Starting your own podcast has never been easier. But when it comes to editing one, things can get tricky.
We're living in another golden age of radio, but this time it's delivered straight to our phones, and there are thousands of shows to choose from we can listen to every week.
We've already detailed how to start a podcast in a four-part series, but when it comes to delivering something of professional quality, where does one start? You can take the easy route and hire someone to do it for you, but with some know-how, practice, and patience, you can start editing and mixing your own podcast.
Let's dig into the basic principles of podcasting and share some tips and tricks to help your work turn out amazing.
How to Record, Sound Edit, and Mix a Podcast
The podcasts that generally attract the most people have excellent sound design, clear dialogue, and are easy to listen to on your commute, long walk, or while doing chores around the house.
Besides the gear requirement, there's nuance in the world you're creating when recording a podcast.
Many laptops and personal computers come with a digital audio workstation (DAW) like GarageBand that can record the audio of your podcast. Additionally, there are programs like Audacity (free), Adobe Audition, and Reaper that can record the audio directly to your computer. Whatever application you use, make sure it has gain and level adjustments as well as some noise reduction tools.
Besides software, there are web-based platforms like Zencastr that clean and polish your files for you. Skype's or Zoom's record function is also an option if you want to record not only the audio but video as well. If you need help organizing your thoughts and words, check out Alitu.
Riverside.fm makes it easy to record remote podcasts and video interviews that look and sound like they were recorded in a professional recording studio. Industry leaders including Spotify, CNN, the New York Times, Marvel and Disney use Riverside.fm to record their remote podcasts.
How does it work? The audio and video is recorded locally on your guest’s computer, and they are uploaded to Riverside at the end of the interview.
Other Riverside features include automatic transcripts, recording with iOs on iPhone, AI speaker view, and the Magic Editor, which automates the editing process by merging separate tracks together into a full HD split-screen video, removing unwanted noise and distractions, and normalizes all guests’ gain.
Most everyone follows a budget when it comes to buying equipment. Luckily with podcasting, it doesn't have to cost you much to get going.
That said, the microphone is the most important tool to the equation. Generally speaking, the better the quality of the mic, the better you will sound. But you don't need to run off and buy the most expensive mic available. You can easily find a quiet room, open up an audio app on your phone, and start recording.
If you're looking for a microphone, the most common ones have either an XLR or USB input.
These microphones simplify workflow since you can plug them directly into your computer and select them as the audio input in the recording software. They're easier to use, quick to set up, and provide good-sounding audio. Some of the more recognized options are below:
These mics may require an audio interface like the RØDECaster Pro which supports XLR inputs to record the audio. The audio interface also allows you to adjust the levels of the microphone on the fly and provides enough gain for the microphone.
Depending on how much you want to spend or how many hosts are part of your show, there's an available option. RØDE has its RØDECaster kits for single users or up to four hosts.
If you're just starting out, a USB mic is probably the best bet. The Blue Yeti is an inexpensive option. We also like the ATR2100x.
If you're thinking industry standard, that would be the Electro-Voice RE20 or Shure SM7B. Both would need to be combined with something like a Scarlett 2i2 audio interface to set proper levels without introducing noise.
The big concern for podcasters is noise floor. A microphone whose gain needs to be turned up higher can introduce unwanted noise into the recording without a proper interface.
Generally, you want to set your recording levels so that the signal-to-noise ratio is not distracting to the ear. The audio level can be much quieter than most people think. If you start at a lower level, you can always raise it in post without it peaking. But if you start too high, you could peak your level, which will be unpleasant to someone listening with headphones. Ever been to a concert and a loud screech pierced through the speakers? High audio peaks can be as frustrating to our audience.
We suggest that your input peak level should hit around -12 dB. This way it will give you enough room in post to adjust any levels later on. And if you have a hardware device, like the Zoom F6 that allows you to record 32-bit float, that might be even better as it gives you a huge range in terms of latitude.
This should be a no-brainer, but try to record somewhere quiet. Things like air conditioning, traffic, and even a dog walking on hardwood can interfere. If you can, set up shop somewhere there won't be any sound leaking in from the outdoors. Take care of the problems during production before you see them in post.
Now that we have the basics covered, let's get into the actual editing of a podcast.
How to Edit a Podcast
The recording is only half the battle, now you have to edit the sounds. That means cutting into overly long personal anecdotes, creating breaks for commercials, and even making room for the sound design depending on the tone and style of your podcast.
So what goes into the edit?
Well, this is where your DAW comes into play. GarageBand is one of our favorites, but many of the professional podcasters we've talked to use Pro Tools, Audacity, Audition, or Reaper. Others we've talked to even edit in Premiere.
Choose the one that best works for you to edit content quickly. You never want the software to slow you down.
Tips on Podcast Editing
You're going to want to start editing the dialogue first before moving on to music and effects. You can look at the dialogue as picture lock. Once you know the voice story, you can add in other sound elements to make it pop.
While editing the dialogue, you might not be able to hear the things you actually need to draw out because of ear fatigue. So be sure to take breaks or step away if you need to.
One thing to be aware of is noticeable edits. Try using a crossfade to eliminate your podcast from sounding choppy. Remember, people are listening to it with headphones and will be able to hear everything, including its faults. When you export it to mp3, the audio will compress some of them, so do an export test to see if that helps.
Another thing to think about is breaths. Sometimes it can sound too heavy or out of place. Try to edit around them out or lower the level. However, you don't want to eliminate every single one. They're a natural part of conversations and it would sound robotic if you did.
Lastly, think about the "umms and uhs." Does it need to be in there?
There are ways to streamline speech, and removing them can smooth out your story for the listener. When people hesitate, do them a favor and trim out the parts of speech that are not words or are not necessary between ideas. You'll also want to remove any noise while editing the dialogue using noise reduction tools of the software.
While you're editing the dialogue, keep in mind you'll want to consider your sound design elements. Be sure to leave space in the timeline or take notes on where they will go.
Listen to it back and make sure the ideas presented are coherent and make the most of the allotted time. Once you have edited the dialogue, you can place the other elements and start your mix.
How to Mix a Podcast
Audio mixing is the process by which multiple sounds or vocal clips are combined into one or more channels to make them all sound equal. When you're mixing your podcast, you don't want some sounds to be loud while others are too soft.
You'll be using your DAW for this as well.
You'll first want to add in any music and sound effects. Your dialogue, music, and sound effects should be all hitting around the same level. When it comes to EQ, try to avoid adding too much bass, like if you're at 250Hz and below. It can sound unnatural. If it sounds “muddy,” you might have too much midrange sound, 250Hz – 500Hz. Harsh sounds might have too much upper midrange, 2-4kHz. And shrill sounds could be maximizing the highs, 6-20kHz.
You can also use a compressor to help with the mix. Compressors are automatic and help you smooth out the peaks in your audio by compressing them all to the same size.
For more advanced features like de-noising, taking out plosives, fixing clicks and pops, de-essing (taking those long S's out), and adding a limiter, those features will be software dependent. Audacity, Audition, and Reaper all have those capabilities. While the default settings are a starting point when applying them, there isn't a hard and fast rule.
Ultimately you want the podcast to sound as natural as possible and good to your ears. If you like how it sounds, the audience most likely will too.
There are other programs like the Waves Restoration Bundle, Waves’ WNS, Sonnox’s Broadcast Production Plug-In Collection, and Zynaptiq’s UNCHIRP that can take your podcast to the next level.
A Word on Sound Design
Let's talk about designing the sound of your podcast. These are the effects, score, and tunes you put into the show. Maybe you have a popular theme that gets laid in or you want a stabbing noise for your murder-of-the-week story. Well, sound design is your audience's gate into the imagination.
Generally, less is more here. You want to highlight the world, not overshadow the voices.
You can download free sound effects on sites like freesound and zapsplat. Even YouTube has a huge library of royalty-free music.
Your music should match the tone of the show. Try not to use popular songs without permission. You will get dinged by platforms for copyright infringement. So make sure you're either commissioning tunes, using the public domain, or finding free music to suit your needs.
At the end of the day, podcasts are an exciting medium that can become an extremely lucrative part of the entertainment industry. Whether you're broadcasting to an audience of millions or just a few, you want your work to be clear and concise, and transport people to another world.
We can't wait to hear your story.
For more, see our ongoing coverage of Sound Week 2020.
No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the Sound Week 2020 is sponsored by RØDE.
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