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How to Solve Common Problems in Audacity

By KarlM
07-10-2009
Audacity is a great program for recording and editing audio tracks. It’s free, convenient, and powerful, plus it lets you create multi-track recordings and incorporate various special effects. However, sometimes you may run into problems when creating audio files or recording songs. Here are some of the most common issues and how to fix them.
1. Recording has no sound during playback – This is a relatively easy problem to solve.

Check that your computer’s volume settings are at the right level by clicking the Volume icon (the ‘speaker’ symbol) in the task bar at the bottom-right of your screen. Raise the volume bar to a level above zero. If this doesn’t work, adjust the physical volume control knob on your laptop or speakers.

You can also tweak the track itself. In Audacity, highlight the section of the recording you want to make louder, go to ‘Effects’, and click ‘Amplify’. Remember to turn up the input volume in Audacity and in your preamp when making any recording in the future.

2. Program doesn’t register any sound during recording – If, during recording, the red cursor is only drawing a flat line (no waveform) as it moves, then this means no sound is being recorded. Examine your microphone’s physical connection and then check its settings. Click the ‘Start’ button and open the ‘Control Panel’. Open ‘Sounds and Audio Devices’ and select the ‘Volume’ tab. Click on the ‘Advanced’ option. In the new window that opens, go to ‘Options’ and then ‘Properties’. Select ‘Recording’, then ‘OK’. Under ‘Microphone’, put a checkmark next to ‘Select’. Raise the Microphone volume to a level above zero to ensure sound recording.

3. Recording cursor isn’t moving – If the red cursor fails to move from the starting position when you begin recording, this means you have insufficient computer resources for the recording process. Restarting your computer will fix this particular problem.

4. Poor recording quality – This is due to inadequate software and hardware.

Be aware that the most vital factor in getting good recordings is a professional microphone. Invest in one and read up on correct mic usage and technique. Shure has some excellent starter mic models.

In addition, remember that the built-in sound cards of most laptop and desktop computers are simply not up to the task of producing high-quality recordings. Consider replacing your sound card with a superior model. Better yet, use an external USB audio device (like those made by M-Audio). These require no hardware installation – just install any accompanying driver, plug them in, and you’re ready to record.

5. Recordings contain an electrical noise – Sometimes, your tracks may have hums or crackles (around 50/60 Hz). This noise comes from electrical sources. Here are the solutions:

When recording, ensure that your microphone cables are not near any main electrical lines, even those behind walls. Connect all your recording equipment to the same ground; you can do this easily by plugging all audio components into the same power strip. Avoid using fluorescent bulbs near cables and equipment.

If nothing else works, you can use a de-noise filter during post-production to try to get rid of any humming. However, crackles are much harder to remove.

6. A noise comes up every 6 to 12 seconds – If you keep hearing a noise at regular intervals in your recording, this is most likely the sound of your own computer’s hard drive. You can fix this by upgrading your software and/or hardware.

Download the latest updates for your sound drivers. You may also want to try shielding your sound card. Do some additional research on how to reduce PC noise.

In addition, if you’re using a laptop, don’t use the built-in mic, since these are poor and tend to pick up computer noise. Instead, invest in a professional directional mic and put some sound insulation between it and your computer. A piece of felt on cardboard should be sufficient.

7. Environmental noise appears on the recording – This includes the sound of appliances, traffic, and other ambient sounds. It’s a lot better to avoid this type of noise in the first place instead of editing it out afterwards.

Once again, the best remedy is a good, directional mic. Use correct mic technique for usage and placement. If you’re recording instruments like electric guitars and keyboards, plug them directly into your sound card input or into a sound board and then into your computer. Acoustic instruments require a directional mic or a pick-up with preamp for direct connection.

Control your environment with non-technical methods for reducing room noise such as: hanging thick blankets in the recording room, using a room with wall-to-wall carpeting, recording late at night, and turning off appliances (refrigerator, furnace, air conditioner, etc.).

Finally, you can use various audio editing plug-ins to reduce environmental noise during post-production.

8. Tracks in a recording start going out of sync – Your recording may have multiple tracks that initially start in sync upon playback, but steadily start falling out of sync as the song progresses.

Check that the Sample Rates for all tracks are the same. There’s a function for changing the Project Rate to a different setting at the bottom-left of the Audacity window. Try setting it at 48000Hz.

If you haven’t done this already, go to the ‘Edit’ menu, click ‘Preferences’, and then ‘Audio I/O’. Select this option: ‘Play other tracks while recording new one’. This greatly improves synchronicity.

You can also manually push shorter audio sequences forward in the timing to remove any lag. Open the ‘Generate’ menu and use the ‘Silence’ function to insert a blank space in front of the ‘shorter’ sound segment. By using fractions of a second, you can fine-tune the timing closely enough to move tracks back into synchronicity with each other.

9. Tracks aren’t recording in stereo – You may be trying to make a stereo recording, but one channel is weak or completely mute.

Ensure that Audacity is set to record in stereo. Click ‘Edit’, ‘Preferences’, and then ‘Audio I/O’. In ‘Recording Channels’, make sure the setting is at ‘2 (stereo)’.

Check that all physical connections to recording equipment are secure. See to it that any balance controls (for example, on your mixer or amplifier) are centrally-placed, not biased towards either channel.

In the system mixer, ensure that the right and left channels are balanced. In Windows, click the ‘Volume’ icon in the taskbar at the bottom-right of your screen. Check the horizontal ‘Balance’ bars and set the arrow at the center of the line between the two speaker icons.

10. Recording contains distortion or crackling when played at high volume – You might hear popping, crackling or distortion when the recording is played loud, or you may see that the audio waveform clearly touches the top and bottom edges of the graph. This issue is referred to as clipping.

Reduce the record level using Audacity's I/O Sliders. Alternatively, reduce the input source’s volume (such as the tape player or microphone, if it has a separate volume control).

Many sound cards also have an independent volume control for each of the input connections, giving you another option for adjustment.
These are some of the most common issues you might encounter when recording. Before doing any recording, prepare yourself beforehand by reading up on important technical details and proper recording techniques. Update both your sound drivers and the Audacity program itself by downloading the latest software versions. Invest in proper hardware, such as professional microphones and other equipment.

Remember, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional sound engineer, preventing these problems from happening in the first place is a lot easier than fixing them afterwards. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of time in post-production, removing errors from your finished track.
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