Note, this is an edit of a previous version of this post. I got lazy toward the end of writing the original and started to feel bad about it. Here's a better version that I hope is genuinely helpful.
In my previous two posts I covered the basics of podcasting, and gave a step by step for creating a podcast. In this post I will discuss using the recording tool Audacity to create a professional sounding episode for your audio podcast.
NOTE: Like any art form, making a good podcast takes PATIENCE and PRACTICE. Also, you need good source material. These steps will show you how to make a podcast file, but to make a GOOD podcast file will take some skill. Practice. Listen to your finished product before sending it out. It will take some work to produce a professionuality result.
Now, I am not going to rehash what Audacity is or how to install it or anything like that. I'm going to assume you're here because you know what it does and why you want to use it. Just go here, get it, install it, and we'll go from there. (Please be sure you have the latest, greatest version - 1.3.7. If not, you won't have all the features needed for this tutorial.)
I'm also going to assume that you know what it is you want in your podcast. For this example we'll go through recording a file then mixing multiple files. We'll start by recording the main part of the program, then we'll mix in some lead in music and some "lead out" music". Finally, we'll save the file as an MP3. At which point it's ready to go!
So let's get started.
Check your hardware.
To record a file, you need a source. If you can pipe the sound into your computer, you can use Audacity to digitize it. For our example we'll use a microphone. Whatever your source, you'll need to hook it up and make sure it's working. Consult your hardware's documentation to make sure you have it set up properly.
Set your source.
Start Audacity. To record from your source, you need to tell the program which source to use. From the window menu choose "Edit" then "Preferences". The Preferences window will open. In the menu on the left hand side choose "Audio I/O". On the right hand side is a section headed "Recording". Use the drop-down menu next to Device to choose your microphone. For "Channels" choose "1 (Mono)" - unless you have a stereo mic. Click "OK".
Now, assuming your hardware is set up right, you are ready to record. In the main window of the program you will see controls that look like the same controls you see on your VCR and remote controls and just about everything. The arrow button is "play", the square button is "stop", the red circle is "record", the double vertical lines are "pause".
To record what you're going to say, just click the red circle and start talking into your mic. If you need to pause, click the pause button. When you're done recording, click the stop button. It really is that simple.
Save your work.
At this point, you'll want to save what you've recorded. Since we are going to take your voice and mix it with some other files, we're going to save it as an Audacity project file. Click "File" and "Save Project". You may get a window saying "You're about to save as an Audacity file" or something like that. You can just click "Ok" because it is. The save window will come up. Name your file and save it where you can find it. I suggest the Desktop.
Add some music.
Now the fun begins.
Pick some music you want to use as your lead in. For this example, use anything, but your finished project should be your own music (you wrote it and you own it) or something that is in the public domain (everyone owns it). You can find some at Archive.org.
In the program choose "File" and "Open". Find the file you want to use and click "OK". This should open a second Audacity window. Your original audio should still be open in the first window.
Unless you want a long lead-in, you won't need the whole song. So, your first task is to select the part of the song you want to use. For this example, we'll choose the first 20 seconds of the song.
Just like editing a text file, you can just select, cut and paste. The Audacity window has a timeline across the top. Click on the "image" of the audio at about the 20 second mark and drag your cursor to the left to the beginning of the file. Choose "Edit" then "Copy".
Switch back to your first file, the one you recorded with your microphone. On the window menu choose "Tracks", then "Add New", then "Stereo Track". (Assuming the song you copied from was in stereo. You can just choose "Audio Track" if it wasn't.) In the main window you should see multiple tracks now, one with your recorded sound, the other is currently empty.
Make sure the new track you just created is selected by clicking on it. Then, in the main windows menu, choose "Edit" and "Paste". You should now see two tracks in your main window.
If you click the play button you will hear both tracks playing. If you were to save it now, this is what your podcast would sound like. But this is probably not what you want it to sound like.
Try to do the same to add "lead out" music. Don't worry about the placement of it right now, we will get to that. Just select your music and paste it into your main window. If all goes right you should have three tracks, your opening music, your closing music, and you spoken word.
Now we need to get everything arranged correctly. Unless you want a long lead in and a long lead out(for lack of a better term), you won't want the music to be outside of your spoken word, you will want part of it to overlap. The first thing we want to do is arrange everything in our window so we can see what were doing. Let's move your lead in music to the top and have your spoken word right underneath. (We won't worry about the closing music right now.)
On the track in the main window, on the left side you will see an X, DON'T GET AHEAD OF ME! If you click the X it will delete the track. Next to that you might see a name. To the right of that is an arrow pointing down. If you click that, it gives you some options. One is "move track up" and another is "move track down". Depending on where things are in you program, either move your music up and your spoken word down, or vice versa until your lead in music is above your spoken word.
The next thing is to move your spoken word a few seconds so the music can play by itself. Unless you already have a pause at the start of your spoken word track, you will need to move the entire track a few seconds to make room for the music. We're going to do the same thing with the lead out music later on, so learn this anyway.
To do this accurately, you might want to zoom in. On the right hand side of the main window you will see two magnifying glasses, if you click the one with the plus, you will see that your timeline gets longer. It "spreads out" the time so you can see more detail in the audio. Zoom in as much as you need to be able to see 5 seconds pretty clearly. You might need to use the scroll bar at the bottom of the window to move back to the beginning of the project.
Now, click on your spoken word track to make sure it's selected. In the menu you will see a tool that looks like two points on a compass. This is the move tool. We're going to select that, then click and drag your spoken word track. You're going to move it to the right until you have 5 seconds worth of "nothing" at the start.
If you wish, you can do the same with your lead out music now. Only, instead of 5 seconds, you are going to move it out until 5 seconds worth of music in past the end of the spoken word track. Use the scroll bar at the bottom to move the view to the left.
Now here is the fun part. Assuming you still have your music above your spoken word, we are now going to automatically lower the music so it blends with the words. Click on your lead in music to select it, then from the window menu choose "Edit", "Move Cursor", then "To Track Start". Now choose "Edit", "Select" and then "Cursor to end". Your music should now be highlighted.
The tool we're going to use is called "Auto Duck" (As in the music will "duck under" the spoken word.) Choose "Effects" and "Auto Duck". You will see a graph with a "u" in the middle. If you click the dot at the base of the "u" and drag it, you will change the volume of the background music. Click Ok. Try playing your podcast. Is the music quiet enough? If not, choose "undo" and lower the bottom of the graph the next time you try it.
Try doing the same with your lead out music. Move it so it's just above your spoken track, select it, then use auto duck again.
Making the finished product.
Everything will combine into one file when you export your project as an MP3. If you are using the Windows version of Audacity, you can "File" and "Export as MP3". Save your file where you can find it.
If you are using the Linux version, things are a little more tricky. Follow the directions for your particular linux distribution to install "Lame". Back in Audacity you can choose "File" and Export". This will pop up a window asking you to edit the "metadata". You can just click "OK". Name your file, choose where to save it, then toward the bottom of the windows choose "mp3" as the file type.
That's it! Upload your MP3 to where you need it for your podcast.
This is a very basic tutorial for beginners. The main this to remember is PATIENCE and PRATICE. When you get the results you want and are ready for more, there are many great tutorials for Audacity out there that wil show you the hard stuff. There are all kinds of special effects and mixing tools to get professional results. Work on it. Try different things. No matter what, it's not going to be perfect the first few times. Audacity, like everything else on your computer is a tool, not a mold. Put in the work and you'll get good.