Keeping Audacity Simple – Don’t Mess With Plugins

Hey, there!

I got a note from the lovely and talented Marlon Braccia about what I do to manipulate my audio with Audacity before submitting – you know, compression, noise reduction etc.

She was talking about all those options on the Effects menu in Audacity.

The truth is, I suggest you keep it really simple.

Here’s what she wrote:

Questions for ya, if you please:
What audacity effects do you utilize most often to polish an audio file before sending it off?
Knock the highs and lows off with “Compressor” effect?
“Noise removal” to eliminate superflous background sounds?
Do both these just about every time? Neither? Just one?
Other pet effects you have??

(Marlon’s an awesome foodie as well as a VO talent and actor – check out her YouTube channel here)

I don’t use anything, except normalization, and only when I do auditions.

I leave the raw WAV audio I record for audiobooks alone, and let Levelator do its magic without any help from an Audacity plug in. Then, I bring that Levelated audio back in to Audacity, and normalize to -3.0 before exporting to MP3.

But that’s it.

And I suggest you resist the urge to play with these things, unless all you’re doing is playing.

Noise removal can severely damage your performance with just the slightest slip of the mouse – instead, work to make your recording space quieter.

And the other plugins are mostly for music.

So, keep it simple – just normalize if you need to, but not for audiobooks, until you’ve used Levelator.

Hope this helps.



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    1. No, you shouldn’t, not with the Normalize… function in Audacity. You should let Levelator do all that work.

      The full process of how I record, edit and master for ACX is available in the Recording for ACX With Audacity vClass video course right here on VO2GoGo – and will be covered in a new four-week ACX master class I have set to debut for February 2014. Ping me if you’d like to be added to the list for notification.

      Hope this helps.

  1. Dear Dave,
    Question, do you recommend purchasing RX3 Izotope to use with Audacity?
    Also is there (and this is an insipid question but I am a novice at audio book production)
    is there anyway to preset with Audacity the RMS avg. required by ACX?
    You know -23 and-18 rms, requirement.
    I wanted to thank you for your help. You give many of us new and aspiring narrators hope and help.
    Thank you for being a light in a very dark Audacity sea.

    1. You wrote:

      [Dear Dave,]

      I hope you don’t mind, but I’d prefer if you called me David. Thanks!

      I don’t recommend spending money on any plugin, including RX3 Izotope. As in my reply to Ellery, I recommend using a separate piece of absolutely free software called Levelator, rather than using any Effect in Audacity. You can see it in action during my Recording for ACX With Audacity vClass video course.

      Thank you for your kind words!


  2. Hi David

    I believe you recently (a year ago maybe) added a “normalization” piece in the process right after Levelator is finished with it’s magic — just before saving to mp3 — or did I miss another change?


  3. Oh boy! I’m confused. Several months ago you sent us a note saying that we should use Normalize between the creation of the .output file and creating the .mp3 file. You had us change the setting from -6 to -3 to better satisfy the ACX specs – or is that ONLY for ACX submissions? Thanks, Suz

  4. Thanks, David. Your advice, as always, is stellar and you’ve got a great knack for addressing exactly what I’m pondering in your newsletters, often without my even reaching out.

    I’m in search of my 7th audiobook now, after having taken a break for about 9 months of agent hunting, demo-making, website updating and on-line promotions, all of which I learned in your no-nonsense classes. It’s exciting when one of my 3 agents (LA, SF and Minneapolis) drop a national commercial audition, Disney animated character or Silverlight game character audition into my inbox. Fact is, without your support, I doubt I’d even be auditioning. You are a beacon in the midst of my disbelief.

    Lots of VO people like to poo-poo the sheer quantity of copy of audiobooks, but I say if you can run the marathon of recording a book, when a 5 line commercial comes in, you’re gonna pop it out with conversational style, simply because you’ve had the experience of spending hours on the mic. It’s my personal VO bootcamp and as you’ve taught me, it pays.

    Recently 2 narrators who have each spoken over 100 audiobooks have told me they spend a few hours a day recording, with the knowledge that it contributes every time to their union health and pension. SAG-AFTRA has done a sensational job contracting publishers, so our rates will hold and in the long run, we’ll see a pension. I advise everyone to become part of the union and seek work from the publishers in addition to ACX. I’ve not gotten direct booking from a publisher yet, but I am going for it big time!

    Since there are so many narrators now, I’d like to share with your newsletter subscribers one way I have created to compete. Here is a page on my website just for audiobook narration, including samples in every genre, whether they were real jobs or not. I posted the demos on SoundCloud, then grabbed the html code with their tool and pasted it into my free WordPress template site. Readers may all feel free to copy the style of the page. It’s my small way of giving back to this incredible VO community, in which I now feel a true camaraderie. Here’s the url:

  5. David,
    When I record in strong authoritative voice for one character and be in a quitter mellower voice for another and run the recording through “Levelator” the voices all seem to come out sounding the same.
    Am I doing something wrong?
    Now, just for clarification, your saying that you use the normalization in audacity effects on your auditions but NOT on the final WAV file for the book narrations themselves?
    You run the final WAV recording through “Levelator” but NOT through the normalization effect?

  6. HI, David. Thanks for the suggestion of “Levelator” . I have never heard of it up to now. I agree with keeping recording with Audacity pretty simple. If you have a bad recording environment then focus on changing that.