A Beginner’s Podcasting Guide: Almost Everything You Need to Know to Start

Do you want to produce your own podcast, to supplement your website’s articles but don’t know how? Here’s a compact guide to get you started. With various Podcamps under way, or just completed, podcasting – including video blogging – is obviously of interest to an increasing number of people. Podcasting is a term used both specifically to refer to the publishing of audio content online, as well as to generically refer to vodcasting/vlogging (video blogging) and screencasting (video recording of live software use) as well.

Podcasting is simply fun for some people. For others, it’s serious web content production that can supplement articles or stand on its own. If you’re good at podcasting and you’re consistent in terms of quality and publishing schedule, you could build a loyal base of listeners/ watchers, who might turn into readers of your articles as well. Or if writing is not your thing, you might focus on the podcasting alone.

What to Podcast and Why?


Some people say there’s an overabundance of podcast content online, but there’s enough room for more good content, especially as a supplement to written content. Some ideas for podcasts:

  1. If you’re a tutorial/ how-to blogger, there’s a need for podcast/ screencast to supplement articles. You can always team up with someone that has a popular site but no audio/ video content. For examples of screencasts, check out Tubetorial.
  2. If you’re a news blogger (tech, politics, etc.), quality in-depth commentary is always valuable.
  3. If you’re an expert reviewer, consider a podcast. For inspiration, visit Reel Reviews Radio, Michael W. Geoghegan’s engaging, indepth audio reviews of new and classic films.
  4. If you’re a fiction writer, podcasts can offer audio versions of your stories. Short fiction can be produced  in single episodes; long fiction as an audio serial.
  5. If you’re a musician or a spoken word poet, a weekly podcast can keep fans updated of your goings on, and used to preview upcoming or exclusive work.
  6. If you speak a language other than English, you can work with an English-only blogger to translate their podcasts. Or you could serve your own market with podcasts in both English and another language.
  7. If you’re an expert at something, a premium advicecast could be valuable. (Though be sure to make the necessary disclaimers, to protect yourself legally.) People will pay for high quality content. Visit Podcast Academy for an  example. What they do is release a podcast file in each post, so you can go through their archives and listen for free. But if you want a convenient package of all the recordings all at once, they charge $99 via PayPal. If you consider the time and effort it would take you to surf their archives, the premium package might be worth it.
  8. If you teach language, podcasts are invaluable, especially to children. (Libsyn lists many language podcasts, and Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl podcast is so popular that she has appeared on Oprah, as well as scored a big contract with a giant publisher.)

If you have, or can develop, a clear voice, podcasting might be a nice way to supplement your articles and win over new regular visitors. Not everyone works from home, and may want to download podcasts (using something like the multi-platform Juice Receiver) to listen to during commutes. Other people simply like to listen to expert content while they work on the computer.

How Long Should My Podcasts Be?

In answer to that, read Stefan Hendgren’s How I Like My Podcasts. The salient point is that unless you do a professional job, keep it short. For an example of an excellent series of long podcasts (10-45 minutes each), visit Reel Reviews Radio (mentioned above). Michael W. Geoghegan’s voice is very warm, clear and passionate, and he’s an expert on film commentary (as well as a pioneer in podcasting in general). I balked at first on finding how long his episodes were, but after listening to a few (even movies I didn’t think I’d care about), I didn’t think twice about the length.

If you are a expert on some topic and have a pleasant voice, you might be able to get away with longer podcasts. Otherwise, I’d say keep them to about five minutes per episode. For screencasts, you might be able to get away with ten minutes. However, if you can break up a screencast into parts, that makes it easier to consume. (When I have a long screencast in parts, I prefer to use SplashCast Media player, which acts as a slideshow of video.)

A Podcasting Toolbox

If you’re interested in producing your own podcast, check out 9 Podcasting Tips first, then come back here for a quick rundown of the tools that I’m using. (See further below for additional tools to consider.) You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars; you can podcast on a budget. (Note: This is not an an endorsement of any of these products.)

Basic Podcasting Toolbox

This is the very minimum tool set that I use, depending on whether I’m stationary or “in the field”.

  1. Samson Tech Zoom H4 portable digital stereo/ 4-track recorder. This unit not only looks space age, it packs a lot of features into an easy to hold size. The recording quality is superb, there are XLR inputs, files are easy to move to your computer, and there’s a clown-nose style windshield that can be placed over the stereo mics. Unfortunately, if you want to place this unit on a mic stand, the “adapter” for doing so is a flimsy contraption of a half shell and two velcro strips. For $325 ($Cdn), I’d figure they could come up with something better. Still, I’ve used this nearly every day since picking it up a few weeks ago.
  2. M-Audio Fast Track USB audio interface. This acts as a computer interface between my computer, Audacity (see above), and a microphone. While it’s designed for both (acoustic) guitar and vocals, I use it mostly for vocals. The device comes with audio sequencing software,Ableton Live Lite, which is similar to Cubase LE (mentioned above).
  3. Microphones. If you’re just starting out and not yet monetizing, you don’t have to get $400 microphones. But if you want a professional podcast that you will later monetize, the microphone matters. My mics range from $1 to $150, not including the mic that’s native to my Zoom H4. I use the dollar-store mic on an older computer, for tests now, though I did use it for many of my early podcasts. It produces a clear but very thin sound, so if you’re not up to adding effects to improve the result, start with something in the $50-100 range.
  4. Audacity multi-platform audio recording/ editing software. This is one of the easiest to use audio editors available, supports industry-standard VST plugins, and it’s free. I’ve also extensively used Sonic Foundry’s SoundForge (now owned by Sony), a more professional program. However, Audacity is really all you need for audio podcasts.
  5. Steinberg Cubase LE sequencing software – comes with the Zoom H4 recorder. Great for sequencing intro/ extro music, station id and various audio tracks for your podcasts.
  6. Apple iPod nano, Apple iPod shuffle, iPod clone on a USB memory stick. These were all gifts, though I loved the iPod nano (old style) so much that I’ve considered getting an iPod classic or touch for reviewing video work.
  7. PodPress. A WordPress plugin for embedding a compact media player for podcasts into your WP blog/ site. This plugin also produces the necessary changes to your RSS feed, provides download stats, supports paid premium content, and more.

So basically, if you want to start with a small podcasting toolkit, I suggest:

  1. A computer with Internet access.
  2. Recording setup – any of the following:
    1. A USB interface with normal mic.
    2. A USB microphone.
    3. A portable digital recorder.
  3. An audio editor program for trimming/ editing audio files. If the program supports live recording from a microphone, even better. This is why I recommend Audacity.
  4. Audio sequencing software, such as Cubase, ProTools, etc., to arrange all the parts of an episode.
  5. A media player such as an iPod or Zune, for reviewing your work while mobile.
  6. A media player plugin for your site/ blog.
  7. A means of testing your podcast feed, such as Juice Receiver (multi-platform desktop software). Juice is used to subscribe to podcasts on either a manual or timed basis, but can be used to test your podcast feed.

Any tools beyond those listed above are for advanced work, which also includes videos and screencasts.

Additional Tools I Use

Here are some additional tools that I use, or have used, for audio/ video/ screencast work.

  1. Canon DV camcorder. Used for web video work, though I’m hoping to switch to HDD through a local non-profit organization that offers affordable equipment rental to filmmakers and videographers.
  2. File format converters for AVI, FLV, etc., video formats.
  3. Moviemaker. If you have MS Windows, this will be hidden somewhere on your computer. If you have a Mac, you probably have iMovie.
  4. Nikon digital camera. You don’t need an expensive DSLR camera if you’re just looking to a few headshots for an online promo page. If you’re putting together a more professional print promo package, then either hire a photographer or get an SLR/ DSLR and set up a tripod and auto-timer.
  5. Propellerheads Reason. Reason is like having a huge rack of recording gear, synths, samplers, and drum machines – except in a convenient, customizable, expandable software format. It’s midi-controllable with instruments or midi keyboard, or you can manually “program” Reason to produce music and loops. I use Reason to compose ambient (a la Law & Order style) and electronica tracks (a la Moby), some of which are fine for podcast intro/ extro music.
  6. Propellerheads Recycle. For cleaning up and trimming audio for use in loop sequencing software (such as Acid).
  7. SonicFoundry Acid and SoundForge. These were sent to me by SonicFoundry back in 1999 – before Sony bought them out – for an article I wrote on digital music. I used Acid (sequencing, looping) and SoundForge (audio editing) extensively, using loop CD snippets combined with original guitar, synth and vocals. It’s great for producing certain styles of intro/ extro music. However, when it comes to sequencing voice tracks, I always run into BPM (beat per minute) issues, and sometimes get warbling or chipmunk voices, if there isn’t a music track down first.
  8. TechSmith Camtasia Studio. If you want to produce screencast videos of software use, for tutorials, this is an ideal tool, worth every penny. Free time-limited, full-functioning trial version available. As a starter, check out the less-featured but free CamStudio (Windows only, afaik).
  9. TechSmith Snagit. Great for quality screen snapshots by region or window. Free time-limited, full-functioning trial version available. Also see the free Wink (Windows and Linux x86 only).
  10. Video sharing/ hosting sites, such as YouTube and SplashCast.

Note that these are the tools I currently use, though they’re for podcasting, web video, and screencasting – not just audio podcasting.

Other Tools/ Gear to Consider

This is by no means a complete list. There are hundreds of audio-related hardware and software products available to consumers that might be of use in podcasting. What you pick depends on your functional needs and your budget.

  1. Adobe Premiere, for professional video editing.
  2. Alesis USB-Mic podcasting kit. This is basically a USB-driven microphone with its own mini stand. If you intend to do all your recording in one place (i.e., not “in the field”), this type of mic would save you having to buy an audio interface AND mic.
  3. Mic stands/ arms/ flex arms. Good for when you need to arrange mics but only have two arms.
  4. Mic windscreen/ pop shield. Strongly recommended, to reduce the hiss and pop produced by the recording of certain vowel and consonant sounds.
  5. ProTools, as a pro level audio sequencing tool, especially if you have to mix down multiple tracks.
  6. A few other digital portable recorder makers: (See Transom‘s Tools section for reviews of some of these.)
    1. Edirol (Roland).
    2. Marantz.
    3. Sony.
    4. Tascam.
  7. Sony Vegas (Pro). Formerly from SonicFoundry, Vegas is an industry-standard tool used to sequence multiple video frames and audio tracks, to produce finished video. Vegas is often used by soundtrack composers to marry video and audio.

A Podcasting Production Workflow

So now that you have an idea of the gear you might need, what does it take to produce a podcast episode? Here’s an example workflow:

  1. Consume content. That is, read a book, watch or listen to a show. Do what you need to to have source material to discuss.
  2. Write an episode script. Use as natural a “voice” as possible.
  3. Speak the script out loud. How natural is it?
  4. Revise the script. If it sounds awkward, or has factual errors, revise, then return to step 3. (Keep in mind that while it’s nice to be grammatically correct, the average person probably does not speak in grammatically correct language. We’re also generally more tolerant of grammatical errors in speech than in written form.)
  5. Use an audio editor such as Audacity to trim off long silences and extraneous sections.
  6. Use an audio sequencer such as Cubase or ProTools to arrange intro/extro, music, and audio tracks.
  7. Mixdown the audio. That is, export the arrangement to a WAV or MP3 file, depending on your hosting solution.
  8. Double check the “final” audio file by listening to it in its entirety in Audacity, or even in a soft MP3 player such as iTunes, Windows Media Player, Winamp, etc. (MP3 quality is always lower than WAV format. But WAV files are enormous, and your listeners won’t thank you for chewing up their Internet access bandwidth.)
  9. Upload/ publish your podcast.
  10. Offer a link to the podcast episode file from your website/ blog. Or use an embedded player.

This is only one possible workflow. I’ve never measure the amount of time it takes overall to produce each minute of finished audio, though I’m guessing it’s between 5-30 minutes of effort, not including step #1, consumption of content.

Should I Have a Podcast Series Logo?

If you’re producing a quality podcast, and want it to be part of your personal or company brand, then yes. Many hosting services allow you to upload a logo image for your entire podcast series. If you prefer to use YouTube or SplashCast, but only have audio content, here’s what you do to maintain a visual brand:

  1. Make your audio recording, edit it as necessary.
  2. Use a video sequencing/ editing tool such as MovieMaker, iMovie, Camtasia Studio, Adobe Premiere, Vegas Pro, etc., to combine a still shot of your logo with the audio track.
  3. Host the final audio with YouTube or SplashCast.

This way, you can avoid the extra effort and cost of a video series but still maintain a visual identity. (Video for the sake of video is a waste of effort. Sometimes, audio podcasts are more than enough, especially if you want end users to focus on the vocal content.

Hosting Your Podcast Files

As mentioned in the previous section, you can produce a pseudo “video” version of your audio podcast and host it at YouTube or SplashCast. You could also host it on your own web server, though this could destroy your bandwidth budget, or cause your host to shut your site down. (And it doesn’t take many site visitors for this, when it comes to audio or video files.) There are numerous free and paid podcast hosting services, some of which are mentioned in the Resources section later in this article. If you go for a paid solution, consider one that offers unmetered bandwidth and only charges based on how much disk space your podcast files take up. Libsyn is one example.

How to Podcast on Your Site/ Blog

Once you’ve produced your podcast file and selected a host, you want an easy way to present it on your site. What you use depends on your site platform, but there are various plugins out there. (The PodPress plugin for WP is mentioned somewhere in this article.) Worst case scenario: include a link to the hosted file somewhere in your article/ blog post.

Podcasting Resources, Audio Tools

This list includes podcasting-related sites, blogs, tools, and hosting services. Please note that for convenience to readers, some of the sites listed in 9 Podcasting Tips are listed here as well. This is by no means comprehensive, and you’re invited to add resources you know of.

  1. Alesis Podcasting Center. Tips and tools for podcasters.
  2. Audio Geek Zine. Home recording webzine.
  3. Audival. Podcasting tips and tricks, gear reviews.
  4. Blogger & Podcaster. This print magazine is now being promoted by USA Today. There’s also full-media online version that any once can view (usually only the most recent copy).
  5. Blogger & Podcaster Media Network (BPN). All bloggers and podcasters are eligible to join. There’ll be a healthcare plan and an ad network. (Coming soon.)
  6. Control Room. Articles slanted towards music production, but occasionally relevant to podcasting.
  7. Libsyn. Liberated Syndication offers podcast hosting and a directory. Hosting is unmetered, and charged by storage space.
  8. Michael W. Geoghegan. This is a general blog about podcasting by Michael W. Geoghegan, a pioneer of podcasting, who helped build several companies in this arena, and is currently involved with Podcast Academy and other endeavors.
  9. Podango. Podcast hosting and sharing.
  10. Podbasket. Creates an RSS feed for you out of disparate audio files you’ve published on your site.
  11. Podcast Bunker. Podcast directory.
  12. Podcast Central. Podcast directory.
  13. PodcastPromos. If you have a 30, 60 or 120 second audio clip to promote your podcast, this is the place to show it off. You can also pull clips of fellow podcasters’ promos and include them in your podcasts. (The motto is help promote each other.)
  14. PodPiper’s Digital Education. About the use of written and spoken words, in digital form, to teach. Especially see Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Podcasting But Were Afraid to Ask, for links to examples of podcasts for teaching.
  15. Podshow. Video and audio podcast sharing.
  16. Podcast Academy. High quality podcasts about podcasting, including recordings of industry workshops and sessions from PNME (Podcast and New Media Expo). If you’re serious about podcasting, these recordings are a must-listen.
  17. Podcast Solutions. A site to promote the book Podcast Solutions, by Michael W. Geoghegan and Dan Klass.
  18. Podcaster News. A collection of premium short audio content that you can subscribe to.
  19. ProToolerBlog. Discussions around ProTools software and pro audio.
  20. PRX – Public Radio Exchange. Non-profit service that aids in distribution, peer review, and licensing of radio pieces. They have numerous articles for stations and producers, as well as member tools.
  21. Soundhack freeware. Mac/Windows plugins of the VST/ RTAS/ AU variety.
  22. RawVoice PodcastFAQ. The RawVoice site also has a tools section, as well as a commercial tool for podcast content and network building, called Generator.
  23. Tech Podcast Network. A network of tech-related podcasts.
  24. Transom. Their tagline: “A showcase & workshop for New Public Radio” (not to be confused with NPR – National Public Radio). They offer shows about the art of radio as well interviews and gear reviews.

Summary

If you enjoy the workshop/ conference setting, check out the New Media Expo, Aug 14-16, 2008, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. There’ll be workshops on podcasting. If you’re already a podcasting blogger, feel free to share your experiences below. If you have a podcasting-related product, blog, resource site, or hosting service, please feel free to add your URL in the comments below. Happy podcasting.

Comments

  1. JacksonH says:

    raj, this is a great resource for those of us who are exploring podcast options.

  2. Excellent primer. Thanks for the effort put into this. Bookmarked and stumbled.

  3. Excellent lists Raj

    Thanks for linking AGZ!

  4. Truly amazing guide, Raj.

    Happy to see Snagit mentioned too :-)

  5. Raj Dash says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments.

    Thanks, James, for the Stumble.

    Thanks, Peter, for dropping by. I’m looking forward to browsing through your Snagit Guide.

  6. Cigar Jack says:

    I picked up a Zoom H2 recently and really like it.

  7. Ryan Caldwell says:

    Raj. Truly comprehensive resource here. Definitely a lot to chew on, but hopefully our attention spans haven’t been shot too much to notice all the rich info on podcasting in this post.

  8. Markus Merz says:

    Wow! What a list. Great job Raj.

    What I miss a little bit are pure MP3 storing sites which offer a simple and validating player. There seems to be a ‘missing link’. About four months ago I did some research for such a simple MP3 solution but did not find a bullet proof Joe Doe solution.

  9. Jesse: Let me know how you like the Zoom H2. I opted for the H4 because of a few extra features, but the H2 is used broadcasting students at a local college. So I don’t think you can go wrong with it.

    Ryan: Thanks. I always worry about getting too geeky, especially in such long articles, but I’ve done my best to make the content accessible. We still suffer from a theme issue that compacts the text on the page, vertically, and makes it really dense reading. Longer articles like this would be so much easier to read if the Drupal theme respected all the line breaks and vertical spacing I added.

    Markus: Thanks. I’ll be continuing my podcasting series, and will try to cover hosting and production issues. Another post will be out today (Wed Apr 23), but only periperally related to hosting.

  10. I’m currently teaching myself all about podcasts so I can add them effectively to my site – what a super list of resources you gathered.

    It will really help me flatten my learning curve regarding this technique – I’m very appreciative.

    Best wishes, Barbara

  11. Raj Dash says:

    Barbara: Performancing readers don’t seem to want too many technical articles, so I should be doing some podcasting how-tos over on my New Media Jones site at some point soon.

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