It’s easier, faster and cheaper to do audio well than it is to do video well, but Parkinson’s Law still applies; the work expands to fill the time available. Less time spent making your show means more time for experimentation, learning or – in the case of many podcasters – ‘the day job’.
Here, then, are a selection of hands-on tips for podcast production to speed up your workflow and make your shows easier to get out. We’re going to be showing some specifics for Adobe Audition, but of course the same basic concepts will work in most digital audio workstations (DAWs).
We’re not talking about big-picture things like ‘develop a deliverable format’ or ‘let go of your compulsion to delete every “um”’; these are shortcuts and pro moves for jobbing podcast editors and producers.
Configure your workspace for you
Tools like Audition appear daunting on first launch because they’re trying to guess which bits of their complex abilities to show you to. Often, those guesses won’t match what you need. Hiding bits you don’t and showing bits you do use frequently is a huge timesaver, and in Audition, you can have as many of these Workspaces as you need. For example, if you use a laptop while travelling but plug it into a display when you’re at your desk, you could prioritise what you see for each of these. If you have multiple displays, consider banishing palettes to a secondary display to give your editor full rein on your main screen.
The more accustomed you become to using your chosen DAW, the more you’ll be able to rely on muscle memory and the faster you’ll be. Keyboard shortcuts for switching tools and issuing commands help in every app, but you can take it further with pro apps. Audition’s ‘Select Clips to End of Session’ is a hugely powerful tool when working with multitrack dialogue clips, for example, but it doesn’t have a shortcut. You can set one up, though, for this or any command, and tweak the existing ones, in the Keyboard Shortcuts window. The real pro move is getting a hardware controller – even the entry-level Contour Design Multimedia Controller Xpress will work well – and binding your common commands to its buttons to dramatically speed up your editing.
Make the most of the available tools
If you’re reading PodPod, you’re probably using multitrack editing already, but if you’re still recording a multi-person show right onto a stereo mix track - such as if you record through Zoom’s default settings, or the out-of-the-box config of many hardware recorders - you should definitely move to recording each voice on its own track. Editing multitrack voices is a bit more complex compared to a single stereo mix of everyone, but it’s worth it for the ability to tweak and balance each voice individually, and you’ll get much more flexibility and often higher quality in editing.
Most podcasts also have elements that are present in each episode (such as intro music or audio stings), so it’s worth creating a separate track to manage these. You should also store these common assets in a fixed location and create a template episode with assets, fades, effects and more already in place.
Markers can take the guesswork out of where to place these elements. Your Multitrack Session can have markers to tell you, say, where an intro should finish before the music swells (so you can just snap the clip to it and you know it’s right), and you can also have markers in clips that let you know where to line up more dynamic elements such as interstitial music whose position is unlikely to be the same episode to episode.
Many hardware recorders even allow you to place markers into a recording as you’re making it. It’s a good idea to drop a marker when there’s a fluff that will need editing; that way you can do a first pass of cutting by looking for those markers in your DAW and jumping straight to them.
Master compression and noise reduction
If your podcast has a music bed, it’s normal to duck – reduce the volume – of the music under the speech, so it’s not drowned out, but it can be time-consuming to keyframe the volume envelope by hand. Audition’s auto-ducking feature lets you define speech as Dialogue and the bed as Music, and then you can tell the music to duck – tweaking the amount and other settings – all in the Essential Sound palette.
It’s likely your participants’ voices will be at different levels too, whether that’s due to different mics, gain levels, mic technique or indeed personality. The Match Loudness panel in Audition can ensure all participants’ voices are at a common level, but it’s a good idea to manually apply compression to each voice first to crush some of the dynamic range and get a more consistent volume across the recording.
Exactly what level you choose to match to matters less than the fact that they’re matched in the first place, but you could consider matching to -23 LUFS for editing (balancing other elements against that loudness in your template) to give you plenty of headroom, and then doing a final match of the exported file to the podcast standard of -16 LUFS.
If your participants often record in the same place, you can create a noise print for the space and set-up they’re in, so that you can cancel that noise – an air-conditioner, say, or some hiss in their set-up – out of every recording. Record several seconds of ‘silence’ then identify a very average segment of this record (with no transient sounds like your own breathing), capture that noise print, and save it to a central location. Showing the Spectral Frequency Display is useful for ensuring you have chosen a truly consistent chunk of ‘silence’.
Note that this won’t cancel out transient sounds such gusting wind outside the room, but applying these saved noise prints to each recording from that location will clear out ever-present noise, and you can then use other noise reduction techniques – even such as Audition’s own Adaptive Noise Reduction, which you can probably dial down a bit now the fundamental noise has been removed – for a final polish.
Audition’s sister app, Adobe Media Encoder, can also help with the final stages of podcast production. Using it, you can take an exported WAV and generate an archival WAV and the publishable MP3 both at the podcast standard of -16 LUFS. At this point, you may want to drop the bit depth of your file to 16-bit, as 24- or 32-bit files are mostly useful to give you flexibility while editing. If your podcast host supports FTP upload, AME can do this step too. What’s more, these outputs can be tied to a Watch Folder, so all you have to do is export your mixdown to a specific location, and AME will do everything else without you having to remember settings.
Use EQ presets for different voices or situations
Tuning your ear to understand what effects and EQ you need to apply to voices in your shows can take a long time, and there’s no shame in first trying to see if helpfully-named presets in Audition’s Effects rack can improve both your audio and your ear, but one of the most useful thing you can do is start to create EQ presets for each voice in each location.
Let’s say Dan has a deep voice which you think needs brightening up when he’s recorded in the studio. The Generic Mud Removal preset in Audition’s 30-band EQ might start to sharpen him, and then rolling off some of the low end in the Parametric EQ will get him to where you want his voice. Save that as ‘Dan – studio’, and next time you’re working on a recording from Dan, just apply that preset (tweaking as necessary) rather than trying to work it out from scratch each time.
But sometimes Dan works at home, and despite being told not to, he records in his kitchen. His home mic doesn’t capture as much of the low-end, so you find that ditching the mud removal effect and rolling off less of the low end gets you to the same place. Now, though, you need to add a dereverb, but once that’s dialled in, save that as ‘Dan – kitchen’.
And the best bit is that these aren’t set in stone. You can overwrite them as your confidence and facility with EQing grows. If you find a better way to get Dan sounding great in the studio, you just save that new preset as ‘Dan – studio’, and the next time, apply this iterated version.
There’s also a vibrant ecosystem of extra tools which can improve your audio, sometimes to a higher quality than your DAW’s own tools (especially if you’re just starting out). Hang out in podcasting communities and listen to what people recommend; you’ll see tools like Auphonic’s leveller and iZotope RX’s noise reduction mentioned over and again, for example, giving you confidence to try them. Some can be very expensive, but in the case of Auphonic, you can get two hours’ processing free every month, and iZotope runs a heavily discounted sale every Black Friday. Besides, time really is money, so any minute saved is good.