Here’s how to make wavs using your computer!
Patrick Smith’s job is to record his church’s worship services and distribute tapes of the messages to members of his congregation and the people in his community. That might sound pretty ordinary, except that Smith’s church is located at Half Way Tree, Kingston, Jamaica. And that’s not the only thing that makes Smith unique. He captures the audio on a Dell computer and has put more than eight months worth of 45 minute Sunday sermons on just three CDs.
Although Smith has led the entrepreneurial spirit as one of 14 volunteers working in the audio-visual ministry of his 2,200 member congregation, he grabbed a front row seat at my session, “The Bleeding Edge of Digital Audio” at Inspiration 2002 in Atlanta.
“We are not privileged to have seminars of this nature in Jamaica. Although we have good sound and utilize the available technology, the cost of doing it is very high,” he said. “There were many new things which I learned and some things which I was aware of, but my horizons were expanded,” he said.
And while the digital audio horizons are nothing to compare with those of beautiful Jamaica, they are exciting and MP3s are major part. “Each service is recorded on cassette and digitally on a Dell computer using Cool Edit Pro. Cassettes are duplicated and made available immediately after each service,” Smith says. “Given our limited space, we decided to use compressed files to free up space.” For example, a four-minute CD audio track that takes up 40 megabytes of space can be compressed to a file size that’s about four megabytes. And while some audio software will allow you to capture sound to your computer as a native MP3 file, most often the files begin as a .wav (Windows) or .aif (Mac) audio file.
If your computer has a sound card and you have a little patience, you have basically all you need to use your computer as you would use a tape recorder. Why would you want to do that? Your computer is able to capture and play back sound digitally, with near CD quality. Furthermore, instead of using just your ears to edit sound, you’ll be able to use your eyes, too. Sound waves are captured on your hard drive as audio, but with digital recording, they also become visual representations of what has been recorded. Editing literally becomes a visual “cut and paste” operation that is as easy as using a word processor.
Equipment and software
Do I have what it takes to create a .wav? You’ll need a computer with a sound card. You need all the processor power you can muster and you will need a hefty amount of hard drive space. Stereo audio requires about 10MB of space for every minute of sound. If you’re going to record audio to fill a CD, you’ll need 650 MB of space on your hard drive. You’ll need audio recording software. Cakewalk’s Sonar (Windows) or Emagic’s Logic Audio (Mac) are examples of audio recording software. Be sure to check the minimum requirements before you purchase any software. Of course, you’ll either need a microphone or some other source such as a tape recorder or audio mixer. You’ll also need a decent set of speakers or headphones to monitor your work.
Before you start waving
You’ll want to de-fragment your hard drive before you record on it. If you don’t de-frag first, you’re going to hear “sputter and spatter” on playback. Your computer needs plenty of “clean”, continuous room on which to write. Ideally, you would have a hard drive or partition devoted just to audio or video recording. Secondly, you’ll want to decide just how good you want your audio quality. When audio is captured digitally, we refer to the process as “sampling.” Physicists would love to tell you more, but suffice it to say that the more of something you sample, the more like the original the sample will be. Typically, audio recording software will give you the choice of 22 kHz, 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz sampling rates. The 44.1 kHz rate is CD quality.
Finally, your audio recording software typically lets you choose the input source (driver) which you may have done on set up, but if the software didn’t prompt you, you might want to see if the input is set to something like “AWE60 AUDIO IN”. With your inputs set, you’re ready to record.
Testing 1, 2, 3
The center of audio recording is the multi-track recorder. With tape recorders, a strip of tape is devoted to each track. With digital recorders, each track has its own data stream. Using multi-track computer software, you can record a piano melody on track one, then go back and add nice orchestral strings on track two. On track three, you can add the light brush strokes of a drum. Typically, most recording software has far more track capacity than you could ever use or have hard drive space to accommodate. After all, a four minute song with eight tracks requires a whopping 160MB of hard disk space. You can keep each track separate in a working file or once you get everything like you want it, you can “bounce” those tracks down onto two tracks – a stereo left and right. If you want a rendition that mutes the piano, so you can play the piano part live and have recorded orchestration, a saved working file will be invaluable. Once the tracks are “bounced”, that is, combined, single tracks can’t be separated.
You will have to adjust the input volume into your soundcard to make sure it is not distorted or so soft that it’s barely audible. The source should be recorded into the software at a nice medium volume level. Once the source – say a piano – is recorded, the software will allow you to adjust the track’s volume. Also, the software will allow you to mute the track or tracks of your choice. Another nice option, you can “solo” a track, meaning that you can listen to just one track at a time. The software will let you pan, that is to put some instruments toward the left of the stereo spectrum and others to the right. It’s also possible to adjust the equalization just like you adjust the treble and bass on your car stereo. Using effects plug-ins, you can impose onto a sound wave, effects that make a voice track sound like it was recorded on a telephone, in a concert hall, a dungeon or football stadium. Some software will even allow you to change pitch or add a “chorus” effect to a single voice and you can “undo” the effects without affecting your original.
Non-destructive cut and paste
Should I play a verse of “Amazing Grace” the best I’ve ever played it, there’s no need to play it again for the subsequent verses. I can simply highlight the wave form on screen using my mouse, choose “copy”, go to the end of verse one and select “paste” and presto, I have a second verse that is as perfect as the first.
If I’m recording a commercial or a new introduction to the radio broadcast, I can take out the breaths I take between sentences simply by highlighting the flat lines of the waveform (on screen) and pressing the “delete” button on the computer. Once you have a digital audio file on your computer, you can compress it, a process that’s as easy as choosing “Save As MP3” under the pull-down file menu. Using some software, it’s an easy “drag and drop” function.
Rip Snortin’ Audio
One of the things that an MP3 allows computer users to do is to digitally strip music from CDs, compress the data to a tenth of its size, and make the digital files available free for downloading via the World Wide Web. Computer users can also listen to their music or messages on their computer or use a MP3 portable recorder/player which captures the data onto to what equates to an portable hard drive. The Wall Street Journal says the “gold standard” of MP3 players is Apple’s iPod which now comes in 5, 10, and 20 megabyte models. My 10 megabyte iPod can hold more than 2,000 songs and at 6.5 ounces is about the size of a deck of cards. See www.apple.com.
As an instrumentalist, I have my orchestration tracks that I’ve arranged and created loaded onto the iPod, which I use for live performances. I use it like some use a mini disc or CD player. With a kit from Dr. Bott (see www.drbott.com) I can use a transmitter, about the size a double pack of gum, to transmit the audio to my car stereo. A Dr. Bott device that gets the audio to car system via the tape deck works equally as well.
It is simply staggering to know that I can simply click on any of the 600+ songs that are on my computer for instant access, or walk out the door with my entire music library in my shirt pocket. And there’s no audible difference in the quality of my MP3s and the original CD audio file. Further, when you play an audio CD on your computer, iTunes will automatically access a web site to grab the inserted disc’s titles and track names. It will turn music from CD in your computer into an MP3 as you’re listening, at speeds up to five times real time. By the time you’ve listened to a few tracks, your entire CD can be sitting as an MP3 on your hard drive. Transfer via Firewire from iTunes to my iPod is lightning fast – one CD’s worth of music every 10 seconds! Apple’s iPod is now fully functional for Windows users through an arrangement with Music Match Jukebox. I believe the iPod is the most amazing little piece of audio equipment I’ve ever owned.
MP3s and the Law
MP3, which is a Motion Picture Experts Group compression format, is neither good nor evil. MP3 is like your car. You can use it to do bad or good. Violating the law – in this case, copyright law – can be costly. And as the “Bleeding Edge of Digital Audio” session reported, MP3s and the ability to create a copy as good as the original has turned the music industry upside down, and in so doing has poured big money out of the pockets of record labels and recording artists. Some labels have already started encrypting CDs so that they can’t be “ripped” and converted to MP3s. Web sites, like Napster, have been shut down. Nobody has a good long-term solution for buying and selling digital music so creators and users get a fair shake. It is a ‘bloody’ mess.
Now that you know the MP3 scoop, what does all this mean for Christian communicators and musicians? We must abide by the law. We shouldn’t make unauthorized recordings of copyrighted work or listen to them. Of course, copyright permission can be obtained and is often affordable. Begin your research on digital audio recording and MP3 now. If you’d like to learn more, see my web site: www.terrywilhite.com. There you will find links to the basics and I’ve produced a video tape showing you how easy it is to set up a digital audio and MIDI studio. And while MP3s can be easily sent via the Net, in Patrick Smith’s case, I think I “need” to hand deliver a few of my original MPs tunes to him and expand my horizons in beautiful Jamaica!