Not everyone has the education and experience necessary to warrant their own professionally-produced, nationally-syndicated radio show on a popular FM station (laugh it up, Ira Glass…laugh it up…). However, there are ways for you to get your voice to the people by way of the vast series of tubes we’re all familiar with: the Internet.
Podcasts are Internet radio shows named after a certain Cupertino company’s insanely popular media player. Many podcasts are recorded by amateur hobbyists who talk about a variety of topics, including tech, soap operas, popular movies and more. Others are produced by professional outfits, like NPR and TWiT, with celebrity guests, or, in the case of NPR, recorded versions of radio programs that aired earlier that day.
But don’t think you need to go out and buy a top-of-the-line computer with Pro Tools and a $500 microphone in order to start podcasting. Breaking in is as easy as using what you’ve got to get started, as well as some inexpensive tools to put that extra finish on your recordings.
Unless you’re doing a solo podcast (known in some cultures as “that crazy guy screaming into his mic for an hour”), or your fellow co-hosts are in the same room as you, you’re going to need some way to communicate with one another.
The defacto standard for remote podcast recording is Skype – yes, the same software you use to talk to grandma in Montana. Skype doesn’t do any recording itself, it’s merely the communication tool, but the built-in chat capability makes it very useful for communicating with one another without needing another app open simultaneously.
For recording your shows, you’ll have to turn to third party software, some free, some inexpensive and some might require you to purchase a new computer.
First, there’s Audacity, a free cross-platform application that is able to record and edit either the individual audio feed from your mic, or the collective session from everyone’s computers over Skype. Be aware that Audacity splits each Skype participant into individual tracks, so as you edit, you’ll only hear one side of the podcast at any given time.
If you’d like to have the entire Skype session funneled into one stream, download the free Soundflower system extension (Mac only). Windows users should check out JACK, which performs a similar function.
For those who want a little more power than what the free apps offer, you have some options – namely GarageBand, WireTap Studio and SoundStudio on the Mac side, and ePodcast Creator and Sound Recorder on Windows.
Once the show is recorded and edited, it will have to be encoded as an MP3. LAME, which works great with Audacity, can help with that.
Many podcasters use simple headsets, like the one that comes with most smartphones these days. However, if you want truly great audio for your podcast, you need to invest in a good microphone.
There’s a terrific mic available that only costs $100 and plugs into your computer (Windows or Mac) via USB: the Blue Snowball.
The Blue Snowball microphone comes with its own desktop mount and once plugged in, is ready to go. There are three modes for this mic: cardioid (just you and the mic, one-on-one), cardioid -10dB (which eliminates noise and distortion at high volumes) and omnidirectional (great for large groups or lecture halls).
This mic comes highly recommended – and I should know, as I use it weekly to record the inThirty podcast. At $99, this mic is a steal and should be perfect for someone just getting his or her podcast off the ground.
Once your mic is installed, go to your computer’s audio input preferences and adjust the input levels. You want optimal sound quality for your podcast, so you have to make sure either you can be heard, or that you’re not popping your Ps and Bs.
Finally, invest in a decent pair of headphones, as any audio coming from your speakers is likely to be picked up while recording.
Once your podcast is recorded, you’ll have to trim it down, cut out the dead space and “Ums” and upload it to iTunes. In order to do this, however, it will need to be hosted somewhere.
Amazon’s S3 service is widely utilized as a robust, scalable hosting platform for many podcasts. Just be careful – this is a “pay as you go” service that charges you for both storage AND downloads. If your show proves popular with the public, you may find yourself paying Amazon a lot of money each month.
Another option is Libsyn, a dedicated podcast hosting platform that provides tiered storage rates, but doesn’t charge per download. You can also get statistics, a dedicated RSS feed for your podcast and even find sponsors through them.
After you’ve edited and uploaded your podcast, you need to submit it to iTunes. There are other podcast directories, but iTunes is by far the most popular and will provide you with the most reach. Your first submission will be under review for a few days, but after that, every subsequent upload will be listed immediately in the iTunes Podcast Directory.
To get started, you’ll have to create a particularly formatted XML file with all your pertinent podcast information. Apple’s directions can be found here and if you use a service like Libsyn, they’ll take care of all this hassle for you.
Perhaps the best piece of advice I could give you is this: the only way you’ll ever get your show popular is by advertising it. Start a blog, make a Facebook Page and open a Twitter account to promote your podcast. If you plan on recording a live show with a built-in chat room, tell your followers when you’re recording and invite them to join in.
Also, be sure to ask within the show itself (towards the end), as well as across all your social media platforms, for iTunes reviews. The more reviews, the higher up in the ranks your podcast will move and you’ll get an idea of what’s working and what’s not. Feedback is key and will only help you grow your show.
Find a good length for each episode and try to stick to it for each episode. I’ve found that 30 minutes to an hour is ideal, but some people like listening to longer podcasts and some people like recording longer podcasts. Again, this is where feedback comes in handy – find out what your listeners like best.
In addition to a good show length, you’ll also want to get other people involved. A podcast recorded by one individual can easily sound like a crazy person’s manifesto, so involve friends, professionals who work in the industry your show covers and other guests to keep the conversation flowing. People who think differently than you often make the best guests.
The final piece of all this is to build quality show notes at the end of each recording as a resource for your listeners. Show notes are links to products, services, articles and anything else on the Internet that you discuss within the confines of an episode and come in very handy for someone who wants to remember that awesome new thing you talked about, but couldn’t write it down because they were driving to work.
Just remember, this is supposed to be fun. Podcasting, even if you’re fervently debating the merits of Dijon mustard over yellow mustard, can be very relaxing. It can also make you more knowledgeable in a particular area you thought you had a solid grasp on before – funny how differing viewpoints can make you think.
If you’ve recently started a podcast, or if this article has finally given you the kick in the pants you’ve so desperately needed to get one going, leave a comment with a link to your show below, what kind of equipment you use and any other thoughts about podcasting.