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You can use Audacity to import music into your project, convert different audio files from one format to another, bring in multiple files and convert them, and more. In this article by Bethany Hiitola, author of Getting started with Audacity 1.3, we will learn how to add background music into your podcast, overdub, and fade in and out. We will also discuss some additional information about importing music from CDs, cassette tapes, and vinyl records.
Importing digital music into Audacity
Before you can add background music to any Audacity project, you'll frst have to import a digital music file into to the project itself.
Importing WAV, AIFF, MP3, and MP4/M4A files
Audacity can import a number of music file formats. WAV, AIFF, MP3 are most common, but it can also import MP4/M4A files, as long as they are not rights-managed or copy-protected (like some songs purchased through stores such as iTunes). To import a song into Audacity:
- Open your sample project.
- From the main menu, select File, Import, and then Audio.
The audio selection window is displayed.
- Choose the music file from your computer, and then click on Open. A new track is added to your project at the very bottom of the project window.
Importing music from iTunes
Your iTunes library can contain protected and unprotected music files. The main difference is that the protected files were typically purchased from the iTunes store and can't be played outside of that software. There is no easy way to determine visually which music tracks are protected or unprotected, so you can try both methods outlined next to import into Audacity. However, remember there are copyright laws for songs written and recorded by popular artists, so you need to investigate how to use music legally for your own use or for distribution through a podcast.
Unprotected files from iTunes
If the songs that you want to import from iTunes aren't copy-protected, importing them is easy. Click-and-drag the song from the iTunes window and drop it into your Audacity project window (with your project open, of course).
Within a few moments, the music track is shown at the bottom of your project window.
The music track is now ready to be edited in, as an introduction or however you desire, in the main podcast file. If this is that all you need to do, feel free to skip to the Adding Background Music to your Project section later in the article.
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Protected files from iTunes
If you are producing a podcast for your own use only, and want to import purchased music from iTunes, moving it into Audacity is a bit more complicated, since these files are typically in a protected file format (that is, they are not playable outside of the iTunes software). Before you can use them in Audacity, you will need to extract them in an unprotected format. We'll discuss how you can burn an audio CD and do this.
You can also use royalty free music downloaded from web sites like Jamendo (http://www.jamendo.com/). This music is free and can be legally used and distributed in podcasts. See the website for more details.
Burn a CD and extract from it
You'll need to do a few things to be able to create an audio CD in iTunes for this to work: Create a playlist including the song (or songs) that you want to add to your podcast, then burn it to an audio CD (AIFF format) using the iTunes software itself. Generally, using these steps does not result in a loss of sound quality. Here's all the detailed steps:
- To keep the highest quality of the songs we need to change a setting in iTunes. Open iTunes, and in the Windows operating system go to the Edit menu and select Preferences, or on a Mac go to the iTunes menu and choose Preferences.
- In the General tab, select Importing Settings.
- In the Import window, choose AIFF Encoder and then click on OK. Even though these settings say they are for importing CD content, the same settings apply for creating CDs.
- Now it is time to fnd the song (or songs) that you want to incorporate into your Audacity project, and place a blank burnable CD into the CD drive of your computer.
- Then, from the iTunes main menu, select File and New Playlist.
- Enter a playlist name, and then press Enter.
- Drag the song (or songs) that you want to import into Audacity into this playlist.
- Select the playlist, and then click on the Burn Disc button on the lower-right of the iTunes window.
The Burn Settings window is displayed.
- Select Audio CD, and then click on Burn. You'll see the CD burning progress in the iTunes progress bar.
- When it is complete, you can display the contents of the CD itself and see all the music files in M4A form.
- You can now drag the song file to the open Audacity project window. The music track will appear at the bottom of this screen.
Now the music track is ready to be edited in, as an introduction or however you desire, in the main podcast file. Feel free to skip to the Adding background music section later in the article to get started!
Adding music to your podcast
Adding music to your podcast can give it more depth—even if you just add it in the introduction and when you are ending the podcast. But, as discussed earlier in the article, there are copyright laws for songs written and recorded by popular artists, so you need to investigate how to use music properly in your podcasts for distribution.
You've already imported your music in the previous steps. If you remember, Audacity imports the music file into your project and puts it in its own stereo track. Now let's piece them all together through some editing.
Timing the music for introductions and endings
Right now, with the new music track added into your project window, if you click on Play, you will see that Audacity mixes the music and voice track for you—playing both tracks at the same time (or all tracks, if you have more than two). To start, we're going to explain how to create a music introduction and ending.
For this example, we'll have the music start before we hear the podcast content and then have it continue a bit after the voice track ends as seen in the next screenshot. However, you can set up your podcast to be structured however you like. Some podcasts start with a brief, vocal only description of the podcast, and then move into a musical introduction.
We'll be using the Time Shift Tool to move the start time of our voice track to later in the timeline. That way, we'll hear some of the music frst.
- In the open Audacity project with your music track imported, select the voice track (your podcast with recorded voice) and then select the Time Shift Tool.
- Move the track to start about 10 to 15 seconds into the timeline. Use the zoom tool if you need to see the timeline clearer.
- Click on Skip to Start and then click on the Play button, to hear how this intro sounds. Does the narration start at a good break in the music?
You'll notice that right now the music still plays in the background of the voice track. It is probably too loud to stay that way. For now, we're going to learn to do some additional fading in and out of the music and silence the rest.
Fading in and out
Next, we'll fade out the music behind the narration for the introduction and then fade the music back in for a closing of the podcast.
- From where we left off in the last set of steps, let's fade out the music so we'll be able to hear the voice track. Select the music track in the Audacity project window.
- Click on the Select Tool, and select a small portion of the music track that starts just before the voice track begins, and that ends a little into the audio.
- Next, from the Audacity main menu, select Effect and then Fade Out.
You'll notice that the sound waves in that selected portion will go from large to small (loud to soft), and eventually to silence.
- Next, we're going to select a portion of the music track near the end of the voice track. Select from a short while before the voice track ends to a short while after.
- Select Effect and then Fade In from the main menu. This time, you will see that the sound waves in the selected area will change to show a small to large (soft to loud) transition.
- Next, we're going to silence the middle portion of the music so that we can hear this entire project in full. Select the portion of the music track that is between the Fade Out and In sections.
- Click on the Silence button.
You will see the sound waves change to a straight line, which means that this portion is silent.
- Go back to the start of the entire track by clicking on the Skip to Start button and click on the Play button. You should hear the music introduction that nicely fades to the vocal part of the podcast, and then transitions again at the end by fading in some music and then ending.
- Refer to the next section if you want to have background music play while speaking throughout your podcast, or select File and Save to save the project this way.
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Adding background music
In the previous example, we simply silenced the music so that all that was heard was the vocal track. But what if you want to have music playing softly in the background during the voice portion? There is a very simple way to do this.
- Follow steps 1 to 5 from Fading in and out to get the music positioned at the correct timeline location and the fading in and out done correctly, but don't silence the music during the voice track. Instead, go to the main menu and select Effect and then Amplify.
The Amplify window is displayed. Essentially, we are going to decrease (lower) the volume of the music during this portion of the podcast.
- Move the slider to the left to lower the volume. You might try moving it in a range of -10 to -12 dB to start with.
You do not want to increase amplifcation (move the slider to the right) here. If you try, you are actually increasing the volume, and the background music will bury the voice track. In fact, if you try to do this, the OK button will become disabled. Always move the slider to the left.
- Click on OK. You'll notice that the overall height of the sound waves in that area becomes smaller.
- Now move to the start of your timeline and click on the Play button. Does the volume level behind the voice track sound OK?
- If it is still too loud you can undo (from the main menu select Edit and Undo Amplify) the last change and repeat these steps until it sounds right.
- Again, if you are happy with the results here, remember to select File and then Save, in order to keep your work!
What is overdubbing and how do I do it?
Overdubbing is much like what you have done previously with the background music, but you can do this with any additional voice tracks or sounds that you want to add to your podcast. Simply, overdubbing is the idea of recording another audio track and placing it "over" the already-existing track. In Audacity, you can even record another audio track starting anywhere within the timeline. To start an overdubbing session:
- Select where you want the overdub to start, in the current timeline.
- Click on the Record button to start the overdub. Notice that visually you will see the overdub recording start where you specifed, and you will simultaneously hear the audio of the initial audio track as you record the new overdub track. You can talk as you normally would, if you want to add in some additional "side-talk", or you can make some additional sounds (like clapping or walking) to accentuate your "story" in the podcast content track.
If you don't see a new recording overdub session start where you specifed, it is possible you have overdubbing turned off. To turn it on, go to the main menu and look at Transport | Overdub. If there is a check mark by the Overdub option, it is turned on.
- Click on the Stop button when you have fnished with the additional sound recording.
- Again, if you want to play back the entire timeline sequence, select the beginning of the timeline and then click on the Play button
- If you like what you've got, select File and then Save.
There is obviously a lot more that we can do here to finesse this sound—we can time the music more succinctly so that it matches the tone of the podcast, crossfade between music and the podcast content, use the Time Shift Tool and adjust the music and clips of the voice track to work together throughout the entire track. But the essential editing techniques above are a great start!
Downmixing and rendering
All of the steps that we've done previously are the start to performing a mix. Now we can downmix. Downmixing is the process of combining many tracks of different types of audio and making it into a single recording. Like the previous examples, we are mixing speech with background music, other audio, and sound effects. You could even add instruments.
Just remember that when you export as one audio file format—in this case, it has been mixed—you won't be able to "break" apart the pieces anymore. This is why we recommend that you keep your Audacity project files!
- With your project window open, from the main menu, select File and then Export.
The Edit Metadata window is displayed.
- Enter tagging information by clicking in the Value field of any of the Tag fields and enter the required information.
- In Artist Name, you could enter your name.
- In Track Title, enter a title for this track (such as Test Podcast).
- For Genre, when you click on the Value field, you are offered a drop-down box to choose from a standard list of musical genre options. You can also type in your own special Genre.
- The Comments field is free-text, meaning that, you can enter any other relevant information that you would like. An example might be: Interview with Audacity Author detailing how to make a Podcast.
- You can also add new tags. To do this, click on the Add button on this screen. An additional row is added to the table. This has empty Tag and Value fields for you to use however you would like.
- Once you have entered all required tags, on the Edit Metadata window, click on OK. The Save As window is displayed.
- Type in a name for the exported file. By default, the project name is entered into the Save As field, but you can name the file whatever you like.
- In the Where feld, you can choose where you would like the file to be saved.
- Lastly, in the Format field, choose MP3. For your future projects, you can choose any of the available audio formats in this field.
- Click on Save. Your very frst MP3 podcast is created and saved!
Want to test it out? Just double-click on the MP3 file that you just saved, and you'll be listening to your new, mixed podcast!
Vinyl records, cassette tapes, or minidiscs
You can use Audacity to record songs from other media, such as vinyl records, cassette tapes, and minidiscs. However this requires a bit of technical knowledge and some trial and error if you've never done it before. You will also need some special equipment, such as:
- A tape deck, minidisc player, or stereo system that has a "line out" connector on the back of it.
- A stereo cable that can connect to the above equipment and then to the "line in" connector on your computer. If you don't have one that fits properly, you can purchase one at almost any electronic store. Just take note of the connector type that you need by looking at your stereo equipment documentation (some types include: mini plugs, RCA, 3.5 mm plug, and so on). Alternatively, you can take the equipment with you to the store and ask for help! Avoid using adapters for connector types, as this is likely to add more noise to your recordings.
- For vinyl records, you need a special turntable that uses a USB cable to connect to your computer. Use the directions with the turntable to connect to your computer, as they are a bit different. Most of these turntables actually come with the Audacity software on a CD-ROM.
Essentially, the steps are:
- Plug one end of the stereo cable into the "line out" (or headphone) of your tape deck, minidisc player, or stereo system.
- Plug the other end of the stereo cable into your computer's "line in" connector (for the vinyl record turntable you would use the USB port on your computer).
- Open Audacity, and then choose Audacity and Preferences (or Edit | Preferences in Windows) from the main menu.
- Select Devices in the left panel, and make sure the Recording Device is set to "line-in", or an applicable device.
- In the Audacity project window, click on the Record button and start playing the tape, disc, or record.
- When the songs are complete, click on the Stop button in Audacity.
It is highly recommended that you read additional resources before getting started. In particular, you should read any documentation associated with the specific equipment that you are using to play the original audio, as there might be specific tricks to using this with a computer for digital recording.
In this article we discussed importing—or bringing in additional audio tracks—into Audacity. We focused on music tracks so that we could go through the detailed steps for adding introduction and closing music, adding background music, and bringing in music tracks from other software libraries. We even discussed at a high level how to bring music from one physical format (like cassette tapes) into digital formats in Audacity.
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About the Author :
Bethany Hiitola is a working writer and technology geek. With a degree in Scientific and Technical Communications, she's worked as a technical writer and multimedia developer for over 12 years—she spends the rest of her time as a wife, mother, gadget geek, and Master of the Household. She's written more user manuals than she can count, essays, novels, and a few technical books—including Inkscape 0.48 Essentials for Web Designers. More details are at her website: bethanyhiitola.com