Turn your PC into  recording studio with free software. We demonstrate how to use Audacity to record and edit music on your PC.

The ability to create music on a PC has opened up a world of possibilities beyond the confines of the recording studio. With suitable equipment, a PC can take care of every stage of production.

In the following workshop, we’ll outline what you need to start creating music on a PC and help you determine whether your machine is sufficiently powerful. We’ll also show you the basics using the free Audacity.

Creating a tune on your PC is a resource-intensive task, but isn’t as demanding as video-editing. We wouldn’t use a machine with less than a 1.6GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM, but a dual-core processor will suffice. You don’t need the exceptional might of an Intel Core i7 processor.

You shouldn’t need to buy additional storage, either. Most computers now come with large enough hard drives to store your recordings. Social networks, personal websites and music-sharing sites are also useful for storing and sharing audio.

If you’d prefer to create hard copies and distribute your music on disc, use your disc-burning software’s CD-R or Audio Disc output option. You should also find the necessary tools for creating cover art here.

A decent set of speakers will allow your music to live up to its full potential. A 5.1-channel set (five speakers and a subwoofer) such as Creative’s Inspire T6160s will do the job. If your budget doesn’t stretch this far, aim for at least a 2.1 set.

Picking up acoustic nuances and retaining audio fidelity can be difficult. Get around this by experimenting with the positioning of instruments during recording (every setup will produce a slightly different timbre) and by using a unidirectional microphone with a flat frequency response. Shure’s SM58 is still the industry standard for vocals, and no other technology can match the rich and beautiful tones of a natural-sounding acoustic or classical guitar.

You’ll also need a pair of headphones for use during recording or the microphone will distort quality as it picks up audio though the speakers.

Make music with Audacity

Step 1. Download and install Audacity. Select the audio source you want to record or import an audio loop. Note that Audacity can’t play or edit Midi files. If you want to use this soundless data that triggers synthesiser sounds, download a Midi-to-audio converter.

Audacity step 1

Step 2. If you’re creating a new piece of music, a click track will help you keep time. The tempo of the metronome can be adjusted to suit your needs. A click track is a vital addition for recording analogue drums because it keeps drummers at the same pace, thus keeping the entire track in time.

Audacity step 2

Also see:
Digital Home Advisor
Audio and music software reviews

Turn your PC into  recording studio with free software. We demonstrate how to use Audacity to record and edit music on your PC.

Step 3. Highlight the track you want to control. You can stop, rewind, forward, play, pause and record using the Control Toolbar. Holding down Shift changes the play button to a loop option. Now you can replay a selected track on a loop so you can start deciding how you want to edit the section of track.

Audacity step 3

Step 4. The editing bar at the side of the Control Toolbar gives you a selection of editing options for cutting, copying and pasting audio. Right-click and drag the mouse across the section of track you want to work with. Using the editing bar you can now modify individual samples and time-shift tracks to the left or right.

Audacity step 4

Step 5. Copy and paste come in useful if, for example, you want to add a drum sample or you don’t want to play drums for the entire track. Select a section of the drum track, then hit Ctrl, C to copy it and Ctrl, V to paste it to the main track. Most music-production programs work with repeated loops, making editing much easier.

Audacity step 5

Step 6. Whether you’re recording vocals or instruments, each should be recorded at optimal volume. If the source recording is poor, there’s little you can do about it later. Too loud and the track will be distorted; too quiet and it won’t be heard. Monitor the sound levels as you record the audio.

Audacity step 6

Also see:
Digital Home Advisor
Audio and music software reviews

Turn your PC into  recording studio with free software. We demonstrate how to use Audacity to record and edit music on your PC.


Step 7. Use Audacity’s Envelope Tool to gradually change the volume of a tune – handy for intros and outros. The Envelope Tool can be applied anywhere on the track. Select a small section of track, click the Envelope Tool in the edit bar and right-click and hold the mouse. Move up to increase volume and down to decrease.

Audacity step 7

Step 8. It’s important to ensure you select exactly the right amount of track to work with. We chose part of the track where we liked the bass and highlighted a four-second loop. We then opened the edit menu to select Trim – alternatively, hit Ctrl, T. This removed the rest of the track, leaving only our four-second bass loop.

Audacity step 8

Step 9. The Snap-To tool literally ‘snaps’ your tracks to the nearest beat to make sure every instrument is playing in time. This is essential for digital or electronic music but can make analogue music sound too cold and robotic. Here, we’ve snapped the drums to the nearest beat. You can amend the timings to mix things up.

Audacity step 9

Step 10. Embedding metadata (descriptive data) in each track is important – particularly if you want to distribute your tunes online. Click the Project Tab and choose the ID3 edit tag function. A small window will pop up where you can insert or change the title, artist, album, year and genre.

Audacity step 10

Also see:
Digital Home Advisor
Audio and music software reviews

Turn your PC into  recording studio with free software. We demonstrate how to use Audacity to record and edit music on your PC.

Step 11. Audacity supports unlimited undo and redo. You’d be surprised by how useful this is. The function sits at the top right of the interface and takes the form of forward and back arrows. If you’re experimenting and don’t like your changes, use undo to return to a point from which you’re happy to progress.

Audacity step 11

Step 12. If you’ve downloaded several audio samples, there’s a good chance they’ll be in different keys. Audacity lets you transpose each sample, while keeping them at the same tempo. There’s also an EQ (equaliser), a delay function and a wah-wah effect that’s fun to experiment with. Some effects can be previewed.

Audacity step 12

Step 13. When you’ve finished adding and editing individual tracks, you’re ready to mix them into a single one. Other programs have more extensive mixing options, but Audacity has just one. Click the Project tab and choose Quick Mix to combine your individual tracks into a single track.

Audacity step 13

Step 14. You’re now ready to save and export your track. Audacity uses a proprietary .aup audio format, but we recommend using the Export function instead. Choose File, Export As MP3. All that’s left is to unleash your musical genius on to an unsuspecting world, whether that’s over the web or on audio CD.

Audacity step 14

Also see:
Digital Home Advisor
Audio and music software reviews