Learn How to Record a Podcast in Audacity

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Audacity is a free audio editor that works on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux / Unix computers. One of the coolest things about Audacity, besides its cross platform compatibility, is that all of Audacity's program files fit into one folder when it is installed.

I keep a copy of this folder on my USB flash drive, and whenever I need to make some quick audio edits at a friend's house, I just plug my USB flash stick into my friend's system, and Audacity runs perfectly without having to install anything on his computer.

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Audio Ins and Outs

Audacity Audio I/O Dialog
Audacity Audio I/O Dialog. Screencap by Brian Bertucci

If you don't have Audacity, download the installer from http://audacity.sourceforge.net. Once the installer is downloaded, click on it and follow the instructions. When it is finished, open the program.

You'll want to set up a few things before your first recording. First, go to Edit in the toolbar at the top of the screen, and choose Preferences. When the Preferences control panel opens, go to the Audio I/O tab.

The Audio I/O dialog selects the input at which your microphone signal will be picked up, and which jack the final output of your audio will be routed to, on its way to your speakers or headphones.

If you only have the built-in sound card that came with your computer, you probably only have one input and output, so chances are that your settings are already selected correctly for you.

However, if you have an audio interface with multiple inputs or outputs, select the input to which your microphone is connected, and make sure your speakers or headphones are hooked up to the selected output.

If you wish to monitor the sound from the microphone while you record, check the checkbox at the bottom of the dialog labeled “Software Playthrough.” Next, switch to the Quality tab.

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Setting Sample and Bit Rates

Audacity Quality Tab
Audacity Quality Tab. Screencap by Brian Bertucci

For most podcasts, CD quality audio (44100 Hz / 16 bit) will be more than sufficient. Set the sample rate at 44100 Hz and the Sample format to 16 bit.

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Choose your File Export Type

Audacity File Formats Tab
Audacity File Formats Tab. Screencap by Brian Bertucci

Last, click the File Formats tab and select the Uncompressed Export Format that you want to use. Most Windows users will pick 16-bit WAV files, while Macintosh users may wish to choose 16 bit AIFF if they are planning to import the file into other Mac audio software later.

Click OK, and you should be ready to set your levels for recording.

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Setting Audio Levels

Audacity Transport
Audacity Transport. Screencap by Brian Bertucci

The transport buttons at the top of Audacity's interface work just like a VCR's: Play, Stop, Record, etc... Click the record button at the top of the interface (mouse over to see the name of each button). You will see a track appear in the workspace, and begin to move forward in time as it records.

In the upper right-hand corner, you will also see a microphone level meter showing how powerful your microphone's signal is. Adjust the level of your recording interface while speaking as loudly into the microphone as you plan to speak during your recording session.

You want the digital signal to be strong enough to use up most of the area of the track (this helps reduce noise), but you don't want to make the signal so strong that it clips, or distorts, by going past the limits of the track.

If your audio interface or sound card doesn't have an input volume knob, you will have to adjust the volume internally, using the computer's software mixer to raise and lower the microphone input level. Once your level is set, you are ready to record.