September 23, 2014
Update! May 25, 2015. I started a podcast about podcasting that you’ll love if you’re interested in starting a podcast or making your podcast better. Head over to thepodcastdude.com to listen.
I joined Ian over at Intro Machine for a chat about what I do as a podcast editor, common mistakes new podcasters make, how to not suck at podcasting, and more.
It was a really nice chat. Big thanks to Ian for having me.
The episode is no longer available online, but here are my answers to the questions he sent me before the show:
Who are you, and how are you involved in podcasting?
My name is Aaron Dowd. I am a huge fan of podcasts, especially podcasts made by anyone who wants to share interesting knowledge or provide insight about what they’ve learned or experienced.
I am currently a full time audio editor for many popular shows in the design and tech world. My biggest clients include the 5by5 Network, the Shoptalk Show, the seanwes podcast, but I do editing for many other great shows as well.
How did you get started doing what you’re doing?
I began listening to podcasts back in 2008 or 2009 because I wanted to learn how to become a web design freelancer. At the time, I was working a job that wasn’t challenging me (or paying enough), and I wanted to learn how to work remotely on a laptop, so I could tour with a band (I’m also a professional drummer).
I was also studying audio engineering in hopes of someday recording and producing demos or records , and I came across a job posting from the 5by5 Network. The founder, Dan Benjamin, was looking for an audio engineer to help edit the shows. I put two and two together, and started practicing on a podcast I started with some friends.
I eventually reached out to one of my favorite podcasts (Shoptalk Show) and asked if I could handle the editing and show notes for them, in exchange for a little bit of money. 2 years later, I had enough clients and editing work to quit my job as a web developer and become a full time podcast editor.
Why do you do what you do? What do you enjoy about it?
I’ve always loved podcasts. It’s a great way to learn from other people. I always had a hard time in school. It’s very hard for me to sit down and study something just because someone else thought that I should. I’m a very curious person, and I love learning, but I want to choose what I study. Podcasting allowed me to indulge my curiosity and I found shows about almost anything I wanted to learn about. So helping people make podcasts is a dream job for me.
What does a typical project look like for you? What are people paying you to do to their podcasts?
A typical project usually involves someone sending me audio files through Dropbox. I’ll put the show together in Logic Pro X, add music, intros and outros, make sure the audio sounds as good as possible using EQ, compressors and noise gates, and then do any editing required. Sometimes that means listening all the way through and cutting out filler words, sometimes it’s just fixing a section where the Skype call dropped out.
My pricing varies between projects, but I will say that I make more than someone working at Starbucks, but less than a mid-level programmer. I price similar to professional audio engineers because I’ve learned a ton of tricks about editing podcasts and making shows sound good, and I’m very specialized. I also provide feedback and work with my clients to help them make their show be the best it can be. That often includes providing advice about upgrading microphones, workflows, apps for recording, content strategy, and more. Since I love podcasts, I love helping my clients improve their shows in any way I can.
If someone had absolutely no budget for what you do, what are some things they could do, from your perspective, that could help their podcast sound better, and make editing it easier…maybe 1-2 tips that would really make things that would really make a difference?
The biggest thing is buying a great microphone. If you’ve spent less than 80 on your mic, you will not keep listeners. If you’ve spent less than 200 on your mic, you will lose listeners to shows with better sound quality.
I can make a decent mic sound good with plugins, and a good mic sound great, but I can’t make a crappy mic sound good. Invest the money up front in a good mic, like a Rode Podcaster or a Shure SM7B, and you’ll stand a much better chance of keeping your audience’s attention. They’ll appreciate the audio quality, especially since so many other shows are recorded on cheap microphones.
After that, spend a little time in learning how to set your input gain levels correctly. Make sure you use a pop filter, or set the mic at an angle so your breath doesn’t go directly into the mic and cause clipping. You should also spend an hour learning about the basics of compression, EQ, and noise gates. Those three plugins come with almost every audio editing program, and will get you 90% of the way to great audio.
Finally, have some fun with it! A podcast is a great way to share your personality, so don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t go too crazy though; respect your listener’s time and attention and stay on track with whatever your show is about.
What major mistakes to you see people making when editing, or recording their podcast?
A sub-par microphone is the most common. Improper input gain is another. If you record “too hot”, there isn’t a good solution to reducing the digital clipping. If you don’t record with enough gain, you’ll have to boost the volume of the track later, which will bring up the background noise of the track.
Buy a great mic, and learn good mic technique and how to get the right amount of input gain.
What is your favorite podcast right now?
I have so many, it’s not really fair to choose just one, but I’ll give you the top three.
Back To Work is a show about productivity, work, life and more. It is the first podcast that genuinely changed my life and the way I think. It’s also still one of the funniest shows I’ve ever heard.
When I was first starting to learn about web design, this show was essential listening for me. The two hosts, Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert (both renowned and talented web designers) share tons of valuable knowledge related to the craft of web design and development, and there are funny soundbites, too.
Discloser: I helped Sean McCabe start this podcast, and I was a co-host for the first 20 episodes. I liked Sean from the first time I met him, but I had no idea how big of an influence he would have on my personal and work life. Sean records two episodes every week, and they are jammed packed with useful advice and stories about business, creativity, and professionalism. He recently crossed the 100 episode mark, a year after starting the show.
We talk each week about how audio editing can be a metaphor for life. What lesson have you learned by editing podcasts that could be transferred to our lives outside of the studio (things like preparation cutting down edit time, or hassles..etc)
I’m not sure I have a great answer for this! I’ve picked up tons of useful skills over the years by listening to podcasts. The biggest ones were about how I should treat clients and people in general, and which apps and tools I could use to increase productivity on my Macbook, which is where I spend 70% of my waking time (check out the Mac Power Users podcast).
My general advice to anyone would be:
Care about what you make. Try to make it be the best thing it can be. If you don’t care, you should be doing something else.
Don’t get frustrated. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. Do your best, and if you can fix it, fix it, but don’t be a jerk. If you don’t have any control over a situation, don’t stress about it, let it go.
Be kind to people, and accept that sometimes, you will be wrong about something. You should be ok with listening to someone else’s opinion. If you are confident in yours, that’s ok, but it’s not usually a good idea to be a dick to someone if you disagree with them.