Top 5 Tips for Novice Podcast Editors

Tanner Campbell
Aug 20 · 7 min read

I’ve been editing podcasts for other people since 2016. I’ve been editing them for my own personal projects since 2010. In my first decade of podcasting and podcast editing I’ve learned a thing or two and for anyone looking to start a career in this business, I hope these five tips are useful to you.

Friction Is Public Enemy #1

Friction should be defined as “any decision, action, or communication which unnecessarily forces a client to pay attention to you.”

Your clients are not in any wise interested in excuses, explanations, or reasons. They hire you so that they can wash their hands of the things they don’t know how to do or don’t have the time to do. When they want involvement, they want it on their terms and at their convenience — not when you need it or when your mistakes or uncertainties require it.

That’s some bad friction you got there — Photo by Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

Of course most clients are not going to rain brimstone down upon you for asking them a few questions from time to time, and there’s no doubt that you will need to, but you must keep this in mind: Friction is cumulative.

If your client has to interface with you too frequently, they will begin to perceive the relationship as time-consuming. Once that happens they’ll begin to roll their eyes when they see emails from you, and it will go downhill from there.

Be there when they need you, be like a ghost otherwise. The only communications you should be sending to clients on a regular basis are:

  1. “Thanks for the files, I’ll get started on these right away” and
  2. “Files are done and the episode has been uploaded and scheduled. Have a great week and let me know if you need anything!”

In the same way that friction is cumulative, so is the lack of it. A Podcast Engineer who only delivers completed files and good news, is a Podcast Engineer who will be forgiven a few spots of inevitable friction when things don’t go perfectly. But beware: friction accumulates twice as fast as trust and contentment, and it’s weighted much more heavily.

Learn to say “No”, to defend your standards, and to value your time.

You responsibility to the client is to deliver on what you say you will deliver on, and to do it consistently and with as few snags as is humanly possible (see Friction). You’re also expected to be available to them during the times you’ve promised to be (more on that later).

But you also have a responsibility to yourself, too. Clients don’t get to demand time they haven’t paid for, and they don’t get to treat you like an employee if you’re not one.

You have a responsibility to learn how to say no, but to say it kindly. You also have a responsibility to make it clear that the advice you give them needs to be taken seriously in order to produce the best end product.

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

No matter what you charge or how you justify it, time is a factor. You can’t spend 10-hours on a podcast episode you’re being paid $200 to edit because $20/hr isn’t a sustainable rate of pay for this industry (it’s not even close), and that’s regardless of whether or not your client tells you otherwise. If you’re net-ing less than $45/hr, your business will never scale beyond the limit of your individual availability because at $20/hr you can’t afford to hire anyone once you’re too busy.

Of course if you’re spending 10-hours editing a 1-hour long podcast because you’re slow, that’s on you, and that’s a different conversation altogether, but if you’re taking 10-hours to edit a 1-hour podcast because the client and their co-host says “umm” or “uhhh” or “ahhh” 3000 times in a recording, that’s not on you, and they need to be coached — and they have a responsibility to be open to that coaching. You’re a Podcast Engineer, not a magician and not a Time Lord to whom time is not a factor. The client cannot be allowed to hand you 10-hours worth of work and expect you to do it for 2-hours worth of pay.

You should be writing into your agreements something that covers a “raw quality expectation” and which makes clear that the client must take their role in the production of a great podcast as seriously as you take your role in the post-production of a great podcast.

There is no correct way to edit a podcast

There are of course ways to go about it which create terrible results but if you’re really putting in the work and you understand the tech, you’ll always be doing it right.

The fact that you prefer to leave breaths in while another Podcast Engineer prefers to reduce them, and still another prefers to cut them out entirely (I’m the second type, btw) doesn’t make one way right and the others wrong. You get to create and uphold your own standards and practices. And you should!

Trust your ears (after you’ve developed them of course). Nobody cares if your compressor comes before your EQ [or your EQ comes before your compressor] except other Podcast Engineers who are certain that their way of doing things is the best way (and I promise you there is no shortage of these). The client and the listener only care about the finished product.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t “industry standards” you should strive to meet (Loudness Normalization comes to mind) but it does mean that the WAY you create your audio doesn’t matter near as much as the quality of the audio you create. Of course the two have a direct relationship, but I’ve seen some truly bizarre processing chains that make zero sense to me and that produce really good results.

ABWTL: Always Be Willing To Learn.

EBIYOS: Eventually Believe In Your Own Skills

Set expectations

Before you sign an agreement, before you take a dime of anyone’s money or waste a minute of your time, set the expectation. The #1 creator of friction is poor communication.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

The client expects A, you expect B, and each thinks the other is on the same page when in fact the exact opposite is true. You should never shy away from being firm or speaking candidly. If you agree to something you don’t want to agree to because you want to avoid a difficult conversation, all you’re doing is planting the seed of argument. They don’t know you only said yes and didn’t mean it. They think you meant it.

Be careful what you do (and don’t) say. Be aware of the expectations you’re setting, because you are setting them whether you know it or not.

Set Boundaries

Clients will 100% absolutely get comfortable with you over time (and you with them). This will lead to a relaxed feeling in concerns to deadlines and expectations. At first this may seem like a good thing, it’s always nice to have a little flexibility in a list of responsibilities… right?

No. Not right. At least not usually.

Eventually you will find yourself de-prioritizing them because the expectation has become that “they’re cool, they won’t get upset.”

Friends, sure as Zoom Meetings during this Pandemic have gotten us all a little too comfortable staying in our pajamas all day, this will erode the reverence for the professional relationship and you will pay for it in spades.

Maintain the reverence of a business relationship by keeping the relationship professional. Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

You’ll get comfortable, they’ll get comfortable, then you’ll get behind on their project.

At first they’ll say it’s cool, so you’ll push a due date. You’ll not have gotten comfortable with your other clients so you’ll not get behind on their projects.

Soon the one project you have gotten behind on will begin to fall further behind, as you’ll be constantly unable to be prioritize it over the projects of other clients with whom you’ve not gotten comfortable.

Now you’ve got this looming undone thing.

Eventually you’ll find yourself stressed out by that client who was so forgiving, and you’ll start to feel like they’re expecting things from you that aren’t fair. “How can they expect me to finish this week, I have other clients!”

You finally deliver the project but the damage is done. You’re irritated, they feel unimportant, and the relationship will continue to devolve since neither of you will say anything about it.

Set boundaries. You’re a professional providing a professional service. If you want to be friends with a client, ask yourself these questions:

“Would they hangout with me, talk with me, care about me at all if I weren’t their podcast editor? Would we actually be friends?”

If the answer is no, you need to accept the reality that you are not friends. They are a client, you are a provider, and you’re both nice to one another because most people aren’t jerks.

If the answer is yes, you need to fulfill the duties of your existing agreement (or transfer the agreement to another provider) before pursuing a relationship (platonic or otherwise).

This is the sort of thing people are discussing with they talk about business ethics, codes of conduct, or conflicts of interest. Business representatives and their clients are not meant to be involved with one another in a way that compromises their business relationship. Set boundaries.

That’s all I’ve got

I hope this has been helpful. As always, questions to tanner@portlandpod.com or you can leave a comment below. Take care.

The Portland Pod

Podcast Insights from Maine’s First Podcasting Studio

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