Join Garrick Chow for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating a new project, part of Learning Audacity (2012).
Whenever you open Audacity, it automatically opens a new blank project window for you. A project is where you create, import or edit your audio files. A project can be a single track or it can contain multiple tracks that play simultaneously. But the project doesn't just contain your audio files, it also stores information about what you've done to those files, such as their pan position in the stereo mix, their volume level or gain, the names you've given your tracks, and several other pieces of data. So let's take a look at how to setup a new project. Let me just close this window and start fresh, let's go to File > New, and that creates a new blank project for you, but of course you need to know a little bit more than that.
Let's go into Audacity's Preferences. If you're in Windows you go to Edit > Preferences. Here select the Quality category. And what I want to look at here is the Sampling area. Notice here you can select the Default Sample Rate and the Default Sample Format. Together these settings affect the quality of your projects. Now I need to get a little bit technical here, but this is important stuff to understand, so bear with me. So let's start by talking about Sample Rate. Sound is a continuous entity or wave. When we capture audio digitally, which is what we're doing when we record into a computer, we're not capturing every single moment of the sound.
What we're doing is capturing samples of the sound. Just as a video camera doesn't capture every single moment of motion, it captures frames, but it captures enough frames per second, generally 24 to 30 frames per second, that when those images are played in sequence we have the illusion of motion. So when you digitally record a sound, the frames in this case are called samples. The more samples you can collect per second, the more accurate the sound will sound when you play it back. The speed at which these samples are collected is called the Sample Rate. For example, the sample rate of a standard music CD is 41,100 Hz or 44.1 kHz. That means that for every second of music what you're really hearing is 41,100 samples of the music, which is acceptable to the majority of people in terms of sound fidelity.
So in Audacity the default sample rate is 441, but you can see there is a wide range of choices here. Generally though you're going to stick with 441 or possibly 48,000 Hz, and that's the sample rate commonly used for audio that accompanies video. Bear in mind that the higher the sample rate, the larger your files are going to be. If you have the hard drive space to spare, some people recommend going as high as 96,000 Hz, but most people can't really hear the difference between 441, 48 and 96 kHz. So, unless you're producing audio for some real audiophiles, I'd say stick with the default of 441, but now you know where to change this default if you need to.
Now the other setting here is the Default Sample Format. This is also commonly called the Bit Depth. Notice we have the choices here of 16 bit, 24 bit, and 32-bit float. The bit depth determines the dynamic range of your audio file. The more bits, the wider the range of volume you can have within each sample of your recording. So I just compared the sample rate to a camera that takes thousands of images of a sound per second. Again, for example, a sample rate of 441 kHz takes 41,100 samples per second. The amount of information stored in each one of those samples is determined by the bit depth.
So for example, a low bit depth like an 8-bit resolution, really is not enough to accurately capture the dynamic range of most sounds. A 16-bit resolution, which is how music CDs are encoded, allows for a much wider dynamic range. 24 gives you an even larger range and 32 is the best modern computers can do at this point. So, the higher your bit depth, the more information or dynamic range you have to work with. Higher bit depths also result in larger files though, but unless you're working on an old computer with very little hard drive space to spare, you should always work with the highest bit depth possible, which is 32-bit float.
When you're done, you can always come back in here to convert the project to a lower bit depth if you want to decrease the file size, or for example, burn a CD, for which you'll have to drop your bit depth down to 16-bit, but it's best to work with the highest resolution file while editing. Now the reason it's labeled 32-bit float is because this isn't true 32-bit recording. 32-bit float is actually a 24-bit resolution recording with an additional 8-bits for headroom and dynamic range, and currently there aren't any 32-bit sound cards or input/output devices for computers. The highest quality devices are still 24-bit, and Audacity uses 32-bit float to get the optimum sound quality and dynamic range out of your 24-bit hardware.
Now again, this is kind of technical, but the bottom line is, use 32-bit float for your recordings to get the best dynamic range. You can always convert it down later, but you'll never be able to get more quality out of a recording that was recorded at a lower bit rate. So after all this, in actuality, the default settings in Audition are going to be the best settings in most cases, unless you're working on a project that specifically needs to be at a higher sample rate. I'll click OK. Now you can also set the Sample Rate of your current project from this menu down here in the lower left-hand corner. That will only affect the current project and any new project you create will still use the default settings and preferences.
Also, changing the sample rate here won't have any effect on tracks you've already recorded or have imported, but it will apply to the files you export from that point out. I'm going to leave that at 441 for now though. Okay, so really, creating a new project in Audacity is very easy, but I felt that it was important to know what's going on behind the scenes. Now before we wrap up this movie, I want to look at one more thing, and that's how Audacity saves projects. Now I can't choose File > Save right now, notice Save Project is grayed out, because I haven't recorded or imported anything yet, so I'm just going to click Record and record a few seconds just to create a track.
Okay, so now I can choose File > Save Project. Now I get this warning telling me that choosing Save Project creates a file that can only be read by Audacity, and that if I want to save my audio file as a file that can be read by other programs, to use the export Command. But when you're working in Audacity you really should save your work as a project, otherwise you can't save information like the number of tracks you're using, the position of the tracks in the mix, the volume levels, and pan information, and so on. I will choose not to see this warning again and click OK. Now I'm going to navigate out to my Desktop, and before I do this, I'm going to create a new folder to store my project in. Let's just call it My First Recording. And then I'll name the project itself, My First Project.
Notice the format is set to .aup, which is an Audacity project file format, that's the only one that's available here, and I'll click Save. Now there is a reason I created a folder to save this into. Let's hide Audacity for a moment and look in this folder that I just created on my Desktop. Notice there are two items in here, the first one, My First Project.aup, is the actual project file, and there is also folder called My First Project_data. The data file contains, among other things, the sound files that make up your project.
These two items here are intrinsically tied together, so it's very important to make sure you never move these items away from each other, they should always remain in the same directory. That's why I suggest storing your project in sort of a master folder like I have done here, so that the project file and its data folder are organized together. The only thing you ever want to do in here is to double-click the project file when you want to open the project. You don't want to move these files around, you don't want to go into data folder and move anything around in there. Don't rename any of these items either. If you want to rename your project, you want to open it up in Audacity, in this case it's telling me it's already open, and then choose File > Save Project As, to create new copy of the project with a new name.
Not following these rules can lead to some serious problems with your project, and really, the only rule is don't mess with anything in the project folder. Now one last thing related to the project file I should mention. In the previous chapter when I showed you how to import audio, we saw that you can choose whether to make a copy of that file into your project or to read and use the file directly from its current location, and again, we saw those preferences under import and export and I used the default setting to make a copy of uncompressed audio files before editing. But if you choose to read the file from its current location, you should never move or rename that file unless you first copy it into the Audacity project.
Okay, so this might seem like an awful lot of stuff to remember just to create and manage an Audacity project, but most of what I've covered here is behind the scenes stuff. At its most basic, creating a new project is just about choosing File > New. You can adjust the sample rate and bit depth if necessary and then just name and save your project. And just remember not to fiddle with any of the project files outside of Audacity.
- Creating a new project
- Adding tracks
- Recording two tracks simultaneously
- Making selections
- Splitting clips
- Automating volume
- Adding sound effects
- Using compression
- Inserting silence
- Exporting your project
Skill Level Beginner
Q: Why don't the instructions for downloading the LAME MP3 encoder work?
A: Use the new homepage for Audacity, http://audacityteam.org/, rather than the sourceforge address shown in the course.
Q: This course was updated on 08/14/2015. What changed?
A: The author updated the "Downloading and installing Audacity" videos for Mac and Windows, and added a new video on the LAME MP3 encoder.