Building Your Podcasting Dream Team: Podcast Editor

9 min read

When we asked the Simplecast community what their 2020 resolutions were, we heard one response over and over again: outsource the work they don’t like! We decided to write a few guides to show you exactly how to do that. We’ve already talked about hiring a social media manager–today we talked with Aaron Dowd about finding a podcast edits. Aaron is the Customer Success Lead at Simplecast, runs the Podcast News, and had done more than his fair share of freelance podcast editing.

What does a podcast editor do?

When it comes to an audio editor, there are quite a few different types of things you can specialize in, and the word “editor” doesn’t always mean the same thing, even when you’re explicitly saying “podcast editor.”  According to Aaron, you can find some editors who are “also willing to doing the work of a producer or a sound engineer who will make sure that your microphones are set up correctly, that you’re capturing an audio track for each person and that all the recording levels are proper for whatever it is that you’re recording.”

There are also editors who only come in after the episode is recorded, when you’re asking yourself,  “How do I put together these audio files and make them sound good?” This is one of the roles Aaron used to take on personally: ”Mixing and mastering, basically making sure that all the voices are roughly the same level as the other voices with no one louder than anyone else, and making sure there’s not a lot of background noise or problems with plosives or sibilance or other audio issues.”

On a more holistic (and potentially more advanced and expensive) level, you have folks who specialize in the content editing side of things. These editors look at your hour and a half of conversation and figure out where the episode actually starts, what the preamble is, how you wrap up your post-show, and what you trim off the ends and in the middle to whittle it down into a twenty minute episode. Sometimes these content decisions happen in tandem with the host or the producer of the show. They’ll say, “We want this section cut out or this section cut out” and then the editor’s job is to do that and make sure it sounds natural.

Some editors will do all of these things (and more) at the same time, while some will only focus on a specific area. “Something I never did personally,” says Aaron, “was sound design. So I never composed music, only rarely added background effects, but that’s a role that some editors might be willing to do, or you might have to hire someone else to do.”

Can you be your own editor?

Whenever we think about outsourcing a task, we always ask a few questions: What are you doing now? How much time would you need to teach yourself new skills? How much time would you need for optimal results? And what else could you be doing with the time this task is taking up for you?

Chances are, you’re probably doing some light editing to your own podcast now, so you’re not starting completely from scratch. We asked Aaron how long it took him to teach himself editing, and his answer was super illuminating:

“I’d say it took me probably forty hours to understand the main concepts, maybe another forty hours (studying, reading, watching tutorials) to get used to the software and hardware and feel comfortable enough using them to record audio, and then probably about two or three episodes of actually doing it before I felt like I had a basic grasp on the situation. So, a couple weeks of full-time study? You could spread that out over a six month period, but if you’re starting from scratch (with no previous experience with audio or recording) it can take a serious amount of time to learn this stuff. And, of course, it’s an ongoing process because there can be a lot of nuance. Editing for content is something that’s different than just working with the audio itself, so that will take some time to get good at.”

Even if you’re already proficient with audio editing, it’s worth looking at where your time can be spent the most fruitfully. Yeah, you might know how to edit, but could you use those hours researching and pitching sponsors, or finding new guests? After all, it’s not just teaching yourself to edit audio–you actually have to do the editing. Which, according to Aaron, can take a while, too.

“It depends on the type of episode, but if we’re talking about your normal interview show where you’ve got two people talking for 45 minutes and you’re not doing a ton of editing— just cleaning it up and making it sound good—I’d say take the time of the episode and add half. But if you’re really digging into the content and trying to craft an experience like This American Life or any of those highly-produced shows, that can take way longer. You can spend a full week on a twenty minute piece of audio if you’re picky like that. On the whole, I think you can expect to spend twice the length of time of the episode to do basic audio cleanup and editing.“

Do you really need an editor?

Well, no. It’s your podcast, and your life. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. But we’ve found that the #1 reason people turn away from a show is bad audio quality–even if they like the subject matter. And the person that can help with that? An editor.

What does it sound like when someone doesn’t have an editor? As per Aaron, “You can tell when someone doesn’t have an editor or hires someone who doesn’t really understand editing when there is really poor audio quality. For example, someone’s voice is noticeably louder than someone else’s, or they won’t have done any noise removal or compression to make the louder parts of the audio a little quieter and the quiet parts a little louder." (Pro-tip: if you’re trying your hand at editing your show yourself, Aaron says one of the biggest tells for new editors is over-editing: every filler word or “um” and every inhale is cut out of the show in a very noticeable way. Rather than this making you sound more professional, it can make you sound robotic and can be a distraction for the listener.)

Where do you find an editor?

“A lot will depend on your budget and expectations as far as skill and quality,” says Aaron. One of the first places he recommends looking for editors is within your own network, whether that’s asking your listeners for help with finding an editor at the end of your own podcast episodes, on your social media platforms, or by asking other podcast creators in your niche who edits their shows.

“The very first client I ever worked for was a show I listened to, and I liked them so much that I just offered my help. I sent them an email and I said ‘Hey, can I take over editing the show?’ I think I did a better job with it because I understood the show and what was great about it and I had ideas about how I could improve it. Your show might have someone like that who listens to the show and is already a fan and who would love the chance to help. That’s why I encourage people to reach out to their network first.”

After that, you can turn your search towards the wide world of Google. If you google “professional podcast editor” you’ll find a bunch of websites, and these folks will be people with a few years of experience who are confident in their offerings and who will, consequently, cost more money than someone you’d find on a freelance website.

“There’s a sliding scale, and I think it’s important to think about where on that scale you’re willing to be,” says Aaron about pricing. Should you find that most of the editors you’re looking at are out of your budget, it’s time to either adjust your expectations, or get creative. (And no, neither of those things means free work.)

You can reach out to college radio departments and college podcast production courses–students there might be less experienced, but they’ll also be less expensive (and if they’re local, you could actually go get lunch with them!).

“Additionally, you should look for someone who has worked with the kind of content that you’re working with. So, if you have an interview podcast, maybe you find someone who has edited YouTube videos of interviews but never a podcast–well, they’re still going to understand the core concept and what you’re trying to achieve. Something else is hiring someone who has experience in post-production in audio. Someone who knows about things like EQ and compression and limiting and noise removal and basically how to take a raw, recorded audio file and make it sound better. I think it’s okay to hire people who have a little bit less experience, but they may make more mistakes in the beginning. If you’re really particular or really stringent, then you’ll want to hire someone who has more experience.”

How much is a podcast editor going to cost?

There are generally two different ways that podcast editors price out their services: hourly, and by episode. Aaron prefers, for the most part, to charge per episode once he has had a discovery call and has an understanding of what the person hiring him is expecting and how much effort it’ll take.

“I charged, starting off, I think $50 or $75 an episode,” he says, “and then I went to $100 or maybe $150, $200. At one point, one of the shows I was working on, I had spent a full day working on an episode, so I charged $300. Some people might consider that a lot of money to edit an episode, some will think it’s cheap. I know some professional editors and producers who charge more than that. When you’re starting off, maybe you do editing for a show for beer money, and it all depends on the show and what they can afford. People who are making a living working on podcasts, their episode or hourly rate will probably be much higher than someone doing it for fun or money on the side, which changes the type of shows they’re going to work with. But people who have higher expectations about the quality of work they’re going to get from the editor should be willing to pay more.”

What is working with a podcast editor actually like?  

So, we sold you on a podcast editor, and you’ve started looking for one. What next?

Firstly, and most importantly, understand and try to define what responsibilities you’d like to hand over to someone. As Aaron outlined above, podcast editors can do a LOT of different things. Some of that is dictated by their skill set, but some of it is up to you both to decide.

“I think it is very important to understand what you’re looking, what you want, and what your expectations are before you start working with an editor, because you’re going to have to be the one to tell them. Are you just looking for a quick cleanup, like listening through and editing out any major mistakes, or do you want them to be really, really particular and make sure that every second of audio is perfect ? It’s important to understand that the higher your expectations are and the longer the episode is and the more mistakes there are to fix, the longer it’s going to take the editor to finish that work.”

(And do you have a contract outlining the scope of work? Definitely get one of those.)

Continuing with the theme of “talk it out ahead of time”: Make sure to be clear about communicating your schedule and needs–when they’re going to get the files, when you’re going to get the files back, and when you’d like to publish the episode, because you do need to build in some time to make sure you can do reviews or any edits and changes. Most importantly for your editor: Think about how you’re going to pay them! Make sure you know how and when you’re going to get them money!

Will your first episode come back to you from your editor perfect the first time? Probably not. Be willing to work with them for a few weeks as you get to know them and get to know the show and what they’re doing–after all, they’re about to save you a ton of time in Adobe Audition.