The Secret Keys-Using the “Delete” and “Silence” with Audacity for Voice Over Recording

Today’s voice over talent is required to have their own home studio.  And along with the equipment required, you need recording software to actually record sounds to your computer as digital files.  One software program I recommend that works just fine for voice over recording is Audacity.  In a job where you’re rarely doing more than recording one track of audio it is more than adequate for auditions and jobs.

Along with the basic skills of recording, playing back and exporting your audio, you find very quickly that you need some basic editing skills to clean up your performances and finalize your tracks before export.  Here are two editing commands that can speed up your production and improve your final product.

There are two editing commands in Audacity that you’ll find very useful.  They are “Delete” and “Silence”.  You’ll find them under the “Edit” heading in the top toolbar.  Here’s how you use them and some useful applications.

You use these commands by first highlighting the section of your recording that you want to edit.  You highlight a section by placing the cursor at the beginning of the required section and “clicking and dragging” to the end of the desired selection. (Click and hold down the click button while you drag the cursor along the soundwave to the end.)

If you’ve done word processing you should be familiar with selecting text this way.  By the way you can unselect by clicking anywhere on the waveform.  To make sure that you’ve selected only the sound you want, you can press the play button or the spacebar.  Audacity will play only the highlighted sound.

Now you’re ready to select an edit.  Let’s look at what each command does.  “Delete” does what it says–it eliminates the section of audio you have just highlighted and pulls the recording together at that point.  Just as in word processing if you Delete a highlighted sentence it disappears and the text below is pulled up.

“Silence” works differently.  When you select Silence, the audio that is highlighted is replaced by digital silence but the space where the audio had been remains the same.
In the old world of tape, Delete would be similar to cutting out the section of tape you don’t want and pulling the two ends together and splicing them.  Silence would be equivalent to erasing that section of tape but leaving the blank erased tape in place.

So to perform and edit you highlight the sound you want to edit, hit the space bar to hear that your selection is, in fact, what you intended, and the select Delete or Silence from the Edit menu.  Very quickly you’ll realize that this goes much faster if you learn the keyboard shortcuts for these commands.  They are Ctrl-K (Command-K on Macs) for Delete and Ctrl-L (Command-L on Macs).  (I use Kill and siLence as mnemonics.)

So what are the real-world applications for these commands?

First we’ll look at Delete.  Imagine you’re recording a short script and you stumble on a sentence.  You wait a couple seconds and repeat (“pick up”) the sentence perfectly and continue to the end of the read.  You play it back an hear the bad sentence followed by the good sentence.

Here’s how to fix it.  Highlight the bad sentence from its exact beginning to the exact beginning of the good sentence.  Hit the space bar to hear that your selection is accurate.  Now select Edit >> Delete from the toolbar or push Ctrl-K (Command-K on Macs) and the bad sentence will vanish as the good sentence is pulled up to replace it.

OK, let’s look at Silence.  This is useful for eliminating breaths.  If you look carefully at the waveform of your performance you’ll see small ovals of sound after phrases or sentences.  If you highlight one of these ovals and play it you’ll hear that it’s most likely a breath.  There’s always a tiny space around the breath oval because you breath out to talk and you breath in to take a breath.  Then you breath out to continue talking.

So locate a breath on the waveform–look for the oval at the end of a sentence–and highlight the breath.  Once again always hit the spacebar to assure you’ve selected what you intended to select.  Now select Edit >> Silence from the toolbar or push Ctrl-L (Command-L on Macs) and the breath will be replaced with silence but the spacing will remain.  (Note that if you used Delete, the two sentence would be pulled together which would sound very unnatural.)

These techniques are useful for cleaning up auditions and for supplying “finished tracks” if your client requires that in a job.  Learning to do these edits takes some practice but it’s like knitting: if you practice, it will become so natural you can do it without thinking.  Give it a try and soon you’ll be Deleting and Silencing like Joe Pesci in Good Fellas!

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