The Joys of Editing a Podcast
Ahhhh the edit. If you thought recording was fun, you’re going to LOVE the edit. Well, I hope you’re going to love the edit. It will take you 3 to 4 times as long as the recording to clean it up and get it sounding good… so you’d better enjoy it, or find someone who does, like my fantastic team of editors at HumblePod!
So, what goes into an edit? We’ll pick up where we left off in the last episode: with your recording. As I said last time, “You’re only going to sound as good as the audio you record.” So the first thing we need to do is check our recording from the last episode.
One thing that I’ve learned in all my years of podcasting is that it is very easy to overlook things in a recording session. For instance, you might be recording in your home. You’re probably used to every noise around you. As a result, you probably don’t realize that your HVAC is obnoxiously loud… until you listen to your recording in post. Even if it wasn’t “obnoxiously loud” when you recorded, the recorded audio will probably be amplifying sounds you only subconsciously paid attention to prior to having a podcast.
Now those sounds are glaringly obvious, and you have no clue how to fix them. On top of that, for some reason, your mic volume is way quieter than it needs to be, and your guest wouldn’t stay on the microphone, so you’ve got to wrangle some crazy volume fluctuations or risk blowing out your listener’s ears. Then there’s that one part where an ambulance came flying by where you were recording, and now you have to edit that out, too. It can get overwhelming quickly.
First of all, I want to reassure you that if this is your first recording, these things happen. You will learn what to look out for in time as you learn your equipment and finally get bold enough to ask your guests to stay on the mic during a session. What’s important right now is that we focus on how we can work through these issues.
At this point, you might be a bit frustrated. What you thought yesterday was a great session turned out to be… what I described above… yeah. If you really think the audio was that bad, please go back and re-record. There is nothing worse in my mind than saying, “We can fix that in post.” It is the great lie of content creation that the Adobe Creative Suite is capable of fixing every creative failure. Fixing it in “pre” is always the better decision (and you’ll learn how to anticipate these things in the future).
Yes, as you will see, there are some absolutely magical tools at your disposal for editing, but they can be over-used, or, worse, may not solve your problem the way you hoped it would… which is why I say, “You’re only going to sound as good as the audio you record.” So go back and listen again. Make the decision on what to do, and when you’re ready, I’ll be here waiting for you.
The Editing Workflow
Now that we’ve decided to move forward with the audio we’ve reviewed, it’s time to take a look at my recommended podcast editing workflow.
The editing workflow consists of four stages.
Step 1: Review Audio
We’ve already got a jump-start on the Assembly phase. The very first thing we should do is review the audio we have in front of us, which you’ve already done.
Step 2: Import Audio
Next, we need to manage the actual “assembly” of your first episode. I’m going to assume you know how to move audio from your recording device to your computer. If you don’t (because it’s always bad to assume), here is a link to Zoom and Rode’s product support pages so you can find the manual for your recorder. If you used a USB Interface, then you’ve probably got this in a DAW or online recording resource.
Step 3: Opening your DAW
Now that we’ve got all that ready to go, it’s time to open up your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and get to editing, but what DAW do you choose and why? As I stated earlier, I recommend Adobe Audition, but you could just as easily use Pro Tools, Logic Pro, or even Descript, Audacity, or GarageBand. It all depends on how much you want to learn and your budget to edit and learn these tools.
For beginners, I recommend Descript or Audacity. Audacity is a traditional DAW that is open-source and free. It doesn’t have the best user interface (UI), but it does the job well and is surprisingly capable of editing your podcast. Descript, on the other hand, is very non-traditional. You pay a monthly fee, and you edit your content based on an auto-transcription.
Descript is a fantastic tool that we use at HumblePod for heavy content editing and narrative production. It also interfaces with DAWs, so you can use some of its awesome tools like “Remove filler words” as part of your workflow. It is capable of editing a podcast from beginning to end and includes a lot of automation for making mixing and mastering easy. If you’re coming from the content marketing world and don’t have time to fiddle with the more advanced tools like Audition or Pro tools, it’s definitely a good starting place.
That said, personally, I recommend Adobe Audition. I have found it to have the best set of built-in tools and cleanup capabilities. The fact that you can view and directly edit audio on the spectral frequency is awesome. The only other way to get that is to invest in iZotope’s RX platform, which is amazing in its own right, but that can easily set you back another $500 to $1,000+ depending on which version of the software you get. If you plan on editing your own audio, you’ll be set for at least a year with the plugins available in Audition.
As for Pro Tools, be my guest if you want to use it. It’s definitely a fantastic editing tool, but my perception of this tool is that it’s really meant for music production. On top of that, it’s not as flexible as programs like Adobe Audition where you can reprogram hotkeys. There is clearly a “Pro Tools Way” and your option is to follow what they say or find a different DAW. If you’re just starting out, I definitely don’t recommend starting here. If you want to make audio production a career though, it might be worth looking into.
Editing Your Podcast
At this point, I need to be clear that I’m only providing a general workflow and tips along the way. If you want to learn to edit, The Podcast Engineering School is a fantastic resource if you’re serious about this as a profession, and Mike Russel does some fantastic YouTube videos on how to edit in Adobe Audition if you want to do it all yourself. After all, this is a podcast, so there’s only so much we can discuss without having to visually see what to do.
Destructive vs. Non-Destructive Editing
One of the first things we need to discuss is how to edit your audio. In general, there are two approaches to editing: destructive and non-destructive editing. Non-destructive editing is a process that leaves the original audio file in its original form. You can cut up the track and make changes that you need to and you won’t affect anything in the original content. The vast majority of the editing you’ll do is non-destructive as most DAWs default to non-destructive editing.
Destructive editing, on the other hand, is a process that affects the original audio file. In general, you use destructive editing when you can’t mitigate the problem through track plugins or non-destructive edits. A destructive edit can be as simple as erasing a part of the track where there’s an annoying noise, or as complex as restoring audio frequencies that dropped out because your guest used AirPod Pros over a Zoom interview. Destructive edits can be powerful, and by that token, they can be damaging to the final product, so use destructive edits with caution, and always ensure you have a backup of the original file you intend to work with.
That said, it’s time to get all these tracks level and add any effects processing you think you’ll need upfront. That way you can adjust as you go. Also, remember, this is going to take some time to do. Your ears are going to get tired (yes, really), and so you want to manage this piece while you’re fresh. Over the course of the edit, it will also allow you to discover if your processing is too much or not enough for your mix.
As for what processing to add to your tracks, I recommend the following effects to get started: an Equalizer, a Compressor, and an expander/noise gate.
An Equalizer is a plugin that will help you adjust the volumes at different frequency bands with an audio signal. It has many different applications, but the most important thing to know is that it will help you balance your voice and your guest’s voice, and can also be used to edit out annoying frequencies on a track. For instance, remember that HVAC Rumble? A hi-pass filter can reduce that rumble to nothing. Just be sure not to set it too high, or you’ll start to cut into the quality of your own voice. On the other end of the audio spectrum, EQ can be used do reduce Sibilance. This is is especially helpful if your mic is what I would consider “bright”… or weighted towards higher frequencies. Now, you can also use a De-Esser to reduce sibilance, and that is the recommended method for dealing with sibilance, but if you’re looking to keep it simple, a good multi-band EQ will do the job well.
In general with EQ, my goal is clarity. Most people think of radio voices when they edit audio and recall the boomy bass they hear on the track. This causes them to weight the track for that boomy bass tone, and ultimately this leads the track to sound muddled the minute you’re not listening on a proper pair of headphones. That’s because most people neglect the high-end. My recommendation here is to think of what needs to be done to hear your audio with noise in the background. Remember that most people will be hearing you while in their car or doing something other than sitting down listening on a pair of studio monitors.
Next, we have the compressor. The reason we use compression in audio is so that we can limit, or compress, the dynamic range of the track and help balance the volume. In general, the rule of thumb I have is that you need to make sure you don’t over-compress. If you do, your audio will end up sounding literally… compressed. It’s also worth noting that a compressor is not the be-all, end-all solution for balancing your track’s volume, but it helps focus the track’s range enough to be a solid assist in this process.
Lastly, we have the noise gate and/or expander. A noise gate is a plugin that will cut off noise below a specified volume threshold. An expander is basically the same thing (sometimes it’s even just a button on a Noise Gate plugin), only it functions more like a compressor, compressing volumes below a specified volume level. In general, this type of volume reduction is smoother, and, in my experience, much better for spoken word audio like podcasting.
Gates and Expanders can be very difficult to dial in perfectly. Therefore, this plugin is optional. Especially in the beginning, I recommend very limited use of this effect. They can really ruin a track if you don’t get it set properly. You. Don’t. Want. Audio. That. Is. Choppy. If it sounds like that, you’ve gone too far with your settings. Also, I highly recommend using a noise gate with the option for an expander. The expander is a smoother type of gate and will ensure your tracks don’t have those annoying pops when you start talking.
Once you’ve got your plugins set up for all your tracks, it’s time to do an initial balance on the volume. For this, I recommend using YouLean Loudness Meter on your mix (or master) track to monitor this balance. Visually, on YouLean’s plugin what you’re looking to keep the volume balanced between tracks. When the speaker changes, or there’s transition audio, you don’t want the volumes to have any dramatic drops or increases. This will help ensure a good track through and through, and ensure you’re not blowing out your listener’s ear drums.
1st Pass: Content
Now that we’ve got the plugins set up and the volume balanced, it’s time to settle in and start editing.
But what do we edit? And how do we know what to clean up?
1st Pass: The Obvious
I recommend a 2-pass edit. In the first pass, we’ll edit the obvious first. You probably know what content needs to be taken out of your recording session, so start there. Take out what you know needs to be taken out content-wise, and tighten up the session. Make sure you also group your tracks that way when you move things around, stuff doesn’t get out of place and tracks get out of sync.
2nd Pass: Disfluencies (Filler words)
On the second pass, clean up the small stuff and the disfluencies. What is a disfluency? It’s another way of saying “filler words.” These are any words that are used to fill dead air. Prime offenders include “ums,” “uhhs,” “ahhs,” as well as “like,” “you know,” and any other phrases someone repeats to the point it’s obnoxious.
Something important to note here though: you don’t want to cut all of them out. First of all, some disfluencies can be hard to cut if they run up against another word. Secondly, removing all disfluencies can leave you sounding almost robotic. Plus, disfluencies have been proven to actually aid in memory retention, so feel free to have an allowance for them. The ones I would target are the obvious filler words. The ones you can pick out on the track with your naked eye and add no value to the conversation.
Once we have your edits complete, it’s time for the review. Take a listen to your whole track. If you’re several hours in, I recommend you do this the next day. Listen fresh. Make sure there aren’t any noises you want to take out, and adjust the EQ as necessary. If you’re working with a team, you might also consider passing it on to them for review as well. Once this piece is done, it’s time to master your audio.
The first thing we’ll do with the master is to double-check to make sure your volume is balanced across all tracks. Make sure this is true of the music and any transitional elements as well. Once you’ve got all that done, you’re going to mix all this down into a single file.
It’s at this point that we need to finalize the episode’s volume and make any last-minute tweaks. So how do we know how loud a podcast should be?
Podcasts should abide by the LUFS standard. LUFS stands for Loudness Units relative to Full Scale. This measurement factors in the human perception of loudness and the electrical signal intensity of the volume. LUFS are the standard for most movies, TV, radio, and music as well.
Another reason I like Adobe is that they have this nifty Amplitude Statistics window which will give you a readout of the track. It’s another great baked-in plugin that I highly recommend utilizing. YouLean will also do a track readout. Just drag-and-drop the file into the plugin and it’ll analyze it and give you the final LUFS output that you want.
Podcasts need to be mastered to -16 LUFS for stereo & -19 LUFS for mono and neither should cross -1db peak loudness. Audition also has a Loudness meter which will help you determine the overall volume for your track if you choose to edit the audio manually.
The quick and easy way to master is to use a program like iZotope’s Ozone. This program will let you set the volume level and peak loudness you want to hit, and the software will automate the process for you. The manual way to do this involves getting your LUFS set pre- MP3 export, or working with the volume and EQ of the final track prior to saving as an MP3… and as you can imagine, that is tedious.
When you’re done mastering and your volume is set, you’ll need to convert the WAV file to an MP3. I recommend exporting your audio at 192 kbps CBR. Yes, the standard states that it’s 128kbps, but podcasts hosts will accept higher fidelity audio, and this ensures you’re not crunching down the file.
It’s also at this stage that you should add your show’s metadata. You can add the episode title and even graphics at this phase. If you insert markers in Audition, those will also transfer over to some podcast directories as markers. So watch what you put in the MP3 if your audio goes to one such host. For example: I’m using Omny for this podcast, and it inserts markers that I align with the sections of my podcast. This makes it easy to track with the content I’m creating and highlight specific content as well.
Once you’ve got that file saved, we’re ready for the last step in getting your podcast live: the launch… but before we do that, you need to edit! Which, of course, brings us to your homework.
For your homework, I want you to edit your show. Use the resources provided in this show, and have a go at the first cut. If this is your first time editing, I want you to share the edit with someone you know and trust to give you good feedback. Chances are, you’ll do something that you shouldn’t have done, and that feedback will be invaluable in finding that out.
If at this point you’re realizing that editing isn’t going to be your thing, that’s fine, too. As I mentioned at the top of the show, this is my company’s area of expertise. If you’d like us to help you out, you’re welcome to reach out to me at email@example.com or fill out the Contact Us form on HumblePod’s website.
So let’s get to slicing up your recording. Because in the next episode, we’re going to be taking off!