Dave Taylor

Exporting MP3’s Using Audacity

By: Dave Taylor
October 19th, 2009

I've been recording my daughter's singing with Audacity, a great open source audio recording and editing app, and it's fun and makes it pretty easy to chop and organize audio tracks. Problem is, I want to save the output as an MP3, not as a WMA file. but when I try to export the audio file in that format, it just pops up an error. How can I fix it?

Dave's Answer:

You're right to be a fan of Audacity, it's easily one of the best open source audio editors available. Heck, it's one of the best audio editors even when you compare it to commercial solutions on the marketplace. Haven't heard of it? Check it out at audacity.sourceforge.net.

While it's pretty easy to work with the basics of audio editing in Audacity, there are some edges of it that can be a bit tricky. For example, what you ask about is a classic dilemma facing people who first start out with Audacity: how the heck do you save MP3 files?

The problem is that the MP3 audio file data format is patented and there's a license fee associated with its use. So it can't be included in a free, open source application.

How do you get around it? Have an MP3 audio file library that's distributed from outside of the United States. In fact, the library is called "LAME" (which originally stood for "LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder") (no, really) is distributed from a server in Argentina.

Before I give you the URL, let's see how you end up crashing into that wall in the program.

Let's say that you've finished editing your audio file. You quickly recognize that the "Save" options don't include separate audio format files because it saves "projects", not standalone audio files that you could play on an iPod, for example.

Instead, you need to use File --> Export..., which brings up this window:

audacity export mp3

If you choose "MP3 Files", as I have here, type in a filename and click on "Save", you'll then be told that the program can't find the MP3 "LAME" library, though the error window is a bit more than puzzling:

audacity no mp3

Click "OK" and:

audacity no mp3 library

Oh, not good at all! What you need to do is actually install the library, which, yes, means you have to download a file from a server in Argentina. You can go through most of the same steps and click on the "Download" button on the second window, or just go here to download LAME.

Once you've downloaded the appropriate file for your operating system (there are versions for Mac OS X and Windows) and installed it, you'll find that the next time you try to export an audio file in MP3 format, it'll just save properly:

audacity export mp3 works

Now you can save files in exactly the format needed for your MP3 player, iPod, iPhone, or any other MP3 player. Now, have fun and do something delightful!


About the Author: Dave Taylor has been involved with the Internet since 1980 and is internationally known as an expert on both business and technology issues. Holder of an MSEd and MBA, author of twenty books and founder of four startups, he also runs a strategic marketing company and consults with firms seeking the best approach to working with weblogs and social networks. Dave is an award-winning speaker and frequent guest on radio and podcast programs. AskDaveTaylor.com http://www.intuitive.com/blog/