Finding and 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.

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:

    “A codec (a blend word derived from “coder-decoder”) is a program, algorithm, or device that encodes or decodes a data stream. A given codec knows how to handle a specific encoding or compression technology.” —Mozilla. “Codec.” MDN Web Docs Glossary.
    Learn more about audio codecs by reviewing Mozilla’s Web Audio Codec Guide.
  • Compression
    “A process that reduces the amount of space necessary for data to be stored or transmitted.” —Society of American Archivists. “Compression.”
    Dictionary of Archives Terminology.
  • Lossless
    “Lossless is used to describe digital compression techniques in which no information is lost; an object is identical before and after being compressed and restored.” —Society of American Archivists. “Lossless.” Dictionary of Archives Terminology.
  • 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. “
    Lossy.” Dictionary of Archives Terminology.

File Formats:

  • AAC: Lossy format
    Can be seen with the file extension .aac, .m4a, or .mp4, among others.
    “Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) is an audio coding standard for lossy digital audio compression. Designed to be the successor of the MP3 format, AAC generally achieves higher sound quality than MP3 encoders at the same bit rate.” —Wikipedia contributors. “Advanced Audio Coding.” Wikipedia, Accessed 20 Jun. 2023.
  • MP3: Lossy format
    Designed by the Motion Pictures Experts Group, the MP3 is a
    lossy audio compression file type. “The MP3 lossy audio-data compression algorithm takes advantage of a perceptual limitation of human hearing called auditory masking.” —”MP3.” Wikipedia, Accessed 20 Jun. 2023.
  • OGG: Lossy format
    “Ogg Vorbis is a fully open, non-proprietary, patent-and-royalty-free, general-purpose compressed audio format for mid to high quality (8kHz-48.0kHz, 16+ bit, polyphonic) audio and music at fixed and variable bitrates from 16 to 128 kbps/channel. —”Vorbis audio compression.”
    “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.”

Name Content Type Description Use/Rights Subscription Required
ccMixer music ccMixter 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.
Creative Commons Search various forms of media and web content, including music Creative 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.
Free Music Archive music The 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.
Freesound sound effects “Freesound aims to create a huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, and all sorts of bleeps, … released under Creative Commons licenses that allow their reuse.” —”
About Freesound
Review “
What do I need to do to legally use the files on freesound?


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

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


Internet Archive:
Audio Archive
music, 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
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.”

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.

See Washington and Lee University’s General Counsel’s
policies and resources concerning intellectual property/copyright.

Audio Editing Software

Software Name Availability
Audacity Free software download available at
also available on the many computers in Leyburn Library.
REAPER Proprietary software installed on the Mac computers located in Huntly Hall’s Reading Room