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Close To The Edit


I was reminiscing today about being the audio visual monitor at middle school, a good 35 years ago, where I was required to deliver overhead projectors, tape machines, headphones with a splitter unit and a combined TV and video machine on wheels to classrooms around the school.


And even by the time I had shifted to a radio career, I was still editing audio on big reels of tape, using a razor blade, chopping block and sticky tape. I would physically mark the beginning and the end of the part I wanted to remove, razor blade at both marks and sticky-tape it back together. Trust me, if you stuffed up an edit, you could be in big trouble - especially as the bit of audio you wanted to put back in would likely be on the floor, indistinguishable from the 100 other bits of tape previously edited out!


I'm not bone-shakingly old though - so looking at today's digital editors and the surrounding technology makes me realise just how fast technology has progressed. Often to the better.


However, I will always maintain that physically editing with linear, analogue tape was the best training I could ever have received - and has tuned my ears for good edits in a digital world. So here's this old man's main hints for editing your podcast (and I'll have you know I have above-average hearing for a man of my age... BUPA confirmed it a couple of years ago!).


Firstly, breaths. We're tuned in as humans to spot when something sounds a little "off". And it's very easy to either cut a breath in half, remove a breath completely so the dialogue sounds unnatural or two breaths occur when there should be one (you've included the breath from the end of the first part and the breath at the beginning of the second). The one place you might spot this is in radio news (lesser so TV news as the picture seems to distract from dodgy audio issues) where the poor journalist has received audio a matter of minutes before their bulletin and have had to quickly edit it to ensure it appears in the bulletin. Easy and understandable to leave a "double breath" in there.


As a general rule of thumb, you should finish the first bit of audio when the speaker has finished their sentence and before they make any further sounds. The breath should then come from the breath they take before the second part of the audio you want to appear. This isn't a hard or fast rule though. They might do a weird breath - or you're cutting into or out of them mid-sentence. So experiment and see what sounds the best. In the world of digital editing you can click "undo" if it doesn't work rather than scrabbling around on the floor trying to find the discarded piece of tape. And make sure the full breath appears - otherwise the brain hears it and just knows something is up.


Secondly, pace. Think of yourself as a musician when you're editing. An orchestra might change in pace or style over the course of a piece, but in the main will take you through a journey as those changes take place (and if they don't, it's intentional, to make you jump out of your seat!). If you're editing mid-sentence and two words are too close together, compared to the overall pace, it will stand out.


Thirdly, inflection. There are certain things we generally do as humans (and I'm probably approaching this with a western, if not British/American mindset.. I can immediately grasp why the following advice might be slightly different for an Australian or South African. Generally we rise in our tone at the beginning of a sentence, use different variations for emphasis or colour during the sentence, and then head downwards again at the end of the sentence. There is a verbal way of signposting a 'full stop' period mark - and that's to bring your tone down to a stop. Therefore, cutting together two sentences, mid-sentence, might not match - the mid-sentence journey might not edit well between two sentences, or if you cut out of a sentence early, it might not have that journey to its final end-of-sentence resting place.


And finally, background noise. Firstly, if there is a bit of subtle hiss or ambience, don't cut it so tightly that you don't allow the background noise to establish for half a second, or to cut it off so tightly at the end that your piece abruptly cuts to digital (no noise) silence. Equally, if there is background noise of music, or a particularly recognisable sound (say, a car starting, accelerating and going past), editing dialogue will be more tricky - as the ear will pick up on the background noises sounding unnatural. There isn't a silver bullet for this I'm afraid, but it is worth being mindful of and trying to balance your need to edit the dialogue with the unnaturalness of a background noise that doesn't match our normal experience.


Don't, however, decide all of the above is just too much effort - and that you don't need to learn to edit - even at a basic level. The truth is that a remote interview will drop out because of internet connection, an unexpected delivery will arrive for one of you, you'll so badly stuff up a sentence you will desperately want to do it again. Plus, I'm afraid that you will occasionally get a boring guest who you want to cut down to the key points.


That's my advice for today's blog - I hope it's useful.


Aaaaannnndd CUT!




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