Monday, May 17, 2010

Your Computer & Audacity Make a Great Recorder

Most often I try to write about topics that will be directly applicable to my readers. This week we will look at some free software and inexpensive hardware that may not have direct utility for you, but if you share this information with your teenaged grand kids, nieces or nephews, or the kid next door, you will certainly be looked at as a tech-savvy, albeit still old, cool person.

The explosion in the computing power of even the most inexpensive lap top or desk top computer is amazing. In reality we use very little of the processing power of these machines for routine tasks of surfing the net and sending email. How about using that lap top as a very good quality audio recording studio complete with multi-track overdubbing and CD mastering? Any budding garage band will jump at trying this out and since you suggested it, you will be dubbed “cool.”

Start by downloading the free software from This is a free package and safe to install on your computer. Once installed there is an easy set up, but before long you will have a very sophisticated audio recording system that will allow you to record and edit individual tracks and overdub multiple tracks so a single musician can play multiple parts and you can edit them all into one recording. You can then make a CD or MP3 file.

The Audacity software also allows you to record from other sources so you can use it to transfer vinyl LPs and even audio cassette tapes to MP3 or other digital files for playback on your iPod. The features in this free package are in many ways superior to some of the commercial recording software packages costing two hundred dollars or more.

Of course, to record live music you need a microphone. The microphones that are built into lap tops or come as plug-ins for desk top computers are not very good. You will want to use a good quality microphone. There are several good microphones now available starting at about fifty bucks that have a USB connector that can be plugged directly into the computer. Check out or stop by the Music Shoppe.

If you already have a microphone with a standard XLR connector, and many garage bands do, there are adapters available that modify that XLR connector making it a USB connector and able to be plugged directly into the computer. Again, these can be purchased on line or locally at the Music Shoppe. If Brian doesn’t have it in stock, I am sure he can order it for you.

I have used Audacity for a couple years and I continue to be impressed with it. It is only available for PCs running various iterations of Windows. There is no Mac version. The web site has a lot of tips and the community of users is very free with a helping hand. Oh yes, if that garage band records in the garage next door, there is a headphone jack on most computers.

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