By now, you've got your iMic and you're salivating to hear Bruce in crystal-clear full MP3 stereo sound (hey, I know my reader demographics!). Maybe you've even made basic recordings with Audacity, just to try it out.
Audacity has a bit of a learning curve, but it's worth learning because it really is well suited to recording from analog sources. That's not to say other programs are unavailable; with a little work, you could get GarageBand, which comes with the Mac's iLife suite, to do similar work. But with Audacity, most of the basic work you need to do to transform tapes and records into MP3s is right on the main screen.
So here goes my very basic tutorial on using Audacity to move your music into the digital era.
As mentioned last time, you just hook up the "line-out" jack of your tape or record player to your computer and start recording. Audacity's recording button looks just like the one on your tape recorder, and you click it on or off to record.
Once you're done, you'll "see" your music in Audacity's waveform display window, which contains the squiggly lines that represents the digital audio bits of your music. You can highlight any portion and use the program's Edit menu or toolbar tools to copy, cut or paste any part you want to save. The idea is to use the Edit tools to hone your music into the "shape" - i.e. sound - you want it to sound like.
LIKE ANY other computer program, Audacity will only do what you tell it to do, so unless you turn off the recording function and save the file after each song, the whole tape or album side will appear in a single waveform display window, meaning that as far as Audacity is concerned, it's a single unit. So, one basic editing technique you'll probably want to apply is separating music into separate tracks - a task Audacity can easily accomplish.
Editing, as any newspaper geek will tell you, entails rolling up your sleeves and moving things thither and yon to come up with a better finished product, and editing in Audacity works the same way. You can eliminate the "natural" hiss between tracks of a record player by highlighting the empty area and selecting "silence" from the edit menu. How do you know where the space between tracks is? Easy - just look for the even, low spots in the waveform display, which indicate that there is almost no "noise" at those points in the recording. If you're not sure, you can highlight the "edge" of the spikes in the waveform window and click on "play" to define the specific point where silence should be superimposed.
The most efficient way to work with Audacity is to record a bunch of stuff - like both sides of a 90-minute tape (a double album) or as much as your tape or record player allows you to play in one shot. Stop the recording when it's done and start working on spacing the tracks. Then you can separate the tracks into separate files.
Why bother? If you plan on converting these songs into MP3s, you'll want them as separate files so you can tag them with the correct name, artist and album.
There are several ways to separate tracks; one is to highlight the section of the waveform window you want to separate and click on edit > duplicate. You will then get a second waveform window with just the data you've selected, which you can then export as a .wav or MP3 (you can only have one duplicate window open at a time, though).
How will you know where tracks begin and end? Easy; the silences you've inserted between the files will show up as blank spaces in the original waveform window; just highlight the areas that have waveforms, duplicate, and save or export.