Audacity: A Free Resource For All

In 2000 Roger Dannenberg and Dominic Mazzoni released Audacity, a free audio editor and recorder that is open-source and relatively easy-to-use.  By 2002, millions of people were using the program. Today, Audacity remains a popular tool used by many to create content.  The program’s development team of volunteers had started out as two, but has now grown to dozens of contributors from all over the world. At first glance, it may seem like any other editing software; however, Audacity’s team has also encouraged public participation in both the use and development of the program.

One of the most significant things about this program is that it is free and pretty accessible. This is especially important to a general public who might not have strong backgrounds in using this type of software.  Musicians, podcasters, educators, and other groups can find Audacity a useful tool and one that is easy to grasp.

How To Get Audacity

Users with Windows, Mac, GNU/Linux are able to download Audacity; however, this is not the only option.  Because Audacity is open-source, it also makes its source code available to any users looking to build the program themselves. In addition to these methods, anyone uncomfortable with either of these options can also get a copy of this software on a CD.  Audacity also offers different versions of the software that have been translated into multiple languages. It is evident that Audacity’s developers have put a lot of thought into the accessibility of this program, which helps it in reaching a broader audience.

What Does It Do?

Whether it be editing a podcast, making music, or recording a lesson for students, Audacity includes a number of features to help users create their content. They can record audio right to the program, or upload it. Users can do some basic edits to the clip such as reducing its length, cutting out certain parts of it, changing its pitch, or altering its volume. There are also special effects available like filters to change the way a clip sounds. If users want to upload their own effects, there is also an option to do that. Audacity’s features have resulted in a relatively basic, but flexible, resource that can be used in many different ways.

Audacity 2.2.0 in default Light theme running on Windows 10

For anyone just getting started with Audacity, the good news is that there are many tutorials on YouTube, and a community of helpful users willing to answer any of your questions on Audacity’s forum. Because Audacity has been around for about eighteen years now, it benefits from an active foundation of users, some of whom I’m sure have been using the software since the beginning. This has made the forum not only a space to answer questions, but to also exchange ideas. There is a section of the forum page dedicated to “special interest groups.” These groups include educators, musicians, podcasters, and those using the software to create audiobooks. This has made Audacity a more interactive resource than expected.

Audacity Forum Homepage

How Can This Benefit Digital History?

The most beneficial thing about Audacity is that it is free and relatively easy-to-use.  It isn’t too hard to understand, and even when users are having a difficult time, there are plenty of resources available to help them.  Because of this, I see Audacity as a useful tool for those of us working in digital and public history. For example, let’s say a small, nonprofit neighborhood historical society wants to collect oral histories from its community.  They probably do not have the money available to hire professionals to do this, or to purchase expensive equipment or editing software either. They will need to record and edit these histories themselves, and they can do this for free with Audacity. Having access to programs like this can help groups with audio-based projects, regardless of their funding.

Audacity is a program with a long history that still continues to benefit the general public it was made for. The software’s developers wanted to make a resource that could be used by just about anyone, and since 2000 they have achieved that goal.

7 Replies to “Audacity: A Free Resource For All”

  1. Great post, Melyssa! I couldn’t help but think about Boyd and Frisch readings for this week when looking at using Audacity for oral history projects. I think having an easy to navigate program like Audacity will make it a lot easier to create and edit oral histories, and will be beneficial in the long for increasing scholars’ familiarity with that medium. On the other hand, while Audacity is a cheap option for low budget oral history projects, is the quality of recordings on par with more expensive equipment? Will it create archival problems in the long term?

  2. Thanks Melyssa for hitting the highlights of Audacity! Erica—you make a good point about Audacity’s benefit for recording and editing oral histories.

    I was introduced to Audacity in Dr. Kerr’s oral history course last semester and I was so impressed by how easy it was to edit and clip my interviews using this app. It was especially helpful in cleaning up some of background noise in my recordings and piecing together bits of my interviews to produce a podcast for my final project.

    Boyd emphasized considering our desired outcome and the audience we want to reach through an oral history project as two of the main questions to ask before launching the project. I feel like Audacity is an amazing way for people who aren’t necessarily fluent in tech to harness the potential of their audio files. Because Audacity allows you to export mp3s elsewhere (like online), it provides an amazing opportunity for more people to interact with the project and for the recordings to live on in the internet realm.

  3. Thanks for all the links to the “how-tos” Melyssa! I think your point about how accessible Audacity is was well made. There are so many different ways you can use it. Like Haley I’ve used Audacity before. I first encountered it in high school and college to record myself for an online french class, and then to cut music for my dance team, two exercises that required different tools and amounts of precision. Last year, when my friends and I were tossing around the idea of a podcast, we used Audacity for the first recordings. My experience with Audacity has been high quality, but it depends on the equipment you’re using as well. If you’re cutting music, the music file itself has to be uncorrupted, and if you’re recording something your mic should be a good quality too. I think in this case it’s about the whole package, not just the software.

  4. What a great tool! I had always used the recording app that came pre-installed on my phone but often ran into technical problems when doing anything with the file. Knowing what I do now about Audacity, I’ll give it a try. I plan to begin work on a family history at some point soon, so I may use this program then.

    Now just a few reflections on Audacity itself…

    What immediately peaked my interest is that Audacity was a tool designed for audio recording and editing but not tailored specifically for oral historians. Are there recording tools specifically made for conducting oral histories? If so, how do they compare with Audacity? Do most oral historians use Audacity?

    Second, our in-class discussion about community and “the crowd” tended to focus on communities of history-minded individuals who collaborate on projects and debate historical subjects. (I see this now with the advantage of hindsight.) And although Audacity is not the only one of its kind to have this happen, your point about there being a community of people who make tutorials for the general public on how to use tools like Audacity is a poignant one. Historians-in-training, who exclusively conduct archival research, are sometimes left without offers to guide them through the uneven terrain that is archival research. I can say from experience that archival research can sometimes feel like a sink or swim situation. Knowing that tutorials exist from people not employed by Audacity is reassuring and makes using Audacity less daunting.

    Second, the multi-lingual component of the program is particularly laudable. I’ve recently heard the argument that public history programs should encourage their students to learn other languages in order both to interview subjects and interpret oral histories conducted in other languages into English, or, for that matter, English-language oral histories into other languages. I can see how Audacity would make learning how to do oral histories more accessible to, for example, ESL students in history.

    Finally, I wonder, was there a time when Audacity was especially popular, or if its popularity has remained relatively consistent? Have companies and other software such as Soundcloud and Apple’s iMovie begun to crowd out Audacity?

    A fantastic, easy-to-follow post about a tool that I may find myself using in the near future.

  5. Audacity is such a fun friend to so many. I love hearing how many legitimate podcasters—like, people whose podcasts reach a very wide audience and provide them with enough revenue to make a living—still use Audacity to record their audio, given that it’s a free tool that’s so easy to use. It’s quick enough to pick it up that back in 2012 my high school Spanish teacher had us use it to record the oral part of the AP exam, and although none of us had used it before, everything went completely swimmingly. I feel like it’s a pretty rare thing for a free resource with such a minuscule learning curve to still enjoy use from professionals. It may not be perfect, but it is very good!

    On the topic of using this for oral histories, I think you’re spot on in saying that it’s a very feasible tool for small organizations with small budgets, but something I also like about it is that in theory, you can record in any place where there’s a computer. Since the software is free and also quick to download and install, it gives you a lot of extra mobility if you’re trying to get out there and get recordings from people, because you don’t need to be confined to one specific machine. Katie’s right that a nice microphone is indicated, but otherwise, you really can take your show on the road with Audacity.

  6. Never thought to use Audacity until I read your post. Unlike a lot of other audio streaming platforms, Audacity allows the user to edit and record audio content through free of charge. Many similar tools require premium recurring fees for the same services. It’s longevity and faithful following are testaments of the platform’s reliability. For public historians, Audacity can be used as a tool for oral histories or digital preservation projects with the general public.
    I do wonder how are the recordings stored on the platform? How long can audio content stay on Audacity? Do the files eventually expire and need to be uploaded to a separate archive collection?

    1. Sierra, I don’t know the specific answers to your questions, or if this is helpful, but I can tell you a bit about the logistics of my experience with Audacity making clips of the oral history interviews I completed last semester. First, you download Audacity onto your own computer and then can upload the files you want to work with. Rather than them being hosted or otherwise online or in Audacity’s collection, I thought of it as more of a temporary workspace on my own computer. I’d leave files open in the software while I was working with them, but then, when finished, I would export them and be on my way!

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