Long, boring post: Podcasting How-To

Podcasting:

I’m putting this on my blog as a reference post. Most of you aren’t going to be interested in the info, but this is the process I use to do my sermon podcasts on a weekly basis. It is, so far, the lowest cost method I have found. If you have suggestions, put them in the comment section. I will delete/spam any that are pure “sales” comments for your profit.

NOTE: This reads longer than it takes. My average podcasting time is 12 minutes, not counting waiting on files to compile/upload. I typically start it doing a hands-off process and then go do whatever else needs done.

I. Equipment

This is the first step to deal with. The only piece of equipment that you technically need to podcast is a digital voice recorder. All the rest of the process can, technically, be handled through the web on a computer at the library. If your library allows you to attach an external storage device, that is.

I personally use an Olympus VN-8100PC voice recorder. Attached to it is an Olympus ME-15 Clip-on Microphone. There are other voice recorder models, and Olympus has updated the VN-8100. You need one that will record well in your situation. If you are doing single-person speaking, then an external microphone jack that you can clip on is a good call. I have used a Sony and this Olympus, and both worked well. I have also used a fancier “room pick-up” recorder that gathered from the whole room. I never got it set right, but if you’re an audio nut, you might be able to.

However, if your situation is dynamic and you are trying to record speaking in different places and different environments, the simpler handheld with a clip-mic is probably the better choice.

Now, if you’re not going to do this with just web tools, which would be a challenge, you need a decent PC to do a few things. Like any editing or adjustments and uploading. I am a PC, so if you’re a Mac, you’ll have to figure out which software is best for you. I think part of what you paid that extra money for to get a Mac is an included program that will do a chunk of the work.

I have been podcasting from a 3 year old Dell Inspiron with 2 GB of RAM and Windows 7. I will do the next podcast from Samsung with 8GB of RAM and an Intel Corei7 processor. That might go quicker for me.

The only software that I use for this process is the open source program Audacity. That can be downloaded here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ and, as far as I can tell, does everything the basic podcaster needs. You will need the LAME plug-in set for it, available here: http://lame1.buanzo.com.ar/#lamewindl (you want to click the “For FFMpeg/LAME for Windows link and save that file).

Install Audacity first, then install LAME.

You should now have your computer prepped with software and a piece of equipment intended to record your voice. It is possible to use the webcam/microphone of your computer and just record yourself talking to the computer. If you don’t speak naturally to the computer, that could be a problem, because your podcast will sound more artificial than it should.

If you take this route, you can still use the above mentioned clip-on microphone plugged into your microphone jack on the computer to get a clearer audio file. This will also help cut background noise.

II. Services

Now, let’s talk services. Podcasting is an inherently cloud-based service. There are a few necessary partners in this process, and fortunately most of them are free to cheap. You need a file host, a feed service, and a feed generator.

There are all-in-one solutions for this. GoDaddy.com (yes, I know, they’re evil. They’re also cheap and effective) offers a service called QuickBlogcast. It will run you (in Fall, 2012) about $60 a year for the economy package. This service does it all and walks you through the setup of everything, including submitting your feed to Apple to get onto the iTunes store. It is an all-in-one, and I use it with a few modifications these days. You have the advantage of being a paying customer and so they will work to keep your site running. The interface is nearly impossible to get wrong, so if you can spare $60/year this is not a bad way to go. You will still want to read on and sign up for a Feedburner account and use the Feedburner feed to publicize your Podcast.

However, formerly my podcast budget was not capable of handling the cost. So, I learned how to do it cheaper. In fact, it can be done for free.

First, you need a file host. Amazon Web Services is great for this. Their price structure is “scalable” which means that as you become galactically famous and use more downloads, you’ll have to pay more. You can afford then, though. Instead, you want to sign up for the “Free Tier” of the “S3” service, which is Simple Storage Service. They will want some billing information and you can link that to your Amazon.com account. Set up a “billing alert” for when it will actually cost you something, so you’re not stunned when it does.

I have been using Amazon S3 as my additional podcast host for a year, and haven’t paid anything for it. That’s about 120 files so far, averaging 15 MB each, and about 20 downloads a week. There have been no problems and no expenses. Sign up for the service, then treat your S3 space as if it is your podcast storage hard drive.

I organize mine with a directory for sermons, then annual directories for each year. That makes it easy enough to navigate.

Amazon S3 is where your files live.

Second, you need a feed generator.

You can do this for free with Blogger from Google. Sign up for a free blog account from Blogger, or add a blog to your existing account. Either way, it’s free. I think there is a space to click that it’s a podcast, but there may not be.

The title of this blog becomes the title of your podcast. Make it unique. You might want to skim your category in the iTunes podcast directory to make sure you are different from others. I took the easy route: it’s my name and my church name: Doug Hibbard/FBC Almyra Podcast. No duplication there!

Blogger becomes the matchmaker between your file at Amazon S3 and people that want to meet it.

Third, you need a feed service.

This step is technically optional, but you want to do it. Why? Because you want people to always find your feed, and you want them to only have to look in the same place every time. If you change file hosts (maybe you get rich and start paying someone to do it) or if you need a different solution, you do not want people to lose track of you.

The solution is to use a feed service as the mediator between your feed generator and the universe at large, including Apple’s iTunes store.

Feedburner.com is what I use. That puts most of my eggs in Google’s basket, and if they ever decide not to like me, that will be troublesome. However, for now, they do for free everything I need, except the file hosting.

Go to Feedburner.com, sign up for an account (which, if you’re using Blogger for generation, you just have to add Feedburner to your account) and follow the instructions there to “redirect your blog feed.” That process changes slightly from time to time, because it’s different to do it now than when I set mine up. They will keep your settings, but the help files are there to help you with it. Be sure to set it as a Podcast feed.

This allows you to change your Podcast Feed from an extended series of slashes and words and character strings to something like this: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DougHibbardPodcast (which is much easier to remember and share!)

The feed service is like the tour guide: sure, you can find stuff on your own, but isn’t it easier for someone to show you the straight path?

Now, if you do this, you can change your underlying feed source without resubmitting your feed to iTunes. You can also give this feed out to anyone with an RSS reader or non-iTunes Podcatching software. And whatever changes you make, as long as you go back and update the “Original Feed” section of Feedburner, your subscribers will still get your feed. That’s what you want, right?

III. Your first podcast

Wait, don’t we sign up for Apple’s iStore next?

No. You don’t have anything to give them, so they do not want you yet.

Instead, here is what you are going to do:

Record your first podcast. If you’re a preacher, record your sermon. If you’re just creating a talk show, record it. Be extra careful not to violate copyright laws!!! Famous people get warnings and second chances. If you’re reading this and following my guide, you’re not going to get a lot of slack about breaking the law.

Remember that the longer your source, the bigger the file.[1] The more complex your source, the bigger the file—orchestras take more space than banjo solos. Also, remember that the bigger the file, the longer the process. If you need to podcast in under 5 minutes, don’t try to do that with an hour long recording.

Got it recorded? Good. You want to import it into your computer and do any editing you need to do. Maybe you forgot to stop the recording and you need to cut the end off of the file. Perhaps you had an extended stammer in the middle and you need to cut it out. I know these things can be done with Audacity—I’ve done them.

I primarily add a musical intro and a musical tag at the end of each podcast. The closeout tag includes contact information, the music was public domain music played by a church member. I add those clips and then, because my recorder only records me in MONO, I use Audacity’s “Stereo Track to Mono” effect to make it a MONO track. Otherwise, I only talk from the left side of the car.[2]

You then want to “Export” or “Save File As” an MP3 file. You can record it in whatever audio type you want, but to Podcast it you need an MP3. I use a medium-level variable bit rate (110-150 bps is the setting in Audacity), that seems to hold the quality but keep the file size reasonable.[3]

Save this file on your computer and be aware of where it is.

Now, to the Internet. Log in to your Amazon Web Services S3 account. Go to the file bucket that you want your podcast in, and click “Upload.” Use their help if necessary. You want to set the file permissions when you upload to “Make Everything Public.” That will not allow anyone to mess with your file, but it will allow them to hear it. Do not, if you are on the “Free Tier,” use the Reduced Redundancy Storage. That’s not free, that’s cheap. Why pay cheap when you can have free?

Once that file is uploaded, you need the “Properties” of the file, and you should see a hyperlink down at the bottom of the screen. Highlight it, and use “CTRL-C” (for PC) to copy it. If you’re a Mac, whatever the keyboard shortcut is to copy for copy and paste.

Now, into your Blogger account. Create a “New Post” and give it a title, like whatever you want your podcast episode title to be. So, it can be simple: “Episode 04.” It can be complex: “Sunday AM October 14 Luke 15:8-10.” Or it can be creative. You get the point.

Title is set, now on the right-hand side of the Blogger compose page is a place for links. You want to paste the link to your AWSS3 file where it says “Enclosure Link.” I always put the same link in as the “Title Link” too. Not sure why.

If you have any accompanying text to go with your podcast, put it in the text window for post on blogger. This will show up in the “Comments” field on iTunes. Longer isn’t necessarily better here—do a separate blog for long outlines/manuscripts. You can put a link in that blog post to your audio.[4]

Click “Publish.”

Your podcast is now out there, waiting for the world to find it.

Let’s give it a fighting chance to be found.

IV. Publishing and Publicizing

First of all, remember that Feedburner feed you made? http://feeds.feedburner.com/DougHibbardPodcast or however you personalized it?

That’s your podcast feed. You can send that to anyone and they can add it to any RSS reader or put it in iTunes under “Advanced” and “Subscribe to Podcast.” You can be done at this point if you are so inclined.

If you want into Apple’s iTunes store, you need to jump through their hoops. It’s not hard: http://support.apple.com/kb/TA23478 has instructions, the main point of which is to point you here: https://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/publishPodcast

That link will open in iTunes and you’ll need to give Apple some information and the Feedburner link from above. It will take them a few days to get back to you with approval, and they’ll give you an iTunes Store link.[5]

So, anyone wanting to subscribe through iTunes can go through that link and find it. Also, people perusing the iTunes directory for a podcast will find you. Anyone else can find your podcast with the Blogger blog that you created. Try to only use that blog for your podcasts. Create a second blog for your writing and other items.

V. Options

Options to consider:

I use bit.ly to shorten my links: http://bit.ly/dhpodsub is the shortened version of my official iTunes link, for example. That’s a lot easier to tweet, and it stays static rather than letting twitter shorten it every time.

You might prefer to check out specialty hosting, such as SermonAudio.com if you’re a preacher. I used one for a while, but I find the generic works well enough for me.

If you have any questions, ask away!


[1] This actually has impacted my sermon length: I strive for 30 minutes both for the sake of live audience and for podcast audience.

[2] I didn’t even think about this until one of my computer speakers went out and I spent an afternoon panicked because I thought I had podcasted blank space. Actually, my left speaker went down and so I was hearing the right-channel. With music it might matter, but with audio I don’t think it’s as crucial.

[3] Remember, you’re paying by the MB for storage—you don’t need the perfect crystalline quality to hear every last breath, so why take up twice the space to have people hear the floor creak?

[4] Example: http://www.doughibbard.com/2012/10/cba-meeting-sermon-mark-933-37.html

[5] It will look like this: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/doug-hibbard-fbc-almyra-podcast/id387911457

Except with your data.

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