Easy Podcast Editing Using Free Audacity Software and a Quality Microphone

Produce audio that allows your podcast content to shine

Podcasts and Audio that Rocks

Microphone Quality Matters

The ability to produce a great sounding podcast can be extremely simple, but it all begins with the microphone.  Your microphone quality can be one of the largest factors in the sound quality of your podcast. Having a microphone that creates a warm, balanced human sound goes a long way in your recording quality. Still, there may be times when the simplicity of a USB microphone is the best option, and there is nothing wrong with that.

There are also microphones that have both a USB and XLR hookup, allowing for versatility in recording techniques and allowing you to start podcasting before committing to purchasing a separate audio interface.  

There are some limitations to a USB microphone. First, it has to be plugged into your computer, and it can’t use an additional audio interface or mixer or stand alone recorder. You have less power with a USB microphone which can lead to lower sound quality. USB microphones use internal microphone preamps and analog-to-digital converters.

Multiple Microphones Require Multiple Inputs

If you are lucky enough to have an in-person guest, it is much easier to plug two microphones into an audio interface than into a computer using USB. It is possible to plug two USB microphones into the same computer, but it can create technical and quality issues while complicating your setup. It’s also easier to monitor your podcast by plugging your headphones into an audio interface or your microphone.

Plugging your headphones into your computer can lead to latency and time delays and can create an echo.

Use an Audio Interface for Better Sound Quality

A popular audio interface is the Scarlett 2i2. Scarlet has several makes and models with different inputs and capabilities. There are also quite a few bundles available that have the microphone, audio interface, cable, and even editing software included.

Purchasing a Scarlett Audio Interface usually gets you a version or two of at least a light version of some audio editing software applications. Many of these audio interfaces come with Pro Tools First, but this version of Pro Tools is available free to everyone, so you don’t have to purchase an audio interface to get it.

When using an audio interface, your microphone needs an XLR connector. There are quite a few microphones to choose from, but an example of a high-quality podcasting microphone is the Rode Procaster Broadcast Dynamic Microphone. Throw in a boom arm, a shock mount, a windscreen or pop filter, and some foam soundproofing, and you have a high-end studio. Still, there are choices for every budget and tons of podcasts have featured microphone showdowns. Your budget and personal preference will determine your final choice.

Audio Editing Software and Digital Audio Workstations (DAW)

Now that we have some examples of good recording equipment, let's focus on editing software. There are many choices and chances are, you already have a basic audio editing software installed on your computer. If you are doing interview shows and need to record phone calls, you can use Call Recorder for Skype for Mac users and Pamela for Windows users.

Mac users may also use GarageBand to edit their audio files.

There are quite a few light versions of audio editing software that come free with the purchase of an audio interface or mixer. Besides Pro Tools First, which comes with some audio interfaces and is available free to everyone, Mackie has a program called Tracktion that comes with its own audio interface. Cubase in another option and the Cubase LE version comes with many audio interfaces.

Other high-end audio editing options include the full version of Pro Tools, the Hindenburg DAW, and Adobe Audition. There is also Reaper, Logic, and Cakewalk. Some of these are designed for music production, but all of them will allow you to edit your podcast audio files. Many of these may be too expensive, complicated, and have too many features for beginning podcast editing, but there are many products to choose from.

You want your podcast to have good content and sound great. Poor sound quality will chase listeners away. Make sure that you have a solid microphone, an audio interface, and you listen with headphones. Make sure there isn’t distracting background noises, hissing, popping sounds, too many ums and ahs, and fluctuating sound levels. Do what you can to produce the best show possible.

Basic Podcast Editing Using Audacity

Audacity is a very popular, free software that works on most platforms and is fairly simple to use for basic audio editing. Once you understand basic editing, it is easier to move on to more complex audio editing tools. We want to focus on editing out anything that doesn’t sound good. If it doesn’t add to your show, cut it. We will also learn how to remove annoying background noise and how to normalize audio by applying a constant amount of gain in order to bring peaks up to a target level.

We will use equalization to boost or reduce frequencies that are too high or too low to create a more natural sound. We will focus on the base, midtones, and treble to boost or reduce the frequencies. Audacity also has presets like the AM radio preset that works well for podcasts. We will also look at Dynamic Range Compression (DRC) to reduce loud sounds and increase soft sounds for a smoother audio file.

With Audacity, we can also cut out pauses and annoying sounds, isolate areas and increase or decrease the levels, and cut out unneeded parts, while adding intros, outros, and music. With a few simple techniques, we should be able to produce a very good sounding podcast.

Getting Started With Audacity

For the best audio quality record wave files then convert them to MP3 files after the editing is done. Since the file will be compressed later when it is exported as an MP3, the audio preferences can be set to .wav file, 16-bit, and 44.1 kHz. It can be set higher if you like, but this quality level should be sufficient while still keeping your storage demands efficient.

  • Open Audacity

  • Use the default preferences or edit to the above specifications

  • Use File > New or Open to browse to your audio file

  • You can also import an audio file or record straight into Audacity

  • To record, make sure your recording device is set to the correct microphone and that your playback device is set to your headphones or speakers.

  • When recording, click on the levels to monitor them, you don’t want them to be too high or too low.

  • Tip: Plugging your microphone in before opening Audacity works best.

Once you have your audio files in audacity, you can drag and drop, highlight, delete, cut and paste and manipulate them any way you want. This is the fun and easy part of using Audacity. You can use the visual sound wave representations to tell when you have high sounds, low sounds, background noise, and pauses. You can even save time in your editing process by giving yourself visual cues where you want edits to occur. If you mess up, pause and then make 3 loud claps, and you will know exactly where you need to edit the track. If you have a long show, this can save you time

  • To delete a portion of a track, select it and hit the delete key. You can also select a portion of the audio and do small edits on just that section.

  • You can use the time shift tool to move tracks around

  • You can use the envelope tool to fade music and sound effects

  • You can have as many tracks as you like and manipulate them to make a very polished show

To Remove Background Noise

  • If you pause a few seconds before you start talking you will see a small line of sound waves, these are your background noise

  • Background noise is easy to remove with the noise reduction plug-in

  • To get rid of background static and hiss select a noise sample by selecting the small waves at the beginning of the show.

  • Click on Effects > Noise Reduction > Get Noise Profile

  • Effect > Repeat Noise Reduction

  • The background noise should be gone

Normalize means to apply a constant amount of gain in order to bring peaks up to a target level. To do this select:

  • Effect > Normalize

  • The dB level can be set to -1.0 or -2.0

  • Listen to the preview before applying the changes

  • Then click OK

You can use the Equalization Effect to boost or reduce selected frequencies. The curve may seem overwhelming, but there are preset curves that you can select that will make the job easier. The AM Radio curve works well for podcasting.

  • Effect > Equalization

  • Select Curve > AM Radio

  • OK

Compression sometimes called Dynamic Range Compression (DRC) reduces loud sounds and increases soft sounds. You can use the default settings, experiment with your own or install this plugin.

  • Effects > Compressor

  • Use default or try some changes

  • Listen to the preview

  • OK

  • Normalize again

You can also zoom in for a really close up view of the soundwaves to isolate certain sounds. You can reduce gain using amplify or the silence key to make sound waves more even.

  • Zoom button on toolbar

  • Isolate the sound

  • Effect > Amplify

  • Or Silence Audio on the toolbar

This just scratches the surface of what can be done with Audacity. Still, it should be enough to get you started editing a decent quality show. Take some time to study the toolbars and play with the different effects, generators, and analyzers that are available. Once you open the software and follow this guide most of these things should make sense, but there are also some great videos on YouTube that can help get you started.

Adding Music, Meta Tags, and Exporting as an MP3 File

As mentioned earlier, Audacity allows you to have as many tracks as you want. One of those tracks will probably be music for your intro. The YouTube Audio Library has some great music and sound effects that you can use in your podcast. Some of the tracks are royalty free and some require attribution. If you have a YouTube account you can go to Creator Studio > Create > Audio Library and browse and download music and sound effects. Once you have your music you can cut it and place it where you want, and use Effects > Fade In or Fade Out, or use the envelope tool to fade in or out.

Be sure and save your project throughout the process. Before you export your file as an MP3, you can edit the metadata for your file. Audacity does best with just the standard fields being used. If you want to add extra fields for your metadata and ID3 tags, you can read about how to do that in this article.

  • File > Edit Metadata

  • Use the standard fields

The principles of editing your files in Audacity can be applied to more sophisticated audio editing software down the line. This article is only an introduction to some of the cool things that can be done with Audacity, but it should be enough to get you started.