How to make a podcast

Working at Six Apart I take for granted how connected (or unconnected for that matter) people in the world are. I work in an office which often gives me the feeling that I am living in some William Gibson novel where people are literally plugged into the Internet receiving a constant stream of data via some kind of feed. So when a friend, hell even my wife, stated in alarm recently, "you have a podcast?!" I then caught myself saying, "what? You didn't know?"

Nope. They didn't. Whoops.

So there you have it. I produce a podcast now. Or at least I try.

Byrne Podcasts?!

To help those who have no idea what I am talking about, and others who are contemplating creating a podcast of their own, I have assembled a brief technical overview of what is and how to produce your very own podcast.

What is a podcast?

One of the hardest things for many people to wrap your heads around is the term "podcast." From a publisher standpoint it is very straight forward - a podcast is a recording (typically of the "spoken word" genre) that is distributed via a syndication feed.

What is not straight forward is how the term is used among software vendors all of whom are scrambling to jump on the podcasting band wagon and claim they have "podcasting support." These vendors use the term "podcast" as liberally and loosely as they use the term "Internet." Therefore searching for the term often bears little fruit or clarity as what the software actually does.

So let's cut through the fog shall we? What tools do you need?

The Tools You Need

Returning to the definition of a podcast, you can see that there are two components to any podcast for which you need some kind of software for:

  • Software to record and edit an MP3
  • Software to distribute and make it easy for people to listen to your recorded MP3 file

There are some software packages that bundle all of these capabilities together, but I personally chose to use three different software packages: one to record, one to edit and one to distribute. This is what I used and how I used it.

Skype and Pamela

I hardly consider myself creative or witty enough to produce a one-man show. That is why I decided to record a conference call with some of my peers and colleagues and produce that as a podcast. In order to reach a broad enough audience, I chose to use Skype. This made it easy for people from overseas to dial in and for anyone to to listen in for free. In order to accomplish the group conference call I created a SkypeCast, a service offered by Skype that is now in beta.

My experience with the service was honestly less then stellar. That is because it did not easily accommodate more than one or two people having their microphones on at the same time. Hardly the effect I was planning for. In order for myself to be heard, everyone else had to be muted.

So despite my lack of wit and creativity - I still ended up with a podcast in which I droned on and on for 45 minutes all by myself. Tsk tsk.

As a quick aside, the second time I conducted a SkypeCast I produced it more like a radio call-in show in which I turned on the microphone for select people at select times in order to conduct a "mini-interview" with them. That format worked a lot better with the software and allowed me to create a more interactive atmosphere.

To record my SkypeCast, I used some software by the name of Pamela for Skype that gave me the ability to record the call. The software worked and integrated with Skype quite well. I tried a couple of different solutions and chose Pamela in the end because it had a superior user interface and was far easier to use.

pamela.png

If you are thinking of recording a podcast with people who are all in the same room with you, then I would recommend using different software - Pamela is not what you need. But if you are speaking with people remotely, the Skype/Pamela combination is a powerful one.

The Microphone

Many computers this day and age come equipped with a built in microphone. Granted, that is kinda cool, but the microphone is of a very poor quality, and is typically an omni-directional one. As a result the recording will likely pick up background noise, and the speak may sound a little distant. So I visited my local CompUSA and picked up a simple and inexpensive USB desktop microphone from Logitech. It only cost $29 and it was worth every penny. It made the recording clearer and far more professional.

Post-production

If you are capable of producing a perfect audio recording from the moment you click "record" to the moment click "stop" then you are a better person than I. Chances are you will have some minimal needs to edit and clean up what you recorded. For me, that amounted to software that would allow me to trim silence off the beginning and end of the recording, and the ability to do some basic level setting to smooth out any rough spots in the volume throughout the recording.

Audacity

For that basic editing, I chose Audacity. Primarily because the software is both powerful and free (and open source). That being said, I am currently in the process of evaluating Adobe's Audition 2.0, which is very similar to Audacity, except it doesn't look like ass. It looks incredibly professional and is far easier to grok and understand. If I got really serious about podcasting (which remains to be seen), then I might consider purchasing it.

Adobe's Audition

Distribution

Distribution is key because it helps with the process of making it easy for potential listeners to find your podcast, by helping to integrate your podcast into the iTunes Podcast Directory, and for listeners to subscribe to future podcasts and have them automatically downloaded into their music player.

odeo_big.gifMovable Type supports the features necessary to enable podcast distribution (I know because I wrote the software that makes it possible), but I chose to use Odeo. Why? Because there is a hidden cost to podcasting I really didn't want to take on: every time someone wants to listen to your podcast, they have to download it, which means that you will incur the bandwidth cost for each one of your listeners. Yikes. With Odeo on the other hand, because you upload the file directly into Odeo and then have all your subscribers listen to your podcast from Odeo's servers, there is no cost to you for hosting and streaming your audio file. Sweet.

Second, Odeo provides a handy little feature that allowed me to embed a streaming audio player into my webpage making it even easier for people to listen to the podcast.

Finally, Odeo automatically provides all the feeds you need to register your podcast with iTunes, and even places your podcast in their directory for others to find as well.

Summary

That's it - all the pieces you need. Well almost. You still need good content, and arguably a good voice as well. And those are things I am afraid I can't help you with. But if you think you have what it takes, if you have ever wondered if you had the potential to be a radio personality, then just like blogging has done for authors, podcasting can do for you. The tools are easy and they are free. What more could you ask for?

7 Comments

Hi, Byrne, A good article for beginners. I'm glad someone out there who writes about computers realizes that the rest of the world doesn't live plugged in. I find this type of information hard to find; most of it is way above my head. I have a question in the podcasting process that is beyond beginner, but I can't figure it out. So I have the conversation recorded with Pamela. My screen looks like your first picture up there. Now how do I get that file into Audacity?? Where the heck is it stored? Do I click and drag it, or open it directly from Audacity, or how?? (I use IE and XP). I was just reading at thinkvitamin.com about using Hot Recorder. That looks easy; of course, everything with computers LOOKS easy. Do you have any experience with it? Thanks for taking the time to answer. You explain things well. You should have a training category. Christine

Christine - thank you so much for your kind critique.

I actually have very little experience with Pamela - I gave up on it to be truthful, but in my experience most tools have this in common: an export capability. Or at the very least a "Save as..." capability. When you do that you can select the format or file type for the new file. I would select MP3 and then open that MP3 in Audacity.

Drag and drop between tools rarely works in Windows. Sadly.

Let me add this... if you want to record a phone call, I must must must recommend the following:

http://www.thebasementventures.com/free-conferencing-recordinglist.html

It provides a great web interface that allows me to hold a conference call, record it, and then publish a podcast - with no extra equipment or software necessary.

Thank you, Byrne. I have figured out some of my issues by muddling around with it. It works just as you say it does. Basement Ventures looks great; I'm going to take a close look at it. The only other part of your article that I didn't understand was why use ODEO. When users download your mp3 file, if you write a blog, then it's using bandwidth provided by your hosting service...is that correct? So that might be a group like HostICan (that I understood provided a huge amount of bandwith with their accounts) , or Cachefly (which is a server dedicated to streaming audio and video, so surely they must be able to handle a lot of download), or have I got this all confused? The podcast process you describe above is for people hosting their own podcast, is that right? Are you realizing just how un-plugged in much of the world is as you read my questions? Thanks again. A computer guy who can explain things in ways regular people understand is a rare find.

Your hosting provider almost always imposes bandwidth restrictions on you. You can think of bandwidth like cell phone minutes. Most of the time it doesn't matter until that one month you are on the phone a lot and you exceed your alloted minutes in your plan - then BAM! you are slapped with a big bill. Hosting providers operate the same way with bandwidth, or they will simply shut your site off.

That is why I prefer to work with a company like ODEO or CacheFly that has no limits and can handle all the complexities of streaming, load balancing, etc that most generic web hosts can't - or if they can, will charge a premium for.

Excellent. I understand. Thanks so much. It saves so much time to have things well explained instead of having to make 20 mistakes before you finally figure a thing out.

hi, thank you for this great article i didn't know about odeo and it's sounds great for a district school website podcast that the the principal doesn't even know she's going to do yet. but, i think i will be able to set it up now. also we are using shared hosting so we need to keep costs down...i just hope it will work out in our joomla site...that's not done yet either. thanks again, ellie

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  • hi, thank you for this great article i didn't know about odeo and it's sounds great for a district school website podcast that the the principal doesn't even know she's going to do yet. but, i think i will be able to se...

  • Excellent. I understand. Thanks so much. It saves so much time to have things well explained instead of having to make 20 mistakes before you finally figure a thing out. ...

  • Your hosting provider almost always imposes bandwidth restrictions on you. You can think of bandwidth like cell phone minutes. Most of the time it doesn't matter until that one month you are on the phone a lot and you ex...

  • Thank you, Byrne. I have figured out some of my issues by muddling around with it. It works just as you say it does. Basement Ventures looks great; I'm going to take a close look at it. The only other part of your articl...

  • Let me add this... if you want to record a phone call, I must must must recommend the following: http://www.thebasementventures.com/free-conferencing-recordinglist.html It provides a great web interface that allows me ...

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