No matter how good your gear is, a podcast is only as good as its editor. While a good microphone or interface is important, you can never account for human error. If one thing is certain in any recording, it is that there are bound to be errors. That’s what gives a podcast its appeal; whether you are recording alone, or interviewing a guest, the unpredictability of a conversation always makes for an engaging listening experience.
However, this unpredictability can also lead to unfavorable results, this is where postproduction comes into play. As an editor, your job is to sift through the podcast in order to remove any mistakes. Not only do you have to remove mistakes, but you have the challenge of doing so in a way that doesn’t disrupt the listening experience.
Developing an ear for cutting and moving audio is a great skill to develop early on. A good podcast flows well, and the best cuts are the ones that you can barely notice. In this article, we will be discussing the tricks of the trade, and how you can begin editing your show to perfection.
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What is Audacity?
The first step to editing a show is the software. To process your audio requires audio software, and for that, we will be using Audacity.
Audacity is an open-source audio editor for Mac, Windows, and Linux. First released in 2000, Audacity boasts over 120 million downloads making it one of the most popular audio editors on the market.
Not only can you use Audacity for postproduction, but the software can also be used as a multi-input recorder. This means that hypothetically, you could both record and edit an entire podcast within this application. This is a favorable option for a lot of podcasters, as it means there is no time wasted exporting and moving files between software, providing a streamlined recording and production workflow.
If you are skeptical as to whether the application is equipped for this kind of recording and production, then look no further than the ‘Created using Audacity’ list. This page features multiple songwriters, and composers that have recorded, mixed, and mastered songs and whole albums within Audacity.
While the topic today isn’t as intensive as the process of mixing an entire album, this should give you a good idea of just how versatile this application is.
Why is it so Popular?
There are many reasons that Audacity is the go-to for both new and experienced podcast producers, the first being its price tag (or lack thereof). Being an open-source application, Audacity is completely free of charge to download. This is a major advantage over its competition such as Logic Pro, and Pro Tools, costing $199, and $599 respectively.
Not only is it the obvious choice for those on a shoestring budget, but its wide availability (on Windows, Mac, and Linux) also makes it accessible no matter what your setup may be. Once installed, the application is under 100Mb, an incredibly small package for such a versatile application.
One of the main contributing factors to its small file size is the no-frills approach to the UI. The application itself may not look as user-friendly as its high-end counterparts, however, the simple user interface arguably makes it easier for beginners to pick up.
The advantage of not having a plethora of bells and whistles at your disposal is that what the software can and cannot do is immediately apparent. Having all possible functionality a few clicks away makes for an incredibly efficient workflow.
When to Cut and Move Audio
So, when is it necessary to cut and move sections of audio?
As mentioned earlier, if there is a mistake in the conversation i.e., a stutter or repeated word, cutting around the mistake may help the sentence flow better in the final recording. While this is a relatively small and quick fix, there are many other circumstances in which cutting and moving audio may prove useful.
If you are recording an introduction and have multiple takes, you will want to cut the bad, and move the best one to the top of the recording. This cut and moving technique may be used whenever you have multiple takes to choose from. Recording in sections with multiple takes allows you to try expressing the lines in different ways. By cutting and moving, you can decide which works best after the recording.
If you have advertisements in your show, then you may be required to insert a pre-recorded announcement into your episode. This is a case of splitting your recording and making space for the advertisement. In terms of editing, this is similar to adding in a take.
You may decide you want to cut and move whole sections of your show. In some instances, large edits to the structure may make the episode more engaging to listen to.
How to Cut and Move Audio
- First things first, you need to open a new Audacity session.
- Once opened, if you are importing audio you need to go to file, import, and choose your recording.
- You should now see the waveform in your session window.
Cutting a Mistake
- Using the zoom feature (to the right of the redo button) pinpoint the section you want to remove.
- Locate the start and end of the audio you want to remove, and click and drag to highlight.
- Cut by pressing cmd, or control + x (alternatively, click the scissor icon in the tool bar).
- Audacity will automatically adjust the audio to fill in the gap created.
Choosing a Take
- With your recording in the window, listen to your takes and decide which is best.
- Click and drag from the start to the end of the chosen take, and cut (cmd/control + x).
- Select the bad takes and click the backspace key to delete.
- It is important that you delete rather than cutting, as this will override the chosen take.
- Determine where you want to insert the take, select, and paste.
Moving Multiple Takes
- The addition of a second audio channel may be useful in editing together a show comprised of multiple takes.
- Go to tracks, add new tracks, and paste the best take into the second track.
- When choosing subsequent takes, they can be pasted to this alternative track, allowing all the bad takes to be deleted at once when finished editing.
When working with multiple takes, cutting and moving may quickly become tedious and inefficient. Luckily Audacity has another nifty feature that allows you to move sections without cutting and pasting over and over. This feature is called timeshift and is togglable from the main window to the right of the magnifying glass icon.
What timeshifting allows you to do is grab chunks of audio and shift them in time to fill any gaps in between takes. This is a great tool when handling multiple sections of audio at once, as the tool features an auto-align function, that snaps the beginning of one section to another, even when on separate tracks.
Time Shift with Multiple Takes
- In this example, the best takes have been selected, and you are now confronted with two audio tracks that when played, sounds like a mess of different sections
- First you want to go to the tool bar to the right of the record button, and select the time shift feature
- You will notice your cursor changes to the icon when selected, this indicates the feature is turned on
- You can now move your takes into sequence. The auto-align function will ensure that there is no gap in between takes, creating a seamless and enjoyable listening experience
While this ordering could be done via the use of cutting sections and moving them, the time shift feature is far more intuitive, not to mention a convenient technique to help you quickly sort large quantities of audio. Not only does this apply to large sections, however, but it can also be used on an incredibly small time scale. Sometimes removing a mistake may ruin the flow of the sentence, in this situation, a small timeshifted pause may rectify the issue.
This step-by-step guide on how to cut and move audio in Audacity should help you get to grips with the basics of audio editing. When removing mistakes and choosing takes, it is important the audio flows seamlessly between the edits, making the listening experience as pleasant as possible. This is subject to personal preference and as you practice cutting and moving audio in this way, you will quickly determine what sounds best for you.
While cutting and moving audio is an important aspect of podcast editing, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Audacity is a great tool for beginner producers to experiment with taking their show to the next level through production. That being said, there is such a thing as too much editing, to learn more check out our article ‘How Long Should It Take to Edit a Podcast?’.