If you want to produce high-quality podcast episodes, learning the basics of audio editing can go a long way toward improving the listening experience for your audience. Check out these eight podcast editing tips to take your storytelling and podcast audio quality to the next level.
Choose the Right Software
Having the right podcast software is just as important as having the right physical podcast equipment. With a digital audio workstation (DAW), the entire creative process can be carried out, including recording, editing, mixing, mastering, and exporting. While different DAWs have different features, most have multi-track capability, which means you can mix and edit multiple clips at once instead of being restricted to editing one file at a time.
Most DAWs also allow for non-destructive editing, meaning you can make changes to your audio file without overwriting the original audio file, unlike destructive editing, which permanently changes the original. Be mindful that some of the most basic audio editing software options have destructive editing and don’t have recording capabilities or multi-track editing capabilities—although this is becoming less common.
When choosing which type of recording software to use, plan ahead and weigh your options. If you’ll be doing minimal edits to your podcast episodes, a more limited DAW like Audacity is a good place to start. If you plan on more extensive and complex editing, a more robust DAW like GarageBand, Pro Tools, or Adobe Audition may be a better option.
Organize Your Sound Files
To avoid wasting time while editing your podcast episodes, remember that organization is key. Use consistent folder and file naming conventions for your recordings so that finding specific clips when you need them is simple.
Consider creating separate tracks for different audio types within your DAW so you can make changes to each track independently. For example, use separate tracks for each interview participant, as well as separate tracks for voiceover elements, music, and sound effects. Color-coding each track type so it’s easily distinguishable can also make the editing process go more quickly.
Since some podcast formats require minimal edits and others require a more complex editing process, your organizational system will be highly dependent on how much editing you’ll be doing for each episode. Make sure to pick a system that best suits your needs.
Make an Editing Outline
Before you begin editing, develop a clear end goal for your desired final product so you can decide what to keep or cut from your recording. Every clip you include should serve a purpose in the story you’re telling. For example, if your podcast is highly research-based, you may want to remove extraneous tangents that stray from your topic, whereas a more conversational podcast might leave these moments in.
Once you’ve determined your goals, you can make a podcast editing outline. One way to do this is to listen to the entire piece of raw audio and create a punch list of editing points with matching timestamps, noting where you want to make cuts. If you have access to a podcast transcript, you can also make your notes there for a similar result.
Be aware of the difference between content edits and sound edits. You may even want to consider making a separate outline for each. Content edits are about the words actually being said and the implementation of storytelling techniques, such as placing audio clips in the most effective order or trimming audio files to an appropriate length. Sound edits deal with the technical side of podcast editing—that is, improving the actual quality of the sound recording, as well as implementing sound effects to add to the listening experience.
Familiarize Yourself with the Tools
Audio editing can be a difficult learning curve if you don’t know which tools you have or when to use them. But learning these basics will get you a long way in your editing process:
- Scrub: This is where you drag a cursor or playhead across a waveform section to hear it. The playback speed depends on how quickly you move the playhead.
- Split: With splitting, you cut an audio clip into separate pieces in order to remove a certain element, apply different transitions and effects, or adjust the speed.
- Trim: This tool lets you shorten or expand a clip by clicking and dragging, so you can trim the sections of audio you don’t want (or add something back in if you change your mind).
- Fade: This tool creates a seamless transition from one audio clip to another. Fade in, fade out, and crossfade are the three basic options to choose from.
- Balanced Audio: This is a tool to balance your audio in the left and right channels of your playback output device.
- Equalization: This tool allows you to change the level of each frequency in an audio clip. By turning the volume of specific frequencies up or down, you can make them either more or less prominent as needed.
- Volume Normalizing: This tool normalizes audio by detecting the audio’s “loudness” and dynamic range, and then altering the volume level to a reference level. This tool allows you to reduce the need for manual volume adjustments.
Remove the Unnecessary
When you edit your podcast, it’s a good idea to cut the dead air and idle chatter at the very beginning and very end of your recording. For some podcast formats, this might be all the editing you choose to do! This minimalistic editing strategy is known as top and tail editing. However, many podcasters need to do more extensive editing to achieve their goals.
As you make your edits, keep your audience’s listening experience in mind. Try to cut out things that take away or distract from your episode’s content, such as awkward pauses, excessive “ums,” coughs, throat clearing, chewing or drinking noises, and traffic sounds from outside.
Remember, too, that timing and pacing are important for podcasts. If you get too edit-happy with your cuts, you can disrupt the natural flow of conversation, and that can make your episode seem too rushed or cluttered with noise. Sometimes, pauses and silences can be golden!
Add an Attention Grabber
There are millions of podcasts out there. If you want yours to stand out, brainstorm ways to captivate and keep your audience engaged from the very beginning of each episode.
Some podcasts add intro music to their episodes either by creating their own song or using a royalty-free option. Others might opt to play a short snippet of an interesting or funny moment from the episode to hook the listener and give them a sense of what’s coming.
In either scenario, adding attention grabbers can help establish the podcast’s tone, showcase your high-quality audio, and give your audience a taste of what to expect if they keep listening.
Try Sound Design
Want to take your podcast to another level? Consider sound design! This is the use of auditory components like music or sound effects to boost a narrative. While including memorable intro music can hook your audience, applying interesting auditory components throughout the episode can keep them engaged as they listen.
Strategically incorporating music into your podcast can enhance storytelling by setting the tone, creating more drama, or increasing the listener’s emotional connection to the episode. You could also opt for a sweeper, which is a pre-recorded voiceover piece that can be used to segue between segments. Or even a stinger, which is a short music piece or sound effect that can be used to be used to open, close, or transition between different segments of your podcast.
To avoid overdoing it, though, try to focus on balance with sound design. Your podcast sound effects should enhance the content, not distract from it.
Review Your Edited Episode
Once you’re done editing your podcast, you’ll want to make sure you’ve checked all the boxes on your editing list. And the best way to do that is to give yourself a fresh perspective.
Play through the whole episode and listen to it as though you’re a podcast listener. Make note of any mistakes that stand out, disrupt the flow of the episode, or that hinders the listening experience. Then, you can go back and make final adjustments to the episode.