Buying shiny new podcasting gear and recording interesting conversations are probably more exciting than learning how to edit audio for a podcast. But it’s that critical last step that makes it possible to share your stories with the world.
Podcast editing doesn’t have to be something you dread. By learning how to use your podcast editing software, develop an efficient workflow and tell a good story, you can turn your raw audio files into professional-sounding content that stands out from the crowd.
At first, editing can seem pretty complex. But by breaking the process into steps, you can learn how to edit a podcast quicker than you probably thought. No matter which audio editing software you use, the main principles are universal. If you can learn how to edit a podcast in Audacity, you can learn how to edit a podcast in GarageBand.
Additionally, all of the major programs feature the same basic functions like cutting, copying, pasting and crossfading, as well as effects like equalization (EQ) and compression. In most cases, these basic tools will cover all of your podcasting needs.
The best way to learn how to edit a podcast is to jump right in and get started, so follow along with the steps below—and don’t forget to save your work often!
Step 1: Import Audio and Music
First, get all your material in one place. If you recorded the main content of your podcast with the same software you’ll be editing in, you’re one step ahead! However, if you recorded on a mobile device or portable recorder, you’ll need to import the files into your editing program.
You’ll also need to import any prerecorded intros, outros, commercials and music that will appear in your episode. To keep your session organized, create a new track for each element of your podcast, such as music, intro, host track, guest track and commercials. Establishing good organizational skills now will make your life much easier as you start racking up episodes.
It’s also important to pay attention to the file formats of the audio you’re importing. Always use full-quality, lossless WAV or AIFF files whenever possible, and stay away from lossy data-compressed formats like MP3 and AAC. Since your finished podcast will likely be distributed in one of these formats later on, any audio that’s already lossy may sound even worse later.
Step 2: Arrange Audio Clips
Once you’ve gathered all the audio assets that will make up your podcast, it’s time to start putting them in order. Arranging a podcast is an art unto itself, and there are many different ways to do it.
Will your podcast focus on a mostly unedited conversation like The Joe Rogan Experience? Or will it be carefully composed, with transitions between segments like the TED Radio Hour? Decide what you want the end result to sound like, then start arranging your content in order.
Start by dragging your theme music or intro monologue (whichever is first) all the way to the left (0:00 on the timeline). On a new track, place the next clip—whether it’s an introduction to your guest, a sponsor message or something else—right after the first.
Then comes the main content of your podcast, which could be a single recording of yourself talking, multiple tracks for your interviewees or a complex, Radiolab-style tapestry of sound effects.
Finally, most podcasts feature a brief wrap-up and sign-off segment by the host or hosts, thanking the listener and sponsors. This can be a pre-recorded clip that you use every time, or custom-made for each episode with announcements and other time-sensitive information.
Alternatively, you can use Descript to edit, mix and transcribe your podcast using its revolutionary text-based editing system. You can also add fades or correct your voice overdubs by simply typing.
Organize and arrange your audio clips in your editing software before fine-tuning the transitions.
Step 3: Fine-Tune
With all your raw materials laid out on the timeline, the real work can begin: cutting, trimming, splicing and fine-tuning each audio clip to create one seamless episode.
First, start with the basics:
- Fading out the intro music as the host begins talking
- Trimming the beginnings and ends of your audio clips
- Adding space between sections
Once the easy stuff is out of the way, you can dive into the nitty-gritty editing. How much or how little you edit is entirely up to you.
If your show is based around unscripted, freewheeling conversations, all you really need to do is trim the beginning and end of the recording. If you prefer fluid, tightly edited podcasts, you may wish to go through your recordings with a fine-toothed comb and remove filler words, long pauses, false starts and crosstalk. If this sounds tedious, the aforementioned Descript software can perform these actions for you automatically.
For most podcasts, the best course is somewhere between these two extremes. Ideally, you’ll strike a balance between preserving the natural feel of the conversation and editing selectively to improve flow and reduce confusion.
This step typically takes the most time, so efficiency is key. Most podcast editing software features key commands for common functions like copying and pasting, but did you know that there are also shortcuts for complex operations that can save you tons of time?
For example, the “Truncate Silence” effect in Audacity automatically detects and removes any pauses longer than a user-specified duration. Some programs even allow you to increase playback speed to expedite your editing workflow. Simple shortcuts like these can help you edit audio recordings in a fraction of the time.
Step 4: Mix and Polish
When you’ve finished arranging and editing your podcast to play back fluidly from beginning to end, you can then shift your focus to polishing the sound. Mixing a podcast isn’t nearly as complex as mixing music, but some of the same concepts still apply.
Like an album, a podcast should sound satisfying to the listener all the way through. It should sound balanced with smooth transitions—never muffled, harsh or jarring. To achieve professional sound quality, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with some basic mixing techniques like balancing levels and using effects.
First, listen closely to each voice in your podcast and decide if they need any enhancement from equalization (EQ) or compression. These are plug-in effects that come standard with all editing software, usually accessed via an effects button on each track.
An EQ plugin allows you to sculpt the tone of a track at various frequencies to give a voice more definition, add “fullness” or tame harshness. A compressor plug-in controls the dynamic range of a track, making the loudest parts quieter and raising the overall volume so that everything sounds more consistent.
If the recording quality is good you may not need any EQ, but speech usually needs a bit of compression to keep it clear and intelligible. Check out this article to learn five hacks for recording and mixing podcast vocals.
Next, balance the vocal tracks with the other elements in your podcast such as music and sound effects using the volume control on each track. Most software also lets you adjust the volume of individual clips on the same track using a tool like Clip Gain in Pro Tools.
Make sure no sound effects are jarringly loud, then give the episode a full listen and make minor adjustments if necessary. Finally, use a loudness meter like YouLean to be sure your podcast isn’t too loud or quiet overall. Average loudness is measured in LUFS (or LKFS—same thing) over the length of the entire program, and -16 LUFS is the most common standard for podcasts.
Use a loudness meter to make sure your podcast isn’t too loud or too quiet.
- After editing your first episode, delete any content you won’t re-use and save the session as a template. This way, you can have all your music and commercials ready to go for next time, save your effects settings and avoid the grunt work of creating and labeling tracks. You can always update your template as your workflow changes.
- If your podcast requires very little editing and you need a short turn-around time, you can also edit audio files online with a browser-based service like Alitu. You won’t have nearly as much control, but it can be a great option for putting out short daily podcasts.
- If you give editing a try but find that you just don’t have the patience or time, there are a wide range of podcast editing services like Descript that automate many of the more difficult tasks, or Resonate Recordings and We Edit Podcasts who can take the work off your hands for a fee.
We’ve covered everything you need to start editing and mixing your podcast today, so why wait? The world is waiting to hear from you, so dig in and get started. To learn more pro podcasting tips, including how to choose a microphone, how to grow your audience and how to monetize your podcast, check out our ultimate guide on starting a podcast.