The single greatest piece of audio editing advice I ever got was from a comic book. That may sound a little weird, but it’s true.
There are all kinds of resources for editing music out there, plenty of sites with tutorials on how to make your drums line up better, or how to pitch correct your lead singer. But there aren’t a lot of resources for radio style production (production meaning editing, processing, and making your raw audio into your final product). When I first started editing anything for radio, I was making loops and audio beds, which meant editing for music, and the beats in music. I didn’t do a lot of editing of commercials, or of any real production elements, until I was editing on my own.
The public radio show This American Life put out a comic book called Radio: An Illustrated Guide, with Jessica Abel. It’s an overview of how TAL makes their show, and follows them from meeting to broadcast, and talks about interviewing and getting story ideas, as well as editing. The comic is kind of hard to find, but it’s still listed on their website as being for sale for $5. Trust me, that’s a bargain, so buy two. I’m not even kidding here. Alternatively, if you own an iPad, their new This American Life iPad app has the comic book in it (the iPhone app does not, sorry).
This is from the back of the comic:
Reproduction of these comic pages is forbidden without permission.
I don’t have permission, and even though I have the iPad app, and have a screen cap of the comic page in question, I won’t publish it here. I will try to obtain permission at some point in the future. But for now, here is what they say, on page 18 of the comic (imagine this text is over a waveform of someone speaking, like what you see when you record a podcast):
On the computer, sounds and words are graphically represented as waveforms, and edits are also visible, as vertical lines. Pauses are flat sections of line, and breaths are small waveforms. Notice where the breathes fall: often at the end of sentences, but sometimes in the middle.
If you remove a phrase of a sentence, you have to keep the rhythm natural. Usually that means keeping a breath after each sentence, at the edit points. Sometimes you have to try different breaths, to see which sounds more natural. Your edit points are almost always at the very beginning of a word (after a pause or breath) or at the end of a word (before a pause or a breath).
Whenever I think about my editing, when I have to think about it, I boil it down to one phrase:
When you edit, keep the human voice in mind.
Most of my editing has to do with shortening. I usually don’t move lines or words around. I hack out sections that don’t matter, or that are just too long and don’t add to the show. When something sounds cluncky, when things don’t sound natural, it’s often this rule that I have violated. It’s easier when you can edit between two people talking, rather than just one person and their long string of a monologue, but regardless, it’s still applies.
You know when someone doesn’t sound right when you hear them on the radio, or on TV? Listen to a commercial on an AM talk station. Does the guy on the ad, or do the people talking back and forth (you can hardly call it a discussion), take a breath? Do they pause to think or even absorb what the other person just said? Do they even take the moment to make sure the other person is done talking? Of course not. Time is money, especially when it’s sold in 30 second chunks. They want to get every ounce of information into the commercial as they can.
Real people don’t talk like this. Even if you don’t key into this actively, you know something is wrong when you hear a bad edit. I hear bad edits all the time, on some very good programs. They just don’t have the time to sweat the details every time.
So keep the way people talk in mind when you edit. If you do it right, no one else will know you were editing the audio, other than you. And that is the best complement you can get.
Note: The image above is from a future tutorial on how to bury an edit. It’s from a podcast I did a few months ago, and you can listen to it here. The top image is a screen capture from episode 59 of the Avs Hockey Podcast. I had a bit more editing to do on that one thanks to some issues with Skype and routers. You can hear it here if you want. Find the edits. 🙂