What-cast?

Podcast is a file with audio or video content, distributed over the internet. The name comes from iPod and broadcast.

Podcast is a radio show recorded as an audio file, usually mp3. If you record a speech or a presentation (on a conference for example), that is a podcast too. It is really popular to record a conversation among two or more people about a topic. It is also a podcast. If people are not collocated, you can record the conversation using Skype or similar software. If you have something to say, record yourself talking. That is a podcast too.

Of course, if you have the equipment, the will and really really really lot of time, besides the audio, you can also record video. Video recording and editing is a lot more complicated and time consuming when compared to audio, and I will focus only on audio podcasts.

Where do they live?

store

An example would be handy right about now. If you have Apple iTunes (available for Windows and Mac OS X), run it and click iTunes Store on the left hand side. At the top of the screen that opens, you will see Podcasts, with several options, audio, video and list of podcast categories.

Choose a category among arts, business, education, health, music, technology... Since you are reading this blog, I guess you are into technology. After you choose a category, at the top there will be options for all podcasts, only video or audio. You can narrow down the choice using the menu at the bottom left with subcategories (gadgets, podcasting, software how-to, tech news). There are also several featured providers, like TWiT TV (highly recommended). In the middle of the screen there is Featured section, and at the top right there is See All.

podcasts

Click it and you will see a list of podcasts. You can choose a podcast and see a list of shows and download an episode. Subscribe does just that. It is free for all podcasts that I have seen. Subscribing is the best way to get all new episodes of a podcast that you like, without having to check if there is something new. Every time there is a new episode, iTunes will automatically download it. There is an option in iTunes settings to check for new episodes every hour, day or week, or to disable it, if you wish.

floss

iTunes Store has search and you can find a podcast that way too.

If you know there is a podcast, but you can not find it in iTunes Store, you can subscribe to feed directly with Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast.

If you do not see podcasts in iTunes Store, check if you are in United States store (there is a flag in the bottom right part of the screen, click it). Unfortunately, some stores, including Croatia, do not have podcasts.

Listen

ipods

© Matthieu Riegler, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

Podcast is just an audio (or video) file, so you can play it on any device that can play such files: computer, CD/DVD/Blu-ray device, mobile phone, digital camera... The podcasts (especially audio) are the best when played on portable media players, like Apple iPod. I listen to podcasts almost every time when my brain is free but my hands or legs are busy. For example, when working around the house, walking, running, riding a bike or driving a car...

You can copy files downloaded with iTunes (or acquired some other way) to your portable media player. Copying podcasts from iTunes to iPod is really easy. Follow the instructions that came with the device.

Record

Of course, like every true geek, it is not enough just to enjoy a technology, you have to try it yourself. How to create a podcast? There is a few things you should know, but it is not complicated procedure.

For audio recording, regarding hardware, you need a computer with microphone. Lots of laptops have one built in. You can record audio with another device, and then transfer it to the computer. If your computer does not have build in microphone, you can use any microphone that you already own and that you can plug in audio card of your computer. Make sure you plug it in microphone jack, it is similar to headphones jack. If you do not have a microphone, there are cheap ones available. Headphones with microphone for internet telephony will work just fine too. Microphones can connect to the computer with USB too.

If you want to record video, you need a camera. There are cheap web cameras available. Some laptops have them build in. Any camera will do for now.

Regarding software, for audio recording and editing I would recommend Audacity. It is open source. If you do not know what that is, for now it is enough that you know it is free. Audacity is available for all popular operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux).

audacity

Let's start recording. For the beginning, the simplest case. Record yourself.

You do not need to know a lot about audio recording. Choose quietest room, close all windows and doors, turn of telephone. Plug in microphone into the computer, if you are not using build it one. Install Audacity and run it. Click the big red Record button and start talking. If everything is find, after you play what you have just recorded, the sound will be loud and clear enough without a lot of noise. If you hear yourself and you are satisfied with the quality, the biggest part of the recording is done.

Most podcasts that I listen to are 30-60 minutes long, but there are really short ones (about 5 minutes) and really long ones (over 2 hours). For this time I would recommend to record just a few seconds, not more than a few minutes.

If you can hear yourself, but it is not loud enough, play with sound settings of operating system and Audacity. Turn up microphone volume. Turn speakers volume up, maybe the audio is recorded fine, but the reproduction is too quiet.

If you do not hear anything, Audacity probably is not recording from the microphone. Check the settings if input device is set to microphone.

Edit

In most cases, after the recording you do not have to edit the podcast a lot. You can even publish it just as it is recorded. I always at least listen to every podcast before I publish it. I mostly record conversations over Skype and more often that not the delay between question and answer is a few seconds longer that with in person conversation. That is really noticeable if the other person is on another continent. I cut such long pauses. Cutting is the action that you will be performing most of the time. If you say something stupid, cough, telephone rings or if you record a sound that you do not want in the podcast, find it and delete it. If you do not like a part of podcast, you can delete a few minutes. There is no limit. You can delete it all.

Every time you start recording, Audacity makes a new audio trac. Visually, it looks like a new track. Similar example is image editing, where you can have several layers in an image. When editing audio, you can combine several tracks. For example, one track is you speaking, one is music for the beginning and one is music for the end. You can import music with File > Import > Audio.

Podcasts usually have music at the beginning and at the end. Some podcasts have music in the background all the time, but I do not like that. It is really a bad idea if you do not have audio editing experience, because music can be too loud. I think the speech is the most important thing in a podcast.

Please be careful while choosing the music. You can not publish music just like that. As a rule of thumb, you can not publish any music that you have bought. The exception is podsafe music, mostly independent artist that let you publish their music with little or no fee.

If you play an instrument or if you sing, you can record yourself and use it in a podcast. Maybe you know somebody that has a band and you can help a friend to get audience.

When Audacity is started, Selection Tool is active. You can select part of track and edit it, mostly just cut it out. Time Shift Tool is also useful. It moves a track forward or backward in time. If you have tree tracks, like in previous example (speech, music for the beginning and the end), click Time Shift Tool and move music to the beginning and the end, and speech to the middle.

Make sure music is not much louder that speech. If you turn up the volume to hear the speech, when you are in a loud place (traffic for example), when the speech ends and loud music starts to play at the end of the podcast, it can be really upleasant.

If you have recorded more than fits a screen, use zoom options (View > Zoom In/Normal/Out).

Listen to everything you have recorded, and when you like what you hear, make sure you save it.

Audacity saves files in aup format, optimal for editing. It consists of a lot of small files that take a lot of space and can not be reproduced on devices that do not have Audacity installed. We will convert the file to popular mp3 format, but for now we will save it as wav (Windows) or aiff (Mac OS X) file. We are using that format because I want to show you another very useful free tool: The Levelator. In short, it adjustes audio levels (and accepts only wav or aiff files). It is very useful if there are more then one person recorded, and they are not equally far away from the microphone (and hence recorded with different loudness). Or, there are more that one microphone that are not the same (like when you record a conversation over Skype). It is also really uncomfortable for the listener if the sound has to be set to loud so one of the people is loud enough, but then somebody else is painfully loud. The Levelator solves the problem, as far as it can. Nothing can fix bad audio file. It is important to record as good as possible.

levelator

Levelator is trivial to use. Run it and drag wav or aiff file to it's window. It automatically starts working and creates a file with almost the same name, except for the added output.

Wav and aiff files are not compressed and hence are large. They should be compressed, usually to mp3 file. Open newly created file with output in name in Audacity. Go to File > Export and choose mp3. The first time you do that you will have to install mp3 support for Audacity. Follow the instructions. While exporting to mp3 choose Options and select 64 kbps quality. It has proven to be the optimal quality for audio that consists mostly of speech.

After your the first podcast is in mp3 file, you are done with editing. Listen to it and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Publish

Recorded podcast will not get you fame and fortune if it is located only on your computer. You must publish it on internet. If you speak HTML like you have lived there, skip this chapter. If you need help, continue reading.

fantastico

I would recommend buying the cheapest shared hosting. You should also buy a domain. When buying hosting, ask if you can install WordPress. It has proven to be excellent for podcast site. Your hosting problaby has cPanel with Fantastico script for automatic WordPress installation. If not, it probably has something similar. Even installing WordPress by hand is not hard and it takes just a few minutes. Follow the instructions on WordPress site.

podpress

There is a plugin for WordPress made for podcasters: podPress. It has Flash player so your podcasts can be played directly from your site. It also has download statistics. Play with the settings.

Wordpress and it's plugins are not in scope of this article, I leave it to the reader for the homework.

You should choose a license for the podcast. With the license you state the terms of distributing the podcast. For example, you can allow further distribution, it if is non commercial and if you are stated as the autor, and not the distributor. I recommend one of the Creative Commons licenses.

After you cheap shared hosting has no more space left (mp3 files take a lot of space, regardless of the compression), instead of buying more expensive plan, I would recommend Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Leave WordPress at shared hosting (you can not run it on S3) and move all mp3 files to S3. It offers very cheap file hosting. For example, $0.15 per GB per month. You see how cheap that is. You have to pay also for upload to S3 and download from it, but it is also very cheap.

The easiest way to manage files at S3 is with Firefox add-on S3Fox.

s3fox

After you have set up the web site and created the first post with a podcast, you still do not have any listeners. You can use your usual way of getting audience. Post a link to the podcast site at your blog, or one of the social networking sites that you use, or at a forum that is related to the content of the podcast... You should submit the podcast to a podcast directory. The biggest one is iTunes Store.

Conclusion

Now you know what is podcast, how to find and listen to them, and how to record, edit and publish them. I hope this podcast will help spread the word, both how to listen and how to create them. If you want to find more information on podcasts, I am sure you will not have a lot of trouble with that.