I love my job. Maybe I don’t find the chance to make audio documentaries & dramas as much as I’d like to (and certainly not as much as I envisioned back when I was a media production student), but being an Academic Tutor of radio & teaching how to create strong audio documentaries is something that fills me with immense joy.
I love helping my students turn their interviews into something so much more.
It’s all very well & good that I can teach people how to edit audio. But then if you Google “how to edit with Adobe Audition”, there’s no shortage of helpful advice. What can I bring to add value? There’s a fine line between being able to edit audio, as in actually use the software, and being able to edit audio effectively.
So, drum roll please. This isn’t a “101” on the basics of Adobe Audition and editing, oh no. This “Top Ten Tips” is all about how to make the most of your speech content.
Story, Story, Story
These are the three most important key words when editing audio documentaries. Actually, no, when creating anything; film, novels, news stories. Creating a good story is integral to editing any media. So learn those three essential words; story, story, story. Repeat them until your tongue turns blue. Get them tattooed across your forehead if you have to.
Always be thinking – are you telling a good story? Can a different editing decision help you tell that story better? What do you want your audience to take away from listening?
Avoid excessive repetition (unless used for effect).
If your interviewee says phrases multiple times, your audience will notice. And maybe turn the radio back onto Capital. Or switch to another podcast. Or throw their phone on the floor in disgust, smash it to pieces and sue you for the damage. We don’t want that. There’s enough broken glass on the streets as it is.
Be mindful of if an interviewee repeats certain phrases: Have we heard those points before, just in a different way? Are they using similar words or phrases which may be irritating? Always be thinking of how your audio editing guides the listener through your speech audio.
The natural rhythm of speech.
Every person has an individual, natural rhythm in their voice. It might be in their intonation, the way they transition from sentence to sentence, maybe even in the speed of their delivery.
Naturally, you may want to cut out thinking gaps, stammers, “ummm”s or “errrm”s, etc. But (and this depends on the situation), sometimes leaving some of these “mistakes” in adds to their naturalism.
Edit around the breath.
If you make edits using breaths, and don’t apply a proper fade or cross fade, these edits will be highly noticeable. This is a rookie mistake, and is easily noticeable. Please make sure your breaths sound “natural”, and don’t stop, start or cut unnaturally.
Music & speech.
Most documentaries will feature music in some way, and it’s important to give it time in the limelight. But please make sure your speech is not lost behind the music (unless used in particular moments for effectiveness.)
You know when you’re in a club and trying to hear what your friend is saying, but it’s just too damn loud? And you ask them “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” and you miss it again? And then you don’t want to ask them a third time, so you just laugh and pretend you heard? Don’t do that to your audience – they’ll miss the story. If they’re listening via the radio, they can’t rewind. If they’re listening to a podcast, it’s a chore to rewind. Be kind, don’t make them rewind.
Respect speech, it needs to come through and be heard clearly. When using music to accompany speech, consider finding instrumental versions, or even creating your own “beds” from instrumental sections of pieces. Keep the music low under speech.
Edit with the EARS, not your EYES.
Sounds obvious, right? We are working with audio, after all, that’s what you’d expect. Make your change, then listen. Does the change work? Try altering it slightly – does it work better, or not as well? This process will help you to refine your editing & make it as smooth as possible.
“M” is your new best friend.
And I’m not talking about the late, great character formerly played by Dame Judy Dench. In Adobe Audition, “M” adds in a marker; both in single and multi-track view.
You might use markers to highlight key bits of audio, or where you would like to make cuts – it’s up to you & your own editing technique. (Personally, I use markers to highlight where I want to make cuts.) This process will help you to find & isolate your content with ease, and make changes much quicker.
Sorry, Judy Dench.
Don’t be afraid to change the narrative order to suit your story.
Remember that at the heart of your project, you are telling a story. How do you create stories through sound, and create them effectively?
As long as you don’t manipulate what someone is saying, and change the intention of what they’re talking about, we encourage you to reorder their material. Often, we hear student’s interviews which sound like the interview is in exactly the same order as recorded, but with the questions taken out. Please play about with your narrative, and experiment with changing the order of your clips. Think about how best to create your narrative, your story, and how to mold your interviewees into your editing process.
Music as a transition.
Often, you may use music as a transition; it’s an effective way to break apart a story and keep it interesting & fresh, and also freshens up your editing. Think about the music. In these moments, the music takes priority, and should be treated as such. Make sure you bring them “up in the mix”, or in other words to a higher volume which matches speech, before fading down or moving on to the next piece.
Captain your hooks.
All the way through editing your documentary, think about how to keep grabbing a listeners attention; maybe using ear-catching sound effects and music, maybe using twists and turns in your narrative – ideally both.
What if a listener has just tuned in? How will you get them to stick around if they’ve missed the beginning? And for those listening from the beginning, why should they bother to continue?
Here’s a bad metaphor. Your documentary should be like a train. Some people will travel all the way from London Kings Cross to Newcastle. Some people will get on, some people will get off. But, as train driver, you want to convince all the passengers to stay on till the end. (That’s where the metaphor really does fall apart, huh?) Keep the journey interesting, and you’ll not crash along the way.
Hopefully you’ve found these Top Ten Tips helpful, and Any comments/questions? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.
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And, as always,
Stay productive, stay awesome!
Executive Producer, 99% Perspiration