Once again I find myself miffed with Audacity label tracks
When doing spoken word news and interview pieces, it’s very much BIA to divvy the master recording up into chunks and start dragging them around, shuffling the order, etc. to produce a narrative flow or fit a standard outline. Like playing with your index cards while writing an article.
So right now I’m reducing a big mess of extempore interview to some meaty nuggets, grabbing clips out of the working stereo mix and putting them into a new stereo track, with some space in between so I can see them as separate entities. Each clip contains a topic that my interviewee talked about. So I label those clips (cmd-B on Mac), so I know this one is “The opioid crisis” and that one is “muffin recipes”. Then later after I’ve edited each clip, maybe added some voiceover in between, whatever, I’ll drag them closer together and stitch them into one coherent track.
Now comes the catch-22. Say I would like to move one clip independently of the others. But if I do that – move the clip in the audio track – its label doesn’t move with it. If I select both tracks (label and audio) then I can no longer drag that one clip independently – both whole tracks scrub when I try to move one clip. So I would have to … drag the clip in its track, then drag the label in its track, separately, to the new location. Somehow… it’s just not what I intuitively expect. I trip over this every time.
Digging back in history I see that I am not quite alone: other people have whimpered on and off about this inability to attach a label to a clip rather than to a time point. So I’m just one more voice in that fairly feeble chorus. I do realise we are a minority here But ideally, I’d like the option of a label that belongs to the clip – not to the timeline. So that no matter where that clip ends up or how it gets shortened or stretched or whatever, its label goes with it. If it gets split, the label gets cloned with a terminal -1 and -2. So labels not as a separate track, but as an attribute of the clip that would go with it no matter what track it was pasted into.
Obviously if the clip gets merged then there’s some label management to do… maybe the label gets really long, as each merged labelled clip appends more text? or maybe if you merge clips, you lose the label and have to assign a new one. I could live with that
This would be particularly wonderful when editing something that needs a lot of SFX. To be able to label your SFX microclips and stuff 'em all into a “toolbox” track, to be grabbed and pasted into the finished product as needed (“phone rings,” “foley wood floor,” “doorbell” and so on)… perfect.
Of course I have not read the source code and have no idea how “a clip” is represented internally, but in most ways they behave like objects – they can be moved, copied, cut, pasted, edited etc very much as if they were objects with attributes one of which is a chunk of wav. So would a label attribute be a lot to ask? I guess it must be, since it’s never been implemented Maybe the very definition of “clip” is T1 to T2 on track N, and there’s nothing else to attach to (no internal Clip Unique ID Number or whatever).
After a quick survey of answers to other people’s historical whining about labels, I did find out that cut/paste can be used rather than dragging, which I admit solves my problem in the near term But it’s a fair amount of pointy-clicky for what (to me) seems like a very basic action that I do a whole lot. First you have to select on both tracks (label and audio), then copy or cut, then click in one track for insertion point, then re-select the other track, then you can paste and bingo, clip and label are still together. If I don’t do the re-select then I get a popup saying I can’t paste one kind of track into another… and it’s a rather weird way to do a short-distance drag. I mean, it can be done but (for me anyway) it’s not intuitive and a kind of hiccup in the workflow.
I realise this sounds like picayune kvetching and to some extent it is But looked at another way, it’s a tribute to the overall intuitiveness and ease of use of the Audacity UI. It feels so effortless to do most things, and so obvious how to proceed, that even relatively naive users can successfully edit their podcast or whatever, without a huge learning curve. That’s a stellar achievement. And it sets a bar so high that when I do run into something that seems a bit arcane or clunky or non-intuitive, it’s a real shock … and I whine about it