Using Audacity for Interviews

In this post, I write a little about how using Audacity for interviews can help with increasing the clarity of the audio content. Understanding that the most important part to having a “good” final recording is to first get a good recording in the first place, hence, building on the previous post that discusses the best practices for recording interviews in the “field.” What qualifies as good enough is very much dependent on the purpose of the final recording; recordings for archiving and recordings for your own use often have very different expectations.

This blogpost was originally posted at GCDI digitalfellows blog.

I recently ran a workshop on using Audacity for interviews which builds on my previous blog post, Getting the Best Recording (within your budget!) for your Interview. I began with a general overview of digital audio recording before discussing some strategies for “cleaning” interview audio. The workshop was structured to provide a general idea of the process from recording an interview to publishing and/or archiving interviews.

Elaborating on the selection of microphones and recording devices, I think it is also important to note the different microphone polar patterns that can serve different purposes as you record your interview. For example, cardioid microphones pick up sound in one-direction (where you are pointing your microphone) and omni-directional microphones pick up sound in multiple directions. Cardioid microphones (and its derivatives) can be helpful if we are recording an interview in an outdoor setting (e.g. a boom microphone in TV/movie sets have a supercardioid polar pattern) and omni-directional microphones can be helpful if we only have one microphone and recording a focus group interview with multiple speakers. Hence, thinking about how, where and whom we are recording becomes another important factor about the types of microphones we might want to use for our projects.

This is important to editing and “cleaning” your audio recording in Audacity. Audacity is a free and open-source audio editing and recording software that is available across different operating systems (Windows, Mac, GNU/Linux) which makes it ideal in sharing projects amongst different group members. For example, GarageBand which is freely available on MacOS is not similarly available on other platforms making it potentially challenging to share in-progress projects. Regardless, digital audio editing first requires a “good enough” audio file to be recorded, as it is challenging to replace information that is lost (e.g. through clipping or distortion) post recording.

For editing, I typically employ these three strategies to enhance the listenability of my interviews. First, I record 30 seconds of white/background noise before or after my formal interview (refer to the best practices section for more information). I use this recording as the baseline of my audio’s noise floor to utilize Audacity’s Noise Reduction effect. This helps to alleviate some of the continuous hum in our interview recording that our human ears filter out but our recording devices don’t know how. Next, I either Amplify or Normalize my audio to ensure that the interview is at a decent volume and balanced between the interviewer and narrator’s audio track. This also makes it easier for folx who are listening to the interview as they would not need to adjust the volume in different moments of the track. Finally, I also like to add a fade-in and fade-out effect to these tracks as it provides us with an audio cue that the clip is beginning and ending. If you don’t have a jingle like a podcast might that signals something is starting or ending, these effects also help with creating a sense of completion for the interview recording rather than an abrupt cutting off at the end.

I hope that these tips are helpful to folx who are starting on their own interview projects and if you would like to view the slides to the workshop, you can access them here.