I'm new to a gig editing radio documentary. This means a lot of the content is recorded with people who aren't used to having a mic sitting in front of them, and ultimately leads to fillers such as um, eh, y'know...

Often it's easy to remove the ones that are isolated from other words by a pause, but I'm continually being asked to remove instances that are 'tied' vocally to the words around it. e.g Iehwas at the shop...

I find the mouth shape used during these verbal strings make it really difficult to convincingly separate the words, and this results in unhappy clients.

The biggest issue is when trying to make a convincing sounding start of a sentence from something that wasn't originally a start. The dynamic change sounds unnatural. Gaining it down only works some of the time. And the start is often too sharp to use a crossfade without it fading up on the word noticeably.

I haven't the experience argue the case to the client, so I was hoping an experienced hand would have some tips or advice?



As far as the kinds of "audio gymnastics" your client is talking about, they are definitely possible. They are something I do regularly. There's no easy way to learn it though, and few "rules" that will apply in all situations. [Previous mentions of cutting in the middle of words and on plosives or other hard consonants are useful examples. Cutting after the breath, instead of before, is another one.] It's really more about the approach and the thought process. It's an exercise in puzzle solving, and capability is something that only really comes with experience. It's nearly impossible to define what steps would be effective without hearing the exact offending situation and what you have available in the rest of the subject's audio.

There are any number of tricks that can be used, but they're all context dependent. A lot of them can get very granular...i.e. building a new phoneme from two or more different intonations through the use of cross-fades (which is probably something you should try based on what you've mentioned), pitch mapping to alter intonation, etc.

Struggle through it to the best of your ability. You'll definitely learn a few things (even if you're not conscious of it). The issue isn't if the gymnastics are humanly possible...they are. The issue is whether or not they're humanly possible, for you, within your deadline.

  • Thanks Shaun, struggle is definitely an apt verb for how it feels at times! It's good to hear that it's an issue of experience, as I know it's something I've to work toward. And that can be worked toward. Time is the enemy as I'm not given the time to make up for inexperience. Taking into account the fact of the contextual nature of each editing problem and solution, are there any logistical tips for picking out parts that can be used for the granular level you mentioned. Say I've to repair a sentence beginning, from a 40 minute interview. How do you approach finding the parts for your fix? Sep 29 '12 at 17:04
  • ask for a copy of the script or transcription in the future. it's faster to hunt down possibly useful phonemes in a text document than listening through the whole audio. otherwise you could just drop a marker identifying what you need. if you have a general idea of what you're looking for, markers can help you jump back and forth between the spot that needs an edit and the next potential filler you run across. if it doesn't sound like it will work, you just keep moving forward until you hit the next possibility. just keep moving from left to right, come back to the problems on the next pass. Sep 29 '12 at 20:42

Another trick is to look for similar beginnings/endings of words elsewhere in the piece. If you can steal the top of "was" from some other time the subject says it, that might help fix the I-eh-was issue more than trying to get a virtual razor in where the "eh" slides into the "w" badly.

You can also disguise edits by cutting in the middle of a word rather than at the beginning or end. If you cut within a word on a hard clicky consonant like a t or a k, or on a sibilant, you can mask a great deal of cutting.

  • yeah, stealing 'oh' sounds to repair a slurred 'I don't know errr' phrase. How common is this? It seems very...excessive. Sep 28 '12 at 17:01
  • That's another good example. Have a hell of a time trying to get it to sound natural. Time is the major issue. I'm just not given the time to go that in depth in repairs. Sep 28 '12 at 17:47

I'd ignore being authentic to the recording. If you wanted authenticity in the doc you wouldn't edit it at all. You're trying to convey the speakers words/ideas in the clearest manner possible. If that means you have to steal an "I was at the sh" from the cutting room floor, so be it.

Regarding your deadline, get through the edit first. Work in quick, multiple passes. Mark anything that needs work, and move forward. I know that I'm guilty of getting manically stuck on making this edit perfect. But it does no good if the first 3 minutes are perfect but the remaining 20 aren't finished. Plus, as you continue down your timeline you'll have those areas in mind. So when you get to the 23rd minute you may find the perfect start of your sentence for that problem edit at 2:25.

Also, I'd ask is if there's a transcription of the full interview. Running a quick "find" in Word/Pages will allow you to scan through the entire interview quickly to see if there's a potential donor line/syllable/phenome/homonyms/rhymes.

Another idea to keep in mind is that you're working in radio so you don't have to maintain sync, just come in under time. If your speaker says "Iiiiuhhhhmm was at the shop" shortening it to "I was at the shop" may sound completely unnatural, but "Iii__was at the shop" or "Iwas at the shop" may sound perfect. Don't forget to cut in room tone/noise floor/fill from elsewhere in the recording to hide the edit.

  • @Shaun @Steve thanks for the input guys, really. Should hopefully allow me to at least begin attempting more advanced fixes in a realistic timescale. I've quite a few recordings backed up on my own rig so will get practicing to be able to tackle the next projects more confidently. Sep 30 '12 at 13:12

As far as I'm aware, if the words are slurred into each other, it's very difficult to split naturally. You could find another similar ending and splice it to finish your word, but it could feel very unnatural. Surely excessive editing will lose the authenticity of the doc?

  • Agree absolutely, but I get the rebuttal that the client has seen such editing gymnastics being performed easily by other 'professional' editors. I'm left wondering is there something I'm missing in terms of technique. Other than the aforementioned instances where a pause is around the filler, it seems to be luck of the draw whether or not the tighter/sharper edits work. Sep 28 '12 at 12:18
  • @Brendan If i were in that position, i'd explain to the client that too many editing gymnastics actually damage the authenticity of the recording. Human brains are very attuned to the human voice for obvious reasons, so we're able to subconsciously pick up when things aren't right. It's important to cut beginnings and ends of sentences so they sound complete, but i think the rest should be done an an "if i can" basis. Sep 29 '12 at 0:13

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