We have officially made it halfway through the semester! Last week’s proposal pitches highlighted our wide-ranging research interests. I was impressed to see some of the proposals included tools that had been introduced in previous practicums. There were a few proposals that plan on using audio and/or video elements so I am very eager to discuss an open-source audio software called Audacity.
Audacity is an audio editing program that is completely free and available to download on Windows, Mac, and Linux. This program does not have as many advanced features as other audio editing software since it is an open-source program. However, the features that are included are comparable and often exceed competitive software such as Adobe Audition. I was first introduced to Audacity while working in the Innovative Media department (The Workshop) at VCU Libraries. One of my job responsibilities was training students, staff, and faculty on how to operate the equipment and software in the audio studio, video studio, and makerspace. Most library patrons preferred using Audacity because it was much easier to produce high-quality projects in less time. Also, the program imports and exports audio files such as MP3 and WAV.
Audio recordings can be used on numerous types of digital history projects including oral history projects, field recordings, and podcasts. The results of an audio project are reliant on the audio quality, so it is important to select a high-quality microphone prior to recording any project. You can borrow microphones and other audiovisual equipment for research projects by visiting the lower level of Bender Library. The full list of AV equipment can be found here .
Note: It is very difficult, if not impossible to edit grainy audio recordings.
As mentioned previously, Audacity can import and export some of the most common audio types such as MP3 and WAV. If you plan to record your audio project using an iPhone, iPad, or other Apple device then you will need to download additional plugins since the file type associated with Apple devices is M4A. Here’s a link to a quick tutorial on how to import M4A files. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDbUtcoeW10
Once you have uploaded your audio recordings then you can begin editing multiple audio files. If you are planning on recording a podcast, then using multiple audio files is a very common practice. The next time you listen to your favorite podcast, pay close attention to any music, or sounds that you hear other than the speaker(s). These sounds are usually much lower than the speaker. The intentional decision of adding background music or sound effects adds the illusion of depth. I learned about this technique when working with Virginia-based public radio producer, Kelley Libby on an NPR story. You can listen to the interview here. Kelley used a combination of field recording and studio recording to create this piece on the research that I had conducted at James Madison’s Montpelier.
While there can be more artistic control with podcasts that is not always the case with oral history projects. Many oral history projects are associated with academic or cultural institutions. In the assigned reading for this week’s class, Dr. Doug Boyd of the University of Kentucky noted the benefits of partnering with an archival institution when publishing an oral history project.
The University of Kentucky’s library has an extensive oral history collection which has interviews dating back to 1973. I have spent time exploring UK Libraries various databases including the Lonnie B. Nunn Center for Oral History collection. During a trip to Kentucky in 2017, I met one of the oldest living relatives in my family named Alfonso Vance. Alfonso Vance served in World War II, and he was the oldest living nephew of my great grandmother. I spent an hour with Alfonso and his wife Juanita discussing various topics from his childhood in Henderson, Kentucky to his experiences of residing in Germany with his wife during the war. While I can still vividly recall the shared stories, they were not recorded. I had planned to return to Kentucky and bring my recording equipment the following summer, but it turned out that my first meeting with Alfonso Vance was also my last meeting because he passed away the following year.
When I revisited the UK Libraries website, I came across oral histories from 1980s of other natives of Henderson, Kentucky. The structure of these oral histories is very straightforward without any background audio or sound effects. UK Libraries has been able to preserve these audio files over the past few decades even though technology has drastically changed. Academic institutions are much better equipped to preserve recordings over time rather than individuals holding onto personal recordings.
I strongly encourage you to use Audacity for your digital history project, if you plan to create a podcast or oral history project. If you are using a computer or laptop with a built-in microphone, then you can record directly into the program. Otherwise, you will need to plug in an external audio device(s). Audacity allows you to easily switch between multiple external audio devices by clicking the drop-down menu next to the microphone icon (towards the top of the screen underneath the stop button). This is helpful for projects where each individual speaking has a separate microphone. You can see in the image above that there are two audio tracks listed. Audacity has the option of lowering or increasing the sound levels on each track until you achieve the ideal sound. Also, you can split and rearrange tracks easily with just a few clicks. I will provide a demonstration of how to use Audacity in class so if there any questions, please list them in the comments section.