Audacity 101

What is Audacity?

Audacity is a free and open source audio editing program. Available for the Mac and PC, the program is useful for podcasting, creating ringtones, etc. There is no real customer support, but online documentation abound (official documentation made by Audacity team can be found here:

All Macs at Agnes Scott have Audacity and capability to export project files as MP3 files.


Download the program on your personal computer from this link:

NOTE: Only download from the links provided by the official site. As of Audacity 2.3.2, installing the separate download of the “Lame Encoder,” vital for MP3 export, is no longer necessary.


Audacity download screen.


Here’s what you’ll need to know about the Audacity user interface for basic use. Below you’ll find a link to a video tour to watch or you can just read the text.

Video Tour of Interface:

  • Pause (two black vertical lines) — Pauses audio playback (can also use the spacebar while audio is playing)

  • Play (green triangle facing towards the right) — Plays audio (can also use the spacebar)

  • Stop (black square) — Stops audio playback. Audio will begin at where your play cursor is (Play Cursor — thin black line that appears over your audio in Selection Tool mode)

  • Restart (vertical line followed by left facing triangle) — Skips to the beginning of the audio, no matter where your play cursor is

  • Skip to End (right facing triangle followed by vertical line) — Skips to the end of the audio

  • Record (red circle) — Press to record your voice or other sounds

  • Selection Tool (looks like Roman numeral 1)– Use to select portions of audio. Click once where you want your selection to start then drag to where you want it to end.

  • Envelope Tool (two opposing triangles with a line in the middle) — Use to adjust audio levels of a track. Click at the point(s) of the line where you want to make your audio level adjustment then drag up or down

  • Zoom Tool (magnifying glass) — Use to zoom into a track to see more distinct wave patterns. Click where you want to zoom in. Use the shift button while clicking to zoom out.

  • Time Shift Tool (a double-pointed arrow) — Use to adjust the placement of a track. Click and drag track to the left or to the right.

  • *Draw Tool and Multi-Edit Tool not pictured. These tools are beyond the basics.

  • Recording Monitor (microphone with L & R next to it) — Detects the decibel levels of your audio while recording
  • Playback Monitor (Speaker with L & R next to it) — Detects the decibel levels of your audio in playback
  • Recording Volume (microphone with adjustable bar next to it) — Adjust the volume to adjust the sensitivity of your recording device. Left to decrease, right to increase
  • Playback Volume (speaker with adjustable bar next to it)  — Adjust the volume of your playback audio. Left to decrease, right to increase
  • Fit Project to Width — Fits your entire project to the width of your screen. Useful for when you’ve zoomed too far in.

  • Input Device (microphone with dropdown menu next to it) — Select the proper recording device here

  • Recording Channels (dropdown menu with the option of Stereo or Mono) — Choose to record in stereo or mono

    • TIP: Mono has one audio channel. Stereo has two. Stereo has the ability to record different audio on each channel (ex: singing on left channel that comes out of left speaker, bass on right channel that comes out of right speaker). Mono doesn’t have that ability.

  • Output Device (speaker with dropdown menu next to it) — Select the proper output device/speaker here.

Now that you know the basics of the user interface, let’s go over how to import outside audio into your project.

Audacity can open most of the common file formats. We typically import audio files in the MP3 or WAV file format.

  1. Go to “File > Import > Audio” to grab your audio. 
  2. Select one of the two options: “Make Copy of Files Before Editing” or “Read the Files Directly from the Original.” NOTE: Making a copy is safer, but takes time and space on computer. Overwriting/reading directly-from-the-file is faster, but you risk messing up your audio. 

  3. Your audio now will appear in the project work area.

TIP: Copyright is important! If your project is being used only within the classroom, regulations are less restrictive. Outside the classroom? You have to worry about attributions, royalties, etc. For attribution free tracks, check out (make sure to select attribution free). Agnes’ McCain library has a lamelib on copyright and Google alo has a quick guide.


First off, you want to make sure the correct audio input device is selected!

Recording 1 Track

  1. Click on the microphone icon next to the Recording Monitor and select  “Start Monitoring” 
  2. Hit the “Record” button. 
    TIP: You want your recording levels to consistently be between -18 and -12. That means your audio is regulated and will require less editing later. Make sure your audio is crisp and ideally done in a quiet place.
  3. Record your audio
  4. Hit the “Stop” button

Recording a 2nd Track

  1. Select “Mute” on the first track. This will prevent it from playing in the background as you record.
    Muted track.
  2. “Transport” > “Recording” > “Record New Track”
  3. Repeat steps 3-4 from “Recording 1 Track.”

Recording on the Same Track

  1. Place your Play Cursor at the end of the track you want to record on.
  2. Hit the Record button OR Go to “Transport” > “Recording” > “Record”

Audacity is a powerful tool with tons of editing features. We’re just going to focus on a few of the editing features the program has to get you started.

Joining/Combining Tracks

You may want to do this to condense your work area or to join together multiple audio clips into one cohesive track.

Merging Two or More Tracks into One

  1. While in Selection Tool mode, double click on one of the track you want to merge with the other. Doing so will select all of the track.
  2. “Edit” > “Copy”
  3. Place the Play Cursor at the end of the track you want to merge with.
  4. “Edit” > “Paste”
  5. Highlight all sections of the track
  6. “Edit” > “Clip Boundaries” > “Join”


Same Track, Split Sections

Even if you record on the same track, your new recording will be separated from your old. You can tell by the dark black line that appears between each recording. To combine them, follow steps 5 – 6 from “Merging Two or More Tracks into One. The final result should look like this (as it does with “Merging Two or More Tracks into One”):

Removing Sections of Audio


  1. Play the audio and take note of what you want to delete
  2. Use the Zoom Tool to see the specifics of the wave pattern of the what you want to delete
  3. Use the Selection Tool to select that audio portion. 
    NOTE: If you hit “Play,” you’ll only hear the portion that’s selected. 
  4. Hit “Delete” on your keyboard OR “Edit” > “Delete” in the menu

Splitting an Audio Clip

Splitting an audio clip is useful if you want to insert an audio clip in the midst of another audio clip.

  1. In Selection Mode, place the Play Cursor where you want your audio to split.
  2. “Edit” > “Clip Boundaries” > “Split”


Adjusting When a Track Begins Playing

If you have two or more tracks and want to adjust when each one plays, use the Time Shift tool to move a track to the left or right.

Reducing or Increasing the Volume of a Track

Using the “Amplify” Effect (Increase or Decrease Volume)

  1. Select the track or track portion you want to adjust the volume of
  2. “Effects” > “Amplify”
  3. Drag bar to the right to increase volume, left to reduce volume.
    NOTE: “Allow Clipping” means you can increase the audio levels to the point of distortion. It’s a good idea to avoid this especially if your audio clip’s wavelength already has a lot of peaks.

  4. Use the preview button before finalizing


There are two methods of creating  the fade in/out effect for a portion of your audio…

Using the Fade In/Fade Out Effect (More Drastic Fade)

  1. Select the track or track portion you want to fade in or fade out
  2. “Effects” > “Fade In” OR “Effects” > “Fade Out” (depending on what you want)


Using the Envelope Tool (More Gradual Fade)

  1. While using the Envelope Tool, click once where you want your Fade to begin. A dot should appear where you click.

  2. Repeat Step 1 for the middle and for the end-point of your Fade.

    To Fade Out:

    Move down the middle dot to the ideal mid-level of your Fade and then move down the end dot to the ideal end-level of your Fade. 

    To Fade In:

    Move down the start point to the ideal start-level of your Fade and then move down the middle dot to the ideal mid-level of your Fade.

Once you’ve finished with your project, you’ll need to export it. 

Exporting to MP3 requires the LAME Lib file you downloaded earlier. Exporting as WAV files requires nothing.

NOTE: MP3 files tend to be more space friendly.

  1. Go to “File” > “Export”
  2. Choose the audio settings you want for your respective file.


  3. If you wish to, enter metadata (a.k.a. Information such as title, artists, etc.)
  4. Hit “OK!

Want to know more?

Email with all your questions comments and concerns