If you’ve had about as much fun as you can stand with Google Earth for now, the other most fun thing you can use on a computer is an audio editor.
When I was too ignorant to have the faintest idea what I was getting into I decided to turn my ancient cassette collection into CD’s. Why not? So I downloaded a trial of Adobe Audition. There are words used in audio editing that most of us don’t even know exist in our chosen language. I don’t think there was a single word in any menu in the entire software that I recognized. If I remember right it came in two main parts; the editor and a 128-track recording studio.
As if that wasn’t enough, I then tried the Pro version of Sony Sound Forge. With this one it took me a week to find the record button. It was an interesting couple of months. And yes, I did get all the CD’s made.
That was quite awhile ago and I’ve actually forgotten everything I learned there. Kind of like cramming for an exam. As soon as it’s over your mind goes blank on that subject for the rest of your life.
Both of these programs used to be in the $500-600 range, and I was so enthralled I considered selling my furniture to own one or the other but I see they’re down to $300-350 now. They’re both available for trial and Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio is a more home-user-friendly version for $69.
Audition (used to be Cool Edit Pro) and Sound Forge have been around forever, and they’ve both got lots going for them in style and content.
Audacity is OpenSource and free and, depending on your requirements, may be enough. I don’t have a lot of experience with it yet, although I know some people love it. I think all the software talked about here is good so my suggestion would be to choose the one that has the best chance of getting to feel like an old slipper. I’ve thrown out otherwise functional products because I couldn’t live with their interface.
A computer microphone or headset is a small investment, $20 thereabouts. You can spice up your family history presentation by recording stories in your own voice, either in an audio program, or directly into something like Passage Express or Photo Story 3.
If you want to make recordings away from your computer, of course, you’ll need a recorder of sorts. Mini-cassette recorders are economical and with those you have the advantage of longer recording times as you can put in additional cassettes as you go along.
I have a small digital recorder that looks like this. It’s about 4″ x 2″ and runs on one AAA battery. The advantage here is that there are no cassettes to buy and carry around. The cute-factor is high, and I like to use it as an alarm clock when I’m traveling. When I can’t sleep I take it to bed with me. No point in wasting good thinking time. It has an hour of recording time before I have to transfer the contents or erase. Not good for really long conversations, that’s the down-side.
To take your recordings off your recorder onto your computer, you’ll need a simple patch cord that looks like this:
Plug one end into the earphone port on your recorder, and the other end into the microphone port on your computer. Then click the Record button in your audio program and the Play button on your recorder. When you’re finished recording you can then save it in any available format. That’s the bare bones. If you’re going to edit, working on a copy of a recording instead of the original is a good idea. That way you can go back later, as your skill-set improves, and make further adjustments if you want to.
Audio editors have a gazillion choices for fiddling around with sound. If you’re not that adventurous your best bet is to borrow a teenager to show you how. If all you’re wanting is to transcribe your recordings into written pieces you don’t need to learn any editing at all. As with everything, the original quality will have a say so if you want good recordings it helps to, at least, learn how to set your Levels before you begin. I’ve heard such good output from my simple recorder and Audacity, nothing else is required.
You can do some test recordings with your recorder set at different volumes, or change your input volume using the control below. (under the ellipse) Your recording should look more like what’s on the right of the screen (contained within bounds) rather than on the left where the sound waves are pushing out of bounds. On the left is what distortion looks like.
There’s a little gadget available at electronics stores for recording phone conversations. Not to be used for nefarious purposes, of course, but if your relatives live far away maybe they wouldn’t mind telling you stories by phone. One day I got a nice piece of family history from someone who is usually silent. I just started asking questions and let my recorder run.
If you get tired of other people’s history and want to make some of your own, hook yourself up and sing. You can put down multiple tracks and listen back to yourself sounding like a choir.
An editor I’ve spent more time with is Goldwave, made by a Canadian company. Audio editors can be scary if you’re seeing one for the first time. They look like the flight deck of a space ship. But there’s only one thing to do – just jump in and go for a ride. You only need to learn one thing at a time so don’t be put off by all the buttons leading to more complex options. These things are fun.