Blog Post #31: An Interview with the Student Sound Editors behind the Peopling the Past Podcast

This week we want you to get to know the Acadia University students working behind the scenes on the Peopling the Past podcast. Get to know our research assistants Cassandra Palmer and Lauren Millett as we interview them about their involvement with the project.

Image of Cassandra Palmer editing the Peopling the Past Podcast on her laptop.
Cassandra Palmer

My name is Cassandra Palmer, originally from Newfoundland Labrador, I was raised in the small town of Conception Bay South where my home is nestled on a 10-acre plot of woodland. Growing up, I had always been deeply inspired by the beauty and creativity of nature; I was intuitively drawn to anything that sparked my emotions and activated my senses. Music and the arts have been a focal point in my life, I have written, recorded, and performed music with my four sisters for many years. In 2018, I decided to go back to school to study Music Therapy. I will be completing my final year of the program this coming September.

This summer I have been slowly taking in the days and doing the things I love. When I’m not working on the podcast or at my serving job, I spend my time creating music and art, reading and research, I’ve been dog-sitting/hanging out with my new friend Freddie, and of course I love to spend time outside as much as possible!

Lauren Millet sitting on top of a fallen tree.
Lauren Millett

My name is Lauren Millett, and I’m an undergraduate student studying History at Acadia University. I’m interested in archival preservation and working with primary source documents. In my free time I’m a big fan of hiking and just being outside! As a summer project, I’m currently involved with the West Hants Historical Society and am working to reorganize their archival collection.

What motivated you to get involved in this project?

LM: Before getting involved with Peopling the Past, I was a casual listener of the podcast and really enjoyed how the project presented the ancient world on an individual scale. By sharing stories of everyday people and happenings in antiquity, Peopling the Past creates a unique sense of familiarity with the ancient world that I hadn’t experienced prior.  I’m really interested in making history accessible to a broader audience and so getting involved with a project that creates open access content connecting antiquity to modern society was extremely exciting! 

CP: I have always been interested in learning about audio recording and production and last September I had the wonderful opportunity to enrol in a Music Production Workshop course offered by Professor Mark Adam. This course teaches the fundamentals of recording, production, and using Pro Tools digital audio recording program. In early January, Mark had brought to my attention the job advertisement for Peopling the Past, and he suggested it would be a great opportunity to build my editing skills. A few days prior to this I had downloaded a few E-books on podcast development. I had been toying with the idea of one day starting my own podcast within my field of work, so I was actively searching for information to learn more. It was serendipitous in a way when the job advertisement appeared in my inbox, so I immediately applied for the position.  

You both have different educational backgrounds. What types of training does one need to effectively edit a podcast? How do your different educational backgrounds serve you?

LM: Depending on what area of editing you focus on, the training would change significantly! Overall, having a good understanding of audio editing software is a must. My focus was primarily on content editing, and I leaned on my background in history to make sure the narrative was consistent throughout each episode.  I think a key aspect of editing a podcast is making sure that the message the guest is presenting doesn’t get lost during the process of removing content and editing sound.  

CP: I am a music student studying Music Therapy and have been involved in numerous recording projects over the years. Although I have had some experience in recording studios, I have had limited experience behind the computer using DAW programs. I am very new to this kind of work and I am learning a lot from this experience. Learning how to navigate and understand a digital audio workstation such as Pro Tools, Audacity, Logic…etc. would be the first step. Knowing how to properly set up a session is important, as well as basic editing skills such as grouping, splitting, and fading tracks. Although podcasts and music recordings differ in that one is speaking and the other is singing/instrumental, there is so much in common when it comes to the editing and mixing process. In both cases, we still have to deal with mic placement issues, background noise or noise from equipment, timing and spacing, as well as audio levels and overall sound quality. Your ears do need to be trained to pick up on specific details in mixing, for me this is a work in progress. 

Walk us through the process for editing the podcast (equipment you use, steps taken, length of time needed).

LM: For the content editing I use my MacBook and audio editing software. I start by arranging each of the speaker’s tracks in either GarageBand or Audacity, then listening to the unedited tracks to get a feel for the overarching themes or ideas that come up throughout. Once that’s done, I start removing anything that could be distracting to a listener, like heavy breathing or filler words.

Screenshot of the editing software Garage Band, which is used in the editing of the Peopling the Past podcast.
Screen shot of editing software Garage Band (Courtesy of Lauren Millett)

The last thing I do is remove any content that doesn’t fit within the topic of the episode to bring the track from approximately 50 minutes to 30. The overall process takes between 4.5 to 7 hours, depending on the sound quality and content! 

CP: I am very much a detailed-oriented worker which balances nicely when working alongside Lauren. When Lauren finishes the content editing, she sends me the tracks and I continue onto the fine detail editing and audio adjustment. I am currently using Pro Tools recording program. I begin by setting up the session and importing the WAV files. I group the tracks to make sure the timing remains in sync, then I listen to the full episode and create markers to map out what needs to be fixed. It’s really interesting to listen to people speak because everyone has their individual vocal dynamics. I’m becoming well-adjusted to Chelsea and Melissa’s voices, and I can spot areas that need to be fixed just by how the track looks. So, before I begin any editing I “normalize” the tracks, this is where I level any peaks that occur within the speakers’ vocal dynamics. Then I move onto editing and cleaning up the tracks, working on spacing and removing any vocal ticks or audio clipping. I finish by adjusting the overall sound quality and ensuring everything sounds balanced. 

What is the most challenging part of this process?

LM: Definitely determining which sections of content to remove from the final episode cut. There’s often so much really great information and fun content in the raw files that it can be difficult to decide what makes it into the episode. 

CP: The most challenging part of the process for me would be mixing. Like I mentioned earlier, your ears need to be trained to identify specific frequencies for EQ and to properly apply compression to elevate the audio quality. I have registered for Mark Adam’s Music Production Workshop course again in the fall. I decided to take this course a second time to learn more about mixing, using compression, EQ, and other plugins. For any students interested in gaining this kind of knowledge, I highly recommend taking this course, it is an excellent opportunity to learn, and I think it is awesome that Acadia has this to offer students.

Cassandra's dog looking over the top of her laptop during an editing session.
Freddie helping Cassy with podcast editing
What is the most rewarding part?

LM: Personally, I think that just being part of a project that is creating open access educational content is really rewarding. As a student it can be difficult to access resources due to financial constraints or other barriers, so open access resources are always necessary and important tools in making education accessible to a broader audience.  

CP: The most rewarding part is having this experience to learn the process involved in developing a podcast and continuing to gain more skills in the area of production. The podcasts are also very interesting and I am learning things I never knew about the ancient world!

How do you hope to use these skills that you’ve gained in future projects?

LM: I hope to use the content editing skills I’ve gained through this project to assist in the completion of my undergraduate degree. The ability to create a cohesive narrative will be helpful when working on my undergraduate thesis. Additionally, the audio editing skills I’ve developed will be useful in working with any future multimedia scholarship projects.  

CP:I know that these skills will help me work more efficiently within my future recording projects, and one day if I start my own podcast, I will have the skills to do the production work myself instead of paying someone else to do it! 

What message would you give others who are interested in getting involved in multimedia scholarship?

LM: Find a topic or project that interests you and don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone! Always ask for help when you need it. 

CP: We live in a digital world and gaining any technological skillset is beneficial, it will open up a new world of opportunities. Embrace your interests and new challenges, find patience in your evolution and fall in love with the process, it’s all about the journey!  

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