Audio Editing

This chapter includes information about:

  • Vocabulary for different roles of audio in constructing a story
  • Examples of how audio stories use the different audio types
  • An overview of how to organize your audio material for editing
  • Additional resources for learning more about audio editing

All material gathered for an audio story fits into the following roles:

Narration

Often scripted, this is what provides structure to the story and drives it forward. It can also be called voice-over.

Actualities

Pieces from interviews, also referred to soundbites.

Ambient sound

Sounds from the environment that add texture and authenticity to an audio story. Often abbreviated as “ambi,” this can include atmospheric sounds like traffic rushing by or individual sounds like a car honking. Some producers differentiate between ambient sound and natural sound (called “nat sound” for short), which refers to non-interview sound that’s specifically gathered for a purpose in the story, such as a clip of casual conversation during band practice for a feature story about a musician.

Music and sound effects

Additional elements that aren’t natural to the story’s setting can set the tone or add depth to the story.

Room Tone

This refers to the background sounds of any recording location. Even a sound studio or very quiet location will not have absolute silence, and it’s recommended to record a short segment of this “silence.” Although this is not needed in constructing every story, it’s important to have so it can be used to fill gaps or ease transitions when editing clips together.

The phrase “acts and tracks” is sometimes used for a basic radio story, because the main story components are acts (actualities) and tracks (narration). But any combination of these elements can work together for a compelling audio story.


Many StoryCorps segments, such as the following example, use only actualities to tell the story:


This behind-the-scenes story about the making of NPR’s “All Things Considered” uses narration, actualities, occasional music and lots of ambient sound. Listen for the variety of sounds gathered, from pieces of discussion at a staff meeting to ringing phones and laughter. Also listen for several added sound effects at key moments.


Organizing your material

If a story involves many different interviews or pieces of audio, organize your content by logging tape. Although digital audio doesn’t actually use tape, the term is still used for the process of listening through each separate file and keeping a timestamped list of what happens when. In interviews, note changes in topic or memorable quotes so they’re easier to find later on.

You can also do this as part of your process in Adobe Audition. Once you bring your material into Adobe Audition, create a timeline hierarchy by giving each type of audio its own track in the multitrack view:

audio-hierarchy


Stereo vs. Mono

Depending on your recording device and settings, your audio clips may be recorded in either stereo or mono audio. Monophonic sound captures one channel from a single microphone. Stereophonic sound captures two corresponding channels to represent the way we naturally hear sounds from both ears. If you’ve ever listened to music or watched a movie with headphones and noticed that one ear sounds slightly different from the other, this is stereo sound.

In Audition, mono sound will appear as a single waveform, whereas stereo sound will show two linked waveforms. If you have audio of both types, they will mix together when you export, and you can also convert clips in Audition.


Additional Resources

Audio Editing: An Aggressive Process

10 Quick Editing Tips

Radio Diaries: Basic Principles and Technical Tips

Transom: Advanced Audio Levels