What do the best podcast editors do?

That's a good question. Podcasting is young and editing is both an art and a science. There are many different views and approaches, but if you're looking for a podcast editor, “it depends” probably isn't a good enough answer, so I'll share with you my perspective on this.

Today we’re talking about what podcast editors do. It seems like there’s a lot of confusion about this, so I want to shed a little light on it. But just be aware that you'll need to have a detailed and specific conversation with any editor you're considering to ensure that you know exactly what they plan to do, what their approach is, and how you can best work with them.

Good?

OK.

So, what does a podcast editor do?

Well, it depends on the editor and the kind of editing that you want done. But in reality, the best editors do more than just add any advertisements, an intro, and an outro. There's more to it than that.

However, for the sake of conversation, we'll first talk about the podcast editing continuum because there are different philosophies of editing.

The Podcast Editing Continuum

On the left hand side, we have what I think of as “Light Touch” or “keep it real” editing. We'll keep most, if not all, of the original recording and only fix things that are obvious.

In the middle we have what I think of as “Detailed” or “streamlined conversation” editing. We'll remove verbal ticks, pauses, and more while preserving the natural flow of the conversation.

On the right, we have what I think of as “Story Flow” or “narrative content editing.” In this style, the original recordings (often hours) are chopped up, key clips selected and arranged, a new narrative script written, and much more.

For most of independent podcasters, the “Story Flow” editing is out of scope and I'm leaving it out of this video as well. Just be aware that it's a real editing style and some VERY good editors do this.

What do quality podcast editors do?

These only describe the different approaches to ONE part of what a podcast editor can do (and likely should do). It's the part where the editor is working on the dialog. But unless you have a team working on the audio for your podcast production, your editor may also be functioning as a mixing and mastering engineer, handle the audio restoration, and much more.

These are the additional things that professional podcast editors do that many others don't. And this is a typical process flow.

1. Pre-Condition

You might be wondering why I go so crazy with this. Well, here's the deal: not every single audio recording ever is perfect. In fact, most aren't.

But even if you didn't capture the best audio possible, a professional editor will help you get as close to professional sound as possible.

In many cases, the first step of post-production for your show will be assessing the quality of the original podcast recordings and making any needed improvements. In this stage, a good podcast editor will likely discover that there is some persistent background noise that needs to be reduced, may find some mouth noises that could be distracting, might reduce clicks and pops and popping “P” sounds (plosives). And in some cases, there might be additional work that needs to be done to bring the recording up to a professional level.

This is a step that some audio editors skip right over but it's important. In fact, this step alone can sometimes take more than 25% of the podcast editing production time that I put into an individual episode.

After all, post-production starts with the podcast recording.

2. Assemble & Mix

After ensuring that each individual file is as good as it can be, your project will need to be assembled and mixed. We'll focus on this in two parts.

First: Assembly

Each episode will likely have at least 3 different elements – an introduction, the main content, and the end (outro). Some productions may have many more, with different segments, ads, sound effects, and so on. Additionally, there may be parts of the main content that need to be removed.

The Assembly stage is where everything from each track is put together and whatever has been flagged for removal will come out.

Second: Mixing

After the pieces are assembled, the different elements will need to be mixed together into a cohesive whole. To accomplish this, your editor will be treating individual pieces with equalization, compression, and other effects so that it sounds great and maintains a consistent sound and feel across the episode.

3. Dialog Editing

Dialog editing is what we most often think of when editing podcasts and it's certainly important. But equally important is to be very clear on exactly what kind of editing will be done.

It's in this stage that additional distractions, repeated phrases, verbal ticks, distracting noises, people talking over each other, and more will be corrected. The important thing to remember is that you need to be clear on what kinds of things stay in and what kinds of things come out.

And, as an editor, this is where I try to pull things out without leaving my fingerprints.

4. Final Master

Mastering is a holdover from music production and, while it's not exactly the same for podcast editing, I think that the term applies.

It's in this stage that we'll be making sure that everything is ready for publication. And if minor tweaks are needed, those might happen here too.

  • The final mix will be created
  • It will be mastered to meet the necessary loudness targets to be clearly audible and understandable in a variety of listening environments
  • Additional file information will be added (ID3 tags – think of them like an album cover)

5. Consultant

A really good podcast editor won't just be an editor. He or she will also be a trusted adviser – the person you can call when you have a question about how to approach a recording or how to fix something that you noticed.

You might discover that your editor can help you get a better recording right out the gate, may be able to offer hints about how to create a better audio presentation, may suggest equipment or software or service or techniques, can offer questions about how to fix audio problems, and can suggest ways to improve.

While your podcast editor may or may not be the person to ask about how to market your show, a great podcast editor will be able to get you sounding great and provide you the guidance you need.

The very best editors are really more than editors – they are one part audio editor, one part mix engineer, one part dialog editor, one part mastering engineer, and one part consultant.

And that's the key. Those editors are able to help you with every aspect of your audio production process – from recording the raw audio to final publication, they can be your key partners as you produce your show.

That's what I do for my clients and I know that there are others who do that too.

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