I love tool belts. My Dad would always wear one when he was working around the house and as a little guy I’d stare at the worn wooden handles of each tool thinking about all the cool things I could make or repair with them.
As web designers we also have tool belts, but ours aren’t filled with measuring tapes, hammers and pliers. We fill ours with skills that help us do what we do everyday. It could be our knowledge of Sketch, Photoshop, HTML, CSS, copywriting, or conducting great user interviews. As we gain experience, we collect those skills like those worn wooden tools and fit them neatly into our belts so we can tackle anything that comes our way.
Because of my background in music, one of the skills that I’ve collected over the years is audio editing and, recently, I had the pleasure of showing the Filament team how to slice and dice some audio, or “hot tracks” as they’re now affectionately called at the studio. Whether you’re doing a screencast for a client or want to make your own custom blips and boops for your app, basic audio editing is a great skill to have in your belt. Here are some basics that will get you on your way.
We’re going to use GarageBand for this, since it’s one of the easiest programs to pick up and because most of us have it on our computers already (I’d recommend checking out Reaper, Ableton Live, or Audacity (which is free) if you’re on a Windows machine.). I’m using a Macbook Air, but any Mac with a built-in mic will work.
Lay of the Land
Garageband has a few key areas of the UI that are important to know about before tackling your first edit, so here’s a handy diagram outlining each panel and what it does.
Getting Stuff In
To start editing the hot tracks, well, we need some hot tracks. There are three main ways to get audio onto your main working area in Garageband – recording it yourself, importing an existing track or using the awesome built-in loops. For this example, we’ll focus on recording.
Like any good audio software, there are literally thousands of options to have fun with when it comes to recording audio, but the simplest way is to use your computers built in microphone and your built in noisemaker – your voice.
- Start by creating a new empty project in Garageband.
- In the dialogue that pops up when your project loads, choose the microphone, bathed in rockstar light that says “Record using a microphone or line input”. It tells you that your instrument is connected with your built in input (computer mic) and that you can hear sounds with your built in output (computer speakers). Good stuff so far.
- When your project loads, you’ll have one track on your stage named Audio 1 (rename it by double-clicking). Before recording, I like to turn off the two purple buttons on the menubar for count-in and metronome. They’re handy if you’re nailing a guitar take, but not necessary for quick voice recording.
- Now you’re ready to record! To start recording, simply hit the button with the red circle icon (or press “R” on your keyboard) and start talking.
- When you’re done, hit the stop button (or spacebar on your keyboard) and you’ll see a shiny new audio track. To play it back, hit Enter on your keyboard and then click the play button on the menu bar (or spacebar on your keyboard).
Slicing and Dicing
Now that you have a brand new audio track you can begin to do some basic editing. Typically, when editing audio for things like screencasts, you’ll need to do a few basic edits like trimming, fading or splitting. Here’s how do all of those things.
Double-click on your new track to bring up the editor. To trim the length of your track, simply hover over the bottom right edge of the track in the editor so that you see the drag icon and then drag left to shorten your track. Same goes for the bottom left edge if you wanted to trim the beginning rather than the end.
Sometimes you need to remove a word, hiss, crackle or pop and a handy way to do that is to split the track and remove it. To split a track, simply move your scrubber (this thing) to the beginning of the section you’d like to remove and then hit command+T to split the track. Do the same at the end of the offending sound and you’ll end up with three separate pieces. Now all you need to do is select your offender and delete it. Once it’s gone, just drag the other two pieces together.
To fade a track in or out, there’s a little button on the top of the main window that when pressed, gives you options for volume on each track. It also gives you a faint grey horizontal line on your track.
To fade the audio out, click the grey line so it becomes yellow and then click along the path to add various volume handles. For a fade-out, you’ll need one just before the end of the track and another right at the end. Once those are created, all you need to do is drag the last one down to the bottom of your audio track and boom – smooth fade complete.
Sharing with the world
Now that you’ve sliced and diced your own hot track, it’s time to share it with the world. Garageband integrates directly with iTunes and awesome services like SoundCloud, but you can simply save your track to your local drive by choosing “Export Song to Disk”. Once clicked, choose your quality settings (a 192Kbps mp3 is totally fine) and bingo bango – you now have your very own, edited audio track.
Collect Those Tools
Congratulations! Your tool belt just got a little heavier. Being a designer doesn’t mean making pretty things, but rather, it’s using every resource possible to solve problems and communicate clearly. If touching up a bit of audio can improve an experience for a user or a client, then I’d say it’s a tool worth having.
If you have any questions about anything in this post, just ask in the comments and I’d be happy to help out.