March 2015 on FossHub. Thanks to this, the Audacity Team has strove to make the user interface as simple and easy-to-use as possible. You can also record as well as edit audio with it.
Tip #1: Sync-Lock
Unless you’re running a solo podcast, you’ll have co-hosts and guests on your show. While I typically use a combined stereo track when I edit, multi-track recording and editing is the more common practice. Audacity has a feature under the “Tracks” tab labeled “Sync-Lock Tracks (on/off).” What this does is when you highlight a portion of any one track, a slightly darkened concurrent portion of all the other tracks will also be highlighted. If you delete the highlighted portion of the first track, the concurrent portions of the other tracks will be also be deleted. If you insert more audio (or silence) in one track, Sync-Lock will create a corresponding portion of silence in the other tracks. This is all done to keep the tracks synced so the flow of your conversation will be consistent. However, if you want delete parts of some tracks—such as coughing or loud breathing—but keep what the speaker in one track was saying, disable Sync-Lock.
Tip #2: Amplify
Audacity has a lot of tools under the “Effect” tab, but the one I use most often is “Amplify.” Often because of mic or recording software settings, among other things, I may have whole tracks or portions of tracks where the audio is too quiet to hear. What Amplify does is increase the decibels of a highlighted portion of audio, making it louder. You’ll notice the meter in the top right corner that slides back and forth depending on the audio volume. Green is generally good, but it can also slide into yellow and red toward the end. I try to keep it in the high green or yellow range as much as possible.
Tip #3: Noise Reduction
It’s always a good idea to record your audio in as quiet a room as possible to avoid background noise. It could distract your listeners from the conversation. But if you listen back on your audio and hear, say, some quiet heat vent noise, Audacity can help you fix it. Simply highlight a section of the audio track where you can only hear the background noise and then click the “Effect” tab to scroll down to “Noise Reduction.” This will bring up a window with two steps listed. For step one, you’ll see some instruction and a button labeled, “Get Noise Profile.” Click this. Afterward, highlight whatever section of your audio that has the obnoxious noise that needs quieted. (For the entire project, press Ctrl+A). Then scroll back down to “Noise Reduction” under the “Effect” tab again for step two. You’ll see three categories with corresponding boxes and scroll tabs. The only one you need to use is “Noise reduction (dB).” The number you type in the box will depend on how much you want the sound quieted, but be warned that reducing background noise too much will detrimentally affect the overall sound. You may need to experiment a little to find the right levels. Make sure the “Reduce” bubble is highlighted next to “Noise” at the bottom of the window, click “OK,” and viola! No more background noise!
Tip #4: Auto Duck
This tool is especially good if you need to loop a music track into your podcast project. It will automatically reduce the volume of one track while it plays over the other tracks. It’s called “ducking” because the audio will “duck under” the volume of another track. Once you have the tracks placed where you want them, move the track you want auto-ducked above the track you want to be louder. (You can do this by bringing up a dropdown menu when you click the small black arrow on the track name). Highlight the portion of the track you want auto-ducked and then click “Effect.” Scroll down to “Auto Duck.” This will bring up a window with a simple diagram and multiple buttons and boxes. All you need to use is the “Duck amount” box. Type in a negative number (example: -12) to make sure the audio is made quieter and not louder. You may need to experiment to get the right decibel reduction, but -10 to -12 generally works. Click “Apply” when ready.
Tip #5: Remove Special
If you need to delete a portion of a track without affecting the rest of that track or the other tracks, this tool is a godsend. (It was for me!) Click “Edit” and scroll down to “Remove Special.” This will bring up a submenu with four options, each with a quick command. “Split Cut” (Crtl + Alt + X) and “Split Delete” (Crtl + Alt + K) will remove the highlighted audio. “Silence Audio” (Crlt + L) will do exactly that. “Trim Audio” (Crtl + T) will eliminate everything in the track except for the highlighted audio. This is good if you want to quickly delete any unwanted audio at the beginning and end of a track. Once you master these commands, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and headaches.
Tip #6: Generate --> Silence
Similar to the “Silence Audio” command, you can, well, silence a highlighted portion of audio this way, too. Click the “Generate” tab and scroll down to “Silence.” I typically use this tool to eliminate loud breaths from audio.
Tip #7: Fade In/Fade Out
If you have a track that needs to avoid an abrupt start or stop, such as music, this is the tool you need. Highlight the portion of the track you would like to fade in or fade out. If you want a fade in, the beginning of the highlighted portion is where the audio will start to slowly (or quickly) increase in volume. If you want a fade out, the highlighted portion is where the audio will start to slowly (or quickly) decrease in volume. This will add some artistry and professionalism to your podcast.
Tip #8: Save to your computer’s hard drive
This tip isn’t about a tool in Audacity so much as it’s a weird quirk that’s developed in the more recent updates to the software. I had to edit one episode of The Monster Island Film Vault at least four times because of it. Don’t save your Audacity project file to a portable hard drive, flash drive, or cloud storage. For whatever reason, this will make Audacity run slowly, at best, or crash, at worst. This will especially happen when you try to save or export a project. Relatedly, don’t use any special characters (quotation marks, #, ?, etc.) in your file names. This will cause near-fatal glitches in the software when, again, you try to save or export a file. This may have been patched out in the last year, but I’ve kept the habit of doing these two things when I save my files just to be safe.
This is just a taste of what tools Audacity has to offer. I learn something new about the software at last once a month. But if you’re making a general discussion podcast, the tools I outlined will be of great benefit to you. Now, if you’re making an audiodrama, there are other tools that will make your life easier, but that’s a blog (or two) for another time. So, if you’re a beginner (or a pro) looking for a low-cost, easy-to-use software to record and/or edit your podcast that has a helpful online community, then you have the audacity to get Audacity!