Easy and Inexpensive Ways to Podcast
by MaAnna Stephenson
It’s common knowledge now that podcasting is a great way to build an author’s status as an expert and make a book’s message available to a wide audience via popular sites like iTunes.
Most often, podcast files are in an MP3 format, which is a compressed version of the native WAV or OGG format in which they were originally recorded. The smaller file size allows them to be downloaded quickly and to take up less space on a computer or personal media player. The content of a podcast is usually structured as a talk show, with a host interviewing a guest author.
Hosting and producing your own podcast doesn’t have to be expensive and challenging in terms of technology. It’s actually quite easy to produce a great podcast without breaking the bank or taking hours to sort through complicated manuals.
The Five-part Process
Podcasting involves five steps:
Since most of your podcast interviews will probably be conducted over the phone, you’ll need to turn the audio into a digital file. The simplest way to do that is to record the conversation directly into your computer.
You have several easy options, two of which are:
Audio Acrobat (audioacrobat.com), an all-in-one solution that records and stores audio recordings. You can use your phone or a USB headset to record in either mono or stereo. It also offers free tutorials, good support, and several players that let you stream audio directly from your site. The service costs $19.95 per month.
To make a recording, you and the person you’ll be talking with call a phone number Audio Acrobat supplies; long-distance charges may apply.
Skype (skype.com), which lets you make phone calls using your computer. For $30 per year, you can have unlimited calling to anywhere, which means that neither person on the phone would be subject to long-distance charges.
To make a call on Skype, you need some type of computer audio interface, such as a USB headset or a specially designed phone that can connect to your computer. You can find both in the Skype Store (shop.skype.com/headsets).
Recall that an MP3 file is compressed. Compression makes it a smaller file size than either a WAV or an OGG, but it also lessens the sound quality a bit. To achieve the best sound quality, the raw file of a recording is usually a WAV or an OGG file that can be converted to an MP3 file to make it smaller and faster to upload.
Audio Acrobat saves all audio files in MP3, so no conversion is necessary.
If you use Skype or any other method of recording, you will need digital audio recording software that lets you save files in MP3. That may sound more complicated than using Audio Acrobat, but you can choose among several easy-to-use software programs, and this method has several advantages, including higher quality audio.
The software programs include:
Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net). Audacity is free and fairly intuitive for users. You can record directly to it via your phone/computer connection or from Skype. You can also record in either mono or stereo.
Easy VOIP Recorder (easyvoiprecorder.com). This program records your Skype conversations in stereo in a variety of formats including WAV, OGG, and MP3. It also includes its own file upload wizard, so you can easily share your audio files or upload them to your site. It costs $30.
It is possible, of course, to produce a podcast without editing the audio file, but the results are usually low quality. The best way to record a file for editing is in stereo, so you can edit the sonic quality for host and guest independently.
If you’ve ever heard a podcast where the host is loud and clear while the guest seems to be talking through a tunnel miles away, you know why independent channel editing is important. When files are recorded in mono, it is radically time consuming to edit only one person, and even then, results are usually not satisfactory.
No matter what method you use to record, the best setup is to record in stereo and save as either a WAV or an OGG file before using Audacity or other software to edit the file and save it as a MP3.
Jason Van Orden, the owner of the How to Podcast site (how-to-podcast-tutorial.com), offers several free video tutorials on Audacity.
Downloading and installing:
Importing a file from another program:
Recording directly into Audacity (mono recordings only):
Editing (mono recordings only):
To make your podcasts available for listening or download, you will need to have them stored on a publicly accessible server. In other words, they will have to be stored somewhere on the Internet, and you will have to provide a link to that stored file.
Even though MP3s are compressed files, they are still large. All free storage sites have severe limitations on how much space is available to you. So free storage is probably not a good long-term solution. Audio Acrobat’s monthly fee includes storage, but only up to 256 MB, which means that’s not likely to be a good long-term solution either.
However, if you have paid hosting for your site, you are already renting a certain amount of space, most likely at least 10 GB, which even the smallest hosting plans usually offer. That’s huge. It can easily hold a 20-page site and all the podcasts you’re likely to produce for years to come.
If you have a WordPress or TypePad site, uploading media, including MP3s, to it is as easy as uploading a picture. If you have a static site, you can upload the files using an FTP program. Free ones like CuteFTP are readily available.
You can and should promote podcasts not only with your usual methods of promotion but also through RSS feeds. The premier feed service, FeedBurner, makes it as easy as clicking a checkbox to format your feed so that your podcasts will be available for listing on sites like iTunes. And you can let listeners subscribe directly to your podcast feed, so they will be immediately notified every time you post a podcast.
The Podcast Package
If you are new to podcasting and want to experiment with it, your best bet may be using Audio Acrobat. You don’t need anything other than a phone to start, and you can cancel your monthly subscription at any time.
You can also reinstate your subscription later. At that point, any previous podcasts will have been deleted from the Audio Acrobat system, but if you have downloaded the podcast audio to your computer, you can upload it to your own storage space and continue to make it available that way. This is a fairly common practice, and Audio Acrobat does not penalize anyone for using its service this way.
For information about several other streaming audio services and direct comparisons of the top ones, visit BestFit4Me (bestfit4me.com/compare_features.html).
For my podcasts, I chose to use Skype with a Plantronics USB headset and Easy VOIP Recorder because I was already familiar with digital audio editing and had software similar to Audacity. A year of Skype, the headset, and the recorder cost $30 each. At the time I chose this setup, Audacity did not offer stereo recording, nor did it easily integrate with Skype.
If I were starting now, I probably would not purchase the additional recording software and would opt for using Audacity instead. So my total setup cost today would be $60 with a recurring $30 annual fee for Skype.
Because I use the storage space on my site to house my podcast files, I have to upload them manually. That takes about two minutes. Overall, my setup requires a bit more effort than using Audio Acrobat alone, but the quality is reflected in the podcasts, and the cost saving makes it worthwhile for me.
However you choose to produce your podcasts, I believe you will find they provide a creative and rewarding way to promote your books.
MaAnna Stephenson is a Web site director and consultant and the owner of Just the FAQs (JustTheFAQS.net). Her nine e-books provide blog and site help for nongeeks, and she hosts a podcast show that features marketing tips and techniques.