Editing Audiobooks and Podcasts Efficiently on Cubase and Nuendo

The job of an audio editor is not easy. Editing an endless amount of recorded voice can seem like a daunting task, sometimes. So it is important to make the process as efficient as possible. Remember, small inefficiencies add up, over time.

I’ve written this blog to teach the inexperienced audio editor ways to reduce his inefficiencies, which will surely have various positive outcomes such has:

  • Improving your productivity;
  • Allowing you to increase you hourly rate, by being able to provide more value in less time;
  • Avoid health problems such as tendinitis, tendinosis or any other repetition strain injuries (RSI) by reducing the number of interactions with the mouse and keyboard.

The following information can genuinely have a profound impact on the way you edit your audio. As a sound teacher, I can assure you that this is the kind of information that college students pay for and I can confidently say it is worth their money. And now it is here, available to you. If the information on this article changes your approach to editing audio for the better, you should definitely buy me a cup of coffee:

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Why Cubase/Nuendo?

If you use Cubase or Nuendo you already know why it is the superior DAW. Besides being number one when it comes to its MIDI capabilities, it is also massively flexible through things like the Logical Editor and Macros. In the context of editing audio, the Macros are an absolutely vital part to improve your productivity and efficiency.

Project Workflow

It is important to have a pre-determined scheme that you follow when you’re working on a new audio file. So let’s discuss all steps.

Step 0: determine if you want to remove all breaths or keep them

Removing breaths require more steps, obviously. If you plan to take that approach, start on step one. If you’re going to leave them in, skip Steps 1 ,2, 4 and 5.  

Step 1. Import the Audio Track and make 2 copies of them

You should name them something like: Editing, Breaths and Original. I’ll discuss why the need for three tracks in just a moment.  

Step 2. Bounce all three audio events

Every copy of the audio must be Bounced into a New File (Audio>Bounce Selection).

If you don’t do this, Cubase/Nuendo will consider that each of the three events to be the same one. So, when you apply an effect via the Direct Offline Processing, it will apply the same effect to all events.

You don’t want that.

Each event must be considered a separate instance, and this can only be achieved by bouncing them into new files.

Step 3. Apply Effects and Find the Correct Settings to Track 01

For the Track 01, the typical effects chain will typically look something like:

High Pass Filter > De-Breather > Noise Gate > Compressor > De-Esser > EQ

The purpose of this article is not to focus on the configuration of the last three effects because they are not related to efficiency. However, as a rule of thumb, the advice regarding compression and equalization is (1) don’t do anything unless you have a reason to do it and (2) don’t overdo it – over-compressed and over-equalized voices may sound harsh and will cause ear fatigue to the listener quickly.

The High-Pass Filter, De-Breather and Noise Gate must come first in the chain. The order of everything else is up to you.

► The High-Pass Filter’s function is to remove excessive and unnecessary low energy from pops. 85Hz is usually a good cutoff frequency, but each case is different.

► The De-Breather is used to remove breaths automatically. I use Waves De-Breather but there are other options available on the market.

► The Noise Gate will help to remove more breaths and to completely silence pauses.

A proper threshold should be set, based on average the dB levels of the breaths. In the following example, the image shows us that breaths will be usually below -42 dB FS. That would be a good value to put the Gate’s threshold.

It’s better to be conservative with the release times – very fast release times risk cutting off words abruptly and unnaturally. The attack should be the fastest possible, coupled with a bit of lookahead.

Noise Gates can also have different modes. In the context of audiobooks and podcasts, it is advisable to choose the one that is the most predictable. Certain modes emulate real pieces of hardware, behaving in a non-linear fashion. This may sound nice in a musical context but it is not the best option for the context we’re working on.

The High-Pass Filter, De-Breather and Noise Gate must also be applied using the Direct Offline Processing function – this will affect the waveform, giving you useful visual feedback.

The remaining effects should be used using the Inserts section.

Step 4. Apply Effects to Track 02

Open the Direct Offline Processing window and insert the a High-Pass Filter and a De-Breather with the same settings you did on Track 01. This is important:  Whenever you change the effects on your track, you have to make sure you make the same changes on the other tracks.

Make sure that you select the option to output only the removed breaths. All De-Breather plugins allow this.

Doing so will reveal to you where all the breaths have been removed on Track 01.

Step 5. Take Care of De-Breather Mistakes

So, why is step 4 necessary?

Removing every single breath manually is probably the most unproductive task an audio editor can be faced with. Using a De-Breather can be extremely helpful because it usually removes automatically many the breaths automatically.

However, no De-Breather on the market is perfect: occasionally, they can cut a breath abruptly and sometimes they can remove words by mistake.

By having access to Track 02, you have a visual reference of where the De-Breather has acted on Track 01! Your task will be to listen to those instances and make sure the De-Breather did a proper job.

If it did, awesome! It just saved you an unnecessary edit (this is usually the case).

If it didn’t, you must repair the mistake. You do this by using Track 03.

Let’s say the De-Breather removed a word by mistake. Here’s how to fix it:

  1. Select the Range tool (shortcut: 2)
  2. Select the Original portion from Track 03
  3. Hold-down Ctrl to time-lock the selection and drop it onto Track 01

The De-Breather (Track 01 and Track 02)) made a mistake and removed a word. We fix this by dragging and dropping a copy of the original audio (Track 03) into Track 01, using the Range Tool.

Understand that you will never be completely free from editing things (and if that time comes, Artificial Intelligence will take your place), so we must ask: out of the two possibilities, which one requires less edits? Editing out all breathes; or fixing the de-breather mistakes? It usually is the later.

Step 6. Editing the Details

You are expected to remove all unnecessary parts of the recording: this may be mistakes, umm, repeated words and phrases, excessive silence and so on.

Use the Range Tool

For maximum efficiency, you will want to use the Range Tool as your primary editing tool. Minimum use of the Select, Split, Glue and Erase tool is required.

However, you must go to Preferences > Editing tab and enable Cycle Follows Range Selection if you want to make the rest of the tips of this article to work.

Use Macros

The only way you can be truly efficient doing this is by taking advantage of Macros, and assigning keyboard shortcuts to them.

Here’s a list of the Macros that will be helpful to you:

Macro: Insert Silence
Tool – Select Tool
Edit – Insert Silence
Tool – Range Tool

Macro: Nudge Back a Few Seconds and Play
Transport – Nudge – 1 Frame (x80)
Transport – Start

Macro: Ripple Delete
Tool – Select Tool
Edit – Delete Time
Tool – Range Tool

Macro: Ripple Delete + Play
Tool – Select Tool
Edit – Delete Time
Transport – Go to Left Locator
Nudge Back a Few Seconds and Play
Tool – Range Tool

To create a Macro:

  1. Go to File > Key Commands;
  2. Click on Show Macros;
  3. Click on New Macro;
  4. Search for the desired command;
  5. Click on Add Command;
  6. Once finished the Macro, search for the Macro’s name in the search box;
  7. Attribute a Shortcut to it.

Here are the shortcuts I use, for reference:

Insert Silence Shift + Insert
Nudge Back a Few Seconds and Play Ç
Ripple Delete Backspace
Ripple Delete + Play Shift + Backspace

Deleting Time (Ripple Delete)

In Adobe Premiere there is an useful feature called Ripple Delete which allows to delete a certain part of video/audio while automatically deleting the empty gap that is left.

This is also possible to achieve in Cubase/Nuendo, using the Macro shown above. This, by itself, is the single most important feature you can take advantage of, to improve your efficiency editing audio.

  1. Using the Range Tool, select the portion

2. Use the Ripple Delete Macro.

Adding Micro Crossfades to your Cuts

  1. Select all the audio events of the track
  2. Press X to crossfade.
  3. Open Quantize Panel

4. Configure crossfade length to a small value. This will ensure that the crossfade exists, thus preventing unwanted clicks, while at the same time, being short and transparent.

Adding Time

Sometimes you need to add time instead of deleting it.

  1. Select a portion of time using the Range Tool

2. Use the Insert Silence macro. An amount of time equal to the length of your selection will be added at the beginning of the selection.

Apply Fades Quickly

There is a quick way to apply fades using the Range Tool.

First to to Key Commands and search for Adjust Fades to Range. Assign a keyboard shortcut to it.

Once you’ve set that up, the process is simple:

  1. Using the Range Tool, select the part of the audio that you want to have a fade-in or fade-out applied to.

2. Press the keyboard shortcut you’ve defined before, and the fade is applied instantly.