Thursday, 22 May 2008

Creating your own podcast

Here is something I put together for The Helix about creating podcasts - hopefully it will be of use here too!


Want the world to hear what you have to say? In this world of Web 2.0, one of the best ways for your voice to be heard is with your very own podcast.

If you're unfamiliar with podcasts, think of them as prerecorded radio shows that you can download and listen to at any time. You can also create video podcasts. You don't need to be a corporation, professional broadcaster or have a sound studio to release a podcast. Some of the most successful podcasts are those by people recording on their own computer from the privacy of their own home. All you need is a computer, an Internet connection and a microphone.

The first, most obvious, thing you need is a topic to talk about. The biggest challenge for any podcaster is to produce something others will want to listen to. That's why people often podcast about topics in which they have a particular expertise, interest or passion. Have a browse around the Internet and see what others have done and where you can contribute. Many people also use podcasting as a way of building up a catelogue of recordings for their resume – like writing a blog.

Technical Side of Podcasting

A podcast is a media file that is distributed by subscription (paid or unpaid) over the Internet using syndication feeds. You can play them back on mobile devices such as your ipod or mobile phone, or on your personal computer.

The first step in creating your very own podcast is to make an audio file. To do this, you need something with which you can record and edit sounds.

Creating an audio file

The best programs with which to start making your audio files are Audacity (on mac and PC) and Garage Band (on mac). Both these products are simple to use, and most importantly, free! Most podcasts that are available for download on the Internet are created using these products. Both allow you to record your own voice as well as having multiple tracks – so you can have music playing behind your voice and you can mix two tracks together to create professional sounding audio effects.

  • Garage Band comes pre-installed on modern macs, but if you have a slightly older computer, there are many products you can use;
  • Audacity can be downloaded for PC.

If you want to spend some money, you can buy professional sound editing suites such as Sony SoundForge (PC) and Pro Tools (mac). These suites have a lot of functions that most podcasters do not need. However, as you would expect from something you can pay hundreds of dollars for, they are very good!

Once you are finished recording and editing, you need to create an mp3 file. Mp3 is the ubiquitous file format for distributing audio on the Internet. It is a compressed audio format, and the amount that you compress your file is important. Choose a “bit rate” of 128 kbps – this is a good compromise between file size and audio quality. You may get away with 64 kbps if your podcast is just voice, and the file will be half the size. Choose mono sound as well.


Apart from an Internet connection and a computer, you will need speakers and a microphone. There can be some difference in quality between microphones. Some PCs and many macs come with them in-built, and whilst these are good for speaking to your friends over the Internet, the quality may not be quite good enough for a podcast. For our purposes, there are two choices.

  • The cheapest option is a dynamic microphone. These are rugged and good with loud sounds. You can pick one up for as little as $10.
  • A more expensive option is a condensor microphone. These need to be powered by batteries, but in general they sound a lot better for voice and are less noisey. Prices start around $80 but you can pay into the thousands for a very very good one.
The more you pay, the better sound you get. For podcasters starting out, a dynamic microphone will be OK, but condensor microphones are better when interviewing people and when there is a noisey background.

Creating a Video File

You may be interested in not only sharing your thoughts, but also your images. To create video podcasts, you need some video editing software. Macs come with iMovie, whilst many PCs come with Adobe Premiere – although, if it came with your computer, it is most likely the cut-down free version. Both these programs allow you to edit together videos taken on your camera or downloaded from the net. You can also create an audio commentary.

If you want to spend lots of money, Final Cut Pro is the industry standard.

You need to export to the mp4 format. Like mp3, this is a compressed file. If your video editing suite does not export to mp4, the Simplified Universal Player Encoder & Renderer is a fantastic free tool that converts almost any file format to any other.

Music – create your own or find some free stuff

Copyright is important; make sure you use copyright free music. If you want to include music in your recording but don't have original tunes lying around, then go to websites such as Royalty Free Music and Trackline where you'll find hundreds of songs you can buy and use. Or for free stuff try Podsafe Audio, Magnatune or Podshow.

You can also find thousands of up and coming bands on myspace that will be more than happy for you to sample their music. Garage Band comes with many inbuilt sound effects and tunes that are all royalty free, so you may notice that many podcasts contain the same sounds and theme music.

I've never got a straight answer on how much of a commercial song you can include in a podcast before breaching copyright - many people say less than 10% and in that case the music should be relevant to the topic. Our little podcast was a bit naughty in the beginning, but we're sticking to copyright free music or less than 10% of relevant commercial songs now!

How to turn an audio file into a podcast?

Now you have your recordings and videos, you need to get them up onto the Internet for other people to download – you will need your own homepage or blog. There are many places on the web that offer free homepages. One good place to start is Blogger.

You will also need to upload your podcast somewhere. If you don't have your own web hosting, you can try Ourmedia or Podbean which are free, or Libsyn which has minimal cost but allows you to upload more files than the free options. Podbean and Libsyn also let you blog, so are very options all round.

Once you have your own blog and have uploaded your podcast, write a post in your new blog and link to the audio / video file. In blogger, you add this link as an enclosure (directly underneath the subject heading when you are writing the blog). Podbean and Libsyn do this automatically.

You’re almost there….

The critical part of this process is creating something called an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. The feed is what is read and updated by whatever product you use to download podcasts. Most blogs automatically generate an RSS feed, or you can get one by setting up a FeedBurner account. Sign up, then tell FeedBurner your blog address, and you’re there! FeedBurner lets you modify your feed however you like – for example, you may add a picture so that people who view your feed always see this image (perhaps your album cover or a picture of yourself). It also gives you stats on subscribers - you can see how many people subscribe to this feed in the sidebar.

Submitting to Podcast Directories

At this stage, you should submit your podcast to the iTunes store. To do this, download iTunes if you haven’t already, install it and click on iTunes music store, then click podcasts and submit a podcast. Type in your RSS feed address, and they will (hopefully) list it for you within a few days.

It doesn't cost anything to be listed in the large, well-known directories. Some great ones include Podcast Alley and Podcast Directory.

Playing Podcasts

Most people will download your podcast with iTunes. Another product quickly becoming popular is the Juice Cross Platform Podcast Reciever. Or you can just download them in Firefox or Internet Explorer.

If you sign up with Feedburner, its free stats section will tell you how many times your files are downloaded, how many people are listening and lots of other cool bits of information like what type of product is downloading it (iTunes, Juice…) and what sort of computers (PC, mac…)

Good Luck!

For other podcasting tips, such as how to present your podcast, the best thing to do is download other podcasts and see how they do it. One interesting thing you can do is interview people over the internet using Skype. Or you could buy a portable recorder and interview people in the field.

Happy podcasting!

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