Questions about "Tutorial - Making a test recording"

Hi, I am new to recording audio. I have been taking the helpful tutorials, but I have a few questions.

Click on the downward pointing arrow beside the microphone symbol under the recording VU meters and select "Start Monitoring".

I have no such arrow. The screenshot is from the Mac version. What should I do?

Talk or play at a normal volume and watch the red recording VU meter.

What is “normal” volume? On my laptop, typically everything is at maximum and I never touch these settings. What are the unspoken defaults?

Adjust the recording volume with the right-hand Input Volume Slider (by the microphone symbol).

This is also set to maximum by default. What is supposed to be done here?

If clipping occurred turn down the recording level a bit and try again.

Which recording level? I can change it in several places. The tutorial calls the one in Audacity “recording volume”, is this the same thing?

Thanks for any answers. It’s kind of confusing, sort of like someone assumes I know everything already.

This is a screenshot from Windows XP
Setting the recording level is difficult to describe precisely because there are many variations depending on the equipment being used and what you are recording.
If you are getting a peak recording level of about half the track height, then leave it as it is.
If you are getting a recording level that is wildly different from that, please give details about your setup and what you are recording.

The natural inclination is to set the volume controls at the One Magic Point and then go on and do the show. This is the “masking tape on the sliders” approach. That rarely works for live performances because loudnesses are all over the map. You really have to pay attention to the blue waves and the bouncing sound meters and adjust, sometimes during the show, as needed.

Depending, as above, on what you’re doing.

USB microphones are a magic case. Sometimes they have no provision to set levels at all. The need to set levels didn’t go away, it just got hidden and harder to get to.

No it’s not easy for live shows which is why there are trained BBC and Hollywood technicians devoted to getting it right.


I think Audacity still comes out of the shrink wrap with teensy sound meters. You should make them very much larger by clicking the right-hand edge and dragging.

That’s approximately what a perfect recording should look like. Again depending on the show.

One audio program, Cool Edit, uses the entire bottom of the screen as the sound meters. They’re pretty important.


Hi, welcome to the wonderful world of audio recording!

Another method of turning on monitoring (at least on Windows, anyway) is to do a single left mouse click anywhere within the meter itself.
Anywhere within the red box should do the trick; green box contains the “downward pointing arrow” of which the tutorial speaks.

Here “normal volume” is talking about the volume of your voice or instrument - speak into the microphone in a normal tone of voice or play your instrument at a mezzo forte - not too loud.

Steve and Koz skirted around the answer to this. Koz Is right - this is why recording engineers get the big bucks - knowing which one of the “several places” to tweak the gain to keep the recording in the sweet spot. Without knowing a lot more about your equipment and what you are trying to accomplish we can’t give you a definitive answer - in fact there is no definitive answer but, if all of your equipment is digital the best answer is “it probably doesn’t matter” and your best bet might be to turn every place down a little bit; on the other hand if you have digital and analog gain control the only thing you can do is experiment and trust your ears!

Another method of turning on monitoring (at least on Windows, anyway) is to do a single left mouse click anywhere within the meter itself.

That totally works in Mac-Land, too. The problem of doing it that way is the human feedback. There isn’t any.

If the meters are all the way to the left (completely silent), it could mean your audio system has gone to the Happy Hunting Ground (dead), it could mean a perfectly working sound system with nobody performing, it could mean you double-clicked by accident and the meters are switched off, or it could mean they were on and you turned them off. You have to be a complete doofus for the last two, but if you’re in the heat of battle in an important recording with something wrong, that can happen really easily.

Go ahead, ask me how I know that.

I’m recalling there didn’t used to be a meter dialog at all and the test tools were of limited usefulness. “I clicked a number of times. Are the meters on or off?”


OOOOHHH! There are TWO microphone icons! They look exactly the same. I totally did not notice this other one, probably because I quit looking once I found the first one.

I also didn’t say that I am reading children’s books aloud into a $50 USB microphone. I suppose that would have helped. As long as it’s not distorted or echo-y it’s fine.

Anyway, I think I’m in way over my head here. You people are audio professionals, all I wanted was to put a music MP3 at soft volume behind my voice. :blush: