Learning to "Audio"

Hello!  My name is Adam.  I have been a part of our current Dungeons and Dragons group for a little over a year.  With the exception of two sessions, I have always been a player. The more we played, the more I wanted to find a way to become more involved. The end result is that I became the person who would edit the audio for a Dungeons and Dragons podcast.

I gotta say, I wasn’t expecting to end up editing audio for a podcast.  I initially approached Alan about writing a novel detailing the events of our current Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and he mentioned he had been kicking around the idea of turning our weekly Saturday games into a podcast.  I thought this would be an ideal situation considering I would need a way to record the events of the campaign for reference later.  We decided to split the cost of a microphone or two to record the our D&D sessions, and we were off with both of us not really knowing what it would take to complete such goals.

While initially I was only in it for the convenient recording of the campaign, Alan’s enthusiasm soon had me researching podcasts and what it takes to produce them.  It wasn’t too long before I was hooked and fully on board.  When Alan mentioned he needed someone to edit the audio,  I thought ‘yep, I wanna do that’, and BAM! Off I was trying to learn a new skill.

I’ve always thought of myself as a “Learn as you go” type of person, and learning to edit audio for a podcast was going to be no different.  The first thing I did was ‘google’ which apps to use for audio editing.  I chose to use Audacity for the majority of the editing, although I still haven’t gotten a good grasp of how to remove room echo.  After getting the recording for the first session, I got to work experimenting.  I grasped the concept of removing audio fairly quickly.  Just like typing, if I wanted to remove a word, I just highlighted it and hit delete.  But of course, if you remove audio, there’s usually a “tag” which is what I started calling the obvious sound of audio change.  Everybody speaks in a certain cadence, and removing part of their speech changes that cadence.  This change is usually obvious, unless you can replicate how the sentence should have flowed.

So then, I learned the fine art of fading! The concept of fading is, simply, the easing in and out of sound in a situation.  In this case, easing in and out of spoken words so that they don’t sound clipped. Fading is a subtle art form and is not as simple as I originally thought.  I originally thought I could just chop, fade, and move on, but most of the time the person speaking doesn’t fade into a word mid-sentence or in between a quick spurt of words.  It is sometimes better to be less picky about the odd word or sound in the audio stream, and leave the unwanted sound in the clip, if you lack the proper ability to fix it seamlessly.

This new experience taught me other things about audio manipulation on a broad spectrum.  Terms like “condensing” and “normalization” now have new meaning to me.  I have become more aware of the sounds around me than ever before, because I have had to edit them out of the recording. A few times during the recording I found myself thinking “ok what was that noise??”  After the third time I heard a bag of chips blot out a speaker, it became apparent that the best approach would be to try and eliminate these sounds in the first place, rather than edit them out in post production. I learned to notice excitement and hesitation in people's words, not by how they sound but by how they looked in the audio editing programs.  It’s strange to know the DM has hidden information about something, not because I saw him wink after a piece of information he gave, but because I heard his intake of breath on the recording, followed quickly by slightly shorter word patterns.  I found it incredible that if an unexpected sound were to fall in the middle of a word, I could take out almost an entire syllable of that word and, given the right pace and environment, it would be nearly unnoticeable.  My greatest victory, so far, has been when someone rolled a die during a story dialogue.  I had no idea what word they said when the die fell, but after tweaking the audio, normalizing and micro snipping parts of the sound, I could then hear what the hidden word was.

I spent two hours tweaking the first minute of audio (plus a few general effects once I learned to overlay certain things on the entire track).  I only spent an hour tweaking the next five minutes. I started to realize how massive an undertaking it would be to “perfectly edit” each four hour session. If I was going to be as picky and choosy with the remainder of the session as I was for the first six minutes, I might finish some time next year.  I decided to call it a night and focus on figuring out how to move faster and more efficiently.  By reading articles and speaking to the one audio professional I knew, I learned most of the time audio editing is not done to remove every umm or ahhh.  Sure, if there are a few that take away from the general flowing nature of the podcast, remove them, but if it’s just the occasional speech pattern, leave it in; the flaws make the narration feel more natural.  It’s more important to remove awkward silences and loud interruptions rather than focus on making the performance “perfect.”

This massive time suck taught me the benefit of learning and then going, instead of just going all out.  Now, after hours of research, massive blog reading, youtube video after youtube video, and some conversations with an audio editing professional, I feel I actually might know enough of what I’m doing to produce a passable podcast.

-- The Editor