Have you ever pulled up a list of the top podcasts on iTunes and noticed how poorly they’re edited and produced? You know, lots of mismatched audio levels, odd pauses, background noise – that sort of thing? That’s right, you haven’t. The reason is that the vast majority of the top podcasts are professionally edited.
If podcasting is going to be a major part of your business strategy – or if your online business is primarily the podcast itself – you need to invest in making it sound absolutely fantastic. Here’s the choice: you can make that investment in self-education, or you can make it by paying to outsource your editing.
This is simply non-negotiable. This isn’t 2010. There is just too much professional-grade competition to even consider producing a mediocre-quality show. If you do, then you’re wasting your time and hurting your brand.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you that you should be scared to get your hands dirty and learn the art of audio editing if you’re interested in it. But when I launched my first podcast in 2006, there weren’t affordable alternatives to doing it yourself. If you wanted to create a podcast you had to learn the entire process beginning to end. But things are a lot different today and you now have reasonably-priced alternatives.
Now you can record your monologue or interview and send it off to be professionally edited and produced. If your field of expertise is non-technical, this lets you focus on making great content — not trying to troubleshoot a sound problem. Getting the final product to sound good can be a real challenge, especially when you start adding interviews into the mix (and you should!).
Some people get a little bit of sticker-shock when they see how much these folks charge. Depending on the services you require, the production cost of each episode can range from about $75 on the low end, to several hundred dollars for more extensive editing and additional services. But let me put this cost into perspective for you.
For every 40 minute episode I would produce, I would easily spend another three hours on editing and production. Then you can throw in another hour or two in show notes, promotion, social media, etc. And that’s after I did a few dozen episodes and got the kinks worked out.
But, here’s your problem with going the get-better-as-you-go route (and it’s a big one). You don’t have that luxury – not with today’s listener expectations. Your listeners aren’t going to wait around while you get your on-the-job training. If the first few episodes suck, it’s click… unsubscribe… and that’s if you were even lucky enough to get them to subscribe in the first place.
To give you a wider perspective, I asked some folks who edit and produce podcasts for a living to share some of the common issues they see in self-edited and produced shows. You’ll notice some common themes.
If you decide to do everything yourself, there are some great tips here to help you make sure your podcast has that “professional” sound that will keep your listeners tuned in and coming back for more.
(And if you decide to outsource your podcast editing, be sure to check out their services — they’re some of the best in the business.)
Carey Green — Podcast FastTrack
When I’m listening to an audio there are some clear signs that the edit has not been done by a professional. Here are some of the main things that are a dead giveaway…
Edits are choppy
This could be anything from words that are cut off to segments of audio that have been spliced together poorly and contain audio bumps or even gaps in them. You’d be surprised how often this happens.
The spacing of the conversation is off
When you listen to any conversation carefully you’ll notice that it has a natural rhythm that includes not only words, but pauses and breaths. In amateur edits that spacing often feels artificial with spaces between sentences being cut short. Sometimes it feels like sentences are pressed together. Other times it feels like answers to questions come too quickly after the question is asked.
Improper use of audio effects
Effects like compression, leveling, noise removal are very helpful tools in an editors toolbox when used effectively. But amateurs often use them far too aggressively, giving the audio a processed sound. The proper approach is to use those effects only when it will lend to making the audio sound clearer, more understandable, or more natural and balanced between speakers/channels.
Pointless background noise
Many podcasters like the “raw” feeling of background noises like cars outside their window, dogs barking outside, etc. To each his own. In my view these tend to give an unprofessional feel to any recording – unless the show is one that uses such things as part of the overall feel of the show (like a sports show that is recorded “live” in a sports pub, or onsite at a local event). Many times amateurs will leave in background noises that could easily have been removed. But some of that depends on how the original audio file was recorded.
Skype delays have not been addressed in any way
We’ve all heard those stutters and distortions caused by having a conversation over a long distance. When those are a part of a recording, there sometimes are ways to address them to make the conversation more intelligible and clear. It’s not always possible to clear up every instance but in my experience the majority of Skype glitches can be removed.
Natural breaths in a conversation are missing
Amateur editors often cut out breaths when they are actually part of the natural feel of a conversation. If there are instances where a speaker breathes very heavily or abruptly before speaking, those can be addressed in less aggressive ways than simply cutting them out. A good editor will know how to do that.
Stutters, stammers, and restatements that detract from the conversation are left in
My editing philosophy is simple: Make the conversation more clear and intelligible than it was than when you received it. The end user’s experience is what matters most. That means that if a speaker has annoying speech habits (excess filler words, lip smacks, stutters or restatements, etc.) a trained editor should cut them or splice them in a way that actually adds to the comprehension and effectiveness of the conversation.
Mouth noises (smacks, slurps, tongue clicks) are not addressed at all
Amateurs don’t recognize that such noises make it mentally/physically difficult for some people to listen. In order to reach the widest audience possible without alienating certain listeners, an attempt should always be made to address mouth noises.
Those are just the basics – but the most common ones I see. Keep in mind, a good edit is to make the recording more clear, more intelligible, and more enjoyable for the end listener.
Craig Hewitt — Podcast Motor
There’s 4 main areas that you have to focus on with podcast audio editing: EQ, Levels, Compression and (a bit of a bonus) noise reduction. A lot of amateurs miss at least one of these.
EQ refers to sculpting the sound so that music and voiceovers fit together nicely and don’t clash. Levels ensures that the overall sound of the podcast is at a proper loudness. Compression is the reduction of the big spikes and dips in sound throughout an episode. And Noise Reduction is getting rid of all of the unwanted environmental garbage that exists almost everywhere we record podcast episodes.
If you’re doing it yourself chances are you’re missing at least one of these, which leads to a less-than-ideal listening experience for your audience. Our professional audio engineers manually take care of all of this, giving you back great sounding podcast episodes, every time.
Ben Krueger — Cashflow Podcasting
The #1 giveaway is transitions! Podcasts with professional production quality always have smooth transitions from one topic to the next, and from one “segment” to the next; whether that means a short, branded music piece or simply a smooth conversational transition.
Amateur shows often have awkward pauses, silences or even abrupt transitions that are jarring and off-putting to the listener experience and can damage show’s appeal to listeners.
Toby Lyles — TwentyFourSound
Late / irregular posts
Many folks have a hard time keeping up with the extensive amount of work it takes to professionally produce a show. This reduces the chance a listener will continue to remember to check if you’ve released a new show.
Without a trained ear and proper tools, it’s very difficult to make a podcast easy to listen to. What sounds like good levels at home doesn’t translate to the average listener who is out in noisy environments. It can cause pain for the listener, and makes your show less likely to get a second listen.
Though it seems simple to avoid in theory, many podcasters end up with echo, distortion, hiss, and any other variety of distracting sounds in their recordings. The result is it pulls the listener away from your content and your help.
John Potess — The Podcast Creative
The most common giveaways for amateur vs professional podcast post-production come from background-noise (low rumble/electrical hiss), fluctuating vocal levels (uncompressed or over-compressed vocals), plosives/sibilance (low-end popping and hissing from the letters “p” and “s”), and audio clicks/pops from edits without crossfades.
To fully correct, these issues usually require a trained ear and post-production knowledge to dial-in EQ, compression, and noise reduction plugins, which is why they’re often avoided by DIY podcasters or overcorrected through the use of one-click audio plugins.
I would also say that although DIY podcasters can definitely learn techniques to solve the above issues (getting a great initial recording technique goes a long way), the main downside with DIY podcast editing and post-production is you’re not spending your time where it’s most useful. As an entrepreneur or podcaster, your time is much more valuable creating quality content, connecting with your audience, and focusing on your (insert passion/idea/business here).
Ian Robinson — Freedom Podcasting
The most common mistakes by amateur podcast producers are:
- R/L channeled recordings (one person in the right ear, the other in the left)
- Dynamic levels that make the show too quiet to hear and then WAY too loud
- No id3 tagging so the file is blank in iTunes
- Ugly show art with tiny words on it that are invisible when viewed at 70px by 70 px – I recommend people design their shows to look readable and interesting at tiny sizes, but complex and interesting at larger sizes. Tim’s show art is a good example of high-quality show art.
When deciding between creating a podcast yourself or creating a podcast with a team, there are no rules.
John Lee Dumas produced the first few hundred of his Entrepreneur of Fire all by himself. I believe he did the production for seven shows in a single day. His solid work ethic and limited resources while starting made doing it himself a far better option. If you’ve got hustle like John, it might make sense to do it yourself.
Individuals can make great podcasts. In my experience teams realize better, faster results.
The Gimlet shows put hundreds of human hours behind .5 – 1 hour shows. They are in the business of excellence. These types of shows are nearly impossible for a single person to produce. All of Freedom Podcasting’s clients would probably not have shows if we didn’t simplify the process for them. With each episode, we invest at least half a day of an expert podcasters time into making them sound excellent, appear on the platforms correctly, show up in search and a lot of other small details.
TL;DR – If you’re committed to building a successful podcast, here’s what I’d say: If you’ve got the resources to build a team, build a show with a team. If you don’t have those resources, but you have time and hustle, build a show until it is successful enough to build a team. Above all, make it great. Life is too short to do things hesitantly.
Even John Lee Dumas outsources his production now.
What podcast editing and production mistakes have you noticed? What gives away that a podcast has been produced by an amateur vs. a professional? Share them in the comments below.
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