Podcasting for Beginners: Recording, Mixing, Software and Tips
By on October 4th, 2010

PodcastingNot a very long time ago, people would sit together in their rooms, stare at their television sets and wait for their favorite programs to start. They would often put on hold other chores, rush through the traffic or hastily put their kids to sleep so as to catch their favorite television show in time.

What you read above may be said for years gone by, and for some, may stand true today itself. But the truth is, not many people now have the time to wait for the shows they want to watch or listen to. Some people have completely abandoned watching TV and usually resort to downloading their entertainment dose through the internet and enjoying them at a time of their choice.

Now if the new media consumers are getting ready, how can the producers be left unprepared?

Ever since Apple added support for podcasts in iTunes, in about 2005, their popularity has soared unceasingly. When RSS aka news feeds had popularized, they were thought of as a quick and intuitive way to read articles and follow up news updates and several other texts in a short span of time. Instead of going to the news, people now had news coming to them. After text, media followed. With the advent of the media-in-newsfeeds idea, podcasts took birth. Now instead of going to their shows, people could now get, and watch them whenever they wanted. Several podcast popularized, iTunes had a platform where everyone wanted to be.

That’s probably enough of history you would want to know about this thing called podcasts. For more, see Wikipedia.

What is a podcast?

A podcast is a combination of a media file audio or video combined with a RSS newsfeed. The name itself is a compound of the words broadcast’ and iPod’, even though Apple didn’t invent the term. Think of it this way. If you subscribe to a podcast, whenever the person who publishes it wants to broadcast a media file audio or video you will get hold of the file as soon as he publishes it. Now that you have the broadcast file in your possession, you can access it whenever you want. This is just a non-geeky explanation, feel like digging more? Go here. Now, that media file you just downloaded, could be a comedy show, a drama, a DJ music show, a talk show, an interview, a science piece, or anything on politics, movies or technology. It’s just radio. But better.

How is it different from other forms of media?

They’re live. This is not. You can miss TV or radio shows if you don’t listen or watch them when they air, you can’t do that with podcasts. You can listen or watch them anytime!

How to create your own podcast?

Now think of it. Creating your own podcast can be both easy and difficult. Easy if you think of yourself as a common Joe who wants to get his word out. It’s just about speaking and recording right? Or think of yourself as a competition to the real media guys, the TV. Then you’d have to push some skills up your sleeve. Podcasting can be done in two ways: Audio or video. Most things discussed in this guide are for the audio podcast producer, however, many may apply to the video producer too.

This guide will be divided in two parts. Beginner and Skilled. Take the Beginner option if you just want a podcast out there, or choose Skilled if you’re willing to put some extra time to go the extra mile. Also, there are some things common, that you will have to take care of no matter what route you take.

The Commons

No matter what way you choose, you need to have some things set right before you do anything. First of all, you need to choose a niche for your podcast. This is deciding what you’re going to talk about. Taking a look at the iTunes Music Store’s Podcast section can give you a fair idea of what’s hot and what is that people are into. Nevertheless, since it will be you making it, make sure the topic is something you are passionate about. Secondly, you need to decide on the speakers. People like discussion, but not always, case in point: Listverse which is a podcast about top-10 lists of bizarre and weird things. So you have to decide whether you’ll be doing the show alone or there will be somebody with you.

If you’re going to do it with somebody, and if that person lives somewhere far away, the obvious answer will be to use Skype calls to talk and then record them. PC to PC skype calls are free. To record them, use the free program Callgraph or this another one called Mp3 Skype Recorder.

Basics for the Beginner

Gear: For a beginner, to record, you can do with a decent pair of headphones/external or desktop mic. Anything that doesn’t catch excessive noise from your surroundings, will do.   Don’t go beyond $100, you aren’t producing The Tonight Show.

Software: If you like your software simple, try Audacity. It’s free and cross-platform. Also, it has some nifty features that you can make use of while post-processing your episodes and while adding effects later. For the Mac guys, GarageBand of course, if you have it. When you’re done editing your episode, don’t forget to save it in the MP3 format. (If you’re using Audacity, refer this tutorial on how to save in mp3). And you should definitely use Levelator, a free, cross-platform volume leveler. Just drop a sound clip on it (wav or aiff format so if you want to level your podcast clip’s sound, first save in wav, use levelator, then convert the processed clip to mp3) and the application will do the rest. It’s magical. (Hat tip to Preshit, for this one).

Website: You need to put your podcast online so people can download it. And also a website, because no website equals no listeners (usually!). Although, it didn’t occur to me initially, but I realized that Tumblr the publishing platform that falls between Twitter and Blogging can be used to make a quick, podcast site. Tumblr will make you a nice website (with a custom domain, if you configure it that way) and also allows you to upload MP3s under 10MB. But if your episodes don’t come under 10MB, you can upload them on Archive.org. There are quite a few podcast hosters out there, and some would prefer CDN services for hosting podcast files, but I think for a starter, Archive.org is the best bet. They’re free, but then everything you upload to their servers must be licensed under a Creative Commons license. When that’s done, you can get the direct url for your uploaded file and use to Tumblr to stream the file (also give a link to download). Case in point for using Tumblr as a podcast site.

Get a FeedBurner feed: FeedBurner not only makes publishing your podcast easier with it’s Smart Cast feature, but also allows you to track statistics on your podcast. The Smart Cast feature will mould your RSS feed to iTunes standards, adding suitable metadata that will make it easier for people to find your podcast once it has been submitted to iTunes. Here’s a tutorial on setting up Feedburner and WordPress for iTunes.

Submit your podcast to iTunes: iTunes is a sort of a holy grail of podcasts. So submitting your podcast to iTunes should be really high on your list. As easy as it might seem, submitting your podcast to iTunes can be a little tricky. eHow has a good write up on how to get it done. (Also, Apple’s guide on what makes a good podcast feed)

Basics for the Skilled

Gear: Coming up the skilled category, if you think your gear makes you sound good, then don’t change it. No reason even more so if you are doing the podcast alone. However, if you want pro-quality sound, external mixers, and total control over the input and output of everything that goes in your podcast, you should totally refer to this podcasting hardware guide by Dan Benjamin which contains an extensive and detailed list of recording/podcasting gear you can buy.

Software: If you really want to try out some nice things with audio processing, consider buying an advanced audio mixing program (also known as DAW, Digital Audio Workstation) such as Adobe Audition ($350) or ACID Pro ($250). Advanced audio software would let you create a multi-track recording. You’ll be able to stack different audio clips, fade them in or out, add various effects and make adjustments easily.

Website: If you need a fully thought out website, that has good support for podcasting, there’s no need to look beyond WordPress. WordPress will be enough for your website backend. However, the story about your website host and podcast episode is different. You can host your website (that is, everything excluding podcast mp3s) on any conventional host. But these website hosts won’t let you store and make available for download mp3s on your account, most won’t. Also, even if they do allow, you’ll be running out of bandwidth every now and then, which might bring your website and episodes down. So a simple solution would be to store your episodes somewhere else. One option in the previously discussed Archive.org, another is buying some space from a podcast hosting service like libsyn and yet another option is using a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Good service providers for CDN are Amazon S3, MaxCDN and CacheFly

And yes, a Feedburner feed and iTunes submission is must. If you think it will be worth it, a Zune marketplace submission won’t hurt. And there’s Odeo too!

Now that you have your gear, platform and software ready, let’s see what can be done about you. Yes, you.

What to Speak and How to Speak

Podcasing is just a medium, what you really should have is a topic to speak on. To give you an idea about what kind of podcasts are made out there there are lot of them on tech, a few on language, quite a few are music shows that play just music, some are on history and health and humor are pretty popular topics too. But most importantly, if you’re compassionate and interested in what you’re speaking, people are going to like it (provided you don’t speak like Mr. Bean)

I do a podcast called Audible India. It’s basically about a few things. There’s a sections on the top music tracks of the week, one is about movie reviews, one on opinion, sports, tech and another on indie music. We sometimes also have guest speakers to speak on a topic of their choice.

So, you can either make it on one thing alone, or do it on a bunch of few things.

Behind the scenes at Audible India, we (we’re like, five guys) follow a list of dos and don’ts. They aren’t exactly the list of suggestions that everybody should be following, but I believe, most can.

  • Speak like you would to a friend. Sound interested, excited and confident,
  • Be loud but relaxed.
  • Try to make it funny. If you’re bad at funny, don’t even try being funny.
  • Start your episode with a catchy call, and give a little introduction about who you are and what the podcast is about.
  • Shorten links with a url shortener before speaking them on the podcast. If you have a private shortener, better.
  • If you have a lot of things to speak, make them into a list. Lists are easy to comprehend.

Now, the don’ts.

  • Don’t speak so fast so as to swallow your words.
  • Don’t dictate. Talk.
  • Avoid too many uhmsand ahsand you knows.
  • Don’t put your mouth too close to the mic otherwise disturbances will be created in the recording each time you exhale.

How to Popularize Your Podcast

Making your podcast popular is difficult. Period.

Unless you have crap loads of friends who love the crap you make and they have as many friends and friends of friends.

In short, a podcast can only be made popular through word of mouth…or social networks. This is because there has not yet been a search engine that does the work of Google for audio clips. Google can search through text, but not through audio.

So, how do we solve this problem? Add text to your site, lots of it. If you’re using WordPress, make sure you use the All In One Seo plugin and add the correct metadata and tags that define your podcast. Also add a description.

For each episode, adding some description about what the episode is about helps. Write about who all are doing it, if you have any guests, what did you talk about etc. Also, if you refer to any links in the episode, write them down in the post. Some people also attach complete transcripts of their podcast episodes, but that depends on how much time you have; it helps a lot with search engine rankings anyhow.

About social networks, you should use them even if you don’t like. Make an account on twitter and facebook and put those fan boxes on your site. For some podcasts, these social networks are the major source of traffic that they get.

How to Find Background Music

Adding some background music to your episodes, either only in the starting of it, or throughout it in a low volume, is usually a good practice. How and where you put it is your choice. Finding good and free music that can put in your episodes can sometimes be an ordeal, however. If you are a regular internet user, you would know of two kinds of music. One that you buy and can listen to anytime on your computer or music player. And one that you can download for free from the internet, from a few sources such as Purevolume, Hype Machine and Ghostly International and then listen to anytime …. But when you venture into content creation, you venture into copyrights and their fusses. This is when you realize that the free music you downloaded off the internet can’t always be used by you in your projects and well, podcasts.

Now we have two ways to choose. The first is buy royalty free music from websites like these. For this type of music, you’ll have to pay a one-time fee (unless the number of times you can use the music is specified beforehand) and then you can use the music without crediting the source or creator. The second is Creative Commons licensed music. For this type of music, you don’t have to pay a dime, but you will have to credit the artist. There are a few kind of Creative Commons licenses, and there’s one that won’t allow commercial usage, so you’ll have to pay attention while choosing your music.

Finding creative commons music is easy if you know where to look for. For background music, genres like electronic, triphop, trance, instrumental, blues, chiptune, ambient and dubstep are usually suitable. Here are a few websites where you can find good and free creative commons licensed music.

Bandcamp A musical haven for both creators and fans. You can search for music using tags. Not all music is free. Not all music is under Creative Commons.

Jamendo All music that you find here is Creative Commons licensed and free. Just check out the license type before using.

Opsound Opsound is another place where independent artists add their music for the world to listen to. Free and Creative Common-ed.

Ccmixter A Creative Commons supported initiative where you can find and browse based on genre and popularity.

How to Credit the Music Artist?

Unless specified by the artist, placing the credit in the post suffices. Otherwise, you can also credit in the podcast episode.

How to Process Audio

There are a few things you should keep in mind when processing audio. For starters, just make sure there’s no significant noise in the background and the voices of the speakers are loud enough. The way you reduce noise depends on the software you use. The steps may be different, but the technique is usually the same for most software. I’m going to highlight here the way I do it in Adobe Audition.

  • First off, I select a part of the audio clipping that contains only the noise. This may be in the starting of the clip, or at the end, when nobody is speaking and the various sounds like that of the fan, noise of the traffic etc are recorded.

The Multi-Track view.

  • Above is a screenshot os the multi-track view. If it’s the audio clip in track 1, that is the clip on the top, I double click it, which takes me to the edit view. Here, I select (click-drag-highlight) a part of the clip which contains only the noise. Then in the sidebar, I got to Effects → Restoration → Capture Noise Reduction Profile. In short, I’m telling the software ‘this, here exactly is the noise‘. After this, I need to tell the software ‘Now you match this noise with the entire clipping and remove it from wherever you find a match‘. For this, in the edit view, I select the entire clip (ctrl+a), go to Effects in the sidebar → Restoration → Noise Reduction (process). Here, you can select the level of noise reduction and apply it to your clip. (screenshot below)
  • Noise Reduction

Now, to level all the clippings that you may have, you should amplify them.

  • Double click the clip and let it open in the Edit view. Select the whole clip and go to Effects → Amplitude and Compression → Normalize. Normalize it to 100%. Now, without deselecting the audio, select Amplify and amplify the audio as per the requirement.

greenshot_2010-09-23_02-13-34

You will learn more about audio processing as you grow your podcast. Looking out for tutorials and videos (say, on Youtube) about the application that you use can be en educational effort.

How to Do a Podcast With Multiple People

If you are planning to do the podcast with two or more people and when they are all not living nearby so that the recording can be done in one place, the simple answer is Skype! Make a call on skype, record it up using a tool such as Callgraph as mentioned above and put it in the episode.

Or, like I do on Audible India, make different people record their segments, have them send it to one guy who puts them together and forges an episode out of them. Naturally, there can’t be conversation in this method, but it works if you don’t require conversation.

Audio Enhancements

Here are a few tips, that you can follow while finalizing your audio.

  • Save the audio in MP3 VBR (Variable Bit Rate will choose a higher bit rate for the part of the audio that has complex material and lower bit rate for the part with simpler material.) It’s the best of both worlds. It will reduce file size where it’s not needed and put it where quality demands it. Keep the range between 90 140 kbps.
  • Add proper tags to your episodes before publishing them. Use a tool like mp3tag to add proper ID3 tags to each episode of yours.
  • Don’t forget the album art. Have someone make an album art for your podcast as with no album art, your podcast’s visibility on a directory like iTunes will stay limited. Also, album art looks good on an iPod, doesn’t it? Read here: How to add album art .

Website Enhancements

There are a few additions that can make life easier for you and for your listeners. The most important one, the one which which many people don’t pay enough attention to is a on-screen audio player. Now, embedding audio inside webpages is no arcane science. Or it maybe, depends on how you look at it. There are normal flash players, non-normal flash players, players which use javascript, players which use plugins and players that don’t play at all. Fear not, here are a few you can choose from.

Other enhancements? A good website design is a pretty good enhancement in itself.

How WordPress Handles Podcasts

When you save a WordPress post with a link to an mp3 file, WordPress automatically creates a new Custom Field for that post, named enclosure which has the value of the linked mp3. The enclosure is detected by the feed reader and is automatically made available as a download. You can’t have two enclosures in one post, RSS doesn’t allow it. Moreover, you can also make a podcast-ready post without linking to the mp3 file in the post; just create a custom field enclosure with your episode’s url as value.

Some people prefer a plugin to handle all the podcast related stuff. The most popular plugin in this regard is PodPress

Go, Get to Work!

Well, that’s all that I had to write about. I made sure I touched every subject that had given me trouble and confusion when I started out. I hope it makes life easier for you!

If you have any questions, just post them in the comments and also do post the link to your podcast once you get done with the first episode!

Happy Podcasting!

Image by: Glauber Barreto

Author: Keshav Khera
Keshav Khera is a young freelance writer from India. Alongside writing for the web, he also attends school and tries not to bunk classes. He keeps interest in music, table tennis, reading and of course, twitter (@keshav)

Keshav Khera has written and can be contacted at keshav@techie-buzz.com.
  • http://sathyabh.at Sathya

    Excellent post. And I <3 Audible India!

    • http://fabworker.com Keshav

      Thanks, Sathya! :D

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  • Leslie

    Very helpful article. Great info here! Thanks.

  • http://www.joedigitech.com JoEDigiTECH

    Great article. Looks like a one stop shop for all the information I’m looking for. I’ve bookmarked and will be using this as an on going handbook. THANKS!

  • http://psycomedia.wordpress.com Timothy J Swann

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/Psycomedia is my podcast, thanks for the help…

  • Abhilash

    @Keshav this article is exactly what I was looking for. I recently decided to try and see if podcasting was for me and was looking for a good all in one article.

    Thanks fr putting this together and I will definitely look you up on the twitter in case I have some more questions.

  • http://androidforums.com/members/tinakramer44.html Steve Sanders

    Do you think that I can use some of your writing in a research paper that I am doing in school? That would be great. Thanks

    • Keshav

      Sure, go ahead.

 
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