So, you’ve recorded a killer podcasting session but aren’t sure how to take it from raw to ready? We get it—there is a lot to take in. But editing is undoubtedly one of the most crucial aspects of the production process when making a podcast. We know editing a podcast can be intimidating and overwhelming at first, and that’s why B&H is here to run through some of the basics and get you producing polished, engaging, professional-sounding content.
In this article, we’ll walk through the essential techniques of trimming, adding effects, and mixing your audio tracks. With the right tools and tricks, you can deliver a broadcast-ready finished product that sounds great, while keeping your audience enthralled and coming back for more.
Universal Basics of Editing
Before we even touch on some basic editing techniques, the first decision you need to make is what DAW (digital audio workstation) you want to use to edit your podcasts. As of 2023, there is a plethora of software options available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
Basically, any program that can edit and process audio can be used to produce podcasts, from free programs like Audacity and GarageBand, to more involved DAWs such as Apple Logic Pro, Steinberg Cubase, Cockos Reaper, FL Studio and, of course, the venerable Pro Tools, from AVID. With its wide compatibility for plug-in software, a powerful interface, and support for highly efficient quick keys and macros, Pro Tools is ubiquitous among professional engineers in studios and post-production houses. But any of these programs, even the free ones, can be used to record, arrange, and mix multiple tracks at once.
Once you’ve settled on a DAW, it comes down to the basics of editing audio: cutting, fading, mixing, and arranging your audio files together in the software. With multiple tracks, you always want to make sure your audio files are properly aligned with each other, and the first real edit you will want to do is to cut out unwanted sections such as dead space or accidental bumps of the mic, typically using a scissor or razor tool (more on that later).
Removing Breaths, Stutters, and Other Artifacts
Alright, so you have your tracks arranged, what now? Now we must dig deep and start refining your tracks to make them a little cleaner and more professional sounding. Do you enjoy listening to someone breathe into a mic or stutter on words when listening to a podcast? Neither do we, which is why these parts of a recording should be the first that you target.
To remove these annoying artifacts, we need to employ a combination of cuts and fades for optimal results. This means zooming in (typically using a magnifying glass tool) and using the scissor or razor tool to cut out small vocal artifacts that are audible yet short enough not to affect the flow of the conversation when removed.
Sometimes, when you cut these sections out, they may still have an audible effect on the audio flow, resulting in a slight stutter or glitching sound. This is because hard cuts will often remove transients in the sound wave that cause jumps from one level to another. To help maintain a smooth transition between these cuts, a fade should be employed in both directions. This is called a cross-fade.
Some DAWs will have a key shortcut for doing this automatically, while others may require selecting a special tool. Regardless of how it is done, it is a vital technique for patching over hard cuts in your audio and keeping things sounding natural and continuous.
Noise Reduction and Fixing Problems
Once manual editing is done, it’s time to begin applying some processing. The first thing we should be concerned about is excessive noise, which might crop up due to less-than-ideal room treatment, mic placement, or mic isolation. Sometimes these things can’t be helped, and every podcast recording, no matter how much effort is taken, will likely incur some unwanted noise that should be reduced before the final mixdown.
This is where the ever-important plug-ins come into play. Plug-ins are special pieces of software that typically are designed to integrate directly into your DAW, providing specialized and enhanced audio processing functionality that the basic DAW may not possess. For podcasting, noise gates, de-essers, and equalizers will offer the most substantial benefits to your production.
With a noise-gating plug-in, you can automatically attenuate extraneous noise in your audio, such as mic hum, static, AC units, exterior noises, and more. Simply set the volume threshold, and any sound lower than that in volume will be removed from the audio. Be careful not to gate too excessively, because this can affect the spoken audio as well, ruining the quality of your podcast.
With a de-esser, you can easily remove any pesky sibilance that managed to make it through your pop filter, helping to tame recordings with overly prominent “S” sounds. And with EQ, you can remove problem frequencies that might be making your audio sound muddy or overly bright, so you can find the ideal tone for your podcast performance. If you’re unsure where the offending frequencies are located, try using a frequency analyzer to pinpoint the problem zone visually.
Normalization and Output Recommendations
Once you have your podcast mostly edited and ready for output, the last part of your job is to prepare gain levels for final mixdown. This is more important than you might think: Loudness often determines the attention you will get with your podcast, and with so much competition, you don’t want to be left in the dust by other podcasts with higher gain levels. At the same time, you don’t want to hurt the ears of your potential audience. It’s a balancing act, and one with which we are here to help you.
Normalization is a useful tool to help you get better levels, and it refers to the process of applying constant gain to an entire audio track to bring the track amplitude to a target level (the norm). There are two kinds of normalization: peak and loudness normalization. With peak normalization, you will use a tool or plug-in to find the highest signal level in your audio and then adjust the rest of the recording to match that level. In most cases, this should be around 0 dBFS. Peak normalization can be very helpful, especially for individual audio tracks in your session, but it doesn’t account for the perceived loudness of the audio.
That’s where loudness normalization comes in for the entire podcast mix. This technique can be based on either a simple measurement of average power or based on the human perception of loudness for a more accurate result. For example, YouTube and Spotify, two popular platforms for podcasts, prefer a loudness level of -14 LUFS, so if you exceed that level, YouTube will automatically lower it with the application’s own normalization.
Thus, it is always ideal for you to prepare your final output with a loudness level that is as close as possible to the preferred level of the platform to which you are uploading. -14 LUFS will typically provide an optimal result for most streaming platforms, making it a great place to start. It is also important to note that depending on the dynamic range of your content, some peaks may exceed the limits of your streaming platform and cause clipping. In this case, it can also be a great idea to apply compression or limiting to your final output to ensure it streams with optimal loudness and minimal distortion.
From editing platforms and simple techniques to in-depth processing and audio normalization, we hope this article made it a little easier to refine your podcasts for maximum engagement. With thousands and thousands of content creators getting into the ever-crowded field of podcasting, these techniques will be vital for staying ahead of the curve and making your content stand out. If you have any questions or feel anything was omitted, feel free to drop us a line below, and we’ll do our best to answer all your comments and questions.