Basic Audio Editing

When it comes to editing audio, the most important part for newcomers like me, is to know how each sound is supposed to work with each other. For example, if you are editing a scene where a person is speaking, and an ambulance drives by, it is important to know how the dialogue sounds should interact with the ambulance.

On a very beginner level, and using basic programs such as Audacity, the main things to look out for in this situation would be the volume and the direction.

If you had a simple synthesized ambulance sound, to create the audio space of an oncoming ambulance, you’d have to edit the sound to become louder and louder. You also need to make sure that the sound is coming from one direction to begin with, and slowly moving towards the center as it becomes louder.

On a more advanced level, there is obviously a lot more to creating the sounds of an ambulance driving by a speaker, because you would also need to edit in ground sounds, or sounds that speak to the context (such as other voices speaking, the rushing of cars on a road) as well as field sounds, or sounds that are in the atmosphere (such as wind, or light rain, etc).

(Ground and Field Sounds are mentioned in Leeuwen’s 1999 Speech, Music and Sound, and is a great way to think about the context and meaning of each sound depending on if it’s Ground, Field, or Figure (being the sound that is being actively listened to).)

Audacity is a fantastic beginner’s editing tool for audio editing; because sound editing can be a lot trickier and more nuanced than visual and graphic editing, having a simple workspace like Audacity means you can easily understand how to cut, copy, and mix in levels of sound. As a beginner in sound editing, I used Audacity for a podcast assignment in my undergrad classes. It was extremely simple to upload the audio materials that I’d collected and recorded, and the menus work according to many familiar programs such as Photoshop or MS Word, so buttons to export or to save are where you expect them. It would probably be simpler for beginners to use Audacity as their first tool to edit sounds, before uploading the edited sounds onto video editors such as Adobe Premier, in order to lessen the jumble of materials on the ‘cutting board’.