To the uninitiated, podcasting might seem like
one of those glitzy marketing techno-jargon terms
used to repackage something that has existed for
years—like calling running shoes “kicks” or “skids.”
After all, the web has been serving up MP3 files and
streaming audio for over a decade. So what’s all the
fuss about? Isn’t podcasting just glorified radio?
Not so. Podcasting is much more than radio—
an unfortunate comparison between two outwardly
similar mediums. Unlike commercial radio that’s at
the mercy of advertisers and government regulation,
a podcast is grassroots. It’s personal expression regulated
and constrained only by the ethics and imagination
of the podcaster.
Podcasting is all about individual voice and individual
choice. It’s used to raise awareness, to entertain,
to teach or to promote. It has given those with
something to say an inexpensive medium in which to
say it. If a parallel must be drawn between radio and
podcasting, then podcasting is radio unleashed.
LISTEN & LEARN
Podcasts came about partly because of the popularity
of blogs. Like blogs, podcasts are internet-based
content—usually audio—that users can subscribe to
via a syndication feed. Content is delivered to users
for playback on their computer or portable media
device. It’s the syndication feed that turns a library
of MP3 files sitting on a server into podcasts.
Podcasting, however, has substantial advantages
over its cousin, the blog. “Podcasting allows you to
engage with your listeners in a way that blogging just
can’t,” explains Paul Boag (www.boagworld.com)—a
web designer, podcaster and founding partner of web
design firm Headscape. “It is a much more personal
experience. Also, podcasts are a ‘consume anywhere’
format. The audience doesn’t have to be at a computer.
A listener can be out walking the dog or commuting
to work. That has a profound impact on how
the medium is used.”
John Edson, president of Lunar Design—an
industrial design firm based in San Francisco that
runs the podcast Icon-o-Cast (www.lunar.com)—
shares this opinion, “We originally considered starting
a blog instead of a podcast,” Edson explains.
“But podcasting adds several dimensions that a blog
cannot capture. We’ve been able to attract a wonderful
set of guests over the past year and deliver them
to our audience. People like Bruce Nussbaum, Don
Norman and Sam Lucente are well known in the
design world, but very few people have ever heard
Before starting your own podcast, you should
research what’s already out there. Tons of podcast
directories exist on the web (see podcasting resources below) that list podcasts on every imaginable
topic—from web design to tips on trimming a Chia
Pet. The purpose here isn’t to imitate, but to familiarize
yourself with the different podcast styles, content
types, formats and structures.
THE NUTS & BOLTS
OK, you’ve got something to say that you think
others will want to hear. So how do you go about
creating your own podcast? Do you create it in a
soundproof studio with a high-end, turnkey digital
audio workstation, mixing board and a $200 noisecanceling
microphone? Yes. Or do you generate it
with your notebook computer sitting in an airport
lounge while waiting for a delayed flight? Also yes.
Creating and running a podcast is surprisingly
easy once you know what you’re doing. You don’t
need ultra-expensive gear to create a high quality
podcast. “Anyone with some halfway decent hardware
can get into the game and produce content that
can be heard around the world,” says Adam Hay—
a San Diego-based designer, podcaster and principal
of Titan Strides Creative—who operates the weekly
podcast Rookie Designer and the vodcast Quicktips.
Podcasting boils down to three basic steps: planning
and preparing, recording and encoding, and
finally publishing and promoting.
1. Planning and preparing your program
If you’re considering starting a podcast, you should
plan well in advance and have a good idea of what
it’s going to be about. You should avoid starting one
simply because everyone else is doing it and then
learn that you having nothing to say—or worse, to
actually have nothing to say but think you do.
There are a few questions every potential podcaster
should ask before picking up a mic:
- What’s the podcast’s main theme?
- What audience and market are you targeting?
- What’s the tone (formal, casual, humorous)?
- What’s the format (newscast, personal
commentary, instructional training)?
- Will it be a one-person show or will you
have a cohost?
- What’s the intended length of the podcast
Most importantly you must ask yourself if podcasting
is something you really want to do. “It may seem
very fun at first,” explains Hay, “but after a year it
can seem a bit more like work. If you podcast for
four months and then decide you are growing tired
of it, you still have an audience to think about. There
may be people out there depending on your content.”
2. Recording and encoding your podcast
Most of you probably already have the tools needed
to record your first podcast sitting on your desk or
hiding in a drawer. At bare minimum you’ll need
the first three items in the Podcaster’s Equipment
Checklist (see sidebar below). You’re going to be spending
the majority of your podcast development time with
the digital audio editor so it’s a good idea to choose
something you’re comfortable with.
Audacity, an open
source, cross-platform digital audio editor, is very
popular among podcasters because it’s both free and
easy to use. Although not a dedicated podcast tool, it
can be used in conjunction with other freely available
tools to build, manage and publish your podcast.
If you intend to do a lot of podcasting or you
simply don’t want to fuss around with multiple programs,
you can invest in a full, all-in-one commercial
podcasting suite such as ePodcast Creator ($71.95)
by Industrial Audio Software. These all-in-one podcasting suites
allow you to record and edit your podcast, upload
files to your host and generate the feed code all in the
Whatever you decide upon, don’t let the software
intimidate you—even if you’ve never worked
with a digital audio editor before. Just plug in your
mic, hit Record and start talking. You can play
around with your newly created audio file to familiarize
yourself with the process and the tools. You’ll
discover that using an audio editor is as simple as
using a word processor.
Encoding your podcast. When you finish recording
and editing your show, you’ll need to encode it in a
format that can be used by as large an audience as
possible. MP3 is a good choice since it’s the format
most widely supported by both computer-based
media players and portable audio devices.
There is, however, a very important consideration
when creating your file. You need to balance
your podcast’s sound quality (bit rate: see sidebar below)
and your available resources (storage space and bandwidth).
The better the sound, the bigger the file size
and bandwidth demand. The last thing you want is
to have a queue of listeners trying to squeeze a watermelon
through a drinking straw.
3. Publishing and promoting your podcast
Once you complete your podcast and are satisfied
with the results, you’re ready to enter the podosphere:
Find a home for your podcast files. Locating a residence
for your podcast isn’t as easy as putting it on
the same server that houses your website. You need to
find a host that accommodates the specific demands
of delivering multimedia to a large audience. Podcasts
require a lot of storage space and, more importantly,
bandwidth. Many website hosting providers
will charge overage fees if you exceed your allotted
monthly bandwidth limits.
Depending on the sound quality of your podcast,
a single 30-minute audio-only episode can range
from 30 to 50 MBs—a vodcast of the same length
will run into hundreds of MBs. If you multiply that
by the number of users who subscribe to your podcast
and listen online—which could be in the hundreds
or thousands—you’ll find yourself overshooting
your host’s bandwidth limit in no time.
Liberated Syndication, a multimedia
distribution service, caters to podcasters and
offers various hosting solutions with no bandwidth
restrictions. Liberated Syndication’s Sandbox allows
you to take their services for a free test drive so you
can decide if this is the solution for your needs.
Create a podcast feed. A podcast isn’t a podcast
unless you provide users with a content feed that
automatically delivers new content to their computer.
You could manually write the code for your
feed, but there are much quicker and easier ways to
accomplish this. There are freely available clientand
web-based feed creators that can generate the
code for you.
Promote and advertise your podcast. How you
present your podcast to the world is matter of taste.
You can simply provide podcast feed links—RSS,
Atom, iTunes—on your existing website such as
with Lunar Design’s Icon-o-Cast, or you can create
a dedicated blog to advertise and manage your podcasts
like Hay’s Rookie Designer and Quicktips.
For getting the word out on a podcast, “a blog
is very useful,” suggests Boag. “For starters, having
show notes allows you to post links that you mention
in the show. It also gives search engines something to
look through. Until Google spiders audio files, I feel
that blogs are extremely important.”
IT’S ABOUT THE CONTENT
Technology is the medium, but content is the substance.
Podcasting isn’t about technology. Listeners
won’t follow your podcast simply because you’re
there; after all, there are plenty of choices. If they
don’t find what they’re looking for in your podcast,
they’ll just go somewhere else.
“I was up and running incredibly quickly,”
admits Boag, “but it has taken much longer to really
get the show to work. Audio editing, RSS feeds and
the hardware setup are the easy part. The challenge is
to make the show entertaining, engaging and informative.
Striking that balance has taken much longer.”
You can read everything you can get your hands
on about setting up a podcast, but it’s up to you to
create an interesting show—to come up with content
that users will want to listen to on a regular basis.
Podcasting doesn’t require big budgets; it requires big
ideas. So, when you’re facing a hot mic, what do you
have to say?
Speak clearly. Don’t
mutter under your
breath or race through
a podcast. Keep in mind
that you’re speaking to
potentially hundreds or
thousands of diverse
Speak naturally and keep
it conversational. There’s
no need to go into news
that’s the effect you’re
Don’t obsess. Some firsttimers
might be overly
Be careful not to allow
two or three takes to
turn into 32 takes. “The
mantra is ‘express, test,
cycle’,” advises Edson.
“In other words, get it
out there, evaluate it and
improve it. Don’t wait for
perfection before you
Record several pilot
podcasts to see if you’re
happy with the sound
quality and show format.
If you’re not using headphones,
make sure you
mute your computer
speakers to prevent
Splice out lengthy
pauses and excessive
“ums” and “ahs” that
speakers use when
they’re thinking about
what to say next.
Have fun! You can’t
expect to engage an
audience if you speak in a
dull monotone and don’t
even show enthusiasm
for your own podcast. “If
you don’t like what you’re
doing,” says designer and
podcaster Adam Hay, “it
will show and your podcast
will not do well."
Preparing your podcasts
The quality of your content and your
presentation of it will define your reputation
as a podcaster.
- Prepare an outline before each episode
rather than a detailed script to
keep things natural and somewhat
spontaneous. An outline is useful in
helping you stay on track and prevent
digressions. A full script might
lead you to read rather than speak.
- Do your research and fact checking.
Nothing will ruin your reputation
and credibility quicker than pretending
to be an authority on a subject
matter when you’re not or when you
haven’t done your homework.
- Be original. Don’t simply redo what’s
already out there. Think of something
original and creative that other
podcasts don’t offer. At the very
least, come up with a new spin on
an existing idea.
- Inject humor. “Humor is essential,”
suggests Boag. “People don’t listen
to podcasts as part of their work;
they listen to them for pleasure. As a
result, a podcast needs to be a pleasurable
experience, and humor is a
great way to achieve that.”
- Eureka moments aren’t scheduled!
Carry a notebook and pen everywhere
you go; you never know when
a great idea for a show will hit you.
- Consider a sidekick. “I do two
shows, and the one where I present
with a colleague is so much easier,”
admits Boag. “Having somebody
there to bounce ideas off of and talk
to stops the show from becoming a
- Respect music copyrights. If you
plan to use music that’s not yours,
you’re going to have to pay licensing
fees. There are several organizations
charged with collecting licensing
fees on behalf of artists such as
ASCAP and BMI. Don’t let a great
podcast be ruined by a lawsuit!
Suggested bit rates for MP3 files
Talk shows (mono). Minimal
bandwidth and storage
Talk shows (stereo). With some
music and sound effects
A balance of talk and quality
music without breaking the
bandwidth and storage bank
Music-oriented podcasts requiring
near CD-quality sound (file
size and bandwidth demand is
Podcaster's Equipment Checklist
The great thing about podcasting is that it’s
not computer resource intensive, so you don’t
need to invest in that Mac Pro. Your existing
computer will most likely work.
Noise-canceling microphones are preferable
because they sample ambient noise that
may exist in your recording environment and
cancel the noise out so that only your voice
comes through in the feed.
Audio editing software
This is the software you’ll use to record and
edit your podcast.
Headphones help you monitor the input—your voice, music and sound effects—and
review the podcast once it’s completed. If
others are working around you, headphones
can be used as a matter of courtesy so that
your editing and playback don’t annoy others.
Headphones with a built-in microphone
are an excellent option to reduce clutter.
A digital voice recorder or an MP3 player with
voice recording capabilities is useful if you
foresee yourself spending a lot of time in the
field, away from your computer. You can use
the recorder to record your podcast or conduct
interviews when lugging a laptop around
might not be an option. The audio file(s) can
then be uploaded to your workstation and
cleaned up with your audio editor.
Digital media player and podcast/vodcast aggregator (Windows and Mac)
Apple GarageBand 3
Podcast creation tool.
Music-oriented podcast directory
Web-based feed management provider for blogs, podcasts and vodcasts.
Client-based RSS creation, editing and publishing tool (Windows and Mac)
Podcast aggregator (Windows, Mac, and Linux)
One-stop-shop multimedia hosting service
E-mail client with content aggregator (Windows, Mac, and Linux)
Podcast directory and information portal
Podcast directory and news