Finding & Using Audio

Academic Audio Use

Audio can play an important role in scholarly research—and not just in the field of music! Sound recordings can serve as evidence, inspiration, data, or the soundtrack for a creative project.

For more information about copyright’s impact on media use, contact Paula Kiser.

For help with technical aspects of audio creation and editing, contact Senior Academic Technologist, Brandon Bucy.

Finding Audio

The following sections outline the process of an effective audio search–a process that includes the identification of project need and the location of appropriate resources.

Identifying Your Need

Before you conduct your audio search, consider the following:

  • What is the purpose of the audio within your project? Will it serve as evidence, primary source, focus of analysis/critique/commentary, or raw data for scientific analysis?
  • What is your intended audience?
  • What is the environment for your project (e.g., academic vs. creative project for public consumption)?
  • What specific criteria should your audio meet (e.g., content, sound quality)?
  • Are there discipline-specific conventions for audio use?
  • What audio sources will you choose from (e.g., digital, analog, subscription databases, web, or personal creations)?

Pay attention to the following as you conduct your search:

  • rights and restrictions of use associated with audio files
  • textual information associated with in audio files (e.g., supporting text, user-generated tags, creator information, repository names, keywords, or other supporting information about the media file)

Adapted from the ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

Understanding File Types

General Terms:

  • CODEC: “A codec performs the encoding and decoding of the raw audio data while the data itself is stored in a specific audio file format.” —National Archives, Digital File Types
  • Compression: “A process that reduces the amount of space necessary for data to be stored or transmitted.” —Society of American Archivists
  • Lossless: “…digital compression techniques in which no information is lost; an object is identical before and after being compressed and restored.” —Society of American Archivists
  • Lossy: “…digital compression techniques in which information is lost; an object is altered after being compressed and restored. Lossy compression sacrifices fidelity for size; fidelity and compressed file size are inversely proportional. The technique may be used in instances where the loss of information is not noticeable or significant.” —Society of American Archivists

File Formats:

  • AAC: “Similar to the MP3, AAC files are compressed and maintain high quality. AAC is currently the standard format for iOS and iTunes audio files.” —Penn Libraries
  • MP3: MP3 is an open standard developed by the Moving Pictures Experts Group that is highly compressed and removes data inaudible to the human ear (through a process called perceptual encoding).
  • M4A/M4P (MPEG 4 Audio): MP4 is a audio file format that frequently utilizes lossy AAC encoding.
  • OGG: “Ogg Vorbis (”) is a high-quality, patent-free, open source, compressed audio format and streaming technology.”—Bruce Fries & Marty Fries, Digital Audio Essentials
  • WAV/AIFF: “Though the WAV and AIFF were originally designed for Windows and Mac platforms respectively, each format is now compatilble with both platforms. Both formats are uncompressed, very high quality audio, and are best suited for short, downloadable clips because of their large file sizes.” — Penn Libraries
  • WMA (Windows Media Audio): “A proprietary compressed audio format developed by Microsoft and used by its Windows Media Player program.”— Bruce Fries & Marty Fries, Digital Audio Essentials

Resources for Finding Audio

The below listing represents resources that are free to use/access AND resources that are paid for by Washington and Lee University. Those resources that are paid for by the university are represented by a YES in the column, “Subscription Required.”

NameContent TypeDescriptionUse/RightsSubscription Required
ccMixermusicccMixter is a community music site featuring remixes, samples, and acapella tracks.ccMixer provides Creative Commons licensed music. Check the license for each download. Give credit as specified.NO
Creative Commons Searchvarious forms of media and web content, including musicCreative Commons Search allows users to search exterior databases for Creative Commons licensed items (images, video, audio, & media).Do not assume that the results displayed in this search portal are under a Creative Commons license. Verify that the work is actually under a CC license by following the link. If you are in doubt you should contact the copyright holder directly, or try to contact the site where you found the content.NO
Free Music ArchivemusicThe Free Music Archive is a curated virtual music library directed by WFMU, New Jersey’s listener-supported, freeform radio station.The music on this site is free to download; but, that does not necessarily mean you can do whatever you want with the downloaded content. Many of the downloadable songs are covered under Creative Commons licenses. Check the license for each download. Give credit as specified.NO
Freesoundsound effectsFreesound was originally created by the Music Technology Group of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, and is a database of sound clips.Freesound sounds have Creative Commons licenses. Check each download for the specifics of the CC liscence. Give credit as specified.


No fee is required; but, users must create a free account before downloading content.

IncompetechmusicCreative Commons licensed music created by Kevin MacLeod.Music is available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. If you cannot provide required attribution, a standard license can be purchased.


Internet Archive: Audio Archivemusic, historic radio, audio books & poetry, political speeches, & more!The Internet Archive offers “permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.” —Internet Archive.The Internet Archive Terms & Conditions state, “If a Creative Commons or other license has been declared for particular material on the Archive, to the extent you trust the declaration and declarer (which is rarely the Internet Archive), you may use the content according to the terms and conditions of the applicable license.”NO

Using Audio

Once you have found appropriate audio sources, you still may need to alter them to fit your project. Just remember, as with any other data, avoid altering content in a way that may be misleading or misrepresent the original source.

Also, if you use the intellectual property of others, remember to provide appropriate attribution/citation.

Audio Editing Software

Software NameAvailability
AudacityFree software download available at also available on the computers in Leyburn Library’s Video Editing Suite (M39), Leyburn’s Innovation lab PCs, and the computers in Leyburn 101 and 301.
REAPERProprietary software installed on the Mac computers located in Huntly Hall’s Reading Room

Creating Your Own Audio

Just as when evaluating pre-created audio content, creating audio files requires consideration of need, quality, and appropriate file type. There are many resources to help you make these important decisions, including a wide selection of Safari Technical Books.

In addition to Audacity and REAPER, which can also be used to edit pre-created audio files, the W&L Music Department provides links to other audio creation software tools–both free and fee-based.

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