Much has been said about podcasts and podcasting since they were popularized especially in the tech/geek scene more than a year back. Just like blogs, podcasts are yet another Web 2.0 offshoot, bringing content-generation away from centralized sources (i.e., radio, television) into the consumers themselves–we are now prosumers of information and content. We produce, and we consume.
Let’s say you came late in the game. Perhaps it’s only now that you’ve purchased your own portable music player, got a broadband connection, or simply got wind of this wonderful new medium that lets you listen to just about anything under the sun, and even create your own audio programmes about anything under the sun, beyond the sun, and even the sun itself!
Let’s revisit some basic concepts on podcasts and podcasting. Let’s also have a brief rundown of how to produce your own podcast.
What is a podcast? And what is podcasting?
A podcast is an audio programme distributed via the Internet. It is very much like a broadcast on AM radio, with much commentary or discussion involved. Or, it can be like FM radio, with artists regularly releasing original music tracks on a regular basis.
A podcast is different from a regular downloaded audio recording or streaming audio, however, in that the content-distribution is automatically done through RSS (really simple syndication / rich site summary). For instance, a regular podcast subscriber would expect the audio recording to be automatically transferred to his computer (and portable media player, if available) once there is a new edition or episode of his subscribed programmes available.
What can podcasts contain and discuss?
Very much like blogs, podcasts tend to have niche audiences, with material specifically aimed at a target audience. And there are podcasts on just about any topic, from technology, to business, to politics, to fashion, to entertainment, and even very obscure and specific topics like, say, hairdressing, and your extensive Teletubby doll collection.
Podcasts can consist of short, ten-minute commentaries, but can also span to hour-long round-table discussions. Podcasters are not limited by airtime constraints, like in broadcast media; but one should be mindful of the boredom thresholds of listeners!
How are podcasts created?
Podcasting essentially consists of four steps:
- Content preparation
- Recording and post-processing
- Publication (and syndication)
How are podcasts delivered to the intended audience?
- Some listeners prefer to download podcasts as individual audio files over a web browser or sometimes even peer-to-peer file transfer software.
- Some would search submissions and entries in podcast directories, and download files individually.
- Others would play audio directly on a web browser as an embedded, streaming media.
- However, the standard way of receiving podcasts is by subscribing using a pod-catcher or a podcast-client like iTunes or iPodder. Subscription may be through podcast directories or by manually entering a podcast’s RSS feed URL onto the client.
- Podcasts may be listened to on a computer or on a portable media device (not necessarily an iPod).
What do I need to create a basic podcast?
Let’s start out with a simple setup—we begin with the most essential parts of podcast creation, as these would still be very much the same steps to take when you graduate into more technically-sophisticated setups.
- Computer – laptop or desktop running on a fairly recent processor (i.e. Pentium IV, Pentium M, or latter Celerons), and with a sound card
- Microphone – either analog or USB (but USB mics may be problematic with some setups
- Speaker or Ear/headphones
Software requirements. The following should be installed on your system:
- The base operating system – may be Windows, Linux or Macintosh, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume Windows XP
- For recording and mixing – Audacity
- For encoding – LAME MP3 Encoder
- Web browser – any modern web browser, such as Mozilla Firefox 1.xx or Internet Explorer 6.xx, will do
- A podcatcher or podcast client – iTunes or iPodder (now called Juice)
Other things you’ll need
- Music tracks (if so desired) – podcast-safe music can be downloaded from http://podsafeaudio.com and other similar sites.
- A web host, or a blog, or an account with a blogging provider
- An account with FeedBurner (to help standardize your RSS feed) – optional
- An account with any of the following (or any other) services that can host media, particularly audiofiles: Gcast, Odeo, OurMedia
Creating your simple podcast, step-by-step
Part 1: Preparing the content
Create a script. Unless you’re an experienced talk show host, then you’d need a script or at least an outline to guide your show. Otherwise, you’d have ten minutes of umms, ahhs, and errs which will surely annoy your audience. Some prefer podcasts that are spontaneous, while others prefer clear-cut ‘casts with a definite message. But I think it’s best if you have at least an outline or a summary of the flow of what you would be discussing.
Here’s a rule of thumb you can follow in creating a ten-minute podcast:
- 10 seconds: Intro music or audio
- 20 seconds: Introduce the podcast. State the title, your name(s), and the purpose of the podcast. Also state the URL where your podcast and the show notes can be found. Introduce your guests, if any.
- 10 seconds: If you have any sponsors, mention them now!
- 20 seconds: Provide a brief outline of your show, if you have a script; if not, state here what you plan to talk about.
- 9 minutes: The main body or discussion
- 20 seconds: Wrap up the discussion, outlining your main points. If you have guests, take this time to thank and acknowledge them.
- 10 seconds: If you have sponsors you’d like to mention again, now’s the time!
- 20 seconds: Introduce the podcast once more. State the title, your name, and the URL of the podcast and show notes.
- 10 seconds: outro music.
- Optional: 3 to 5 minutes: Podcast-safe song or piece from an independent band or artist at the end of your show
Of course, these are just suggested guidelines, but for a beginning podcaster, hopefully useful enough. You are free to do variations, as necessary. For instance, some podcasters place ads right before the intro music.
Part 2: Recording and post-processing
Record the audio. This is the most fun part of podcasting. Now you can fulfill your dreams of becoming like your radio idol Howard Stern, ranting and raving about anything under the sun! Here’s what to do:
- Open your preferred audio recording software, in our case, Audacity.
- Check if your microphone works, and if the recording level is acceptable. Press the round, red record button and speak a few test lines into the mic. Then end the recording and then play back your test message. If you don’t hear what you just recorded, then adjust the mic and volume controls accordingly.
If the recording level is acceptable, then create a new, clean recording by pressing File-New. You may now start recording your programme.
- If you press the stop button and then record again, this will record the new audio on a new audio track (use the pause button instead, if you simply want to pause for a while).
- Make sure you save the Audacity project after recording.
Alternative means of recording include importing an existing voice recording (say, from a portable media player with recording features, or from CD), and recording a VoIP conversation/interview (i.e. roundtable discussions).
Edit the audio recording. Once you’ve recorded the audio, you may want to take out a few blank spaces (i.e. silent pauses) or unwanted portions, or bleep out inappropriate words. You may also want to vary the audio levels on some portions of the recording, or remove noise. You can use Audacity to:
- Delete any portion of the recordings.
- Bleep out portions.
- Change and vary the amplitude of the recording or any other track.
- Change the positioning of each track with the time shifting tool.
- Insert or move around portions of tracks by using copy/cut-and-paste.
- Merge your voice recording into only one track, for easier editing later on.
You can now mix the audio recording with the other tracks. Once the voice track has been cleaned and merged into only one track, it is now time to mix other audio and music tracks.
- You can import MP3 music into Audacity. You can then select and copy a few seconds, for instance, of the music intro, into the beginning portion of the recording. You can adjust the position of the voice recording using the time shifting tool.
- Try to use podcast-safe music as much as possible. We wouldn’t want the RIAA running after us for copyright infringement, would we?
Save the podcast. Once you’ve deleted the unnecessary tracks, save the audacity project (with the music and voice tracks separate). Then export the file into MP3 format with the “export as MP3” function. You are asked to type in the ID tags (title, artist, genre, etc.) for the MP3 file. This will be used by MP3 media players to identify the media while playing.
Part 3: Publication
Upload the media. Once the file export is through, you may wish to listen to the finished product first. If you are satisfied, then it is time to upload.
- You may upload the MP3 onto a podcast-hosting service such as Gcast, or Ourmedia. These have various features like automatic-XML/RSS generation and playing through an embedded player.
- You can also upload onto your own host (or a free host) and then link the media to your blog or website. We shall then use FeedBurner to convert our blog RSS or Atom feed into a podcast-compatible format.
Prepare your podcast’s RSS feed. RSS is probably 50% of what makes up your podcast, because this is the technology that lets people pull the content from your server automatically as soon as you have uploaded a new episode.
- You can hand-code your RSS feed, but this can be difficult and not recommended. Besides, blogging software and podcast hosting services usually already generate their own RSS feeds.
- If you use a podcast hosting service, do retrieve the automatically-generated URL of the podcast RSS.
- If you have uploaded your MP3 file onto your own paid or free host, you may use FeedBurner to automatically convert your blog’s feed into podcast-friendly format. Just make sure you use the <a rel=”enclosure”> tag when linking to the MP3 file.
Try it out yourself. Subscribe to your podcast’s RSS feed through your podcatcher, and see if it can automatically download the episode for you. If you’re using an embedded player, try to play a streaming version of your podcast on your computer.
Part 4: Marketing
Publicize your Podcast. What’s a show without an audience? If you have a fresh, new podcast, it pays to do some PR to get people listening in on your programme. Much like with blogs, the best way to market your podcast is word of mouth:
- Blog about it. The blog, the podcast’s close cousin is the first place to promote a podcast. If you’re using a podcast hosting service, then you can usually embed streaming versions of your podcast.
- Comment on other people’s blogs/sites. Link back, of course, but be sure you’re commenting on relevant blogs. Otherwise, your presence may be considered spam!
- Submit your podcast to directory services, such as www.podcast.net, www.podcastalley.com, www.ipodder.org, and www.podcastdirectory.com (Yahoo! has a great list of podcast directories)
The last step would probably be to start anew! Once you’ve published one episode of your podcast, it’s time to sit back awhile for a well-deserved rest, and to think up topics to discuss on your next episode.