One of the greatest things about podcasting is that you can make a podcast about whatever you want, in any format that you want.
If you have a microphone and a computer, you can make a podcast. There are no rules.
This is both freeing and terrifying. What should you say? How can you be sure people will want to listen? How do you make a show that will be successful?
There are many factors involved in making a great podcast, but I want to talk about one of the big ones in this post: Editing.
Pick your podcast editing software and invest time in learning the basics
What’s the best app for podcast editing? That depends on who you ask.
I’ve used (and loved) Logic Pro X for the past five years, but I know many people who use Pro Tools. I also have friends who produce great podcasts with Garageband. Plenty of people use Audacity (although I’m not a fan). There’s also Reaper, and let’s not forget about Adobe’s Audition.
Let me simplify it for you. There are free apps like Garageband and Audacity. These are great for getting started because they are free and relatively easy to learn. The downside is that they don’t have many of the features that will save time for experienced podcast editors. They also lack some of the more powerful tools for enhancing audio quality.
The paid apps (Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Audition) are more powerful, but also more difficult to learn. If you have no experience with editing audio, you’ll most likely feel overwhelmed when you open one of these apps. But if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with many useful features and tools that you won’t find in the free apps.
Regardless of the app you choose to start with, you’ll need to invest time in learning the basics:
- How to create new projects and record audio files
- How to import existing audio files into your project
- How to change the volume levels of the tracks to get them balanced (so one track isn’t noticeably louder or quieter than the other)
- How to use plugins or effects to enhance your audio
- How to make edits to your tracks and move the pieces around
- How to export an MP3 file for publishing when you’re done editing
You will not learn how to do all these things in a single afternoon. Expect to spend hours or even days learning how to use your software. The good news is that the basics of recording and editing will transfer to the other audio apps. The execution might be a little different, but the ideas are the same.
My recommendations for beginner podcast editors:
If you have a Mac, start with Garageband. It’s free. If you use Windows, download Audacity. If you master the basics and want to keep expanding your audio skills, then start looking at the professional apps.
There are many free or affordable tutorials for learning these apps. Google is your friend here. Set aside a few hours to learn the features of your audio editing app, or just dive in and start playing around (if that’s how you like to learn).
If you want to spend less time on podcast editing, spend more time preparing
You’ve heard the saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially true when it comes to podcasting.
Here are the main things to focus on if you want to spend less time editing.
1. Record audio that sounds good.
Learn how to set your input gain properly.
If you’re using Apple earbuds or a USB headset, you may not have control over your input gain, but most microphones or audio interfaces have gain control knobs that you can adjust.
Your recording software should also have some kind of meter that shows you the gain levels of your microphone. As a rule, aim for levels coming in at a maximum of -12db (this is usually where green turns into yellow on most level meters).
Learn proper mic technique.
Buy a pop filter and keep it two to three inches away from your microphone. If you’re monitoring yourself while you’re recording, you shouldn’t hear any explosive P’s (those thumpy popping noises).
Turn off fans, air conditioners, or any other sources of low-level background noise.
This will help your audio sound cleaner and will reduce the “noise floor” on your recording. Excessive background noise will distract listeners from your message.
2. Plan a topic for the episode and write a simple outline.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that they can just jump on a Skype call with someone and produce podcast gold. While it’s possible that your guest may have some interesting things to say, you should always have a good reason for talking with someone and a primary topic for an episode. Once you know the general topic, write a simple outline of questions that you want to ask or sub-topics you’d like to discuss.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I want to talk to this person?
- What’s the problem I’m trying to address here?
- What action(s) do I want my listener to take after listening to this episode?
- How is my listener’s life going to be different after listening to this episode?
- What valuable insights, knowledge, or life experience do I (or my guest) have to share?
3. Plan your intro and your outro.
Nothing can ruin a show for a listener faster than a long rambling intro. If you’re doing a solo show, write out your introduction to the topic. If you’re interviewing someone, write out how you’re going to introduce them and the topic. Even if you don’t read your intro word-for-word, you should at least be clear on how you’re going to start the show and how you’re going to transition into the main topic– the “meat” of the show.
Same goes for the outro– decide in advance how you’re going to end the show and try to make the ending punctual. At the very least, thank your listener for giving you their attention and tell them you’ll talk to them next time.
Pro-tip: I like to end my interview episodes by asking my guest where the listener should go to find them online.
You can end your show however you want– just plan your ending in advance. Planning your intro and outro in advance will save you a lot of time and effort later in the editing stage.
Record a track for each person on the show
You need an audio track for each person on the podcast. This gives you more control when it’s time to edit. You can lower the volume level of a track if it’s louder than the other tracks, or make it louder if it’s quieter. For example, if someone starts coughing or typing loudly on their keyboard, you can cut out that part of their track and delete it.
If you only have a single audio file, you have less control over things like volume and editing. Your guest’s voice may be much quieter than yours, which will annoy your listeners. Your guest might accidentally bump the mic every few minutes or have a coughing fit while you’re saying something very important, and you won’t have a way to cut it out.
My recommendation for recording individual tracks:
There’s a number of things that can go wrong while recording, which is why I recommend always using the double-ender method of recording (this is where everyone records a local audio file on their computer, then sends it to the editor using a file-sharing service afterwards).
I always record a track for my voice using Logic Pro X, record the Skype conversation with Ecamm Call Recorder, and ask my guests to record a file using Quicktime or Audacity. If that sounds like too much work, there’s a great web app called Zencastr that simplifies this process, making it extremely easy to record an individual audio file for everyone on the call.
Edit out these common mistakes
Podcasting isn’t about making the perfect show. It’s about making a show that’s interesting for your intended audience. That being said, an episode with great content can still be ruined by one (or a combination) of these common mistakes:
1. Pre-show rambling
It’s totally normal to have a few minutes of conversation with your co-hosts or guests before you get into the main topic of a show, but ask yourself, “Is this something my audience will find interesting?” If not, cut it out.
2. Loud background noises
Doors slamming, dogs barking, keyboards thumping, children yelling, loud fans… The list of potentially distracting background noises is long. You don’t need to edit out every single little sound that happens, but if they happen enough, they will distract your listeners from the content of your show. Again, prevention is the best medicine here. Ask your co-hosts and guests to try to prevent as much background noise as possible before you start recording.
3. Extra long pauses or filler words
Many people use filler words like “ummm” or “you know”, and it’s not always a big deal, but some people may use them so much that it starts to get annoying. Don’t spend eight hours trying to edit out every little imperfection, but do try to edit out the most obvious ones. I think of this as “tightening up the conversation”. You want everyone on the podcast to sound smart and well-spoken, and sometimes this means giving people who are less-confident speakers a little help in the editing stage.
4. Interruptions or false starts
As a rule, I clean up any interruptions or false starts that waste more than five seconds of my listener’s time. So if it’s a quick, false start (someone starts saying something, then backtracks and starts over), I’ll leave it in. If they spend 20 seconds talking and then start over, I’ll cut the false start out.
Same goes for interruptions– if two people start talking at the same time and then one person continues, I’ll leave it in. If they go back and forth for 15 seconds about who should continue talking, I’ll try to clean up that back-and-forth as much as possible.
5. Long tangents unrelated to the main topic of the episode
Tangents happen, and that’s ok. But if you’re talking about growing a business or email marketing and your co-host goes into a 20 minute tangent about the latest TV show they’ve been watching, stop and ask yourself if it’s really something your audience wants to hear.
As a podcast producer and editor, it’s ultimately your call on what to include and what to cut, just keep your audience in mind. Respect their time.
An extra few quick, podcast editing tips
There’s so much that could be said to help you get your podcast editing off the ground, but I’ll leave you with a couple final quick tips that you can take action on today.
On adding music to your podcast
Selecting music and using it in a podcast is a topic that deserves it’s own blog post, so I’ll just say this: Choose music that fits the mood of your podcast and learn how to use automation to lower the volume of your music track when you’re talking. Use your ears to determine how quiet your music should be while you’re talking– you should be able to hear your voice clearly even while the music is playing in the background.
On using markers or time-stamps for editing:
Some programs have the ability to drop markers while recording, so you can quickly go back to a specific time in your recording and make edits (for example, a guest said a naughty word that you’d like to remove). Trying to have a conversation and drop markers at the same time can be kind of tricky, so I prefer to keep a pencil and a piece of paper next to my computer while recording. This is also an excellent way to write notes about your episode without typing on my noisy keyboard.
Don’t worry about perfection, just get started with your podcast editing
Podcasting is challenging, and I’ve seen too many people give up on podcasting after spending over eight hours of editing on a single episode.
You don’t have to get everything perfect the first time. You’ll get better and faster with practice, so give yourself a deadline and ship imperfect work. If you prepare and do your best, you shouldn’t have to spend more than two to five hours of editing on a single episode. After you get comfortable with how your editing program works (learn the keyboard shortcuts for everything!), you should be able to reduce your editing time drastically.