January 14, 2020
My favorite part of producing a podcast is the edit.
I use digital tools to edit the audio on my Mac but I still think of it as cutting tape.
This step of the process reminds me of the days when I'd listen to the audio on a reel to reel with a single-edge razor blade in my mouth.
"There," I'd say to no one in particular. I'd press stop on the machine and rotate the reels back and forth until I found the precise point on the tape. I'd mark the spot with a grease pencil, careful to only mark the tape and not mar the play head of the machine. I'd run the tape forward to the next cut and repeat the process.
Now I had marked both ends of the piece I was removing. Then I'd put the tape on the splicing block, line the first mark with the 45 degree slot, take the razor blade out of my mouth, make the cut. Leave the right side of the tape in the block while I searched forward to the next mark and repeat the process. Finally, I'd splice the two ends of the cut together with editing tape.
Now what was I doing with the piece I'd removed? Is this the piece I want or the piece I'm discarding? If I want it I would tape it to the side of the console and remember what it was.
Edit after edit.
Remembering what I'm aiming for.
Evaluating each piece against it.
The last podcast I produced was one called "Tiny Challenges" with Jaimee Newberry. Every couple of weeks we would record somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half. I would edit that down to fifteen to twenty minutes.
What would I cut?
There was the easy stuff - mistakes, when we repeated ourselves, or when we got way off topic. But there was also the times where we were talking but not really saying anything. The challenge was to remove those moments while making the point at which we actually say the good stuff still make sense.
You watch a movie that seems to be realistic but the boring bits are left out. You might see me get off the bus and look up and down the street and start walking to my right. Then we cut to me looking up at a building and seeing the number and stopping. We don't see me walking every step of those four blocks.
So I love to edit audio but my challenge is that I can't alter the meaning of what was said and I can't alter the feel of who anyone is. In a way, everyone becomes a more efficient and better version of themselves in a way that the audience accepts if they notice at all.
It was why I had to stop editing books.
I edited books and articles for many publishers.
My edits generally made the material better - but because I was committed to preserving the author's voice, I was losing my own.
I love the editing process. But, for the most part, I edit myself.
When I am editing, I am improving the piece.
You can not edit if there is nothing to edit. You have to record something, produce something, write something, create something...
You need to separate those activities.
You cannot be creating something new and revising it at the same time. Your mind will fool you into never creating.
But that's only part of what I mean by "Edit" as my second word.
The radio show "This American Life" is famous for the ratio of what is attempted to what is presented.
They record so many hours for their one hour program. The majority of the material they record is never heard.
Oh and then there are the stories that they produced or began to work on that never get aired at all. All of that material is edited out.
Oh and then there are the stories that someone has researched, done some preliminary work on, and pitched but is rejected as something that doesn't fit in with the show.
For me, this is the other important aspect of editing.
It's the work you decide not to do.
It's the work you decide not to continue doing.
It's realizing the work you want to do isn't a priority to those you need to work with.
That is the purpose behind my second word.
What are the activities I participate in out of habit? Are they still worth doing? If they are, I should recommit to doing them well. If they aren't, I should stop.
You know when a credit card is compromised so they issue you a new card with a new number?
It forces you to consider the subscriptions you have that are tied to that card. If you want to continue them, you have to contact them and update your number. That requires just enough work that I pause and often cancel the subscription. I don't really read this any more - I subscribe out of habit. I subscribe because I still aspire to be the person who reads this every week or month. But I never do.
Edit it out.
Why do I take my car to the same mechanic? I always have. I have for thirty years. But the owners sold the shop years ago and I haven't gotten good service since. But it's where I've always gone. Now I'll have to find a new mechanic.
There were a couple of jobs I wanted in the past year that were perfect enough that I was willing to work for someone else.
I love working on my own, but these particular gigs were special. I was uniquely qualified for them.
I noticed that while I was waiting to hear back, I stopped working on my writing projects. I didn't start new books. I wasn't blogging as much. I reasoned that if I got one of these jobs I wouldn't be able to write publicly any more so I didn't want to start the first book if I couldn't follow it with the next few.
I was putting my work on hold and the company wasn't interested.
I performed a simple edit. I stopped stopping.
Those are the sorts of edits I want to make.
I want to edit down my commitments. I want to focus. I hope I will become a better version of myself and I hope no one notices.
Edit and Record inform each other.
You can't edit if you haven't recorded.
Your recordings will improve if you've narrowed down what you will record.
Reporters tell stories about when they were on the way to cover a story, some senior reporter would stop them and say, "what is the story you hope to tell?"
The young reporter would be confused. "I haven't interviewed my subject yet, I don't want to put words in their mouth."
The mentor would agree but say, if you think about what it is you want the final piece to be like - no matter what the interviewee says - you will ask better questions.
By thinking of the edits you improve the recording.