Fundamentals of audio recording, mixing, etc

This post relates to both Audacity and audio recording fundamentals. Will try to be as succinct as possible.

Have spent last 2 years using Audacity to record music. Have a tech background but not audio recording so I’ve been able to muddle through. Results are mostly “good enough”, but…

My goal is to understand the fundamentals better so I can be more effective and efficient. Here are my obstacles. Recommendations are appreciated.

  1. Start with an easy one…When I try to find the manual entry for a specific command it is not in the table of contents, no link to it, etc. I can find it using “” in a search engine. For example, I ran into this with Limiter (Effects) yesterday. So is it me just missing something?

  2. I would like to know why one should do something, before how to do it. For example, the manual entry for Limiter explains how to use it but not when to use it (versus Amplify, Normalize, etc.), or if there are side effects, etc. Are there any recommended resources, from Audacity or otherwise?

  3. Finally, I am creating a document to help me through the end-to-end process: from writing/arranging (in Musescore) to recording to mixing to managing the finished products (MP3 in this case). I believe many aspects of audio recording can’t be made into an absolute step-by-step cookbook; judgment and experience are required. But I can’t be the first to want something like this. Someone with more experience than me has written why one should do X and Y during recording but W and Z when mixing, or “always do this, never do that, sometimes do the other”. So any recommendations for resources such as online guides, books, checklists, etc. for the “audio process”?

Many thanks,

It’s probably worth getting a book. Maybe someone can recommend one.

…There’s enough information on the Internet to become a brain surgeon (or recording engineer) but it’s not organized in a useful way for learning, and a lot of it is wrong.

I used to subscribe to Recording Magazine (although I don’t do “real production”). It’s targeted at “the recoding musician” and it’s good, but of course they only cover a couple of topics each month.

If you are mixing more than a few tracks you should think about “upgrading” from Audacity to a DAW. DAWs are built from the ground-up for multitrack recording and mixing. They have level controls and meters for all of the tracks, plus masters & volume controls (more like a hardware mixer).

They have “automation” (so you can fade-up the guitar during part of the song, etc.). Audacity has the Envelop Tool, but it’s not quite the same.

It’s a lot “easier” to apply different effects to different tracks, etc.

A DAW is more complex than an audio editor like Audacity but for big projects it might turn out to be easier, after you learn to use it.

You may want to study a little about mastering too, but recording comes first and mastering can be optional.

Bob Katz is a famous mastering engineer and he wrote a book. I have NOT read it, but I’ve read some of what he’s written and I trust him. Here is something from his website.

At the left of the Audacity Manual is a navigation bar which has an entry for

Clicking on that will yield this page:

On that page you can click on the links in the table or even on the menu items on the image of the menu bar to take you to the page for any particular menu item.


Alternatively on the front page of the manual the image of the Audacity interface is in fact a complex imagemap enabling you to click on items in the GUI to get a link to information about those items. In particular you can click on any of the menu items in that image.

I use this imagemap a LOT to navigate my way around the manual.

And many grateful thanks go to Bill Wharrie (Forum elf and ex Audacity Team member) for developing that imagemap.



Thank you so much for your reply.

I was following the imagemaps as you suggested. But once you get to the Effect page (Effect Menu - Audacity Manual), you can’t click any further, for example Volume and Compression.

So I went to the Manual Home page and under Audacity Fundamentals I clicked Effects (duh!). From there I can get the the pages I couldn’t from the imagemaps.

Thanks again for helping with such a beginner’s question.

BTW, I like your avatar…reminders me of my cat named “@Psiax” bot looks and attitude :slight_smile:



Hi Joe,

In the navigation bar there is a link for Effects (in fact two bit the second one is for customization):

Clicking on that will get you this very useful page:

And those links in the table you can click on.

I will make the page that you linked to have an imagemap to click on to take readers to the Effects list page - thanks for that nudge. But that will only be in the alpha manual for the upcoming 3.6 manual as I cannot edit the released 3.5 manual.


BTW that cat is my old boy marbled Bengal called Mojo, sadly dead now but still very much missed. He was very playful and mischievous (named after Homer Simpson’s destructive “Helper” monkey) and a great deal of fun.


I am chatting with someone with incredible powers! :slight_smile: Seriously…thank you.

Thanks, yes found that page under “Audacity Fundamentals”. Very useful. Should have seen it sooner but then I wouldn’t have met Mojo. :slight_smile:

A fitting tribute for Psiax as well!

Hey @DVDdoug:

Thank you for the thoughtful response.

Exactly the point!

Regarding your recommendations:

Books, magazines: Appreciate you pointing me to a specific title and author that you found helpful.

Mastering: Not worried about this for now as I don’t publish anything (yet). As you said, recording and mixing come first.

DAW: I think it will be more helpful for me—at this stage—to get the fundamentals standards, processes, techniques, etc. down. Those are tool-agnostic, generally speaking.

But I appreciate your advice and perhaps down the road I might “upgrade” so I can do things, or do them more easily, with a more robust tool.

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