Audacity is a free to download sound editing software. I have used it previously for sound design projects in undergrad, but it also has many useful tools for budding digital historians. Essentially, it allows you to clip audio, rearrange those clips, record sound, clean up said audio, and much more. For theater it was an incredibly useful tool, and we were required to do many projects with it in my undergrad (unfortunately for you, I deleted all the files after my classes ended and have none to share with you). It is supported on most operating systems and downloaded very quickly onto my laptop.
Fun fact, Audacity is currently not supported on macOS Catalina. They discuss this on their website and in a post linked to the statement on their homepage, explain that this is due to Apple’s change in application restrictions and that they are working to catch up with the requirements for “notarization” for their next release. There is also a workaround that does allow Audacity to open and be used on a Mac running Catalina, and having tested it, it works and the instructions they provided were easy to follow.
After getting the app up and running on my laptop, it was very easy to drop in a song from my computer and start working with it. Cutting and pasting works just like in a word document, so you can literally cut the audio up into chunks and use them as need be. They can also be moved very easily around the mixing area. You can label your sounds as you need to and even change which direction the sounds will come from if you have directional speakers that the sound will come out of. There is also a very long list of effects that can be added to the sound itself, and Audacity will record sound within itself if you do not want to upload a track into the app. There are a few different options to save your file once you have reached that point as well, it can be saved within Audacity, exported as an MP3 (or other file types), saved as a compressed file, or saved as a “lossless” file as well.
Unlike SoundCloud, Audacity is not a community of people utilizing a platform to share audio, but it can be very useful in its own way. Audacity can also be used for many more complicated tasks, that I hadn’t thought of before exploring the tab on their website that discussed their Frequently Asked Questions and looked at the plug-ins that can be used with the software itself. They also have a section where they discuss the accessibility features of the application like that it can be operated with just a keyboard or through voice software as well. These features struck me as very forward thinking of the design team, especially for software that is free for everyone to use as they need.
This software could be used for many different things within the public history or digital history world. As a public historian myself, I see it very easily being used to help keep track of oral histories or being used to create a soundscape for an exhibit. The software itself is very user friendly and accessible, and for tasks beyond the everyday splicing and dicing of audio, there are YouTube videos and support communities to discuss those. Overall, I think it’s a useful software and even more impressive for the fact that its free. It has many incredibly helpful features to work with audio, and with some work it becomes almost second nature to use and work within.