Help! Can't open project- flatlines and crashing


I’m using Audacity 2.4.2 and macOS Catalina 10.15.2. Last night, I was in the process of recording and editing, so I saved everything as a project. Everything was working fine, but today when I open the project I got an error message (see attached). I clicked “continue without deleting” as most websites suggested, but I found all of my tracks have turned into flat lines and I’m not getting any sound. I found a youtube tutorial online that said I should make sure to keep both the .aup file and the _data folder together, but even after putting them both on my desktop it won’t open as usual.

I find when I open individual files in the data folder, they do load, but they’re their own separate projects and I’m not sure if I can compile them without it getting extremely tedious.

Side note- it’s probably not helping that when I’m in audacity, my mouse often freezes as a constant loading icon until I have to force quit.

Any tips would be greatly appreciated-hoping to recover this project before it’s due!
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my mouse often freezes as a constant loading icon

Spinning Beachball of Death?

That means the Mac is taking too long to do something in the time allotted, and that usually means you’re out of something.

Glance down in the applications dock and see how many applications you have running by the lights or marks under each icon. Macs don’t make this obvious, but those marked applications are not closed, they are napping and waiting to leap into action the instant you want them. But they’re also taking up memory, memory that Audacity needs to manage your show.

If you dig in the _DATA folder, you will find the little 6-second AU files that Audacity uses to build your show based on the instructions in the AUP file. That’s what those two do to make your show.

You can open up the AUP file in TextEdit and read it (do not save anything).

It should contain semi-English words something like this.

That’s been prettied up a little for the picture, but you get the idea.

If it’s blank or contains trash symbols or black blocks. then that may be the end of the show.


Close everything you’re not using for this exact show. That includes notifications, Zoom, Skype, Email, Safari, Twitter, FaceBook, etc. etc. Everything.

That’s the obvious bottleneck, but you could also be running out of hard drive space.

Desktop > Go > Computer > Control+Click Macintosh HD > Get Info.

And the latest trial by computer is iCloud. Do you use any on-line storage such as iCloud, Google-One, Amazon AWS, etc? Audacity doesn’t like those very much. They look OK to you, but Audacity needs storage to be perfect and local. Web storage is too sloppy for audio production.


Update: I attempted to start fresh and finish a new project and export and MP3 within one sitting to avoid any mishaps, but it still crashed on me. After a few hours of editing, the spinning wheel of death appeared and I had to force quit. I was saving religiously as a project (.aup), but I’m getting the same odd error message and flat lines when I open it. Again, I have both the .aup and _File right next to each other on my desktop. I even made a test file and that one’s still working fine insert eye roll If anyone could let me know what I’m doing wrong, that would be amazing!
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Hi Koz,

I’ve made sure to close any unnecessary apps while I was working last night. In regard to storage,I just checked and I still have over 8 GB of space- is that still not enough? I’m just making 10-15 min podcast.

When I open the project on TextEdit, the project name seems to match the _Data folder (see attached). Some things might have been backing up to iCloud, so I just turned off syncing. Unfortunately, I’m still getting the same error message and flatlines when I try to open the project. I’m so confused about why my test project is working fine compared to my main one. Any other tips? How else can I prevent this repeated crashing?
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I’ve made sure to close any unnecessary apps

What are the necessary ones?

I still have over 8 GB of space

You show multiple tracks in your show. How many tracks do you have?

How long was the test show? In my opinion, 8GB isn’t enough for a good quality, multi-channel show. There used to be a fuzzy rule on the video forums that you have to have 10% free space on your drives to avoid troubles. How big is your drive?

Audacity doesn’t use plain, ordinary files inside. It uses a super high quality format to avoid damage when you’re applying effects and filters. So the work uses far more data than you think it does. Every time you apply a serious or heavy effect, Audacity makes a copy of the whole show. That’s how it does UNDO. It just calls up the old show. If you do that twice, you just tripled the size of your show.

Being an obsessive engineer, I would try vicious troubleshooting. Double the amount of free memory. Push some stuff off to your backup system, if only temporarily. Disconnect the network or WiFi. That’s the fan symbol upper right or I can talk you through disconnecting a wired connection (or pull the wire).

Restart the Mac and note how long it takes to go down. Not Restart. Actual Shutdown.

Wait a bit and Start. So not start anything else. Run Audacity and see if the show will open without troubles. If it does, you can put all your stuff back in again bit at a time and see which parts cause troubles, but I expect this little exercise to get you going.

If you use Projects for backup, use Lossless Projects, not regular ones. Those are easier to recover from in case of damage (but they’re larger and need more drive space).

Last note. The AUP file seems OK. It looks normal. It calls our your show name correctly and in the proper place. See where it says “projname=” the fourth line down?


I have 120 GB in total. I was nearly done with the project, but I’ll try and clear up more space as you mentioned. I have a total of 22 tracks (only one of them is long, the rest are just 5-10 second long sound effects that I individually downloaded.) I shut down/restarted my Mac as you said and opened my project, but still getting the same errors.

Why does disconnecting from the wifi help (and how would I work without it?)

Also what do you mean by putting all my stuff back in again? Do you mean I should drag in each .au file from the _data folder? Because last time I tried that, each of the chunks were out of order/hard to piece together.

still getting the same errors.

If you’re not connected to anything outside of your room and you shut down and clean-started the Mac, then one or more of your sound files may be damaged. It could also be an interaction between two bad sound files.

what do you mean by putting all my stuff back in again?

I mean you can restart your internet applications and connections or your built-in apps and tools. That’s probably not causing problems (this time).

120GB should be enough memory.

Particularly if you also created a fresh new show and it’s fine, then it’s a terrific possibility something you included in the damaged, longer, more complicated show is bad.

There is a on-line file checker you can try, but I don’t know that it will be much help since neither of us knows what kind of damage to look for—other than it doesn’t get along with your show.

Again, I don’t know if this will help a lot, but the next troubleshooting step is reduce the show by half and see what happens. Then half of the half that failed. That’s a lot faster than peeling off one sound file at a time until you hit it, but it’s up to you.

Do post back when you find it. We’re on the edge of our seats.


I think we’re only missing one other troubleshooting trick.

This goes right around New Users, but it’s insanely valuable to us if you can make the damage worse. That helps build a damage personality in our heads.

And then we may have to lie down for a while.



I checked the online file checker, but as you said, I’m not sure what to look for (I just got the generic file name and size). I’m also a bit unclear about how to reduce the show by half (and I definitely don’t want to mess anything up as this is my first time using Audacity). Is there any chance you would be willing to show me how via a quick call or zoom so I could share my screen and save you time?


I’m also a bit unclear about how to reduce the show by half

Remove half of your downloaded sound files from the show. Or if you remember, start with the last one you downloaded and work backwards. If nothing else affected the stability of the show, this is about the only thing left.

One of the tracks in that stack is damaged.

This is going to get seriously convoluted because if you just delete a track, UNDO may try to put it back.

You kept a folder with all your downloaded sound files, right? How about your voice or announcing? Do you have WAV file backups for your voice tracks? I have no idea what your show is, but it may be good to reconstruct the show clean and see what step it falls apart—unless you already know. Do you remember the production step where it became unstable—or slightly before?

Is there any chance you would be willing to show me how via a quick call or zoom

No, for two reasons. While my download speeds are OK, by upload speeds are not. It would be a very lopsided connection.

That and I need to go play real life for a while. Someone else may pop in with other ideas. Having a project crash is not unheard of—one reason this Project format is going away in the next Audacity version.

There’s another fuzzy rule of thumb. If a show gets this unstable, it’s gone. Start over.



I understand. Thank you for all of your help, Koz! Sadly, I recorded myself directly in that audacity project, so there’s no external voice recording I could import. Time to restart again…

Two final questions:

  1. If I record myself on voice memos of my iPhone (.M4A), will I be able to import that directly to audacity or will I have to convert it to an .MP4?
  2. Aside from closing all of my other apps, is there anything else can I do to ensure audacity doesn’t crash on me for the third time?

Thank you,

M4A is the audio format MP4 is the video format with sound inside it. I believe if you install the FFMpeg add-on software, M4As should just open. MP4s might open too, but that’s overkill.

Scroll down.

However. Are you sure Voice Memo produces M4A files? The last time I did this, I downloaded and used Music Memo with the idea it was going to have less (fewer?) tricks added to the sound. Music Memo is designed to be a straight, simple recorder for music.

However, when I tried it, it worked famously except it produced a sound file I’ve never seen before and it took a selection of deities to get the file out of the phone and into a form I could use. I forget whose law this is, but I improved voice capture so much it stopped working.

Alternately, I shot a simple interview with Voice Memo and it came out perfectly. That’s about the time I got the new phone and haven’t had time to mess with it again.

I have a couple of application tricks. Again, with the idea of working way too hard, I suspended the “phone” from a boom mount and tried to announce into it.

I know it’s not an iPhone. It has the same sound system as a comparable vintage iPhone. It pretty much sucked. I violated a rule somewhere. The sound was way worse than it should have been.

For the interview, I set the phone down in front of the speaker on a cafe table and let it rip. No effort on soundproofing at all.

So you might try a voice test like that. You do need to know which microphone the system is using. There are two on the new SE. The little one next to the camera and one on the bottom of the phone. No experiments yet. I have no idea which Voice Memo uses. I shot the interview with the face down.

When you pick the phone up it starts sounding airy and gutless. Experiment. I’m perfectly clear this might pick up all kinds of table and floor vibrations in addition to your voice, but so far it seems to work OK.

Leave a note how it goes.


Better still, leave a sound test how the phone goes.

Ten seconds in WAV is good.

This is the audiobook voice test format. “Catskill Farms…”

I would kill to get a simple phone process to work. That would save so much grief.


Hi Stephie,

so next time you make a recording like that, as soon as you finish and before you do anything else with Audacity, Export a safety backup WAV recording of the raw unedited recording (then you would have something to import and rework).


Hi WC,

Okay, thank you! I actually did export my project right after recording myself, but I guess it won’t work as an MP3? When I open up the recording on itunes it shows the full length (13 min) but it’s completely silent when it runs. Is there any way I can get that working again or does it only work if its a .wav file?


Is there any way I can get that working again or does it only work if its a .wav file?

The show was already toast when you did that. That should have worked either WAV or MP3.

Are there blue waves when you open the MP3? Flat line?

In order of appearance:

Audacity Lossless Project.

This the the largest way to save a show and the most robust. It will save an edit’s sound, timelines, configurations, setups, layouts, and settings, but not UNDO. It also saves unique, recoverable sound files of all the work. It’s huge. Save (not Export) one of these when you still have a working show. It’s not the worst idea to save multiple times through the course of the production with different filenames so you can save more than one backup without them stepping on each other. If Audacity falls over in a dead faint, you can always open the older Lossless Project you saved before lunch.

In all filenames, only use upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, -dash- and underscore. Today is not 10/25/20. It’s 2020-10-25. That’s ISO date format. You can leave out the dashes, but it’s harder to read.

Audacity Project.

This is the one that Audacity saves when everybody thinks they’re saving a sound file. They’re not. It’s a simple save of edit sound, timelines, configurations, setups, and settings (but not UNDO). It’s missing the actual stand-alone sound files included in Lossless. It’s the most efficient way to save an edit for later (as long as you don’t need UNDO). It’s also the most brittle and likely to turn your show into trash if anything goes wrong.

The Project format will change in the next Audacity version to make errors and damage less likely.

WAV (Micsosoft)

This is the uncompressed, high quality sound in Audio CDs and in a slightly different version in the main sound channel of video. I call it “perfect” quality. It’s not quite, but it’s close enough for sound production. It’s stereo or mono only. Two sound channels, left and right, or one sound channel in the middle. Microsoft WAV files are supported by and will open up in all three computer types. Audacity won’t Save one of these. You have to File > Export.

Audacity will mix down however many edit channels you have to stereo or mono when you export.

I still have WAV files for effects voice work I recorded a long time ago. These are the master files the editors use to put a movie together.


This is the famous sound format that everybody’s in love with. MP3 gets it’s small, convenient sound files by re-arranging musical tones in the show—and leaving some out. There is a quality slider when you export an MP3 and as long as you choose a high enough quality, most time you can’t tell what it’s doing.

Make an MP3 when you want to listen to your show on your portable music player while you’re running on the beach, posting to share for listening on-line, and in a very highly controlled manner, submitting for audiobook publication. That’s it. Those are the only three times to use MP3.

Never use MP3 in the middle of production because each time you edit or change an MP3, Audacity makes a new one and it rearranges and leaves out even more musical tones. If you do that three times, the show may be trash. The distortion is permanent. There are tricks, but in general you can’t stop it. Never do any production ever in MP3.

You said you use MP3 downloads in your show. That’s fine as long as you never want to re-edit a show. If you do, you may find the tags, interstitials, and bumper sounds a little weird, tinkly, and cellphony, but your voice is fine. That’s the magic of MP3. It’s a time bomb.

There was a poster who created a music review radio show for broadcast. He downloaded MP3 songs, reviewed them and included them in his show. He made an MP3 of his whole show and shipped it off to the station who broadcast it no trouble. But they couldn’t make the stations MP3 podcast. Couldn’t do it. His voice was OK, but all the music turned to bubbly garbage.

We got him out of trouble by making an Audio CD (perfect quality WAV, right?) and delivering that to the station instead of the MP3. Making the WAV doesn’t reverse the damage, but it stopped getting worse during the delivery.

MP3’s full family name is MPEG-1, Layer Three. It’s part of a digital video format designed about the same time as VHS tape.