Guide

How To Record, Edit And Publish A Short Audio Interview - Part 5: Mastering and Publishing

 It's important to avoid loud peaks that might distort your final audio file

It's important to avoid loud peaks that might distort your final audio file

Mastering

Once mixed you’re almost ready to set your audio free from your editor and into the world. The final step is to make sure the exported audio file sounds the best it can, to avoid wasting all your hard, hard work. Here I use the term ‘mastering’ to essentially mean ‘make sure my final audio file isn’t so quiet it’s going to annoy people when they listen to it’.

When you export and audio file from your editor, you normally get a stereo .wav or .aiff file that contains a left and a right track of the whole interview all mixed together (voice/music/sound effects, etc). If you then immediately open that file back up again in your editor and look at the waveform, you’ll see two things:

  1. How loud does the overall waveform relative to how loud it could be?
  2. Are there problem areas where the audio is maxed-out (clipping) or where one bit is significantly louder than the rest?

When I find issues, the easiest approach for me is to go back to the original file in my editor, make the appropriate envelope changes and re-export. This is slow, but it works.


A quick note on audio compression

What I'm describing above is effectively a form of manual audio compression. Compression typically means making quieter bits louder, without making the loud bits louder. 

Applying compression to a recording of someone speaking will make the moments where they are quieter, louder. Perfect, right? Well sadly not, because as 'the quiet' bit is also where all the recording noise and hiss lives - compression makes this louder too. This can result in a choppy disconcerting sound - so compression is a compromise, and at the end of the day, nothing beats good, clean, well-recorded audio.

One type of processing I do use fairly often is a brick wall limiter. Conceptually similar to a compressor, rather than making quiet bits louder, a limiter effectively does the job of making really loud bits quieter. Applied to the overall mix this can catch those loud peaks in the volume that are much louder than everything else. Used sparingly this is a great way to optimise your mix.


Finally I normalise my mix. Normalisation essentially means turning the overall volume for the entire mix, to maximise the volume that can be achieved when playing back the audio. Due to the noisy places in which podcasts are listened to (for example, via headphones and while travelling) and the limit to how much you can turn the volume up on your listening device, this step that can make a huge difference to the final listening experience. An in-depth discussion is beyond this article, but there are plenty of tutorials online.

Export audio

I export the audio as a .mp3 file (and keep a copy of the final .aiff or .wav too). There's a good support page by Libsyn on what settings to use, although I tend to export in stereo and at slightly higher bit-rates because I've convinced myself it sounds better...

Set metadata

 Audacity prompts the user to enter metadata upon export

Audacity prompts the user to enter metadata upon export

Metadata is data about data. In this case of mp3 files it means that as well as containing all the audio, the same file also contains some text about what the audio is, all packaged up together. Audacity will prompt you to enter metadata when you export to mp3. It's also possible to embed your podcast artwork into the file, which I do using iTunes. Custom episode images aren’t really used by a lot of podcast players – so I don't bother making artwork for each episode – but I do make sure to embed my podcast artwork (or in the case of CiW, the CiW artwork) into the file, to ensure a particular player has the image available to use if needed.

Distribution

With the episode finished, I listen back again to the final mp3 file one last time (with fingers crossed that I don’t have to change anything) and then publish it online. I then embed the audio into the blog post that accompanies each episode.

Marketing

At this point you will most likely just be glad to have finished the piece – however all that hard work might be wasted if people don’t know your piece exists. Make sure the it has an accompanying blog post with a description of the contents, and lots of nice professional looking photos to lure people in.

Promote links to your content on the social media platforms where your target audience are. Posts with photos get more clicks – some platforms such as Twitter allow you to embed audio clips (although only those hosted on Soundcloud) into posts – take advantage of all this. Email people about your content. Make some noise, people won't find your content by itself.

 

For further reading I recommend the excellent Transom website, which has lots of articles and guides to radio production. Also the group Sound Women have an excellent podcast series featuring interviews with women working in radio, that is jam packed with advice and tips.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve this guide I can be contacted here.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Part 1: Preparation
  3. Part 2: Recording
  4. Part 3: Coarse Edit
  5. Part 4: Fine Edit
  6. Part 5: Mastering & Publishing
 

How To Record, Edit And Publish A Short Audio Interview - Part 4: Fine Edit

 Editing the audio file in Ableton Live

Editing the audio file in Ableton Live

The fine edit

With the sections arranged into the desired format, I start going through each section in turn and fine editing the audio. At this point I'm keeping an eye on the overall length of the interview – I’m aiming to cut down to 120 seconds, and less is more.

I start by listening again to each section, and working out what’s the core message/content. For example if they're talking about their work I'm looking for a succinct summary of what they do, without excessive detail. What's likely to be recorded is the interviewee saying  'I do X using techniques A,B,C and in collaboration with person D, at university E, because of Y and to achieve Z'. For the context of the CiW interviews, all of this added detail is superfluous to the core piece of information 'I do X because of Y, to achieve Z'.

Section of audio showing two edit points

I assign edit points around parts that I want to keep and cut. These are markers at a specific times in the audio file, invisible cuts that will be used as the divide between two sections. Getting good at placing edit points is an art form and something that I am still very learning. However I've learnt that it's useful to place an edit point either directly at the end of phrase (immediately as they finish the last word), or directly at the beginning of the next phrase or sentence. Resist the temptation make the edit in the middle of a gap, as this can abruptly cut off sound of the interviewee inhaling, which makes the edit noticeable to the listener. Some people don't leave nice gaps, and instead you’ll have to zoom into the audio waveform and try and get your edit point neatly at the transition between sounds.

Ethics

Editing is really powerful – with relatively little effort you can make somebody say the exact opposite of what they actually meant. If you’re really good, you can do it in a way that people won’t realise the sound has been edited. How you arrange the audio, how long you leave gaps between sections can change the subtle notion and meaning of the interviewee has said.

There are different approaches, rules and guidelines about what constitutes appropriate editing. To stress again, I am not a trained editor - so I'm not going to go into much detail here. However it's critical not to change the implicit meaning of what the interviewee said (unless of course that's the point). This is subtle, dependent on many factors, and requires that you properly understand what was being said in the first place.

If you're planning to conduct longer interviews, or any kind of journalistic reporting - I recommend consulting a more authoritative source on the ethics of editing before you begin, to develop a clearer idea of how to avoid misrepresenting your guest.

Cutting

Once I’ve identified the appropriate edit points, I let my itchy edit finger start cutting out audio. Generally I delete the audio between two points (your editor should have the option to automatically cut out the space in between two edit points so you don't leave a silent gap behind) and then listen back to the effect. You might iterate this a couple of times (undo is your friend) to make sure the edit points are tuned nicely to give a natural sounding edit.

A breath left just in front of an edit point.

Make sure to leave a breath or gap between edits. If you don’t the audio will jump forward at the edit point, sounding unnatural.. You’re effectively changing the natural pace of the conversation, making it obvious where the edits are and making the listening experience feel slightly unnatural. As you improve you might be able to get the breaths to line up nicely as well – i.e. you place the short intake of breath before the edit point up against the start of the next piece of audio, making it sound seamless (just remember the ethics). If in doubt, listen back to it a few times and try playing around with different lengths of gap to get a feel for what happens.

Once you’ve edited each section, listen back to the whole thing again and ask myself:

  • Is the overall length on target?
  • Is there any repetition in content that I missed the first time round?
  • Does the edit audio still make sense?
  • Is it a fair and accurate reflection of what the interviewee said?
  • Do any of the edits stand out?

After this I go back in and make any changes required, listen again, and repeat until satisfied.

Musical scoring

Example with two musical elements underneath the interview audio

I like a bit of a music. Used appropriately it adds emphasis, motion and emotion to clips. However there are a few things that are very important to bear in mind:

  1. Over-use of music can come across as contrived. In the CiW interviews the music serves to catch a listener’s attention and in some cases invoke a sense of gravitas. 
  2. Copyright: I avoid this issue by using self-composed music. The alternative is to seek out royalty-free or creative-common pieces online. Make sure you adhere to the terms of any licenses (for example by appropriately crediting the artist if required). Or you can find a friend who makes music and see if they’d be happy for you to use it in return for a credit.

Adding music isn’t appropriate for a lot of other formats – in particular the majority of Scientists not the Science interview episodes are done with little or no background music. Transom.org have an excellent guide by a This American Life producer about scoring episodes.

For the CiW format I tend to use one to three pieces of music per interview, depending on the content. Wherever possible I match the music to the content – for example where the interviewee is talking about visiting a cavernous underground lab – the incidental music that relates to this space. Again care needs to be taken that the sound doesn't deliberately mislead the listener. After the self-intro I switch to more upbeat pieces that create a sense of motion, moving the interview along.

After finishing the edit (around 1-2 hours) I listen through to the whole piece again to catch any final issues, before moving on to mixing.

Mixing

Mixing essentially means making sure the volume the background music isn’t drowning out the interviewee, and the volume levels stay relatively consistent across the whole length of the piece. I’ve noticed that people typically start an answer loudly when they’re confident, and then tail off quietly when they run out of things to say/aren’t too sure about the answer. Laughter is normally very loud on the recording and often has to be lowered in volume.

Example of editing the amplitude envelope in Audacity

In most audio editors (including Audacity and Live) you modify an amplitude envelope that controls the volume of a track at a given point in time. Audacity has a nice feature where you actually see how the waveform also stretches as you increase/decrease the volume.

If clips of audio start and end a bit abruptly, you may wish to apply a very, very short fade in at the start, and a short fade out at the end. These shouldn’t be audible – the purpose is to make the edits sound less obvious.

Subtlety is key here, all of these changes should be invisible as possible to the listener, as the whole point of them is to keep attention shifting from what the interviewee is saying (and not for the listener to suddenly wonder why it’s all gone a bit quiet).

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Part 1: Preparation
  3. Part 2: Recording
  4. Part 3: Coarse Edit
  5. Part 4: Fine Edit
  6. Part 5: Mastering & Publishing
 

How To Record, Edit And Publish A Short Audio Interview - Part 3: Coarse Edit

 Edit, then edit some more

Edit, then edit some more

Listening back to the audio and making notes

If you're looking for an audio editor, Audacity is free, open-source and works well. For editing I use Ableton Live which is a commercial product with more tools that make manipulating sound easier.

Before making any edits I listen back to the entire recording to get a feel for which bits stand out and which don’t. One of the big challenge of audio editing is that you have no way of visualising the content of the interview. Effectively all your editor is showing you is the volume of the recording at different times, but there's nothing to say for example that at 2 minutes 45 seconds we started talking about their science.

You could type out an entire transcript of the interview – this is an incredibly arduous and lengthy task. However this gives you the most information about the content of the audio you’ve recorded, and allows you to easily select which areas of the interview go well together. I don’t have the time to transcribe every recording in full detail, so I playback the recording as a slightly slower speed. As I listen I have a blank text document open and type quick notes on what is being said. I put asterisks next to bits I really like and want to prioritise for inclusion.

Identifying the sections

From my notes I identify the start and end points of different sections of the interview - points where we move on to another questions/topic, etc. I start to split the audio file at these points.

I’m also looking for my favourite part of the interview – this will be something that’s quirky, surprising, or heart-felt that immediately grabs the listener’s attention.

Arranging the sections - format

 Format used for CiW interviews

Format used for CiW interviews

The format I developed for the CiW interviews features a cold open i.e. it jumps straight into the action before anything else. This is deliberate – the edited audio is only around 120 seconds long – I don’t want a significant proportion of that time taken up by some repetitive pre-recorded message.

The majority of the listeners will be arriving directly at the audio from the CiW website – they already know the context. When I share interviews via the Scientists not the Science podcast feed, where the context isn't obvious, I add a short introduction tailored explicitly to to that audience:

I was also keen to cut out the interviewer from the clips, to keep focus on the interviewee and due to the limited amount of time available. This makes editing more challenging, as the context needs to be clear from what the guest is saying, but with careful editing and phrasing of questions I've not really had too many problems putting an edit together.

After the cold-open the interviewee introduces themselves: ‘My name is …. , I am a …. at the University of ….’. Most interviewees will say this automatically if you ask them introduce themselves. Some will forget to say what they do or where they’re from, and if they do I prompt them at the end of the interview to introduce themselves again with the missing information included.

Next I usually include a 20-30 seconds of the guest talking about their research. As a scientist I am always tempted to include loads of hardcore science – because it interests me. However this doesn’t fit with the purpose of the CiW interviews – they're not to teach people science, nor even for people to learn in detail what each interviewee does, but aim to present inspiring role models.

After this the format focuses on the guest's story – their pathway, inspiration and motivation. These are the parts of the interview that I feel resonate well with a wider audience, as people are often describing their feelings and emotions.

Some sections will be boring, for example they might be too niche to a guest's individual circumstances and not relevant to a wider audience. These sections are cut. This is not to say they aren’t important to the interviewee, but if they don't support the purpose of the interview, they're gone.

End voiceover

At the end of each interview I also include a short piece of narration: ‘To hear more scientist profiles search online for Cavendish inspiring Women'. This is a concession to the fact that while most listeners will arrive at the recording via the website, the relative ease of sharing and posting content in other locations mean that I want to ensure the origin of the audio can be identified if it ends up adrift on the web. The choice of words was specific – there is deliberately no mention of the website address, as this is tricky to spell – a quick search will find the website much more easily.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Part 1: Preparation
  3. Part 2: Recording
  4. Part 3: Coarse Edit
  5. Part 4: Fine Edit
  6. Part 5: Mastering & Publishing

 

How To Record, Edit And Publish A Short Audio Interview - Part 2: Recording

 Don't forget your headphones...

Don't forget your headphones...

The recording space

When arranging the interview make sure you have access to an appropriate recording space. You want a room that doesn’t echo too much - big seminar/board rooms are usually poor choices, small offices with carpets and lots of soft furnishings are better. Break-out areas, atriums, and hallways are usually very bad recording environments due to echoes and the likelihood of someone walking past. You don’t want to be disturbed by colleagues or someone vacuuming halfway through the interview.

Arriving in the room

 Unfortunately a sound-proofed professional studio is not always available.

Unfortunately a sound-proofed professional studio is not always available.

Say hello with your interviewee, and if possible, spend some time (a few minutes) getting to know each other. This isn’t always possible and you probably won't have much time, but building a rapport beforehand builds trust and can result in a much better quality interview. This process starts before you meet during initial contact (i.e. emails).

Make sure your phone is off, and ask your guest to if the can do the same (or at least onto airplane mode) to avoid audio interference during the recording. If you’re sitting at a table, try and sit across the corner from your guest. This serves a number of purposes: firstly sitting across the corner normally means your voices aren't projecting straight on to the walls in the room, minimising direct reflections. Secondly the off-angle is less-aggressive than sitting straight on to guest, helping them to relax. Finally, the corner of the table makes a good elbow rest rest while holding the microphone, stopping your arm from falling off mid-interview.


A quick note on equipment

 My portable recording setup: iPhone 4 + Bossjock Studio + iRigPre + Shure SM58

My portable recording setup: iPhone 4 + Bossjock Studio + iRigPre + Shure SM58

There are plenty of good guides to podcast equipment. For the CiW interviews I used a Shure SM58 microphone (with a windshield) connected to an old iPhone 4 using an iRigPre, along with some in-ear headphones. I use the app Bossjock Studio to record the sound because it allows you to turn off the inbuilt audio processor on the iPhone 4 resulting in much higher audio quality then you can normally get. I found this setup to be a good compromise between audio quality, portability and cost.


Setting up the recorder

It's important to set up your recorder so that the audio you record is neither too loud, nor too quiet. Too loud and it will distort (clip) - think of the crackling noise when someone shouts into a microphone, too quiet and when you try and make it louder later you’ll hear lots of noise hissing away in the background.

As this is very much equipment dependent the best approach is to spend time playing with your recording setup well in advance of the actual interview. Practice playing with all the settings, turning all the knobs up and down, to get a feel for what everything does and what sounds good.

 Having a microphone up close and personal can be a daunting experience

Having a microphone up close and personal can be a daunting experience

Always wear headphones while making the recording. You need to be able to hear the sound from the microphone as it’s being recorded (this is called monitoring). It’s the easiest way to tell if you’re recording quality is sufficient, and identify if something changes mid-way through the recording. Listening to your own voice can be quite disconcerting (especially in real time), so again it's worth practicing and get used to it, the feeling goes away with time.

Do a quick recording while warming up with your guest. This is not for use in the final edit, but it gives the interviewee a chance to get used to you sticking a big lump of metal and foam right in their face, and allows you to check that the audio is recording properly. Once done, stop the recording and listen back to it carefully to make sure everything’s ok. If it’s not, make changes and try again. This is the most critical moment of the interview – if you don’t capture the sound properly then the rest of the process is pointless.

Starting the interview

 Sitting across a table corner with Gareth Mitchell

Sitting across a table corner with Gareth Mitchell

Once that’s sorted start a new recording. Before asking any questions I like to be upfront with my guests, and make clear to them again that the recording will be edited and distributed online, and ask them to confirm on the recording that they understand this and are happy to take part. This can be a little jarring, but as a non-professional I want to take care that my guests (who are often colleagues, and who have kindly given their time) are fully aware of what’s going on, and how the audio will be used.

In general, I start off with asking somebody to introduce themselves, and easy questions about their work, and so on. Most people are (including the interviewer) take a few minutes to warm up. Listening back I can often hear nerves in my voice during the first couple of questions, which slowly fade as we both become more comfortable. Save the more quirky or provocative questions until the end.

During the interview

If I mess up a question, or the interviewee fluffs a response, I just start it again, leaving some silence in-between (to make editing easier). This isn’t live, so it’s fine to do things twice if needed.

You might find some guests talk and talk and talk, without giving you a chance to ask other or follow-up questions. In some cases you may have to cut them off in order to keep the interview on track. Literally moving the microphone away from their mouth is a clear indicator you want to move on!

If there’s something you don’t understand – ask your guest to explain it. If something sounds interesting ask more about it. Ask them about feelings and emotions. Trust your nose and don’t be afraid to stray from your plan. The only caveat is to make sure to keep an eye on the time. If you said the interview will only take 15 minutes – make sure it only takes 15 minutes, your guest will appreciate you respecting their time. If something is going well and you’d like more time, you can always say ‘I notice we’re almost out of time, are you happy to carry on talking further?’ – normally the answer is yes.

End of the interview

At the end of the interview check that you’ve got everything you wanted and then ask your guest to introduce themselves again. Notice how much more confidently they do it the second time round, after you’ve both warmed up. You can now cut the first introduction, and use the more confident one instead...

Consider also recording the sound of the quiet room, without talking – this can be useful during editing. Make sure your recording is saved, and have a quick listen back to make sure you definitely recorded everything.

Thank your guest, clear up your equipment quickly, say thank you again, and leave. Once the spell of the interview is over, your interviewee may want to chat more, but it's more likely they will want to get on with the next part of their day. Be accommodating to their wishes.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Part 1: Preparation
  3. Part 2: Recording
  4. Part 3: Coarse Edit
  5. Part 4: Fine Edit
  6. Part 5: Mastering & Publishing

 

How to Record, Edit and Publish a Short Audio Interview - Part 1: Preparation

 Who's going to want to listen to your interview?

Who's going to want to listen to your interview?

What's the point?

The first step is to develop a clear idea of the purpose of the interview, book an appropriate guest and research their background. Ask yourself:

  • Why are you interviewing this person?
  • Why are they interesting to your audience? (Do you know who your audience is?) 

The CiW interviews (and similarly those for Scientists not the Science) I conducted were predominantly with scientists who had little or no experience of being interviewed. However most had plenty online about their research and background, and I made sure to read up as much as I could beforehand.

Questions to ask

Because of the highly structured and short nature of the CiW interviews I also drafted a list of questions to ask, along the lines of:

  1. Please describe your name and background
  2. How do you describe your research in one sentence?
  3. When did you start calling yourself a scientist?
  4. How is your research going to save the world? (deliberately provocative and used sparingly when a good rapport has already been established!)
  5. What’s been the most exciting thing you’ve ever done in science?

I had these on to hand as a checklist, but didn't just read them out - this can come across as stifled in the recording. I tended to modify their tone and language during the interview depending on the context and how the interview is going.

Having a plan helps me focus on what I want to achieve with an interview, and also makes sure I don’t miss any obvious audio I wanted to record – for example the interviewee introducing themselves. For the longer Scientists not the Science interviews my plan tends to include themes I want to talk about, rather than specific questions. Ultimately I'm having a conversation and want it to be as natural as possible, while at same time slowly steering it in a particular direction – this is tricky and I'm still practicing.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Part 1: Preparation
  3. Part 2: Recording
  4. Part 3: Coarse Edit
  5. Part 4: Fine Edit
  6. Part 5: Mastering & Publishing