Listening to the Music (and History) on Audacity and SoundCloud

As we continue learning about methods for presenting history, another consideration to keep in mind includes methods for producing and interpreting audio. With the rising interests in podcasts, the presentation of audio sources has the potential to help historians reach new audiences.  For this week’s practicum, I’m going to be sharing two resources that can be used for digital audio projects: Audacity and SoundCloud. Audacity is a free audio recording and editing software, and SoundCloud is a free audio distribution website.

Audacity

To follow the process of creating audio resources, I’ll start with an overview of Audacity. If you are already familiar with oral history or have studied oral history, this information may serve as a refresher!

Home page on Audacity’s website

Audacity was created in 1999 by Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Danneberg at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2000, it was released as open-source software on SourceForge, which is a website that allows software developers share and manage their free open-source software projects. Since then, the software has been continually updated and refined by volunteers and teams of developers. The software continues to be free, so all of Audacity’s features and functions are accessible when the software is downloaded.

Audacity’s interface provides functions for recording audio, editing and rearranging sound files, applying effects to change speed and pitch of recordings, and converting sound file formats. Since Audacity is a multi-track audio editor, the interface also allows you to work with several audio files in one project. Due to its versatility, Audacity can be used for a variety of audio projects ranging from music production to audio storytelling. Personally, I have enjoyed using Audacity to create podcast episodes for class projects.  

Downloading and Using Audacity

You can download Audacity on the team’s website. The software is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems. When I first used the software, I thought that interface was a little overwhelming. However, there are several content creators who have made tutorials for Audacity on YouTube. Additionally, when you first open the software, Audacity links provides a user manual, forums for questions, and a Wiki page with tips and resources.

Although Audacity has a slight learning curve, I found it was relatively easy to use for simple functions such as cutting audio into clips and rearranging sound clips. With some trial and error, it has the capability to create polished pieces such as songs and podcast episodes. You can also use it to clean up audio files with some background noise (within reason).

Screenshot of my oral history project from last semester on Audacity

As a free resource, I think that Audacity is a fantastic tool for digital historians who are interested in oral history, podcast creation, or implementing audio elements into interpretive materials and exhibits. It is relatively easy to use, and it provides the basic functions needed for audio projects.

SoundCloud

After you finish editing and creating an audio project in Audacity, SoundCloud provides a platform for sharing the project with your audiences. SoundCloud was created by Alexander Ljung and Eric Whalforss in 2007 to provide a cloud-based audio platform for distributing music. Many amateur and professional musicians, podcast producers, and oral historians use SoundCloud to share their work.

SoundCloud is a free audio distribution platform; however, the website requires payment for some of its features. The free version of SoundCloud allows you to listen to most of the content available on the website, and it also allows you to upload a limited amount of content. Paid subscriptions provide access SoundCloud’s full catalog, audio mastering through Dolby, and offline listening capabilities.

When I created a free account on SoundCloud, I enjoyed exploring the site. Since anyone can create a SoundCloud account and upload audio, there is a wide variety of content, including highly produced songs and musical pieces, experimental audio projects, and podcasts. One of the projects that I found really interesting was created by Leyland Kirby (https://soundcloud.com/leylandkirby/sets/the-caretaker-an-empty-bliss) as a persona called The Caretaker. The Caretaker used snippets from samples of ballroom music to create tracks that reflect the memory loss of Alzheimer’s patients.

Outside of experimental music, SoundCloud includes a variety of podcasts created by oral history organizations. For example the East Texas Research Center has uploaded several of their oral history interviews. Many of their interviews are organized in playlists by oral history project. I also found the podcast that the oral history initiative at my undergraduate university produced called Sam.wav!

SoundCloud profile for the East Texas Research Center

After exploring the site, I think that SoundCloud is a great audio distribution platform. It seems easy for individuals and organizations to use for free, and it gives people the opportunity to share their work with the public easily. Although there are some paywalls for uploading a large amount of content, the process seems easier than other well-known streaming platforms and podcast hosting platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts/Apple Music, and Bandcamp.

Conclusion

I hope that these overviews are helpful! Have you had experience working with Audacity and/or Soundcloud or seen them used in projects by other historians? If so, what did you think of the software and platforms? Are there other audio editing or distributing resources that you prefer? Looking forward to sharing more about these resources during class!

7 Replies to “Listening to the Music (and History) on Audacity and SoundCloud”

  1. Hi Mia! While I am familiar with Audacity from my old job at my university library and from our oral history course, I have not used SoundCloud much before. I think you summarized really well how useful it can be not just for amateur musicians (which is usually what I associate with SoundCloud if I am being honest), but also for digital humanities projects, including oral histories, podcasts, and very innovative ones like the Caretaker project. After a brief search, I was surprised to see how many history podcasts and projects there were available on SoundCloud!

  2. Hello! Thank you for your great summarization! While I have not used Audacity or Soundcloud myself I really think there is significant value in using digital audio in history projects. When using digital media, as historians, we must consider those in our wide audience who may be visually impaired. The internet is incredibly visual, but to accommodate others who may rely on their ears to take in information, it is important to incorporate audio media as well and I think both Audacity and Soundcloud can do that.

  3. Great summaries! I’ve used Audacity a lot in the past, most recently to edit my final project for oral history. There is a bit of a learning curve and it can be slightly overwhelming at first, but once you’ve got it down, it’s a great editing tool, especially considering it’s free. I don’t have any experience with Soundcloud, but based on what you’ve said here, it also seems like a good platform! One feature I know of is that comments on tracks can be timestamped, so you can actually see where someone is responding. It’s a neat feature to make audience interaction just a little bit deeper!

  4. Mia, thank you for such a great introduction to these platforms! I have tried (and failed, due to a lack of patience) to get comfortable with Audacity, but as a free platform it is usable. In terms of paid platforms, I personally love Adobe Audition. It is easier to use (in my opinion) and can block out more background noise/edit more elements of sound. I’ve used it for podcast creation, oral histories, and class projects. It is great!

  5. Hi Mia, thank you for this reversher on these platforms! I used Audacity last semester to create a podcast that combined my Oral History interviews into a cohesive hour long listening experience. After a little trial and error (and a YouTube video explaining how to use it) it ended up being really easy to use. While I think something like SoundCloud (as you demonstrated above) or even Spotify (where I personally uploaded my podcast) works create for creating a platform for podcasts that is easily accessible. I’d be really interesting to see if there is a platform (or if one is developed) that you can record oral history interviews, transcribe, edit, create a podcast, and share that podcast and archive the oral history and transcription all on one platform. For example, my oral histories are archived on the Humanities Truck but my podcast is on Spotify. I think it’d be cool if there was a way to have them all be in one spot. I know TheirStory is working to create a platform where you can record, transcribe, and archive oral histories, but I think adding an audio editing option to create something like a podcast would be a really cool addition to that software.

  6. Hi Mia! These are really helpful summaries for the two platforms. I was especially intrigued by the SoundCloud introduction since I don’t have much experience using the platform. I think it’s interesting that SoundCloud seems to have more of a community emphasis compared to some of the other platforms I know such as ApplePodcast. Comments, followers, likes, and shares from the audience are very visible on the pages. Apart from the platforms you mentioned, one of the podcast platforms I tend to use is Typlog!

  7. hi mia! you did a great job with this post. I have used Audacity before in some previous classes and it is a bit clunky but i had never thought of using SoundCloud! The only downside I saw with sound cloud is a lack of accessibility to transcripts and metadata for the interview itself. But, i think the platform has a lot of potential. I wonder if there are ways to link between two sites so these interviews can exist on a popular audio platform while also connecting the listener with the transcripts and other data from the interview.

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