Learn the basics of podcast editing in this comprehensive guide. From choosing the right software to removing unwanted noise, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started.
Since its start, podcasting has seen massive growth. Edison Research’s Spoken Word Audio Report shows that the U.S. population listens to spoken word audio daily. On average, podcast listeners will listen to around eight shows per week. This leaves room for everyone to be on their audience’s roster.
With the increasing popularity of podcasting, the expectations of a quality, well-produced show is on the rise. The podcast content itself is undoubtedly the most important aspect but poor audio quality will not only lead leaders to click off the episode but may also lessen the host’s professionalism and trustworthiness. While we can expect podcast quality to improve over the course of a show’s lifetime, it is important to get the hang of it quickly to increase potential listenership. A well-produced podcast is a sign that the host takes their content seriously and wants to provide a well-rounded experience for their listeners.
With anything, you can get incredibly granular when it comes to editing techniques and I’m sure we’ll expand on that in the future. Today my goal is to show you everything you need to know the basics of podcast editing from start to finish in a simple, tangible, and easy to understand framework.
The Basics of Podcast Editing
In this guide, we will walk through the following steps:
- Preparing for Editing
- Basic Podcast Editing Techniques
- Additional Editing Techniques
- Finalizing Your Podcast Episode
Preparing for Editing
In culinary terms, ‘mise en place’, a French phrase meaning “putting in place” refers to the setup required before cooking. This may include familiarizing themselves with the recipe, collecting tools, gathering ingredients, and completing basic prep work. Now, you may be wondering what cooking has to do with editing a podcast but it is the preparation that we really want to focus on here. Ask any chef and they will stress the importance of mise en place for a successful recipe execution.
Simply put, just like a chef needs to know their recipe and organize their ingredients, you’ll want to organize your files and get familiar with the audio you’re working with. This pre-editing phase is just as important as the editing itself when we are looking at the basics of podcast editing.
Organizing Your Files
Before you begin editing, it is important to have and maintain a well-organized folder structure. You’ll thank yourself later on when don’t have to backtrack and sort your increasing collection of files.
I find it works best to have separate folders for each of the clients I work with and subfolders within those for each new episode. This way, if there are multiple versions of the episode, you can quickly and easily find the most recent version.
PRO TIP: When labeling your files, it is best practice to label the file by podcast name (or abbreviation), episode number, and version number. Not only will this avoid confusion when searching for the most up-to-date version, the chances of you pulling and uploading an incorrect file drastically decrease.
To be extra safe, I’ve gotten into the habit of saving my files to an external hard drive and/or an online file hosting service such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
Understanding Your Recording
One of the first steps to editing is understanding the piece of content you’re working with. You’ll want to start by spot-checking your audio and making a note of any background noises, tech glitches, or other problematic areas so you know how best to repair and edit.
There is a handful of repair software at different price points including Izotope RX, SpectraLayers, Acoustica, and others that can help you repair the quality of the audio before getting into the nitty gritty of editing.
Remember, while there is a lot that can be repaired in post-production, the software is not magic and cannot fix everything. It’s important to first and foremost record (or have the host record) in an optimal environment.
For more information on improving the audio quality of your podcast, listen to episode 34 of the Listeners to Leads Podcast: Tips for Better Podcast Audio Quality with Lisa Zawrotny.
Basic Editing Techniques
Once you know what you’re working with, have prepared your mise en place, and are ready to edit, you’ll want to import your audio into your editing software of choice. I personally use Audacity as it is a free, user-friendly option, but feel free to use the software you like best.
As you get into the groove of editing, you may be able to do all (or most) of your editing in one session but if you’re just starting out, I suggest taking a few passes on the episode focusing on different areas each time. The two main areas you’ll want to focus on are editing for context and editing for clarity and cleanliness. It is totally up to you which order you decide to edit in. The most important thing is finding a workflow that works best for you.
Editing for Context
Editing for context is a matter of removing tangents that do not provide value to the overall topic, incorrect information that has since been fact-checked, and cutting any dialogue that may allude to past events that are no longer relevant to the time of posting.
Whether it be to educate or entertain the listener, each podcast episode has a purpose. While you’re editing it is best to always consider what information or bits of conversation are going to be valuable to the listener and feed into the overall storyline that the episode is trying to accomplish.
Editing for Clarity and Cleanliness
Once you’ve cut the episode down to the most valuable pieces of content, it’s time to clean up the episode to provide an overall positive listening experience.
Enhancing Audio Quality – Two of the basic tools you may use for every podcast episode you work with to enhance the overall quality of your audio is the noise reduction tool and the compression tool.
Compression – You’ll use the compression tool when your piece of audio is filled with peaks and dips in audio to achieve consistency in volume across the track. You may use this on the entirety of the track or just in select areas that need a little more help to even out the noise.
Noise Reduction – Noise reduction is exactly what it sounds like. This tool removes unwanted background noise that may be appearing on your track. Say there’s a lawn mower or a fan running in the background of your podcast episode, the noise reduction tool will let you select an area with the problematic noise and either remove it completely or lessen the harshness of the noise on your track.
Removing Unwanted Sections
Every piece of content you work with will need some work to clean up things like long pauses, heavy breaths, filler worlds, and misspeaks. While you may not notice these things when having a natural conversation with someone, I guarantee you notice when your favorite podcast host stumbles over their words or cannot stop saying ‘um’ between every thought. When in doubt ask yourself, “Will this be distracting to the listener?” If so, it is best to remove it.
There are a couple of techniques you can use to remove unwanted sections of audio. Either you can select and cut or delete the entire section or you can highlight the area you want to get rid of and silence it. What I choose depends on where and how long I want the pause in the dialogue to be.
PRO TIP: You may notice when you’re cutting out unwanted sections that the areas that you clipped are not as smooth as you would like. To fix this you can use the fade tool to smooth out any of these areas for a seamless transition.
While the fade in and fade out tools do exactly what you’d imagine, in some situations you may also use the crossfade tool. With this tool, you can select two clips and have one fade out as the other fades in, simultaneously.
Additional Editing Techniques
While the basic podcast editing techniques can be very supportive in editing your podcast, there are a few more elements that I believe are important to have a well-rounded and cohesive show.
Adding in the intro and outro clips
Most, if not all podcasts will have an intro and outro that sets the tone for the podcast’s overall brand. The intro tells your listeners what you’re about and hooks them into sticking around to listen to the content of the episode while the outro likely has a call to action (join the community, review the podcast, find the host on social media, etc.) and thanks the listener for tuning in.
If you don’t already have an intro or outro you are currently working with, you can find great free or low-cost royalty-free music at sites like Neosounds, Soundstripe, Audio Jungle, etc. You want your intro, outro, and music to be a reflection of your brand and how you want your listeners to feel when tuning in.
For Example, If you have a true crime podcast, you might consider a serious, tense, and somewhat spooky music clip while if you have a health and wellness-based podcast, you might look for something more playful, joyful, and inspiring.
When you import your intro or outro segments, you’ll want to work with them on a separate audio track. While most software automatically imports the audio onto a new track, you may have to manually add an additional track on others. When you’re working on separate tracks, you can easily overlap the end of the music from the intro into the beginning of the podcast episode for a smooth transition into the content.
Incorporating Transition Sounds & Sound Effects
While transition sounds and sound effects are not as common as some other audio elements and really depend on the genre of your podcast, I felt it was important and worth noting. Adding clips of music or sound effects to your episode can help add to the atmosphere of the storyline or break up the episode into different segments.
Similar to selecting the intro and outro music, when selecting audio clips to add to your podcast episode, you’ll want to make sure the sound you select is royalty-free. You can find a variety of stingers (short pieces of music, often lasting no more than 5 seconds) to use as transition sounds.
To add a transition effect, import the file onto a separate track and drag it into its placement. You may need to adjust the volume of the audio and use the fade tool for a smooth transition. Be sure to overlap the transition sound with your spoken content for a seamless flow.
Finalizing Your Podcast Episode
Review & Revisions
After your editing is complete, it is time to review and proof-listen to the episode. Listen through one more time to be sure you made all of the necessary edits and didn’t leave anything undone. This may be the time you write the episode’s show notes and pull out audio clips or quotes that can be repurposed.
PRO TIP: Repurposing your podcast content is an incredibly valuable way to ensure the time and effort you put into your content stretches further and reaches more people in different ways.
Check out these podcast episodes on repurposing your content:
Once you’ve reviewed and made the necessary revisions to the episode, it is time to export! Be sure to check into which format your hosting platform requires. If you use a hosting platform like Buzzprout, export your episode as a .WAV file as Buzzsprout will automatically convert the file into the correct format. Hosting platforms like Anchor require your file to be exported as an MP3.
*The difference between a .WAV and MP3 is the file size. MP3 files are compressed into a smaller sized audio file while WAV files are uncompressed and much larger.
The last step to finalizing your podcast episode is adjusting the loudness of your episode. This is important because, as mentioned at the top of this blog, listeners are constantly switching between shows and shouldn’t have to adjust their volume every time they play a new episode or switch to a different podcast. By adjusting your loudness to the podcast standard, you are also proving consistency which is incredibly important to listeners.
The standard LUFS (loudness units relative to full scale) for podcasts is between -16 LUFS and -20 LUFS
*You can either adjust this in your editing software or use a tool like Auphonic for post-production finishing touches.
Like anything, there is a learning curve that comes with the basics of podcast editing. Use this article as your starting point and begin applying new techniques as you grow and get more comfortable. What feels like a step-by-step procedural process now will become second nature over time.
The future of podcasting is now! So whether you have a podcast of your own or edit for someone else, there is so much opportunity for growth in this industry.
Check back in on our resources page for additional tutorials and information to improve upon your skills.