You know when you’re talking to someone and — mmm-hmm — they make those encouraging sounds — yeah, yeah — to let you know that they’re listening? Or when you’re explaining such a relatable idea that mid-sentence your friend is already saying I know exactly what you’re talking about, and your voices overlap, and for a second you can’t really hear yourself or them?
This is the definition of what podcasters call crosstalk. “Crosstalk is basically when multiple people are speaking at the same time, so you can't really make out what anybody is saying,” says editor and producer Christian Dueñas.
Crosstalk can be as small as a background “uh huh,” or as long as two people arguing right on top of each other until one begs for mercy. It’s usually evidence of excitement and enthusiasm, but it can pose some problems when you need to edit podcast audio that’s full of this overlapping chatter. You don’t necessarily want to keep it from happening when you’re recording — crosstalk is a sign of enthusiasm! But when it gets confusing or difficult to listen to, you’ll need to do some audio editing.
You don’t have to be a seasoned professional to know how to mix a podcast, or how to edit a podcast. But crosstalk sometimes requires a little more finesse than other techniques. So here are some of our best podcast editing tips for cleaning up crosstalk in any digital audio workstation (DAW).
In order to be able to pull off a clean crosstalk podcast edit, all of the usual rules of podcasting apply. Record in a quiet space, with headphones on, into a quality microphone.
And for editing crosstalk, it’s especially crucial that you have everyone laying down their own individual track. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to separate out two voices. “You can't do anything when people are in the same room talking on the same microphone,” Christian says. “Or if you're doing a Zoom call and all the audio is compressed into one audio track.” In that case, he continues, your only options are to keep the crosstalk as-is, or delete that segment entirely. If you’re recording a call from Zoom or Skype, be sure to adjust the preferences so that each speaker records on a separate track.
When to keep crosstalk in
Crosstalk isn’t always a bad thing. Some instances where you want to keep crosstalk in your podcast production might include:
When it feels like a natural part of the conversation
If you go in with a scalpel and separate out every single word, it will sound awkward and stilted to listeners who are used to conversations that ebb, flow, and overlap with one another. The rules are similar to how you should think about filler words: if they’re distracting you, take ‘em out. But if you eliminate them entirely, it might sound weirder than if you’d just left them in. Let your speakers sound human, not like perfect robots.
When crosstalk helps to elevate the emotional stakes
We tend to interrupt each other when we simply can’t wait to speak — and hopefully, if we can’t wait, it means what we’re about to say feels very important to us. (After all, as we all learned in kindergarten, interrupting is not polite.) So crosstalk can indicate to the listener just how seriously you’re taking this conversation — and help them take it more seriously, too.
When deleting crosstalk would remove important context
This is always a judgment call. But if the crosstalk contains a point that isn’t made anywhere else — and that your audience needs to know — leave it in. One host might also say a phrase or prompt that the co-host then responds to. It’s not ideal, but since we’re used to hearing and parsing crosstalk in everyday life, chances are it will sound natural, and the listener will be able to glean what they need to know from the audio.
When to delete crosstalk
However, sometimes crosstalk is more trouble than it’s worth. It might be time to cut the segment entirely if:
The volume will disturb the audience
If the loudness of the overlap can’t be tamed, it’s not worth startling your audience in the middle of their listen.
The crosstalk makes the conversation unclear
Again, we’re all used to navigating a certain amount of crosstalk in our daily lives. But if there are multiple voices and the audio is just getting too muddy, feel free to trim it out completely.
The crosstalk is repetitive
This especially applies to those active listener words — background mmhmms, yeahs, and uh-huhs. Do let the conversation flow naturally — but don’t bore your listener!
How to save crosstalk in post-production
If you want to hear what was said but don’t want the conversational collision, you can separate out the crosstalk so that what both people said is preserved, just without the overlap. It’s a little tricky, but you can learn this technique pretty easily — and it’ll be super useful if you’re editing anything where two or more people engage in an unscripted conversation.
- Start by making sure that your tracks are grouped together in multitrack mode. “Most editing software will have a function where you can group two or more tracks so that any edit you make on one happens on the other one as well,” Christian Koons, who’s worked at podcasts including Song Exploder, notes. “And it's really important to keep the tracks in sync, because getting off by a hundredth of a second can make it sound super bizarre.” If you’re working in Descript, you need to right-click on the timeline and choose “edit sequence.”
- From there, you can simply cut one speaker’s audio if it’s not necessary. This is your best bet for listening words like “uh huh” that interrupt flow and distract without adding anything to the conversation.
- You can also separate out the two speakers’ voices. Let’s say there’s two seconds of crosstalk between Speaker A and Speaker B. Speaker A is finishing her sentence as Speaker B starts his. You can create a cut point at the end of Speaker A’s sentence and another at the beginning of Speaker B’s sentence, then select all audio clips after that point and move it over by two seconds. That way, the overlap is fixed, but the remaining tracks are still in sync.
Editing crosstalk is a process, but it’s worth it. For Christian Dueñas, the idea is that by cutting and moving pieces of the track around, he can give everyone in the conversation “their own time to shine.”
“It's harder to do sometimes, because if they're talking at the same time, they're not necessarily reacting to each other's sentences,” he says, “So it's harder to make that make sense in the flow of the conversation. But if you can pull it off, it's a great feeling. Everybody gets in what they need to say.”
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