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Audacity: The Versatile Audio Tool for Everyone

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I spend a lot of time looking at other people's computers, and I see Audacity installed on a lot of them. Not many software programs deserve the adverb "versatile", but Audacity is one of them. It is the Swiss Army knife of audio applications.

This article was previously published on the AudioJungle blog, which has moved on to a new format in 2010. We'll be bringing you an article from the AudioJungle archives each week.

Audacity is used for all sorts of audio tasks. There may be more specialized applications in each category, but Audacity does a great job. If you have anything to do with audio, this program deserves to be in your toolbox.

And Audacity is not only free of cost, it is open-source software. Among other things, this means it will always be free of cost. It also means that if the current development team lose interest in the project, others are able to take it up. Audacity will be there for you in the future. Your investment in learning the program will not go to waste.

Audacity has a lot of enthusiastic fans, and it is an excellent audio application to get started with. How do people use Audacity?

What Audacity Can Do For You

  1. Record live audio. I have seen Audacity used to record live events, presentations, and speeches. It's also a great tool if you want to email someone a simple audio message. Just plug in your headset, hit record, and start talking.
  2. Record audio from YouTube. There are tools that allow you to download YouTube videos, but what if you only want the audio? Use Audacity - see the tutorial below.
  3. Convert records and cassettes to MP3. I'm old enough to remember records and cassette tapes. I once used Audacity to convert all of my music cassettes to MP3. Just plug your cassette player's line out into your computer's line in, and off you go.
  4. Convert between audio formats. Audacity supports Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV or AIFF formats, and converts between them. It imports and exports all formats supported by libsndfile, however does not currently support WMA, AAC, or most other proprietary or restricted file formats.
  5. Create a podcast. It's amazing how many people get started in podcasting with Audacity, even if they move on to more sophisticated software down the track. In fact, many stay with it.
  6. Edit digital audio files. Audacity allows you to edit an audio file in many ways, including deleting segments of the file. This is useful for cutting out unwanted audio at the beginning and end of a live recording, and removing inappropriate comments and bloopers during a presentation. Basic editing functions include copy, cut, paste and delete, and also has a drawing tool to edit individual sample points. It has an unlimited undo capability, and allows editing of very large files.
  7. Visualize and plot frequencies of a digital audio file. Audacity includes a Spectrogram mode for visualizing frequencies, and a Plot Spectrum command for detailed frequency analysis.
  8. Change the pitch of an audio file. Use Audacity to alter the pitch of your recording without altering its tempo. Or alter the tempo without altering the pitch, so you can listen to lectures and presentations much quicker than they were originally given.
  9. Combine digital audio files. Audacity allows you to join and layer different audio files into a single file, even if they were originally recorded at different sample rates.
  10. Add effects to digital audio files. Use Audacity to add reverb and other effects to your audio. Or use it to remove static, hiss or hum. Audacity has some built-in effects, including echo, phaser, wha-wha and reverse, and also supports LADSPA and VSI plug-ins.
  11. Create multi-track recordings. Audacity supports an unlimited number of tracks. While listening to the existing tracks, you can record new ones, making the program appropriate for multi-track recording. You can monitor volume levels before, during and after recording. Audacity even allows you to record up to 16 tracks simultaneously, making it useful for recording an entire band or orchestra at once.

What Audacity Can't Do

Being a Swiss Army knife, Audacity has some limitations when you compare its features with more specialized software.

  1. Audacity can't play or record MIDI.
  2. Audacity does not support WMA, AAC, or most other proprietary or restricted file formats.
  3. Audacity has less plug-ins and effects than a specialized DAW.
  4. Audacity has limited multi-track editing and mixing features compared to a specialized DAW. In particular, Audacity cannot apply effects in real-time.

Audacity Tutorials

One testament to Audacity's popularity is the number of tutorials around the Net that teach you how to use it. Here are some of the best, including some basic tutorials that get you started.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Youtube Video Tutorials

Do You Use Audacity to Multi-track?

Audacity shows a lot of promise for multi-track recording. How does it live up to that promise in real life in a professional context?

In our article "8 Free, Cross-Platform Apps for Musicians", Joel describes Audacity in these words, "Every studio, home or professional, needs a good dedicated audio editor to run alongside the DAW. Audacity fills this role perfectly. You could even make a demo of a full song using Audacity, with a bit of work, though I wouldn’t recommend it!" In response, several commentators [to the original AudioJungle article] disagreed, and praised Audacity's ability to go further:

Man, I really think you missed the train when it comes to Audacity. Yeah, you can use it to make a demo or whatever, but it’s so much more versatile than that. We used to use it in high school to make mix compilations for dance and cheer routines, smoothly blending from one song to another. We also used it in choir to remove the voice from songs in order to have a clean background for performers to sing to in concerts. Bottom line, Audacity is a great tool for all kinds of audio editing. (Steven)

Steven uses Audacity to combine songs with an auto-fade effect, and to remove voices from recordings. But the context is high school.

i must disagree with ya on audacity mate, i have done a whole mess of stuff with audacity alone, link attached. presently i use a compiled version that is asio based, and have done 24 tracks at a time with no difficulty, the worst thing imo is that ya cannot do realtime effects. the new audacity will even do midi. here’s a link…i am a deaf old guitar player so my mixes may be kinda dodgy, but that’s me more than the software. (pink)

Pink uses Audacity as his only multi-tracking tool, and has a complaint about the way it does effects. If you find Pink's recordings dodgy as he warns, do you think it is because of his ears, or the limitations of the software?

Audacity has a place in professional work, but how far can you take it before you need to turn to a professional dedicated DAW? How do you use Audacity in a professional context? What are your experiences with the program?

This article was originally published some time ago. Please let us know in the comments if any of the links are dead or have changed.

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