Does no one learn how to edit any more?
Updated: Jun 27
Does no-one teach audio editing these days?
Great editing can make audio sound better.
The audio becomes more powerful, better ordered, fewer distractive avenues, fewer interruptions – and takes less time to broadcast.
What’s not to like?
I hear audio being aired on huge radio stations which is begging to be edited. Clips in news, promo clips - and interviews which could have been 30” shorter – and better – with a bit of skilled adjustment. Don’t listeners deserve better?
Whilst I appreciate some claim the beauty of podcasting is its authentic ‘unwashed-ness’, I screamed half-way through one lengthy interview recently. Whilst I was thoroughly interested in the topic - and the interviewee knew their stuff - they fell into laboured errrrs and ummmms which, after the first half an hour graduated from being just annoying to almost driving me to violence. Why bother creating an unlistenable podcast?
Editing could have made that material utterly compelling. The interviewee could have been restored to how they probably speak in real life. That’s authenticity.
The techniques used to be painfully taught – literally painfully as razor blades were used. Now, we are shown how a piece a of software works – without being shown the art.
The art is about making it better – and about making the edits completely undetectable. No-one should congratulate you on great editing.
I remember one proud producer telling me he’d edited a call with a winner down to 40”. On listening he’d managed that by killing that winner - starving them of breath. The utterly delighted winner had become like a train platform announcer – deprived of the luxury of inhaling. Each pause between sentences discarded.
Leave the breathing in. Yes, you can shorten a breath (in the middle of it or borrowing a different one) but do allow the person to breathe. Look at the pattern of the breath on the waveform. You can see it – and you can see the micropause after it, just before the first word. Leave that in – and the person will remain sounding as though they are real.
As skilled editors know, you can also borrow a breath or conjunction from elsewhere – where you’ve had to make an edit which needs a bridge.
Listening is key. It’s tempting to gaze at the waveform and judge that things are OK from that alone. Your eyes can deceive you. There is no substitute for looking away from the waveform and keyboard and asking yourself whether your edit really works to the human ear. That is the test.
The rhythm matters. Where you’ve juggled something around does the natural rhythm of speech remain?
Sometimes, an edit produces a first sound to a word which is not quite right, where something has been removed. Adding a very quick fade-in to that first syllable can make it sound natural once more.
Are the levels right? The energy of the voice changes as one speaks - and an edit may leap out because suddenly there's an unexpected LOUDNESS. Just nudge it down.
The obvious edit point may not always be the best option - it may be simply too conspicuous. There may be another point where the ear is caught up in the flow of the sentence and less likely to catch it.
If an edit doesn’t work – maybe consider not bothering with it – unless it’s critical. Editing should improve – not make things worse. A bad one is distracting. The human ear is clever - it knows when not to trust - so don't give it ammunition to doubt.
What’s been repeated in the interview? Why waste listeners’ time by that repetition. Which pieces are irrelevant? Would a clarification/definition of something some way into the piece be of more value earlier? Which stumbles obstruct the flow?
Which hesitations make the interview less listenable? But - for goodness sake - don't take out the ones which make it powerful. I've even lengthened some pauses before! The ear and closed eyes will educate your judgment - not the waveform.
Starting the editing journey of a long piece benefits from a listen through first. Where is the heavy lifting? Are you going to lose an entire less interesting angle or are you going to try to tighten every part of the piece? Or both? Is the existing beginning the best place to start – or would that be better moved? Are you simply going to lift a section out and not bother with the rest.
What is the approach? Far better to decide that before the job begins.
Now editing is easier that it has ever been – it’s odd that so much of it is so poor.
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