How To Edit Your Podcast

Each podcast is different, but here’s what you’ll want to consider when you’re thinking about editing.

Everybody who has a podcast has to deal with the task of editing. This may range from simply trimming the start and finish of a single audio clip through to performing a detailed edit on multiple audio channels where you are removing or rearranging parts of the audio.

The goals of editing

Editing is the process of taking raw materials in the form of audio files and making them into a finished podcast episode.

1. Produce a great episode

My overall editing objective is to produce an episode that does not appear to a casual listener to have been edited. It should be interesting, flow naturally and contain nothing to distract the listener’s attention from the content.

2. Remove digressions & off-topic meanderings

I remove parts of the conversation that have strayed away from the main topic or have gone down a rabbit hole into too much detail.

3. Prioritise answers over questions

Our philosophy is that the interview part of the episode should be all about the guest, and so I limit how much airtime Amanda and I get in the interview section of each episode.

4. Keep episode length down

It’s a bit arbitrary, but I aim to keep episodes under 45 minutes. Every podcast has its own view of this, but that’s where I’ve drawn the line up to now. If we’ve done a great interview with few digressions and meanderings, then it can be challenging to find the “least best” segments to cut.

5. Moderate the disfluencies

Hesitation disfluencies are the false starts, repetitions, and hesitations that accompany the words that we are actually trying to say. Sounds such as “umm” and “err” fall into this category. Remove too many of them, and the conversation sounds unnatural, however, leave them all in, and they become a distraction to listeners. I remove some of them in my editing, especially where it is easy to do it undetectably.

6. Provide a great audio experience

Finally, there is an “audio engineering” aspect to any great podcast experience. Dealing with this involves managing background noise, and employing audio processing such as compression, EQ and levels management. I don’t spend tremendously long on these things, but they can add a nice polish to the overall sound quality.

Software

There are many available audio editing tools, both free and paid. I often recommend Ferrite Recording Studio, which I use on my iPad. Other good tools are Adobe Audition which is more expensive or Audacity, which is open source and consequently free. Each of these tools strikes a balance between providing powerful features and being easy to use. I think that Ferrite has nailed this balance, and there’s something great about being able to drag audio clips around with your fingers.

The raw materials

We usually get together to record Days, and I use a Zoom H5 audio recorder to make the recordings. I can plug my phone in to record a remote guest or, with the optional EXH-6 “input capsule” plugged into the top of the H5, add another dynamic microphone if the guest is present in person. We have also used Zencastr when we’ve had COVID-19 restrictions to deal with, which has worked well.

  1. Ian — Interview
  2. Guest — Interview
  3. Amanda — Intro
  4. Ian — Intro
  5. Amanda — Outro
  6. Ian — Outro

The stages of editing

When editing, I perform the following main tasks:

Assemble the audio

Firstly, I bring all the audio together in Ferrite Recording Studio.

Ferrite Recording Studio screenshot, containing initial imported audio clips
Ferrite Recording Studio screenshot, containing initial imported audio clips

Strip Silence

Strip silence is the process of removing all the audio from each participant’s recorded track where that participant is not speaking or making any other intentional sound. The idea is to remove all the segments where there is just background noise, leaving pure silence on the track.

Strip Silence example
Ferrite Recording Studio Strip Silence example
Strip silence applied with different threshold settings.
Strip silence applied with different threshold settings.

First Pass Edit

During this step, I listen to all the audio and “tidy it up”. By this I mean that I do the following:

  1. Remove any obviously incorrect sections of audio.
    For example, we might have done something wrong and re-recorded it straight away. I remove the incorrect version during the first pass edit. If there’s any question about it, I will leave it in for now.
  2. Remove some of the hesitation disfluencies.
    I remove some “umms” and “errs”, and other unintentional sounds made by the participants. There’s a balance to strike here, but the objective is to make everyone sound as good as possible and to avoid the attention of listeners being distracted from the content of what’s being said.
  3. Shorten the pauses.
    Sometimes while speaking, the participants will pause for thought or some other reason. I often shorten these pauses and find that this on its own can make the overall podcast a minute or two shorter. I would advise never to eliminate them, however, as this would make your conversation sound unnatural. Apply this technique judiciously, and use your ears to judge the result.

Review

This is the first point where I get other people to listen to the episode. The two principal reviewers are Amanda (of course) and my wife, Paula. I also listen through myself.

Dropbox time based commenting example
Dropbox time based commenting example

Second Pass Edit

This edit brings the episode very close to its final releasable state. I make most of the big editing decisions about what to keep and what to cut during this stage. The review comments are an excellent starting point for this, but I have to make the final judgment as I am responsible for coherency and consistency. For example, if a participant references a previous part of the conversation, I need to make sure that I haven’t cut it so that listeners know what is being referred to.

Ep12 project after the second stage edit
Ferrite Recording Studio project after the second stage edit

Audio Engineering

This final stage of the editing process is where I consider the more technical stuff. This is a huge rabbit hole into which you can disappear without a trace. My advice is to avoid getting too bogged down in it all. Perfect is the enemy of good — stop fiddling when it’s good enough, and don’t hold out for perfection. Trust your ears — if it sounds fine to you, it’s probably OK.

And Then…

At this point, you “just” have to upload your podcast and get people to listen to it! Easy, right? No, of course not. Those are topics for another time, however.

husband, father, technologist, design thinker, podcaster, enfp, ilkley resident, inconstant musician and photographer. ids is my initials.

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