Getting into the world of podcasting is amazing and can be both fun and rewarding. Let’s face it, we are rarely more enthusiastic than when discussing a topic that we love to talk about! Just think if you could take that enthusiasm and turn it into your very own show which can be shared with other people around the world!
Now you can.
To start a podcast, you’re going to need a few things. The good news is that things have gotten a little easier lately and you don’t have to be quite so tech-savvy. Knowing HTML coding for an RSS feed was required in the not-so-distant past. Luckily, software companies have made life easier for the less tech-savvy of us (like me!).
The first thing you will need is a microphone. This is not the place to go cheap. The biggest problem with the vast majority of podcasts out there is the fact that their product comes off sounding amateurish and sophomoric. While this may have been a bit of the appeal to early podcasting, it is important to put together a little more polished product. The single best way to create a good sounding show is to use a good sounding mic. You will need a condenser and/or a cardioid mic. The standard multi-directional mics that singers in rock bands are simply not made for podcasting or recording speech. They are great for picking up sounds from multiple directions (thus the name ‘multi-directional’, go figure). You’ll also need one that has a USB connection as these produce the best quality. I recommend the Blue Snowball which is available at most Staples for around $100. It’s the one I use and if you listen to our show you’ll be aware of the quality of its sound.
Up next, you’ll need a headset to listen to your co-hosts and/or guests. This is the area you can afford to go cheap. Do not bother with the expensive “noise reduction” headphones the sales people will try to sell you. When it comes to listening to music, you will want expensive, noise-reduction sound quality. However, when it comes to podcasting, the exact opposite is true. You WANT to hear if there is any background sound getting through so that you can do something about it. For example, just think how upset you’d be if you recorded an entire show and it was awesome and everyone had lots to say and it was informative and entertaining. Then you listen back and you hear the distracting hum of an air conditioner in the background. That would be frustrating. Avoid this problem (and save a few bucks) by using a cheap set of headphones (available for around $25 or less). This way, if the TV in the other room is interfering with your recording, you’ll know about it and will be able to do something about it (like closing the door) before it is too late.
Chances are, your co-host and/or guests for the podcast will not be in the same room as you when it comes to recording the show. In my case, I live in Barrie, my co-host lives in Kitchener and our guests come from as far away as Los Angeles. How do we solve this? You’ll need a communication software program. The best one to use? One word: Skype. Both you, your co-host and guests will need to download Skype for their computers if they haven’t already. Don’t worry, it’s free. Also, they will have to add you as a contact so that you can call them. You will not be using the video interface, just the audio. You can place a “group call” and call several people at once. That’s what I do. Just let the others know what time you’ll be placing the call, make sure they’re logged into Skype and go ahead and call them. Have your mic plugged in to talk to them and have your headset on so you can hear them. You’ll have a 3-way conversation going which will be the basis for your show.
Once you have a 3-way Skype call going, you’ll want to record the call so that you’ll be able to create a show. I have tried several different approaches to this and the easiest is to purchase a recording software program called Evaer. It is available online for a one-time cost of about $20. Worth every penny. Once you download Evaer, it should start up automatically when you start Skype. I move the Evaer window over to the left of my computer screen and have the Skype window centered on my monitor. When you place the call, you can get into a little small talk and ask if everyone is ready to go, then hit the red Record button on Evaer. You’ll see levels come up as well as a timer for your recording. This is really cool if you are trying to keep your show to a specific length, as you’ll be able to see how long it has been running.
Once your conversation is recorded, you’re going to want to edit the conversation into a show. This is the second most important aspect of the podcast (right behind microphone quality). In fact, editing is where you can separate yourself from the pack when it comes to a polished show. If you listen to the “Dear Mr Fantasy” podcast, you’ll hear that we incorporate a theme song, segment bumpers, sound effects, censor beeps and promos. All of these elements are added in post-production using editing software. While I use Adobe Audition to do my editing, this can be a little pricey (around $500). Instead, you may want to consider a free editing software program such as Audacity, which may be downloaded online for free. Even if you don’t incorporate the same number of elements as we do into your podcast, at the very least you’ll want some intro and outro theme music to indicate the beginning and end of the podcast. Editing will be your best friend and can seriously make or break your show. Bet on it.
Okay, so you’ve recorded your first show and edited it into a masterpiece of podcasting media. However, if no one ever hears it, who will know how good it is and just how much you have to offer to the world? You are going to need to get it up onto the internet and house it on the web so people can download it and enjoy your gift to the world of podcasting. This is done using uploading software. Podcasting audio files can be quite large (figure about 1 MG per minute of your audio podcast… thus a half hour show will be approximately 30 MG, a pretty fair size file to be sure). As a result, such a big file cannot simply be cut-and-pasted such as word processing is done. You will need a special piece of software which helps you to move large files from one place to another (kind of like moving a file from one folder on your computer to another). Since you will be moving your large podcast file from your computer to the internet, you will need a specialized program. I recommend using FileZilla. It’s available online and best of all, it’s free to download.
Before you can go uploading your podcast to the internet, you are going to need a server. If you’re not familiar with the workings of the world wide web, just know that people will be using their computer to access another computer to download your podcast. As a result, you will need to store your podcast episodes on a host computer (or “server”) which will respond to requests for your show and will deliver the show as a download to whoever wants it (be it an individual, a podcatcher like iTunes, or a mobile phone app). There are many server options available. You don’t really need to get into the details of ‘shared servers’ versus ‘dedicated servers’ unless you are really interested in how your podcast will be stored. For starters, I recommend a shared server. Basically, this means that you will be ‘renting space’ on a computer along with other people so that you can all store your information (in your case, storing your podcast) for people worldwide to gain access to. There are several shared server options available but I highly recommend a server which offers unlimited bandwidth. Basically, this means that your podcast can be downloaded by as many people as possible without you ever getting charged extra. Many servers will give you a limited amount of bandwidth per month to use. If you go over, you pay more. Think of it like the data plan on your cell phone. You may think you’ll save a few bucks by going with a cheaper option (and limited bandwidth) but you may regret it later. Downloading podcast files can quickly chew through your bandwidth, so it’s better to be prepared. The last thing you want is to start a podcast, get some loyal listeners, grow the audience and then no one can download the show because your bandwidth usage exceeds your monthly limit. Even the smallest podcasts get a few dozen listeners so you’ll need some room to grow. When I started the “Dear Mr Fantasy” podcast, by the second week, we had over 3000 downloads. I was thankful to have unlimited bandwidth, to say the very least. I recommend using Dreamhost. If you contact me, I can give you a referral code to use which will save you some money. It is very reasonable to use their service (just over $100 for a full year of unlimited bandwidth….a very good deal, indeed). When you sign up for Dreamhost, you’ll also receive a free WordPress blog site and email address so you can have an ‘official’ website and email address for your show (which is nice). Every week when you are done recording (and editing… don’t forget editing) your show, you will use FileZilla to upload it to your server where it will sit for the world to access.
Once your show is uploaded to the server, you’ll need to use your blog (provided in the Dreamhost package) to get your podcast out to the world. Each week you create a new blog post which has the podcast episode attached and you’re all set. I highly recommend using the blog post to display some show notes for that episode. You can see what I mean at the Dear Mr Fantasy podcast website. The show notes are great for people to see what your show is all about and better yet, it allows the search engines like Google to find your show and send people there. As you’ll see at my website, people can click and listen to the show right from the website blog posts. Or they can download an episode (or episodes) for future listening. They can also follow a link and download the show in iTunes or listen on Stitcher Radio.
Speaking of iTunes, you will want to get your podcast listed on as many podcasting aggregators as possible. These aggregators are also called ‘podcatchers’, as they ‘catch’ your show for others to find. This allows people interested in podcasts to easily find and listen to your show. The biggest of all podcatchers in the world is iTunes. It is relatively easy to register your podcast with iTunes and once you do, an Apple employee will listen to your show and determine if it will make it into the iTunes store. You can also get your show listed on dozens of podcatchers and podcast website directories around the internet. I recommend getting listed on as many as possible to help increase the reach of your show. Feel free to contact me for a comprehensive list.
The one thing you will need in order to register your podcast anywhere is your podcast RSS feed (RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’, because that’s exactly what it is). This is what the podcatchers will use to get your episodes out to the public at large. In the past, podcasters had to be able to create their own podcast RSS feed using HTML coding. Luckily for those of us that are less than tech-savvy, WordPress has a plug-in called “PodPress” which is free and creates the RSS feed for you. It even helps create special tags for iTunes (Apple likes to do things a little differently than others and requires special tags as a result). The RSS feed is available through your PodPress plug-in on your WordPress blog and looks like a URL with the suffix “/feed” at the end. For example, the podcast feed for my show is: http://www.dmfantasybaseballpodcast.com/feed. Your RSS feed is the link between your podcast and everyone else, who are no doubt waiting in anticipation for you to take the world by storm with your amazing new podcast.
That’s pretty much the technical aspect of podcasting. The challenge you will have will be in finding a workable format for your show, keeping it interesting and promoting your podcast. However, since you will no doubt love the topic in which your show is about, it will all be a labour of love and one of the best hobbies you’ll ever have.