I think nearly every indie podcaster has used the Audacity software at some point! It's a free, cross-platform audio-editing app, so almost anyone can use it.
But Audacity has historically lagged behind other audio-editing apps (commonly called “DAWs” for “digital audio workstations”). However, Audacity is catching up quickly!
After Audacity was acquired by The Muse Group, development sped up and highly needed features have been introduced in the latest versions, starting with version 3.0.
The gentleman in charge of Audacity's innovation once had a great video introducing his participation on the team, but that video seems to have been removed. Instead, I suggest you watch his video, “Who Created Audacity & Why is it Free?“:
I also recommend you follow the official Audacity channel on YouTube, to see new-feature announcements and demonstrations.
So here are some of my favorite new features that I think warrant giving Audacity another try.
(And this is based simply on what I've seen only up through Audacity 3.2, which is the latest stable release at the time of this article.)
1. Non-destructive editing
In older versions of Audacity, cutting or deleting any audio was “destructive,” that is, it permanently changed the audio. You could undo your changes, but that was only in the same editing session, and that meant potentially undoing a lot of other changes as well, and you would have to manually make the edits all over again.
It reminds me of classic PC adventure games. I was a big fan of Sierra's Space Quest and King's Quest adventure games. In such games, if you made a wrong choice early on and you later realized it, your only solution was to restore from an old save position and replay everything from that point all over again.
That's what editing audio in Audacity was like—until recently!
Now, if you cut or delete audio, it doesn't destroy that audio! For example, if you trim the beginning of your guest's answer, but later decide to bring that back, Audacity now lets you simply re-expand that audio clip!
2. Real-time effects
In older versions of Audacity, applying an effect (such as compression, noise-reduction, EQ, and such) would permanently change that audio. This was another “destructive” edit. So if you ever decided you wanted to adjust or remove the effects, your only option was to go back to the original raw recording—if you even had it!
But Audacity 3.2 introduced real-time effects, allowing you to apply effects like a layer on top of your audio. So if, for example, you apply some equalization (EQ) and later change your mind about it, you can simply adjust the effect on your audio. No undoing or restoring backups! Simply change the effect settings whenever you want, including removing or re-ordering them!
3. VST3 and other modern plugins
Audacity now supports more plugins than ever before, with support for industry-standard VST3 plugins and more! Pair this with real-time effects and it means your editing and processing workflow can be better than ever before! No more wondering if that wonderful new plugin can work in your Audacity—it probably will!
Plugins are the ideal way to extend your editing capabilities and enhance the quality of your recordings without having to completely switch apps. Plus, this actually makes it easier to switch apps if you ever need to (either to or from Audacity) because third-party plugins will most likely work the same across all apps.
4. Update notifications
I always hated that the only way to know when an Audacity update was available was to manually check the website or to hear about it from someone else. Now, Audacity checks for updates on its own and it notifies you when you open the app. This helps you stay on the latest version so you can always have the latest features available to edit your podcast the best.
Yes, implementing this required some privacy-policy changes, but it's standard stuff that any auto-updating app requires. But you have the option to disable it if you want the highest privacy and don't mind still manually checking for updates.
The process is not yet a fully automatic update procedure where you click a button and it updates everything for you on all platforms, but I expect we'll see that soon.
5. Improved user interface (UI)
Audacity's user interface (UI) seemed locked in the '90s. Although there are standard conventions that are familiar and shouldn't be changed, there was a lot about Audacity that needed to be improved, clarified, cleaned up, or even removed.
These changes are happening slowly, and I know that some people simply don't like change. But I think it's always a good thing when changes make it easier and faster for you to do what you need.
6. Modern coding architecture
This one is geeky, but important. Devices use 64-bit processors these days, and Apple has switched from using Intel CPUs to Apple's own CPUs and systems-on-chip (called Apple Silicon). As Audacity supports these modern hardware architectures, it brings performance and stability improvements. Plus, it even prepares the way to bring Audacity to more platforms, like iPad and more.
Wouldn't it be great if you could use the exact same podcast-editing app on any device you use, and the experience would be seamless between them? That's what's becoming possible!
7. More coming in the future
This list represents only what I think are the most important updates as of right now—and that's only version 3.2! With a large company and more people behind Audacity now, we can expect to see many more great updates still to come! For example, I expect we'll see Audacity able to record computer audio like from Skype or Zoom while also recording your own microphone. And maybe there will be some podcasting-focused features, too!
I won't be able to keep this article and episode updated with the latest changes, but I'm excited and hopeful for Audacity's future!
Where does Audacity fit now?
For a while, I've recommended Audacity only when you needed something free, especially if you were just starting your podcast. But these latest changes, and much more still to come, are raising Audacity to be a serious contender even for Hindenburg and Adobe Audition, which are the two other DAWs I usually recommend (depending on your circumstances).
Should you switch to Audacity from Hindenburg? Probably not. (But I would highly recommend switching away from GarageBand, which does a lot of things weirdly.) I still think Hindenburg is far ahead of Audacity. And Hindenburg has many features designed for editing spoken content, so it's great for podcasting. But if you're a slave to Adobe's subscription service for Audition, and you're not tied to the rest of Adobe's suite, then you might want to look at Audacity again.
Since Audacity is now owned and developed by The Muse Group, they actually don't seem to accept donations anymore. But there are still opportunities for users, developers, testers, documenters, and translators to get involved.
So as one of the inspirations for my own podcast, and the tool that got me started podcasting, the Audacity software will always have a special place in my heart!
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