Podcasting 101

How to Get Started

The following article is an excerpt from Shure Notes, Issue #16(March 2006).

Podcasts. They’re getting a lot of attention these days. Is this the audio equivalent of blogs, where commentary can be shared over the Internet – or a powerful tool that puts broadcasting within the reach of anyone with music, a message and basic gear?

In this article, we’ll take you through the basics – what it is, who’s using it and how you can get started.

But First, What is It?

Here’s how one expert describes it:

“Podcasting is a method of publishing files via the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed and receive new files automatically. It became popular in late 2004, intended largely for downloading audio files onto a portable MP3 player. Listening to podcasts does not require a portable player and it is not traditional ‘broadcasting’ to a mass audience at a fixed time.

The word “podcasting” is a linguistics blend coined in February 2004, combining “broadcasting” with the name of Apple Computer’s iPod audio player (although podcasting was not invented by Apple, nor do podcasts require a portable player or Apple software).

It is distinct from other types of online audio delivery because of its subscription model, which uses the RSS 2.0 file format. Podcasting enables independent producers to create self-published, syndicated “radio shows” and gives broadcast radio programs a new distribution channel. Listeners may subscribe to feeds using “podcatching” software (a type of “aggregator”.) which periodically checks for and downloads new content.”

*Source: God’s iPod

How to Get in the Game

Now that you know what a podcast is, you need to understand what it’s going to take to create one – or a series – of your own.

We’re going to look at three basic steps:

  1. Plan
  2. Produce
  3. Post

Our guide for a stretch of this trip is Jason Van Orden, musician, educator, audio tech and practicing podcaster. Among his highly regarded podcasts: The Podcasting Underground, Internet Business Mastery and Gothamcast, rated as “New and Notable” in the Yahoo! Podcast Directory. His excellent how-to-podcast-tutorial.com is the foundation of our step-by-step guide (and will provide you with more detail than we’re able to here in Shure Notes).

Step 1: Plan

If you’re a musician, you know how to put a set list together. But if you want to produce a podcast that will attract and retain listeners, a little planning will help keep you and the podcast focused.

Ask yourself and your team these questions:

Who will be doing the podcast?

Some podcasts have one host, others have a team and still others feature a “cast”. The advantage of having multiple performers is:

  • It is generally more engaging for your listeners.
  • It spreads the content and performance responsibilities across several individuals.

What segments will your create?

Think about the programs you usually listen to or watch. Most all of them, particularly radio, have a format. Having a structure for your podcast will make it easier to plan and produce, plus your listeners will know what to expect and they’ll look forward to it. Here’s an example:

  • Introduction (Theme Song)
  • Welcome Message
  • Announcements
  • Song Intro
  • Song
  • Song Intro
  • Song
  • Music News
  • Song Outro

How long will the podcast be?

You don’t have to fit your podcast into a specific time frame, but remember this: Your podcast should last as long as you can hold a listener’s attention — and that’s why many podcasts are about 20-30 minutes in length.

One of your goals should be to leave the listener wanting more, not looking at his or her watch. Remember, too, to build excitement for your next podcast.

How often will new podcasts be released?

Successful podcasters understand what bloggers and publisher have know for a long time – they are creating communities. Having a consistent publishing schedule will help you build listener loyalty.

These are format questions that will help keep you and your team on track. As an evolving medium, podcasts are dynamic and yours will change over time. There aren’t very many hard and fast rules, except for this one: If you use music or material that is not your own, make sure you are observing any relevant copyright laws. Get permission and better yet, get it in writing.

Step 2: Produce

Now that you have a format and a plan, you’re ready to think about the production process. This involves:

  • Having the Right Gear
  • Choosing a Recording Location

Let’s look at these one at a time.

Having the Right Gear: HARDWARE

To get started, you need a computer with broadband access, a microphone and headphones.

Computer

You will probably record and edit your podcast on your MAC or PC. Most computers that have been released in the last few years can be used for podcasting. The real demands on your computer will be its ability to record and process the audio.

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Broadband Internet Connection

Not gear, but a necessity. To upload your podcast to the Internet and update your site, you’ll need a DSL, cable or T1 Internet connection.

Microphone

Whether you are recording a vocalist, instruments or spoken word, you’re going to need a microphone. Once again, your options are pretty much determined by what you’re recording and how much you have to spend. The good news is that you probably have mics on hand that will work well for podcasting.

Since every microphone has a distinct sonic signature, along with its own characteristics in terms of transducer type (condenser or dynamic) and polar pattern (unidirectional, cardioid and supercardioid), it’s important to understand the differences. Click here for information on microphone types.

In order to make the right choice, decide which is the most important element in your podcast. It’s probably the voice. If so, a large-diaphragm condenser microphone like the KSM 27 might be best. However, a fairly neutral sounding cardioid pattern condenser mic like Shure’s SM58 can work well on a wide variety of sound sources. Experiment with mic placement to get the best results.

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Earphones

In the most basic podcasting set-up, just about any headphones that plug into your computer will get the job done. Keep in mind, though – an important part of the process involves listening to your podcasts. Not so long ago, this required wearing a heavy headset to block out room noise.

Technology has made that cumbersome gear a thing of the past with the introduction of high performance, sound-isolating earphones that you can use when recording – and for listening to podcasts on your iPod or MP3 player, the way most of your listeners will.

Here are two from Shure:

Starting Out

The Shure SE110 Earphones feature a studio quality, sound-isolating design. They come with a fit kit for personalized, in-ear placement. You can find them at your local Shure dealer or purchase them directly from the Shure online store (US Only) for around $120 (MSRP) a pair.

Stepping Up

The Shure SE210 Earphones offer sound isolating design with high-definition micro-speakers and extended frequency response for studio-quality sound. These cost about $180 a pair.

MP3 Player

When you post your podcast, download it through the feed into your MP3 player just like your listeners do. You’ll be able to perform a little quality control and also see how the information from the MP3 files is displayed – does it look the way you want it to?

Listen to other podcasts. You’ll gather ideas for your own shows and stay current with podcasting and what other podcasters are doing.

Having the Right Gear: SOFTWARE

You will need software for recording and editing your audio. There are many choices from ProTools, Acid, Sonar, Live and GarageBand (which offer the added benefit of royalty-free audio loops) to Audacity, which according to Jason Van Orden, has become popular with podcasting newbies and is available for free.

According to “The Art of Podcasting” in the December issue of Electronic Musician, “dedicated podcast-creation programs are springing up all the time. For Windows, there’s CastBlaster, Propaganda and ePodcast Creator. In addition to organizing and triggering audio clips, these programs export MP3s and the specialized text file that defines the podcast. They can also assist with file upload.”

You’ll need to convert your podcast to MP3 format before uploading it to the Internet. Converting your audio to MP3 makes the file size smaller and easier for others to download and listen to. Again, there are a number of free programs available for download, including iTunes and LAME. LAME appears to be the podcaster’s encoder of choice and offers an impressive array of features (for Mac and PC).

Choosing a Recording Location

If you have some recording experience, you’ll want to follow the same, successful techniques you’ve used in the past. For the rest of you – some useful tips:

Scout a location.
Have a place set up – preferably near the gear you’ll be using – that’s ready to go when you and your team are.

  • Choose a space that’s quiet and free from distractions. Minimize as much background noise as possible.
  • Turn off fans, additional computers, air conditioning units and telephones.
  • Post a sign outside the door alerting passersby that you are recording.
  • Think about room acoustics.

Closet Space. Recording Space.

“One of the best tricks I’ve found for creating a quiet recording space is to open the closet door, throw a large blanket or sleeping bag over the wide-open door and position the mic so that the dead spot of the mic is pointing right back into the open closet. The more clothes in the closet, the better. Remember, as you sing or speak – not only are you picking up the sound of your voice – you’re picking up any reflections in the room coming back from behind you. Singing into a closet is just like singing in a studio GOBO – it absorbs many of the reflections and can give you a darker, tighter sound.”

- Greg Riggs, Shure Associate

Step 3: Post

Ready to upload? You’ll need an FTP program. Once your podcast is ready for primetime, you’ll need to upload it to the Internet. SmartFTP is free for personal, educational and non-profit use.

If Rachel Can Do it, So Can You.

According to Business Week, “8 year-old Rachel Patchett hosts Rachel’s Choice, a weekly podcast in which she plays a Christian song and reads a bible verse. Up to 1,500 listeners tune in every week. Of course, it helps that her father is the man behind The GodCast Network, a portal offering 14 different religious broadcasts. There is a wealth of information available on the subject – much of it on the Internet, a good resource since the podcasting world is growing and changing so quickly. There’s even a podcasting organization – the Association of Music Podcasting. There are literally hundreds of sites that offer everything from weekly podcasting tips, to free software, podcast directories and places to upload your podcast. And of course, there’s an aftermarket of podcast developers who will do the work for you.

You have the gear. Now you have the production basics. Consider this: In 2005, a respected research group predicted that the U.S. podcast audience will climb to 56 million by 2010. By that time, three-quarters of all people who own portable digital music players will listen to podcasts. Talk about expanding your audience.

Visit Jason Van Orden’s site at: www.how-to-podcast-tutorial.com for a more thorough step-by-step guide to creating your first podcast. We also recommend David Battino’s “The Art of Podcasting” in the December 2005 issue of Electronic Musician. Like many of the websites dedicated to podcasting, there’s a helpful directory that includes podcast, hosting, resources, reading and software sites.

Five Reasons Why

  • You already own most of the equipment. If you have a computer, a broadband connection and a microphone, you’ve got the basic gear.
  • You will reach a wider audience. It’s all about reaching out, right? Not only can you stay in touch with your fans (as an example), you have the potential to reach an audience far beyond geographic boundaries. Think national. Think global.
  • You’re in control.
  • One of the great advantages of podcasting is its inherent flexibility – you can publish your podcast as often as you want (every day, every week, every month) and it can be as long as it needs to be. You’re not limited to a format. The fact is, you’ll be developing a format of your own. Talk. Music. Talk and music.
  • It’s automatic.

Once you’ve developed your content and listeners have subscribed, the foundation is built. When you post new content, it’s automatically downloaded and transferred to your listener’s MP3 player. Because listeners have subscribed to your podcast, they’re motivated to receive your message. It won’t get lost like SPAM e-mail — and because your podcast is delivered over the Internet, it’s inexpensive.
This is “Theater of the Mind”
Very few of us can recall the radio days of our grandparents, when listeners, not distracted by the kinds of visual imagery that assaults us today, unleashed the power of imagination to experience “theater of the mind”. Podcasts can do the same thing. This is intimate and impactful – a medium that delivers a very personal listening experience.

More Length = More Storage
The longer the show, the larger your MP3 file and the more website bandwidth is required. Depending on your situation, you may need to contact your ISP.

Do You Really Need a Pop Filter?

If you’re not familiar with recording, you may not know that the popping (or plosive) sounds that are made when a speaker uses words with “p” or “b” can be annoying to listeners. A pop filter is usually made of nylon cloth stretched around a frame, threaded to screw on a microphone stand. (A cheap pop filter can even be made from a pair of stockings and a coat hanger in an emergency.) This filter is placed in front of the diaphragm, between the microphone and the vocalist’s mouth.

Podcasters and Aggregators

Sounds like a game of ‘cops and robbers’, right? These are terms that refer to what’s required for a listener to download a podcast. Here’s the good news: any digital audio player or computer can play podcasts. On the other hand, if listeners wish to subscribe to your podcasts, they’ll need podcatching software (an aggregator) that checks for and downloads new content directly to their audio player or computer, iTunes and Windows Media Player, both free.

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Davida Rochman

A Shure associate since 1979, Davida Rochman graduated with a degree in Speech Communications and never imagined that her first post-college job would result in a life-long career that had her marketing microphones rather than speaking into them. Today, Davida is a Communications Manager, lending her skills to a wide spectrum of activities – from public relations and social media to content development and sponsorships.

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