By Austin Weimer
Now is the time for the casual, novice musician to experiment with audio editing. Anyone involved with digital music in 2015 has powerful editing tools at their fingertips. Free audio editing software such as Audacity, Lexis Audio Editor, Wavosaur, and Ocenaudio provide basic yet powerful tools for music enthusiasts to have fun with audio.
These programs are not equipped with DJ tools, but their creative and practical functions are a start to understanding audio manipulation. In these interfaces, audio files can be dragged and placed, usually in .mp3 or .wav format. The program then creates a visual representation of the file as a waveform. Peaks in volume correspond with high points in the visual representation. Each point where there is a measurable peak in volume—called a transient—usually occurs where the beat of any traditional song lands. As the song plays, a ruler directly above the track can be set to display time in seconds or measures of music. A line perpendicular to the ruler called a playhead scrolls along the track to show where a frame of music is played in real-time.
By knowing the basics of how to set the playhead to a desired spot in an audio track, editing becomes easy. If there is a distinctive beat in the song and the desire is to repeat it, position the playhead where the section begins. From there, select across to the end of the desired cycle, landing on an even beat. A simple way to test if you have a successful and smooth loop is to use the looping tool, most commonly found in the program’s drop-down menu at the top of the screen under the edit or transport menu. If the cycle sounds smooth and continuous with the original beat, the loop is in time.
Editing functions in most free programs allow the user similar creative options. The option to split the region at the playhead is the next step after creating a loop. After the track is split at the beginning and end of the loop, it can be moved around in the timeline by dragging and dropping it to a new position. This will work if the song stays consistent with the beat and time of the section being manipulated.
Effects included in these programs directly change the nature of the waveform. A graphic equalizer represents the entire spectrum of sound—low to high—in the measurement of Hertz (represented as Hz). The factory default will appear with a horizontal line. By clicking on the line, the user creates an edit point, allowing them to drag it around the spectrum. If it is placed above the neutral line on any given frequency value, the frequency will be played back louder in volume. Comprehensive lists of instrument frequency ranges can be found online as guidelines for targeting the type of sound the listener wants to raise or lower in a track.
Filters represent entire ranges of frequency by letting them pass through a set value. A high pass filter only lets high frequency sound play back. Sliding the threshold value across the graph toward lower frequencies creates a greater range of sound passing through the filter. Adjusting this value to lower ranges is a good way to learn the qualities of each frequency. As the filter’s threshold expands, there will be a noticeable quality to the sound, as if it is passing through a plastic tube.
Listeners can become creative arrangers and even producers by learning these techniques and building on them. Possibilities expand when these basic editing functions are performed across multiple tracks within the same project. Adjusting the volumes of each track can create a mix of sounds not otherwise found together, which is the entire point of creating music. Technology is inclusive to anyone with the slightest interest and passion in music—delivering the ability to create.