Don't let anyone fool you. Editing is hard work. Editing also runs against the grain of what Seth Godin calls shipping. Many podcasts experts will tell you that editing keeps your audio in your computer only. It leads to procrastination. It promotes a second-guess mentality.
Instead, whether you've produced zero episodes or are baking the cake to celebrate your 250th, editing is a powerful professional process. Adding editing to your podcast workflow is worth far more than the time investment for three reasons.
Editing Removes the Pressure of Going Live
I've spent enough time behind the microphone of live broadcasts to know that sometimes even if you don't say "um" and "ah," your brain adds filler language to what you're trying to say. When you go live (or live to tape) with your podcast, you can end up talking for 40 seconds in order to say something that should take four.
Editing removes the pressure.
- It allows you to stop think for a second or two, and then say what you really mean in a powerful pithy punch.
- It also allows you to hear yourself and then say it again even better.
- If you are working with others, editing allows others to provide feedback to clarify the message.
The pressure of going live may make you speak for many more seconds than you should thus causing you to say so much less than you meant to.
Going live may result in a boring episode, causing your listeners to hit the "skip 30 seconds button" too often. Editing can punch up your points, allowing them to fly by while making their mark and leaves your audience ready for more.
Yes, I've felt every one of the reasons not to edit: procrastination, second guessing, perfectionism, deciding to re-record, and more.
I believe a published imperfect episode is better than one you delay in order to perfect.
That's why I've set expectations for my editing. When I started, I used a wax pencil to mark the edit points and a razor blade to slice through the Ampex 456 tape. Digital editing (on any platform) is so much easier and faster but causes you to attempt more edits. When I started on digital in 1992, I decided I would try an edit for a vocal stumble three times. If it didn't work, I'd hit "undo" and move forward. For content edits, which are more difficult to make sound live and conversational, I would try them six times before moving on. Now, after nearly 30 years, I try a vocal stumble edit once. If it doesn't work, I move on. I work hard on content edits so they work but will edit around my initial thoughts if I have to try more than twice.
The more you edit, the more accurate and faster you will become.
Editing Allows You to Present Your Guests and Yourself in the Best Light Possible
We all say stupid stuff. We all say things we don't mean. We all substitute words for what we really mean.
Editing verbal crutches and vocal stumbles allows you to remove the bulk of these so that your audience doesn't have to endure them.
Imagine water flowing through a three-foot piece of conduit. The water is your content. The conduit is your published episode. If you allow too much junk—verbal gaffs and constipated sentences—to enter the conduit, it will cake up on the walls and prevent water flow. Your listeners will not be able to drink their fill. However, if you keep the conduit clean (editing), pure, clean, refreshing water gets all the way through.
Your listeners are far more distracted than you think they are. Editing allows you to purify your message so that more gets through. And sometimes, it will prevent you from having to apologize or explain something later.
Editing Tightens Your Work for Greater Clarity
Let me share some personal observations from my editing chair.
- The average vocal stumble takes about 1.5 seconds.
- Speakers stumble on average twice per minute.
- That means that three seconds or 5% of every minute is removable without changing anything else.
- Tighten and clarify what is said, and even more time hits the editing room floor (or goes in the digital trash can).
- No matter how sophisticated your tools, using electronic time compression of 5% or more will cause your audio to sound unnatural and add audio artifacts to the sound.
I chatted about podcasting recently with an upcoming Studio CMO guest, Mark Donnigan, who has run his own podcasts for hundreds of episodes. He told me he measures his podcast by "insights per minute," a concept he learned from the a16z podcast. How much power do you pack into every minute?
Editing for clarity can increase your power per minute. Content edits are more difficult than editing vocal stumbles. My rule of thumb is leave behind only two things. First, the muscle of what the speaker is trying to say. Second, enough connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) to not mess up the flow from the previous thought or the flow to the next one. That's an anatomy example. Try this digital one, too. When you ask Google Maps to create a route for you, the algorithm serves up many other routes with "similar ETA" and some that avoid toll roads, etc. Even though a scenic drive through the country can be fun, take the fastest route through your information but only do so when it doesn't mess with the flow. Sometimes, you might leave in 30-60 seconds to maintain a joke or an analogy just to keep things interesting.
The First Thing You Should Do After Reading this Article
If you are a podcaster now: take an old podcast episode, edit it, and see if you like the results better.
If you are new: take one piece of audio (at least 10 minutes), and edit it three times from scratch. Try to make each edit pass shorter than the previous one. Where do you lose clarity? Where do you lose the flow?