Collaborative Audio Projects
Daniel Story | October 2020
Many audio projects nowadays are collaborative in one way or another. This might come in the form a complex documentary podcast that involves multiple team members sharing the load on storyboarding, editing, and mixing episodes. Or it might be something simpler, like an interview podcast where different participants record their own audio and then pass it to one person to do the editing. Whatever the scenario, you will quickly discover that it is not nearly as simple as editing a shared Google Doc. With that in mind, here are a few tips and ideas for working collaboratively with audio. Note, these all assume you and your team are working in separate locations, as most of us currently are in 2020.
Limitations in collaborative editing. The first thing to note is that there are few if any audio editing software options that support live collaborative work, like the way multiple people can log into and edit a Google Doc simultaneously. Instead, with audio work, collaboration will usually mean passing files from one team member to another, and possibly back and forth multiple times.
File sharing. For that reason, you’ll want to identify a reliable file sharing platform, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or WeShare. This approach is all but necessary given that audio files are often quite large and not suitable to share via email. If for some reason you don’t want to or can’t use a cloud service, another option is to save your file/s to a USB drive or an external hard drive and deliver it to your colleague.
File formats. When you pass files, it is very important to use uncompressed file formats so that no quality is lost each time the file is passed. Perhaps most notably, don't share your working files as MP3s (that format is more appropriate for when you have your final product and want to upload it to your podcasting host). Instead, use the native file format of whatever editing software you are using if you want to preserve all the separate tracks in your file so that they are editable by other team members or by yourself in the future. If you want to share a file that is mixed down to one track (such as an entirely self-contained interview), you can use the WAV file format.
Collaborative editing. When you pass files back and forth, it is important to make sure team members know who is actively working on a particular file at any given time and which file is the most up-to-date. One of the easiest ways to do both of these things is establishing a system of file naming that includes the date the file was last modified and indicates if it is being actively edited. When a team member is actively working on a file, they could add “-active-[their initials]” to the end of the file name and then remove that and update the date modified information when they are done. Of course, there are other ways of doing this—the basic goal is to not waste time or lose anyone’s work.
Storyboarding. When it comes to planning out and storyboarding an audio project, there are more opportunities for simultaneous collaborative work. Of course, working in the same Google Doc can be a very useful approach. Another handy tool is Google Slides—you can create slides for each section or subsection of an episode and drag those slides around to reorder the segments of the story. Like in Google Docs, team members can view, edit, and comment on the Google Slides presentation simultaneously.
A project scenario. Let’s say you’re working on a podcast episode that has three main segments, each produced by a different team member. You could have each member work on their own segment in their own audio file and then export that file to be shared with the team member who is designated to assemble and mix the full episode. If music transitions are involved that overlap these segments, you’ll want to add those in the final phase of editing, rather than at the individual segment level. And if the team would like to have some involvement in mixing the overall episode, you could do a Zoom or Google Meet call and have the member doing the editing share their screen and computer audio. The other members wouldn’t actually be doing the editing themselves, but they could comment on and discuss the edits in real time.