Podcast editing: A fundamental guide for creators
Two Spotify producers reveal how creators can combine technical and creative skills to gain podcast editing expertise.
Imagine your podcast is about a juicy reality TV show, and you reference a jaw-dropping exchange between two main cast members. You could simply discuss it, or you could add a sound bite from the actual conversation and some intense music for dramatic effect.
Or imagine you’re interviewing a guest who is taking a really long time to get to the point with a lot of drawn-out pauses in between words. You could leave it untouched to show the rawness of the conversation, or clean it up, so only the most salient and interesting points remain.
The first scenario adds to the raw audio to enhance it. In the second, cuts make for an improved, more engaging final product. Both would be the result of skilled podcast editing.
Podcast editing is an essential component of the post-production process. It’s technical and precise, as well as creative and subjective. Careful and thoughtful podcast editing can make a big difference in the quality of your show and the listener experience. Editing can range from low to high effort, depending on the content, style, and goals of your show.
Jared J. Smith and Leila Germano know the ins and outs of podcast editing as two Spotify Senior Producers. Smith works on the Spotify: For the Record, Spotify: Discover This, and Spotify: Mic Check podcasts. Germano works on the Hoje Tem Podcast from Spotify’s Brazil studios. Each show is different in subject matter and tone, with topics ranging from news to culture, music, and business. Likewise, each show requires its own unique level of editing detail.
Smith and Germano lend their expertise in this guide to essential podcast editing best practices. Whether you’re new to podcast editing or you want to sharpen your skills, learn how to set yourself up for success from the pros.
Edit with your goal in mind
Before you even start editing an episode, determine what your goal is for the final product. “I always think about my end goal and approach each edit with that in mind. Exact approach and process will usually be specific to each project, depending on the audio you have available to work with and what you’re trying to accomplish with it,” says Smith.
For example, if it’s a hard-hitting news show or the topic is more serious in nature, your goal might be to produce a clean and clear episode that highlights the most important dialogue and talking points. If you have a Music + Talk show, your goal might be to strike the right balance of music and conversation. If you have an emotionally charged show, you might want to leave room for pauses and contemplative questions. If your show is light-hearted and silly, you might want to include a lot of sound effects and preserve the moments of laughter and spontaneity.
When using audio and music clips, Smith says they “should either be advancing your story/narrative/conversation along or adding some kind of new additional information. Basically, every clip that you use should be there for a reason.” That specific reason should tie back to the main goal of the episode.
“Music is a helpful tool that can help you illustrate a point, or to help you move listeners emotionally towards where you’d like them to go. Be honest with yourself about if something is hitting the way you want it to, if you should look at the pacing, the addition of other audio, or some addition of music,” says Smith.
Make an editing outline
Your goal will be your guiding compass for making your editing plan of action. Once you’ve established your goal, listen to the raw audio in its entirety and take notes with corresponding timestamps for your editing points. Those points will serve as an editing outline and should designate what to cut and where to add clips. Some episodes and individual segments of episodes will require a heavier lift than others.
According to Smith, “Some sections of episodes need only light editing. The raw audio itself does a terrific job accomplishing the goals of the section. However, some need a lot more work: reordering, streamlining, taking out unimportant or random beats, cleaning things up, and really guiding the story a lot more than the raw audio does on its own.”
Your listeners should be a top factor to consider during the planning process. Keep in mind what the best listening experience would be for them, based on what they would find most significant and valuable. That depends on what has resonated with them in the past, including how they’ve engaged with episodes and the performance of previous episodes. It will also depend on the tone and style of your show.
Like Smith says, “Sometimes an episode can be more free flowing; it’s about the listener spending time with the people in the show. But, sometimes things need to be edited to focus on a much more specific point.”
Assemble the tools you need
There is a range of podcast editing tools and programs depending on your budget, the scale of your podcast, and what stage it’s in. Luckily, to start podcast editing from scratch doesn’t require a big budget, and you really only need two primary tools to begin:
- A set of headphones, ideally noise-canceling that cover your ears
- DAW (digital audio workstation) software
One of the benefits of the Anchor platform is that it comes with free podcast editing tools that are intuitive and easy to use. This is one example of an online DAW you can use.
As you grow as a podcaster and editor, there are more advanced tools and equipment you can access to heighten your production quality, as Smith indicates. “Obviously, the more resources you have, the more tools you can make available to yourself, but there are plenty of accessible tools out there that anyone can use to get started.”
Think about podcast editing as creative audio storytelling
Podcast editing is no doubt a technical job, but it’s also an artistic one. So, if you’re more of a right-brain kind of person, it can still be a fun and meaningful activity. In fact, the creative component is just as important as the technical one.
To achieve successful audio storytelling through editing, you need to approach it thoughtfully and intentionally. For Germano, that means keeping her audience as engaged as possible throughout a long-form episode. “Since my podcast has a long length, I like to catch my audience’s attention.” She does this by creating a lively, frenetic listening experience at the beginning of her episodes with a mashup of music, sounds, and talking clips.
She also removes unnecessary pauses in the audio and shortens certain quotes that can distract from the topic. To emphasize certain points, she uses memes and clips from “epic speeches,” adding an extra element of surprise and delight. She says to pull this off requires meticulous focus and technique to extract the most critical parts of the audio for the finished episode.
Germano also says that “timing is everything.” She adds that timing is a device to humanize the structure of the audio. “Timing defines the mood of the moment. If you want to be serious, you need serious timing. If you’re going to make a comedy, you need comedic timing. For all these cases, timing dictates if we use music or memes in the middle of the conversation.”
Also, depending on the tone of the show, a little silence is golden, as Smith points out. “Don’t be afraid to utilize silence to help with your pacing, to emphasize an important point, or to give listeners a moment to keep up with the story. When people are first starting out, it can be easy to feel like you need to fill every moment with something, but you don’t. As long as you’re always mindful of the pacing and how it will translate to listeners, strategically used silence, pauses, or slower moments can often be very powerful.”
Pacing is also important to maintain a natural flow, which will help your audience resonate with the story being told. As Smith advises, “Stay flexible and let episodes naturally evolve as you work your way through them. It’s important to cut with pacing in mind: letting things naturally flow, not dragging but also not moving so quickly that listeners won’t be able to follow.”
Give yourself enough time to grow as a podcast editor
Following these tips from these professional podcast editors will give you a head start on your podcast editing journey. But keep in mind that it’s a process that will evolve over time, so be patient. Your editing might be fairly simple at first, but as you get more comfortable and experienced, you can play with more advanced techniques and features.
“When you have some time, you can put into practice discipline, interest, and self-complacency to make mistakes while learning how to do it professionally,” says Germano.
Smith adds, “It’s true that technology has made the resources to create audio stories more accessible than ever, but audio storytelling is still a skill that needs a lot of time and practice. It’s ok if it doesn’t come easily at first. Like any skill, the more you work at it, the more you’ll understand what works, what doesn’t, and what areas of that skill you need to keep working on.”
The best way to find your own style as a podcast editor is to listen to other shows to inspire you. Take a listen, figure out what you like, then tackle podcast editing for yourself.