Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the awesome MFL Show and Tell event organised by José Picardo, Kerry Turner and other staff at Nottingham High School and had the great opportunity to pass on my experience of recording and editing Skype calls with Pretty May and Audacity. As you will see in the video clip captured by the lovely Leon Cych, I had a few slight technical issues to deal with during my presentation relatively speaking, but did receive some excellent feedback! As a result, I thought it would be a good idea to create a step by step guide to better convey the tips and tricks I was trying to get across which I hope you find clearer this way around.
Please do let me know if you would like me to clarify anything or reword certain points. That would be great and thanks again to José and Kerry for putting on such a wonderful event for language teachers to share good practice in an informal, relaxed and friendly way.
Recording Skype and editing in Audacity
Setting up your microphone
Using a standard microphone (Instructions for Windows XP)
Connect a standard microphone with a 3.5mm jack to the microphone socket on your computer/laptop. Right click the loudspeaker icon bottom right of the screen (in the system tray) and select Open Volume Control. This will launch the Master Volume. Click Options/Properties and put a tick next to the Microphone option (As each sound card is different it may say Mic Volume or something similar). Click OK. You should now see the Microphone option appear in the Master Volume window. Move the slider so it is quite near the top and make sure the Mute box is not ticked. You may want to click the Advanced button and tick the box next to Microphone Boost if that is an option. If you do click, Close when you are finished and close the Master Volume window by clicking the x top right.
In Skype, click Tools/Options/Audio Settings and in the dropdown menu next to Microphone select your computer's sound card e.g. Realtek HD audio input. Click Save
In Pretty May, click Tools/Options/Audio Settings and in the drop down menu under Input device select your sound card again. Click Save. Click on Call record in the Options menu and put a tick in the box next to Enable Call Record and Save in separate track.
Using a USB microphone
Connect your USB microphone to the USB port on your computer. In Skype, click Tools/Options/Audio Settings and in the dropdown menu next to Microphone select your USB microphone.g. AK5370 if you are using a Logitech USB microphone. Click Save.
In Pretty May, click Tools/Options/Audio Settings and in the drop down menu under Input device select your USB microphone again. Click Save. Click on Call record in the Options menu and put a tick in the box next to Enable Call Record and Save in separate track.
Making the call
Select a user from your address book in Skype and tell them before they pick up that they should not use video when accepting the call as this will demand much more of your internet connection and will reduce the audio quality as a result. Likewise, you should close any application you are running and not try downloading anything either.
When you are ready, double click their name and hit the Green Call button. When you want to finish the call, click the red button with a phone icon on it, Pretty May should launch automatically and the mp3 file should appear in the main Pretty May interface. You may need to click on the Call Record tab first to see it. If it doesn't appear, go to My Documents/Pretty May and double click on the Call Record Folder where you should find it. Launch Audacity and drag the file over into it or click Project/Import Audio, go to the same folder, select then file and click Open.
If it has appeared in the main Pretty May interface, right click the recording, select open message folder and drag the highlighted recorded mp3 file into Audacity. In either case, you will see that each speaker is recorded as a separate track.
Editing tracks in Audacity
To edit both tracks together to remove sections when no-one is speaking etc, click on the track where you want to start editing. This will make a vertical line appear with a hand pointing towards the left. Hold down the left-click and drag over the section you want to remove. You may want to use the Zoom In tool first to let you see the track close up. Hit the Backspace or Delete key on your keyboard.
To edit tracks individually, click on the black arrow at the beginning of the track and click Split Stereo Track. To replace ums and arrs or other erroneous sounds, highlight a given section of the track you are editing where the person isn't speaking and click the Copy icon. Highlight the equivalent section which contains the sound you want to remove and click the Paste icon. Make sure this is exactly the same section length by using the ruler tool above the track. If you get this wrong, it will put the tracks out of sync! Click on the black arrow at the beginning of the first track even if this is not the one you've just edited and click Make Stereo Track. Repeat the process of splitting and making the track stereo again to remove further unwanted sections.
When you've finished, click on the black arrow at the beginning of the track and click Split Stereo Track. Move the L-R slider slightly to the right (20%) on one track and slightly to the left on the other (20%). Click on the black arrow for each track and click Mono. Click the Edit menu, Select and All. Click the Project menu and click Quick Mix. This avoids having one person in one ear and one in the other!
In Skype to ensure the person answering the call is not significantly quieter than the person who makes the call, click Tools/Options/Audio Settings. Under Speakers Volume, click the box next to Automatically adjust speaker settings. Click Save.
If you want to use the Levelator, do the following once you've created your track in Pretty May.
Go to My Documents, click New and Folder. Double click this folder. Repeat the process and name the two folders a and then b. Drag the file into Audacity as above, click File, Export as Wav. Save the file in the folder you've just created. Open a new Audacity project by clicking File/New. Click Project/Import Audio and select the exported wav file. Click on the black arrow at the beginning of the track and click Split Stereo Track. Click the x top left of the second track to delete it. Click on the black arrow for the remaining track and click Mono. Click File, Export as Wav and save it in the folder a. In Audacity, click File/New and click Project/Import Audio and select the exported wav file again. Click on the black arrow at the beginning of the track and click Split Stereo Track. Click the x top left of the first track to delete it. Click on the black arrow for the remaining track and click Mono. Click File, Export as Wav and save it in the folder b.
Go to the folder a. Launch The Levelator and drop the file on to it. This will create another file finishing with the word output next to the original. Repeat the process with the second exported wav file in folder b.
In Audacity, click File/New and click Project/Import Audio. Select the first levelated wav file in folder a and click Open. Click Project/Import Audio. Select the second levelated wav file in folder b and click Open. Listen to both tracks playing together. If one is louder than the other, highlight it by clicking on any blank space on the left of the track for example above the Solo button. Click the Effects menu and Amplify. Slide the slider to the left or right depending on whether you want the track to be louder or quieter. Click OK and press the Play button. Listen again and if you feel the track needs to be made louder or quieter, click the Undo icon and repeat the process until the volumes of both tracks are nicely balanced.
You may find that once you've levelated each track individually that that you can hear the breathing of the person who is not speaking pronouncedly. To remove this, split the tracks as described above. Highlight a section when the person who is not making breathing sounds or any other eroneous sound and click the Copy icon. Next, highlight the section which does contain the unwanted sound and click the Paste icon. Alternatively you can highlight the unwanted sound and click the Generate menu and click Silence. Click the Generate Silence button. This will replace the section with complete silence. Don't use this method for both tracks over the same section though, otherwise it will sound as if the conversation has suddenly gone completely silent. As long as you have the natural background noise for one of the tracks it will sound fine.
Mixing both tracks together
Once you finished editing and amplifying you tracks. Move the L-R slider slightly to the right (20%) on one track and slightly to the left on the other (20%). Click on the black arrow for each track and click Mono. Click the Edit menu, Select and All. Click the Project menu and click Quick Mix. This technique avoids having one person in one ear and one in the other!
An alternative to using dedicated software for recording Skype calls, is using Audacity instead. To do this, both speakers do the following to ensure they have the same settings. Launch the program and click on the Edit menu, then Preferences. Click on the I/O tab which will open by default. Click on the dropdown menu next to Channels and select Mono. Click OK. Click the Quality tab and make sure the Default Sample Rate is 44100 Hz. Click the File Formats tab and check the Bit Rate is 128.
Both speakers then hit the record button and one calls the other on Skype. They then both create a marker in their separate recordings which will allow one of them to match them up seamlessly in the editing process. They could for example slowly count down from 5 to 1 so that they end up speaking simultantaneously. In this way they know that when they finish counting they will be at exactly the same point.
They can then have their conversation on Skype while their end is being recorded in Audacity. When they finish, they hang up and hit the stop button in Audacity. One of them exports their track as an mp3 file. This person then clicks on the Conversation menu in Skype and selects Send/File. He or she then finds the mp3 file and sends it to the other person who has to agree to accept it. Having received the mp3 file, he or she imports it into Audacity and edits it as described above.
Please note you should always wear headphones when speaking on Skype to avoid a feedback loop and when editing to help you concentrate.
Remember you will need the Lame encoder to export your finished track as an mp3 file.
Hope that helps.