Getting Started With Podcasting

The traditional definition of podcasting, in so much as something that has existed for less than a decade can have traditions, is that is a “broadcast for the iPod.”  As such, it is an audio show with recurring episodes that people can subscribe to in iTunes.

I don’t care about how recurring your episodes are.  If you want to make a handful of class lecture recordings, post them into Blackboard, and not worry about how they are broadcast as long as your students can listen to them, that’s okay.  I won’t be the one to report you to the geek police for calling something a podcast that doesn’t have subscription feeds.

I will, however, tell you easy ways to set up those feeds, but first we have to talk about how to make the recording.

To start, you need one of two things–a recording device or a computer with recording software.

Recording Devices

You could purchase a voice recorder.  They range from cheap to ridiculous in price, and you do get what you pay for.  The cheapest ones yield the poorest sound quality.  If you want something portable that you can carry into the classroom with you or allow students to use for projects, and if you don’t mind spending a little bit, try the Zoom H2.  This is a mid-level device.  Not the best, not the worst.  Not the most expensive, not the least.  You will get recordings from it that are every bit as good as you need to share online, though.

As an alternative, you could use the voice recorder on a gadget already in hand.  The iPhone and the iPod Nano both come with a voice memo feature that can be used to make audio recordings.  Those recordings can be copied into iTunes and from there converted to mp3s and uploaded to the podcasting site of your choice.

Because I’m not familiar with other smart phones and the options for using them as voice recorders, I’m going to refer you from here to Andro Geek’s review of smart phone voice apps.

Recording Software

If portability isn’t a concern, you’ll be better off to record your podcasts on your computer.  Assuming you already own a computer, this is the cheap and easy way.  PC users can download the free program Audacity to use as a voice recorder and editor.

Download and install the software from the Sourceforge site, and then watch this tutorial:

As an alternative, Mac users might prefer GarageBand, a program that comes with the Mac. Refer to the support materials provided for podcasting with GarageBand on the Apple site, and watch this tutorial video:

Microphones

An essential ingredient in the making of a podcast is the microphone.  If you are on a Mac, you very likely have a built in microphone.  Check that first, and use it if you have it.  Some versions of PCs also come with built in mics now, but they aren’t standard in PCs like they are in Macs.  You’ll need an external mic if you don’t have an internal.

The best kind for podcasting (unless you want to spend a lot more money) is a simple headset mic, the kind people use for Internet gaming and chatting.  They start at around $30 or so, and the $30 versions will do just fine.

Exporting to MP3

MP3 is the file format of choice for sharing audio online.  It represents a compromise between the highest quality audio and easiest file size for sharing.  Other file formats might retain more sound quality, but they would take too long to upload and download online.  Thus, whatever format you’ve recorded in, you should always convert to mp3 before uploading.

If you’ve used Audacity or GarageBand, this is a simple matter of finding the export feature and selecting mp3 as your file format (look under Share in GarageBand and under File in Audacity).

If you’ve used a voice recording device, you may need to pull your file into a program to convert it.  Audacity will work for that.  So will iTunes.  iTunes will also help you organize your library of audio files.

If you are in iTunes and logged into your account, you should be able to click on an audio file, go to Advanced and Create MP3 version in order to convert it.  That will give you a file that is ready to publish online.

Storing Files Online

The biggest challenge to setting up a new podcast is probably finding a viable place to store your audio files online.  You can set up a podcast feed on Blogger, but you can’t store your audio files in Blogger.  They have to be hosted somewhere else.  Blogger does not currently accept uploaded audio files.

If you plan to start a regular podcast with lots of episodes, you’re probably going to end up paying for file hosting.  Though there are some free podcasting sites, they tend to come and go.  We just don’t have the audio equivalent of YouTube or Flickr at this time.

If you just want to post a few recordings here and there, however, you do have some free options.

This “Sample Poetry Podcast” is an mp3 recording of one of my poems.  It was recorded in GarageBand and converted to MP3.  From there, it was uploaded to www.dropbox.com.  At DropBox, I moved the file into my public folder, which gave me a link to share with others.  I embedded that link here, and this is the result:

Sample Poetry Podcast

Here’s another sample that I uploaded to a site called DivShare:

Sample Poetry Podcast 2

This is what happens when I use the embed code from DivShare to post the same file:

These are just a couple of options. You may need to do further research on your own to find what works for you.  But this will get you started.

If that sounds too complicated, set up a Posterous blog.  Posterous allows you to email audio files as attachments to be posted on your blog.  It doesn’t require that they are hosted elsewhere.  It will also format them for you into a Flash-based audio player.  You don’t have unlimited space available for free on Posterous, but you have enough to keep you going for some time as long as your recordings are not too lengthy or too frequent.

Broadcasting

The definition of broadcasting in the social media age is loose at best.  If you upload a single file to a site like DivShare and then post the link to that file on Facebook, you have broadcasted it to your friends.  Let’s assume, though, that in this case we mean making your audio files available by subscription in iTunes.

The simple solution to that is to blog your podcasts.  Most blogging platforms are set up with automatic feeds that can be opened and subscribed to in iTunes.

Here’s a video to help you understand how to use a blog to podcast:

On most blogs, if you find your rss feed, and type in “itpc” in place of the “http” that will give you an audio feed that will open in iTunes where you can then subscribe to it.

Again, if any of this sounds complicated in the least, start with Posterous.com. There’s nothing complicated about podcasting with Posterous. You record your mp3s and email them to your blog. To subscribe in iTunes, you use the “itpc” address for the rss feed.

For example, I have a Posterous blog at http://sharongerald.posterous.com. If I wanted to download the audio files from that blog in iTunes and then sync them to my iPod, I’d go to itpc://sharongerald.posterous.com/rss.

That’s all it takes. Really. Anyone can do this. All you need is something to say.

Cool Tech Tool: Tumblr

Tumblr is possibly the coolest of cool.  It’s for blogging, micro-blogging, audio-blogging, video and photo sharing, pushing content to social networking sites, and possibly things I haven’t figured out yet given I’ve only just now joined.  It seems to be a wonderful option for keeping an audio journal.  It allows you to upload one mp3 of up to 10 mb per day.  Given that this is a free site and that’s the only restriction, this is a fantastic answer to audio blogging.  Most free blogs don’t allow enough file storage space to keep going all that terribly long at the rate of 10 mb per day.  And if you need life to be even simpler than an upload, you can phone in your voice recording.  Nice.

Tumblr doesn’t host videos, but it does provide an easy way to link to them in YouTube.  It does allow for uploading photos into posts.  With themes that show one post at a time with clickable arrows to scroll through to subsequent posts, it looks like a very promising place for gallery style photo-blogs.

The built-in Facebook and Twitter connections mean Tumblr could be used simply as a way to manage content being pushed out to other systems, but it might also serve as a space for a full blog.  Like I said…nice.

See me on Tumblr.