I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.
Whether it’s an audio or video podcast, there are some pitfalls you should watch out for. I prefer a live to tape podcast if you can do it because you have both the technology and expertise. This means your final edit will be minimal, saving you time. I prefer it, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Maybe you have a segment from a live event or are limited in what you can do based on some other circumstance, you’ll need to edit.
Let’s start with editing software. I’ve mentioned that I’m a Mac guy so I use the Final Cut Suite to cut stuff together. I love the flexibility and power. There are other choices though. There are some basics you should look for. For audio, you need to find something that handles multitrack audio in a non-destructive way. You don’t want to harm your source in the editing process in case you make a mistake. You’ll probably want some basic effects. I’m thinking of a compressor, limiter, gate, etc. Stay away from effects like autotune or excessive reverb unless you have a very good reason. “It sounds cool” isn’t a good reason.
Increasingly, basic editing can be done online. Sites like Youtube and Jaycut provide the ability to do minor tweaks, combining video pieces and replacing audio. Some day, this might be powerful enough that high end functions can be done for online. Keep an eye on this because it’s probably coming sooner than later and for many people it will replace the function of editing software.
Background music is something I hear lots of people add to their work. This is fine for short pieces and segment transitions, but I used to listen to a podcast that was about an our long and had a loop of music that repeated over and over again. After a while I got tired of hearing it. It distracted me from the message.
When you do have anything in the background, make sure the right thing is in the foreground. Make sure the foreground is much louder than the background so that it can be fully understood. If it’s spoken word, a voice is much more important than background elements or sound effects. Mix that way.
Minimalism is the key here. If you don’t need it, you should leave it out. Respect your audience’s time not to fill with fluff. It’s better to have people disappointed that the episode is finished than to have them wonder how close you are to finishing.
That applies to audio effects, too. If you don’t need it to transition between elements or to prove a point, maybe you should leave it out. One of my favorite podcasts does a little too much in this regard. The host likes to have quotes read in an accent that’s similar to what the original speaker would sound like. It’s a little distracting to hear a quote from a French author read in a somewhat French-like accent. That’s not too bad, but he also likes numbers to be read by others when he has a list. That’s a little too much to hear one person say “number one” and another read the content of item number one. It’s always jarring to me.
Great content covers a multitude of sin. Try not to use this as an excuse. If you have a feeling that something might distract, it probably will. If you’re too close though, it’s possible to be convinced that something is incredibly noticeable, but it isn’t. Most audiences won’t notice small things that a trained observer will. I’ve seen this in movies as I watched them with the eyes of an editor years after I first watched them. One movie had a couple of jump cuts (cuts between shots that aren’t dissimilar enough to not be noticed) another movie I watched had audio replaced by the actress who was in the scene. They apparently needed to change one word or she fumbled it. Either way, I saw that her lips didn’t match one word when I started having the eyes of an editor. The content was so compelling most people didn’t see it. That’s why having someone with a set of eyes you can depend on to look at something and see what the average audience member sees is important.
Sometimes, adding in space makes something feel more natural. In graphic design, we’d call it white space. I like to call it letting the package breathe. Listen to the natural flow of conversation and try to emulate that. Taking out all the pauses in a conversation will make it feel as crowded as a page filled with multiple brightly colored words in multiple fonts. If a pause feels too long, don’t take it out completely, shorten it. Your goal should be to trim the fat, not eliminate all the silence. Make it feel natural as if it hadn’t been edited.
It takes self-discipline and practice to eliminate vocalized pauses like, “um” or “ya know” or “alright?” or “okay?”. That’s a better way to add professionalism to a podcast than to try to edit them out. There are two reasons for this. First, it will take a long time. You’ve got to find the edit point, listen a couple of times to make sure you know exactly where it starts and stops, cut it out, and listen to make sure it sounds natural. Multiply this by one every two or three minutes and it can take quite a while. If it’s video, you also need to cover up your cut somehow. That’s easy if you have other camera shots, b-roll, or full-screens to use, but hard if you don’t and nearly impossible if the whole thing is a single static shot.
It’s also hard because people tend to run words together. What if a speaker has a long statement that really matters to her message, but she ends the last word with a quick “ok?” which joins the last word? It’s hard to cut that so it sounds good. If that’s the only one, fine. What if most of her talk is sprinkled with those that she doesn’t even know she’s saying, but that are so closely connected to words around it that it becomes distracting? It’s better to work with her to help her not say it in the first place. Editing these stray syllables can be a temporary solution, but not a long term one.