The Tim Ferriss Show, How I Built This, The Daily—What do all of these podcasts have in common? Quality editing. If you want to take your podcast to the next level, you’ll want to learn how to edit your podcast so it sounds professional.
Podcast editing, sound design, mixing, and mastering are all separate art forms that take time and practice to master, but it isn’t rocket science. We’ll discuss what podcast editing involves and how to do it in 10 steps through this complete tutorial. You’ll produce a quality show that can stand up next to the pros.
Podcast Post-Production Process
Any podcast can be taken to the next level through editing in the post-production process. Part of that involves having the best podcast editing software to get the job done right. When you have the proper tools and make the right preparations, the post-production process becomes much easier, and you can transform your podcast from mediocre to truly great. Here’s how to do it in 10 steps:
Stage 1: Podcast Editing
This part of the post-production process focuses on slicing and dicing the audio you've recorded and arranging it in a way that creates a compelling story for your listeners.
#1. Define the Length of Your Podcast Episodes
Before you start making any edits to your audio files, you need to have a clear idea of how long your episode is going to be. This will guide you through the editing process and make trimming the fat out of your conversations much easier.
Podcast episodes can last anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes in length. If you're just starting out, you may want to aim for about 20-30 minutes long. This will give you enough time to convey a full narrative to your audience, and you won't have to worry about losing listeners because of content dragging. You'll also save time in post-production if you're not producing long episodes.
#2. Create a Compelling Story Through Podcast Editing
When you sit down to edit your podcast audio, keep in mind the story you want to tell. Focus on the most important content when editing and cut out what doesn’t really tell that story.
For example, let’s say you interview a professional in the movie industry. You want listeners to learn about what it’s like working in entertainment; celebrities they’ve met, the writing and filming process, how they got to where they are. When choosing the content that makes it to the final cut of your show, you should constantly be asking yourself: "Does this add to the story I'm trying to tell?". Some obvious things to edit out include any chatter before and after your show begins or random tangents, like the weather.
Tip #3: Make Your Podcast Flow
When you edit audio for your podcast, make sure the conversation has a natural flow to it. When you commit to making these types of edits, just make sure you're always checking that your show still sounds natural and not over-edited. Here are a few tips to go by:
- Edit out unnecessary words, moments, or pauses.
- Cut out discourse markers (you know', so) or filled pauses (um, er), so long as it doesn’t disrupt the natural flow of the conversation.
- Edit out extended pauses.
- Remove obvious mistakes or awkward moments, like if you speak over your guest or any loud coughs, sneezes, and background noises.
Stage 2: Sound Design
Sound design focuses on using audio elements to really play on the emotions of your listeners and enhance their overall experience while listening to your show. You can use tools like music tracks and sound effects to enhance your podcast. This area of post-production really takes some practice, as part of it involves taste, and another part involves understanding your audience and the content that they want.
#1. Create a Memorable Intro and Outro
Stop and think about one of your favorite TV shows. One of the first things that you probably think about first is the show's theme song. Whether it's a certain jingle that you play at the beginning of your show or a couple of spoken words over music at the end to sign-off, having a unique intro or outro will have a lasting effect on your audience and can serve as great branding for your program. So make sure to add a unique intro and outro to make your podcast memorable.
#2. Use Music to Enhance Your Podcast Story
Themes from Jaws or Jurassic Park or a suspenseful track during a horror film—these are great examples of how music conveys powerful emotions. You can do the same in your podcast. Placing music strategically in your show will amplify storytelling. It can heighten the mood, add drama, and allow listeners to better connect with your guest and the story you want to tell.
#3. Use Sound Effects in Your Podcast Strategically
Sound effects can spice up your podcast, like adding a “ba dum tss” drum after a joke. Just make sure you don’t want to overdo it. Having too many sound effects can end up distracting your listeners from your content and leave them with an overall negative experience. So you’ll want to find the right balance. If you need help figuring out how to use sound effects effectively, listen to how successful podcasts do it and experiment with how you use them. You’ll get a feel for what works with experience.
Stage 3: Mixing
Mixing focuses on audio quality and the more technical aspects of your podcast audio. During the mixing process, you go through all of your audio tracks and make adjustments to a number of elements like EQ, reverb, pitch, and track levels (more on all of this later) to get the best audio quality for your podcast.
#1. Organize Tracks and Audio Clips
Before you start mixing, make sure your tracks and audio clips are properly organized. This will save you a lot of time throughout the mixing process. We recommend arranging your tracks in the following order to start:
1. Host Audio
2. Guest Audio
3. Room Tone
Once you have your tracks set up, make sure that each track has only similar audio clips. This means that all clips on the "Host Audio" track should be audio from you, all clips on the "Guest Audio" track should be audio from your guest, etc.
#2. Improve Your Podcast’s Tone Using Equalization
While mixing, use equalization, or EQ, to adjust the balance of the frequencies in your recording. Adjusting EQ will make your audio sound more natural by removing high, unpleasant frequencies from your recording. We recommend cleaning up any tonal problems in your recording before you use a compressor, as compression can sometimes highlight tone issues in your recording.
#3. Use a Compressor to Improve Podcast Sound
A compressor reduces (or compresses) the dynamic range of your recording. Using a base threshold, a compressor brings the loudest sounds and the quietest sounds closer together within a specific range so that your recording is easier to listen to overall.
Without compression, the overall sound of your podcast could fluctuate in a way that's unpleasant for your audience. You probably noticed this sometimes in movies, when an action scene gets super loud and the dialogue sounds softer. You have to constantly adjust the volume.
So how would this apply to your podcast? Let’s say you have a guest that speaks quietly compared to your loud co-host. Listeners would need to constantly adjust the volume. A compressor will equalize the levels between the two speakers so the listener doesn’t have to turn the volume up and down to hear everything comfortably.
#4. Use Noise Reduction to Give Your Podcast Clarity
Unless your recording space is entirely soundproofed, you may pick up background noise in your podcast recording. You can take steps to reduce noise before you start recording, but it's almost impossible to eliminate unwanted sounds entirely. Some ways to reduce unwanted noise in your podcast include:
- Removing background noise: This noise can come from cars outside, equipment running in the background, or a noisy upstairs neighbor.
- Employing de-verbing: Sound bounces off hard surfaces, which can cause reverb on your audio track. The best way to reduce verb is to have the right recording set up. If you still pick up some in your audio, you can reduce it during the mixing process.
- Removing Plosives and Essing: Having the right equipment, like a good mic with a pop filter, is probably your best defense against this type of thing. However, if your recording has plosives or a lot of essing, mixing is the point in the post-production process where you can remove it to create more professional audio.
Stage 4: Mastering
Mixing and mastering a podcast is pretty similar. The main difference? During the mastering step, you prepare your podcast for distribution. Mastering is all about putting the finishing touches on your podcast and polishing it up so that it’s ready for the world.
During this step, you’ll listen to all of the editing that you've done and identify anything you may have missed. At this point, the “story” of your podcast should really flow. You'll want to adjust volume levels of all of your tracks, make sure they match up, and perform any additional EQ work.
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What Podcast Editing Software to Choose
Podcast editing software will function as your digital audio workstation or DAW. This is where you will complete all of the work on your podcast and produce the final product to share with the world. There are many options out there when it comes to podcast editing software. When shopping around, consider the following:
Which operating system are you using? This is pretty straightforward - you'll need to know and understand whether you're going to be doing your podcast editing on a PC or a Mac. Some software is only compatible with one system. Knowing which you plan to use will help narrow down your options.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend? Podcast editing software comes at many different price points. We recommend spending a little extra in this area because editing can have such a huge impact on the overall quality of your podcast. That said, we know that paying for expensive podcast editing software. Start with a price point that works for your budget, so you get the best bang for your buck.
How experienced with editing are you? Not all podcast editing software is created equal, and some are much easier to use and understand. If you have a lot of experience with editing, mixing, and mastering, you can probably use any editing software effectively. However, if you're new to it all, choose an easy-to-use software that doesn't have advanced features that can get confusing.
Best Podcast Editing Software
As we stated, there are a lot of great options out there for podcast editing software. These are the top three we recommend:
Many podcast professionals use Pro Tools, and it's considered the industry standard for podcast editing because of the number of features that come with it. This software is constantly in development, with new features added all the time. Although it can take some time to learn all of the features, you can go from beginner to pro gradually and keep improving your editing skills with experience.
Pro Tools comes at two different price points: $29.99/month for the standard version and $79.99 for the more advanced "Pro Tools Ultimate". We recommend trying the cheaper subscription first, especially if you don't have advanced knowledge of podcast editing.
Adobe Audition stands out when it comes to automation. You can set a template for the adjustments you want to make to your audio files. The podcast editing software adds the same edits to multiple files. This can make adjusting EQ and compression much faster across a large number of files. The software also has many easy-to-use presets, so you can add music, segues, and fades to your tracks.
Adobe Audible costs $20.99/month for a subscription, or you can pay for a full year upfront and get a discount. Keep in mind that Adobe Audition is part of Adobe's Creative Suite, so you might already have access to it as a Creative Suite subscriber.
This software was created specifically for podcasters focused on great storytelling. Hindenburg Journalist has many automated features that make it possible for podcasters with all levels of editing experience to use it effectively. You can save time on editing by taking advantage of the auto-leveling and auto-noise reduction features. The software is intuitive with many automated features, making it a great choice for podcasters of all levels.
The software is available at three different price points: $95 (Journalist), $375 (Journalist Pro), and $500 (HABC Narrator). The more you pay, the more features you get.
Related article: Podcast Editing Software: Which One To Choose In 2021
Best Free Podcast Editing Software
On a tight budget? You can still find free podcast editing software that comes with a lot of great features. Check out our recommendations:
Pro Tools (Free Version)
The Pro Tools First is the free option of this podcast editing software, great for beginners and packed full of features. The free version comes with more than 20 plugins that you can use to edit, mix, and master your podcast audio. We recommend that beginners try the free version starting off. You can always upgrade as you become a more advanced user and need more podcast editing features.
Audacity lets you perform any basic editing and mixing you need to do totally free of charge. It also has some sound design capabilities where you can add intros, outros, and music. Audacity is a great option if you’re new to podcast editing and want to learn a little before they make the commitment of paying for a subscription service.
Easy to use with built-in sound design elements, you can use GarageBand to create music and sound effects for your podcast. GarageBand features real-time editing capabilities, so you can save some time in post-production. The major drawback: you can only use it with a Mac. However, this also means you can easily import files from your iPhone or iPad for editing.
4 Edits to Make
Before your show goes live, make sure to make these edits for a quality podcast your listeners will love:
When you’re trimming down your podcast, make it focused so it fits your desired length. Be careful about clipping words or parts of a conversation you may actually need. Carefully edit to create a story, but keep in mind that the conversations should still sound natural. (They shouldn’t sound like they’ve been edited.)
Make sure your podcast transitions well and that the audio tracks blend together. The audio clips have to transition seamlessly. Your show shouldn’t have big, sudden changes in volume from one audio clip to the next.
Use a low pass filter to edit out high frequencies quickly. If you use proper recording techniques, it’s possible you won’t have to make any EQ adjustments at all. When you’re editing EQ, you can use a high pass filter to cut out any sound in the recording below 70Hz. (The lowest frequency that almost all human voices go down to is 80Hz.)
4. Volume Levels
Try to make everyone’s volume levels as consistent as possible to improve your audio quality. This way, your listeners won’t have to adjust their volume throughout your show in order to hear everyone.
8 Podcast Editing Tips
Post-production editing can take a lot of time, energy, and resources. By following these 8 tips, you can reduce the time you spend editing and improve your podcast’s sound quality.
Tips Before Recording
#1. Have a Plan for Your Podcast
Go into your interview with a clear plan of how you want things to go. Having an outline of how you want your podcast to go and knowing what you want to ask your guest ahead of time will reduce awkward moments in your interview.
#2. Create the Right Recording Environment for Your Podcast
Record your podcast in a quiet room where you can close the door and reduce potential background noise. It’s important to understand acoustics - sound will bounce off hard surfaces in your recording space, which can cause reverb on your audio track. So try to find a place with carpet and upholstered furniture to record your podcast.
#3. Get Quality Recording Equipment for Your Podcast
There’s a lot of equipment out on the market that can reduce the time that you spend in post-production editing and mixing. An example of this is a microphone with a pop filter that would drastically reduce the number of plosives in your recording.
Tips During Recording
#1. Use Good Mic Technique While Recording Your Podcast
Understand where your mic and your guest’s mic should be placed to get the best, most consistent audio while you’re recording. This will save you a lot of editing time when it comes to adjusting your audio’s volume levels and applying compression and EQ.
#2. Guide Your Podcast to Where You Want it to Go
Make sure you’re staying on topic as much as possible and make sure you’re keeping your guest on topic as much as possible while you’re recording. The more you stay on topic, the less you’ll have to edit out when you’re trying to edit for time and content.
Tips After Recording
#1. Listen to Your Podcast Once Before Editing
Listen to your recording once from beginning to end and note timestamps for where you want to perform specific edits, whether to remove background noise or add a sound design element. Listening to your recording once all of the way through will give you an idea of what you have to work with post-production so you can get a clear sense of the narrative you want to create.
#2. Don’t Over Edit Your Podcast
When it comes to podcast editing, aim for a high-quality end product that doesn’t sound like you spent hours editing. Make sure you haven’t cut off words or created an awkward conversation flow while editing your podcast. Also, make sure sound effects enhance your podcast, instead of distracting from it.
#3. Listen to Your Podcast One Final Time
Before you send it out into the world, give your podcast one final listen. Make sure you’re listening for both technical and content elements to ensure it’s the final product you were trying to create.
When it comes to podcast editing, try not to overthink it. At the end of the day, your podcast should tell a story in a fun, interesting, and engaging way. Edit out distractions and include enhancements that make sense. You’ll release a show you can be proud of that keeps your audience coming back for more.