How to Edit Audio: Essential Tools and Equipment for Creators

Tong_stocker/Shutterstock, Valeriia Soloveva/Shutterstock, Remix by Caterina Cox

In a world where content creators are constantly struggling to make their work stick out above the crowd, having polished audio is a game-changer for captivating your audience. And as creators are often expected to take their work from concept to completion all on their own, that means it’s up to you to develop your skills and learn how to edit audio that takes your content to the next level.

Here, we’ll run through what audio editing equipment and other tools you need to get started, easy ways to avoid time-consuming mistakes, and other simple tips for getting started elevating your audio.

Why should I edit audio?

Editing audio can be just as important—if not more so, depending on the project—than editing video. For whatever reason, viewers tend to be a lot more forgiving of crummy visuals than bad audio, so even taking a minimal amount of time to make sure yours is in good shape can make a huge difference to your audience.

Outside of saving your project from a big mistake, audio can be used to enhance it in new ways. You can add music and sound effects, come up with creative ways to use audio to bridge video transitions, or even just put on cool filters.

If you’re making short and simple TikToks, you may not have to do anything to your audio nine times out of ten. But for anyone making more complex, longer-form content on YouTube, starting a podcast, recording interviews, doing short-form skits, or any of the numerous other types of content that have to be carefully put together, audio editing is likely a must.

And if you don’t make any of these things now, but you’re thinking about adding them to your repertoire in the future, getting in the habit of editing audio will help your new pursuits seem less daunting in the future.

The #1 trick to editing audio

There’s exactly one thing you can always do to not only make your audio editing experience as painless as possible, but to also all but guarantee you end up with at least decent audio, and that is to record good audio.

More specifically, record clean audio. 

If you don’t understand what this means, pull out your phone wherever you are, and record yourself talking, or ideally having a conversation with someone else, for thirty seconds. Now play it back. Can you hear a refrigerator hum in the background? Did your “p”s pop against the microphone? If you were talking with a friend, were your sentences overlapping?

There are so many sounds we’re accustomed to hearing, or styles of talking that don’t seem to jar us in day-to-day life that can make editing audio a nightmare. You can always add a refrigerator hum, or make your dialogue overlap in editing, but those issues are much more difficult to correct once they’ve been recorded.

Training your brain to automatically recognize problems in the recording stage will take time and experience, but in the meantime, playing something back immediately after you’ve recorded it (preferably with good headphones) should help you identify issues so you can get another take on the spot.

What do content creators use to record audio?

The good news is that modern technology has become so advanced that if all you have to record video and audio is a smartphone, as a content creator, that will likely be perfectly fine. 

Your needs may shift depending on whether you’re working on-the-go or in a studio-like environment, what platform you plan to use for distribution, or even just what type of content you’re creating. 

If you do have some money to spend on equipment, here are some suggestions to get you started:

1. Microphone

What type of microphone would be most useful to you depends heavily on how you create your content. If you plan on recording most things while stationary and indoors, you could get a USB microphone like the ever-popular Blue Yeti X. If you’re shooting on the go with a DSLR camera, a Rode VideoMic Pro+ Shotgun Microphone that you mount on the camera itself probably makes more sense. There are also microphones available specifically to give your iPhone a little upgrade, such as the Zoom iQ7.

2. Pop filter

Pop filters are screens that go in between your mouth and the microphone, traditionally used for stationary setups to help cut down on consonant sounds that get too loud on the recording. In other words, it stops your “p”s from popping. You can generally pick one of these up for under $20. Windscreens are also an option here and might be the better choice depending on what type of microphone you have and how you record.

3. Headphones

Any headphones will do in a pinch, but a good set of noise-canceling studio monitors like the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x will allow you to check your levels and your recordings immediately, even if there is ambient noise wherever you are.

4. Soundproofing materials

Setting up some sort of soundproofing situation is more geared toward creators who do a lot of talking head videos, create scripted content, or rely more on audio than video. In that scenario, you may reach a point where investing in sound blankets or acoustic foam panels makes sense.

If you don’t have the exact equipment you need for recording, that’s fine! Be creative! If noise is leaking into the room where you’re recording, drape heavy blankets over the windows or stuff them under the door cracks. If you don’t have a pop filter but notice your recordings are frequently picking up unwanted “p” or “b” sounds when you speak, there are some creative DIY solutions to be found on the internet that involve household items like wire hangers and pantyhose.

Don’t be disillusioned about jumping in. As long as you can record audio at all, that’s a great starting point—you just might learn a little more about editing audio more quickly than you would have otherwise.

What do content creators use to edit audio?

If you use TikTok, you may already know that there are in-app audio editing tools. For some people, this will be enough. The app allows you to add and edit sound effects and music that already exists on the platform, add filters to your voice, and make other basic, fun changes to your video.

But if you’re looking to do more advanced editing, prefer working on a computer, or plan to upload somewhere other than TikTok, you have more options when it comes to audio editing equipment.

1. Audio editing software

Your video editing software almost certainly has audio editing capabilities already. Those may also be adequate, but the more complex your edits get, the more helpful it will be to understand dedicated audio editing software.

Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, Adobe Audition, and Pro Tools for the really hardcore pros are some of the go-to programs for building out audio tracks, although they can set you back a good amount of money. If you’d prefer something free, Audacity is a great tool that still feels professional, and will likely allow far more options than sticking with video editing software.

2. Headphones and speakers

That’s right, ideally, you need headphones and speakers for editing audio. Headphones help you stay focused and notice small details that you might miss over speakers, whereas it’s helpful to hear what your final audio mix sounds like over speakers, as there will be differences. 

3. Computer and external hard drive

If you want to edit on a computer, you need a computer. Simple enough. (Assuming you’re also editing video, you’ll want to check the specs to make sure your processor speed, RAM, and graphics card can handle your footage.) You may also want to grab an external hard drive to back up your audio files for safety—both the original ones and your edits.

4. Microphone

A microphone for editing? Well, mostly this is just in case you discover you don’t have all the audio you need from production. Or maybe you realize you need to add narration, or that it’s easier to create a sound effect on your own than to find one online. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to have a mic on hand while editing. Stick with whatever you used to record your audio initially if you can.

5. A quiet space

Even if you have great headphones, editing audio in a noisy environment leaves you open to making mistakes and missing issues that pop up. If you can’t edit entirely in a quiet space, at least try to listen to the final playback someplace with minimal interference and make notes about what, if anything, you need to go back in to change.

What are the basics of editing audio?

How complex you need to go with your edits will, of course, depend on your content. And how exactly you go about accomplishing that will depend on your software of choice. It never hurts to watch a tutorial or two about the software you decide to use, but after that, you can just dive right in and follow the tried and true method of searching the internet for more information if you eventually hit a snag.

But in the meantime, there are a few basic suggestions and things to know about audio editing that should help you get started.

1. Edit audio after the picture is locked

What this means is that if your audio accompanies a video, edit the video in its entirety first. Don’t go clip by clip editing video, text overlays, special effects, dialogue, and music all at once before moving on to the next segment. Editing the picture first allows you to take more of a bird’s eye view of your project, and it’s more likely that any adjustments to the timeline that follow will be minor. Otherwise, every time you decide to make a new video edit, you’ll have to edit the audio all over again, too.

2. Get rid of weird noises

Hopefully, taking care while recording saved you a lot of hassle here, but nothing is perfect. In addition to popped consonants and annoying home appliances, you may also want to edit out anything from hissing to dogs barking to uncomfortably loud dead air. Take it all out to the best of your abilities—you can smooth it out later.

3. Utilize room tone

Most content creators likely won’t need to do this, but you never know when it might save the day. Room tone refers to the ambient sound of whatever your recording location is—usually close to silence. Professional productions will tell everyone to be quiet and record 30 to 60 seconds of this. An audio editor is then able to place that room tone underneath the sections of purposeful sound that had little bits clipped out of them—exactly as discussed above. This smooths things out so you aren’t just left with a sudden drop to absolute dead silence. Getting room tone doesn’t take much effort, and can be particularly helpful for projects like podcasts or longer interviews.

4. Play around with audio transitions

Even doing a simple fade-in or fade-out can make a huge difference, especially if your recorded audio doesn’t come in at the very beginning of your video. Having the room tone part of it come up gradually before anyone starts to speak can help avoid it sounding too jarring when everything just pops on all at once.

5. Add music and sound effects later

As exciting as it is to bring in the fun sounds, editing whatever sound you’ve recorded yourself first, laying it in order, and matching it to the picture if you have video, will make everything easier for you in the long run.

6. Learn how to use your software’s equalizer (EQ) and compression

Equalizing your audio broadly refers to deciding which frequencies stand out in your mix, while compression brings all of the sounds into a smaller range. In other words, mastering EQ will help keep your audio from being muddy, your dialogue from getting lost beneath your music tracks, and make things sound natural (or unnatural, if you prefer), and mastering compression will stop listeners from having to turn the volume way up or way down as the output changes.

7. Listen to playback with both headphones and speakers

Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about EQ and compression, hopefully, the idea of listening through at least one set of headphones and one set of speakers when your mix is finished makes more sense. A mix where the quietest sound is perfectly discernible via headphones might totally lose it via speakers—and that might have you adjusting the compression to a smaller range.

What else can I do to improve my audio editing?

A lot of your audio editing experience is likely going to involve trial and error, learning on the go, and figuring out new things specifically when you are required to problem-solve. But we’ll leave you with just a few more simple suggestions before you dive in.

  • Create an organization system for your projects, files, and outputs, and stick to it so you don’t lose track of what you’ve recorded
  • If you find sound effects or royalty-free music that you like, make a folder for those so you can easily reference them for future projects
  • If you have multiple projects in editing (or production) at once, consider utilizing workflow software like Asana, Airtable, or Hive to keep track of what stage each project is at, and what still needs to be done
  • Improve your video editing skills—your audio editing skills will follow
  • Every time you edit, keep track of issues that you could have addressed while recording and save yourself some grief next time

Remember, you don’t need to have the fanciest software or the best equipment to ensure you have good, clean audio for your content, you just need to learn how to work around the limitations of what you have and adapt as you go!

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