Record enough of your own audio files, and you’re eventually bound to need to convert a bunch from one format to another. Perhaps you’ve saved your mastered files as WAVs and now need to upload a set as MP3s to forestall choking your internet connection for an hour. If that’s your deal, you’ll probably want a tool that will “batch” convert all those files for you, without your having to spend a couple hours on Lynda.com learning how to use it.
Fortunately, there are a number of good, free, easy-to-use software options available for the purpose. Because I already use it for recording, and because my ancestry predisposes me to thrift — a fair number of my progenitors were Scottish — my batch conversion tool of choice is Audacity.
For a free program, Audacity is really great software. Besides being a robust DAW, the program has a very handy mechanism for batch-converting files from one audio format to another. Rather than download and install separate programs for individual tasks, you can use Audacity for your conversion needs and also record and edit your audio files with it. For a quick, easy way to convert a bunch of files at once—and, especially, if you’re cheap like me—Audacity is a godsend.
Here’s how to use the program to dig yourself out from under all those files you need to convert and still have time left in the day to do something besides stare at your monitor. You’ll find specific steps below, but the overview is as follows:
• In Audacity, create a chain to export an audio file to MP3 format (NOTE: there may already be an “Export to MP3” chain pre-created. You may wish to create your own anyway, as some chains that ship with Audacity contain steps to apply effects you may not want).
• pre-set the MP3 export parameters to the proper bit rate
• select the chain you created and direct it to “open” all the WAVs you want to convert
• sit back and watch the magic
You’ll also, of course, need to download and install Audacity. If you’re converting to MP3 format, you’ll also need to install the free LAME MP3 encoder Audaciy uses to work its magic. Don’t worry: the provided links give instructions for what you need to do.
Create the chain
1. In Audacity, select File > Edit Chains. The Edit Chains window opens.
2. Under the left pane of the window, click Add. An Edit Chains dialogue box opens.
3. In the single-field dialogue box, type a name for the new chain, e.g., “Export to MP3”.
4. Click OK.
5. Under the right pane of the Edit Chains window, click “\Insert. The Select Command dialogue box opens.
6. In the Choose Command pane, locate and double-click the ExportMp3 command. “ExportMp3” appears in the Command field.
7. Click OK (there are no parameters to enter for the ExportMp3 command. That’s why you need to set the proper output bit rate before running the chain. A peculiarity of Audacity).
8. In the Edit Chains dialogue box, click OK.
Set the MP3 export bit rate
1. In Audacity, open a project. Alternately, create and save a new project (you’re not going to keep it; Audacity requires an open project to access the MP3 parameters dialog box).
2. Select File > Export. The Export File dialogue box opens.
3. From the Save as type dropdown list (near the bottom of the box), select MP3 Files.
4. Click the Options… button. The Specify MP3 Options dialogue box opens.
5. From the Quality dropdown list, select the bit rate at which you want to save the files you’ll be converting into MP3s.
6. Select any other parameters you want (I typically leave the defaults). Click OK.
7. In the Export File dialogue box, click Cancel.
Even though you’ve apparently canceled the MP3 exporting procedure, Audacity remembers the parameters you set for the MP3 export. Those parameters are what the chain you’ll apply next will use in its export.
8. In Audacity, select File > Close.
Audacity allows you to apply a chain to the currently open file, it requires a “blank” window in order to apply a chain to external files.
Apply the chain to the WAVs you want converted to MP3
NOTE: before applying the chain, either gather all the files you want to convert into a single directory, or prepare to apply the chain to each set of files contained in separate directories. Audacity may allow you to control-select across directories, but I’ve never tried it, so I don’t know.
1. In Audacity, select File > Apply Chain. The Apply Chain dialogue box opens.
2. Select the chain you want to apply to the external files (in this case, that’s the chain you just created, e.g., “Export to MP3”).
3. Click Apply to Files…. A selection dialogue box opens.
4. Select the files you want to convert (export) to MP3.
5. Click Open.
A variety of message boxes open, showing you the progress of the conversion. Depending on the number of files you’ve selected and their size, the conversion can take a while.
When the conversion’s finished, the dialogue boxes closes, and the name of the last file converted appears in the title bar of Audacity’s blank project window.
When you quit Audacity, a Save Changes dialogue box opens. Click No to leave the file unaffected (doing so does not affect the export file).
That’s how to do it. If you’ve tried the instructions and have any questions of feedback (or just want to lavish praise), feel free to leave a comment, below. Above all, enjoy your own resourcefulness at finding a simple, free, and time-saving solution that appeals to your own internal Scot.