If you have been using an audio editor, you will have heard of or used Audacity. Audacity has been around for more than twenty years, becoming the go-to choice for easy wave editing. Its many users are comfortable in its familiar interface, but below the surface lurks a collection of features even the most experienced user may not know exists. Here are some of the best Audacity features you may not know about.
1. Color Coding
Jumping between tracks can be a navigational nightmare, especially when you’re knee-deep in multi-track editing. One way to instantly clear up any confusion is to assign different colors to each waveform, depending on which Instrument is being played.
Just open the track menu (the drop-down menu among those controls on the left) and look for the Wave Color sub-menu. Here you can choose from Instrument 1 through 4: blue, red, green, and black.
Of course, this feature doesn’t just work for different instruments – it could also work for different takes, different dates, different people, and so on. A simple navigational trick like this can spare you from a mistake that could otherwise set you back hours or even days.
Audacity has had MIDI playback since version 2.2.0, though it’s still quite rudimentary, with a long list of caveats in the documentation. For starters, you need an external device or separate program to make it work properly, with most tutorials using a loopback method to convert MIDI tracks to audio.
There also doesn’t seem to be any real way to draw new notes or engage in proper editing, although you can cut, copy, and paste bits of MIDI like you would with audio waveforms. Audacity was never really intended for MIDI work, and you should probably look elsewhere for a proper MIDI editor, but if you want to cut and paste quickly and aggressively, keep it in mind.
3. Import Audio from Video Clips
I must admit to being caught out on this one, as user MrBillC pointed out on a prior article. If you want to edit the audio stream contained in a video file, you don’t have to extract it with another program at all – you can just drag and drop video files onto Audacity, and it will extract the audio for you.
Please note that this won’t work automatically for everyone, as FFmpeg needs to be installed first. Most Linux users will already have this installed, but Mac and Windows users may need to take extra steps. See the instructions for Windows, Linux, and macOS for more details.
In Audacity’s bad old days you had to manually select a new position in the track, then re-engage the playback controls. With Quick-Play, simply clicking anywhere within the playhead will automatically start the track playing, and you can jump to any place in the track without having to stop and re-adjust the starting position.
Quick-Play is enabled by default, but if you don’t like this feature, it can be disabled by right-clicking on the playhead and choosing Disable Quick-Play.
Scrubbing is difficult to explain in text, but you’ve probably seen it in movies when someone analyses audio. It’s a bit like Quick-Play on steroids: as the track plays, you can move forwards and backwards in time simply by moving your mouse pointer around the play needle. It makes cool fast-forward and slow-motion reverse noises, and is excellent for meticulously searching through sections of audio.
Controls seem to differ between releases and operating systems, so we won’t go into Audacity keyboard shortcuts, but on our version it was disabled by default. To turn it on, choose “View -> Toolbars -> Scrub Toolbar” from the main menu. This may be floating around in the middle of your editing window, but it’s best to drag it back to somewhere in the main toolbar.
Normally the feature isn’t activated, but click the Scrub button (the left-most button with two triangles facing apart) and when your mouse is hovering over any tracks, Audacity will automatically start scrubbing. You can deactivate the feature by either clicking the icon once more, or pressing the Stop button.
6. Sound Activated Recording
One for the podcasters out there, sound-activated recording automatically starts when the noise level gets beyond a certain threshold and pauses when it drops back below. For narrators, this means it will start recording when you start speaking and pause when you stop. We couldn’t actually get this feature working, but recording is a finicky process at the best of times!
If you want to try your luck, enable the feature by going to the main menu and choosing “Edit -> Preferences.” In the new window, choose the Recording section on the left. Sound Activated Recording will have its own field with an Enable check-box. If the recording trigger is too sensitive or not sensitive enough, you can alter the noise threshold by moving the Level (dB) slider.
Did you know about all of these Audacity features? Did we miss your favorite feature? Let us know in the comments below. If this is your first time with Audacity, why not check out our Beginner’s Guide to Recording Audio in Audacity.
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