How to: Become a podcaster
Simple steps to make your voice heard, by Graham Holliday
So now you know what podcasting is, why not give it a go? Graham Holliday makes it seem so simple...
How to podcast
To create a podcast you need to record something, edit it, publish it on the internet, create a subscription feed and inform iTunes and other podcast aggregators that it's available for download.
First you will need recording software and, if you plan to record in the field, a minidisc recorder and a microphone. "I believe the most important purchase you will make is the microphone," says Hugh Fraser, who podcasts at Blog-Relations and Storynory. Mr Fraser uses a condenser microphone. These can cost up to £1,000. A Shure SM58 is reliable and cheaper. Fraser wires a Shure to a Sony Minidisc Hi-Md MZ-RH10 when he is out and about. "It's important to get one of the recent Hi-MD Minidisc players - the old ones don't let you transfer your recordings to the computer via USB cable," he advises.
Before you start recording check and check again. "Never ever rely on it just working," says IT journalist Kieren McCarthy who podcasts on his own blog and for The Register. "Make sure it says it is recording. Make sure you have a noise level that moves when you speak into the microphone. Make sure the batteries will last. Make sure that the microphone is on. Make sure you lock the controls once you've started recording so you don't accidentally nudge it and stop it. Just check and double check."
Many podcasters use Skype to conduct interviews and record them for use in podcasts. "I use Skype to call interviewees at podleaders.com," says podcaster and blogger Tom Raftery. "I use WireTap Pro to record the conversations. I do my audio editing in a free, cross-platform, open-source sound editor called Audacity and I publish my podcast using a WordPress blog." You can record Skype calls using Hotrecorder on a PC, or WireTap Pro or Nicecast on a Mac.
Whatever sound you record, you must be able to get the recording onto your computer. Once it is there, you will need to edit it. Be careful what you say during your interviews. "You learn not to say 'okay' when interviewing people but merely nod," explains Mr McCarthy. "You learn how to use the microphone as a controlling tool in an interview. You learn to take people aside or put them in corners to get a better sound. You learn a huge amount about sound, and you really start appreciating the radio."
Mr McCarthy uses Adobe Audition to edit his podcasts. "It's more or less the industry standard. I figured if I was going to learn a software package, I might as well gain experience of one that could be useful later in my career."
Audacity is popular and will keep your costs down as it is free. However, Sony Sound Forge 8 "is unmatched for ease of editing", according to ex-BBC radio man Hugh Fraser. Many Mac users use Garageband. Once you have edited your recording, you will need to save it as an MP3 file. All podcasts listed in aggregators are recorded in MP3 format. You can create an MP3 file by importing the audio file into iTunes, making sure that iTunes is set up to import using the MP3 Encoder.
As for expense, if you use Tom Raftery's method - a combination of Skype, WireTap Pro, Audacity, Wordpress and webspace - it will cost you very little. "It should easily be achievable for less than £100," says Mr Raftery. "Some hosting companies offer accounts that include a WordPress installation already, making it easier still." If you adopt Hugh Fraser or Kieren McCarthy's methods, then you will need to spend a bit more.
Once you have uploaded the recording to your blog or webspace, you will need to create a feed. A feed allows listeners to subscribe to your podcast in the same way that they subscribe to RSS feeds for news and blogs.
Feedburner helps bloggers and podcasters create feeds. It has a service called SmartCast™. It creates a feed for your podcast for you. If your blog post contains a link to your audio file, SmartCast™ converts it to an RSS feed that can be read in programs like iTunes and link to your audio file, SmartCast™ converts it to an RSS feed that can be read in programs like iTunes and NetNewsWire. SmartCast™ also allows you to add additional information about your podcast, such as category, author, description and keywords which help when searching for podcasts.
"Register the podcast with Yahoo! Podcasts, Odeo and iTunes to get some traffic going," advises Mr Raftery. "Also add buttons for those sites to your blog and podcast to allow people to easily subscribe." If you don't have a blog or webspace, you can publish your podcast for free on OurMedia or sign up for a Podlot or Podbus account.
If you become the next Ricky Gervais, you may need to reconsider where you host your podcast. Thousands of downloads mean increased bandwidth and higher hosting costs.
Graham Holliday is a freelance journalist. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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