Thursday, December 15, 2016

Arthur Answers, Part 2: About podcasting

For today’s question, Roger Green asks: “You ought to do a political podcast – oh, wait, you do! Besides the actual recording, what goes into making a podcast ready for listening?”

What a timely question, since I just released a new episode! Okay, so Roger actually asked the question two weeks ago, and I’ve released two podcast episodes between then and now, but still…

There are two aspects to making a podcast episode—the process, and the technology needed. Both vary, depending on the podcaster, so I’ll just stick to how I podcast.

First, the basic technological information: One has to have a microphone, some sort of audio interface to connect the microphone to the computer, and software to record the episode. The better the mic, the better the sound, but there’s good free software available that isn’t too hard to learn.

When I began podcasting I used an ordinary USB headset, of the type typically used (in 2007, anyway) for Skype calls. It plugged directly into the PC I had at the time, and my software was Audacity, which is open source free audio recording software. I used that for all of 2007, until Nigel gave me a new, better mic for my birthday in 2008.

Eventually I switched to a Macintosh and used the GarageBand software that comes with all Macs (and there’s a version for iOS devices, too). I also got a better audio mixer, and that was the setup I used until this year.

The process is the same, regardless of the software: Recording, editing, creating an MP3 file, uploading that to my podcast site, then promoting it on social media.

The recording is the most obvious: Press record and speak into the mic, click on stop when finished. That’s the easy part. Next, I have to listen to what I recorded, first to make sure the levels are right—not too loud or too soft—but also to listen for “dead air” (where I’m silent), areas where I say um too much, where I make mouth smacking noises (which really irritates some people), and even where I get things wrong, in which case I may re-record that part or else cut the entire thought.

This editing process can be as complex and time-consuming as one wants, really. For my AmeriNZ Podcast, I edit very lightly—mostly to remove dead air. That’s because that particular podcast has always been a bit more free-form. With 2Political Podcast, it’s much more complicated because there are two of us talking in two separate audio tracks. If I cut something from one track, I have to cut the exact same amount, and at the exact same time, on the other track or else they’ll get out of sync.

Because I edit AmeriNZ Podcast so lightly, that takes only about as long as it takes me to listen to the recording, maybe a bit longer. 2Political Podcast, on the other hand, tends to take two to three times as long as the finished podcast, meaning that a 45 minute episode would take, on average, 90 minutes to more than 2 hours to edit, and that's part of why they take so long to post (about which, an announcement is coming soon).

The next step is to prepare the MP3 file, and add the ID3 Tags, which adds information to the MP3 file, things like title, artist, album, track number, etc. This is how an MP3 player can tell you what a song is, who recorded it, what album it’s from, etc. I know some podcasters who manually add these tags, but I do NOT.

Both Audacity and GarageBand allow one to export a file as an MP3 and to add the ID3 tags at the same time (basically, it's like filling out a short form). However, I export in a high-quality file format, open that in iTunes, and use THAT to create the MP3 file and add the tags (both of which a very easy to do).

Next, I take the MP3 file and upload it to my podcast website (which is really a self-hosted Wordpress blog, with a special plug-in called podPress to post podcasts). I can upload it using FTP software, or through the website itself. I don’t usually make artwork (called “album art”) for specific episodes, but if I do I need to make that before I click “publish”, and I need to add it to my MP3 file.

Once the file is uploaded, I then write the “shownotes”, which is basic information about what the podcast episode is about, along with links to things I talked about or other related information. Basically, it’s a blog post, except that some of it will end up with the downloaded podcast (all of the ID3 tags are there, along with the album art, and some of the shownotes, too).

Once published, I share the episode on Google+, my AmeriNZ Facebook Page, and on Twitter. Finally, I post an announcement here on this blog. The five most recent episodes of both podcasts are listed on the righthand side of this blog, too.

Then, it starts all over again for the next episode.

Finally, I don’t script my podcasts at all, and much of the time I don’t even use any notes when I record. The quality would probably be higher if I did, but I’m only now getting to the point where I feel (and sound) comfortable reading a script, something that’s come about from doing voiceovers on my most recent YouTube videos, actually.

Those are the highlights of the process, and naturally there are a lot of specific details I left out. Nevertheless, that’s the general process. If anyone wants more specific information, feel free to ask in the comments or send me an email.

Thanks for the question, Roger!

There’s still time to ask a question if you want to, just ask in the comments to this post.


rogerogreen said...

22 posts in the first 15 days of December! Which ,means you only need 9 in the next 16! (And does anyone except you and me even CARE about this?)

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

I don't think anyone does—but, since I have a spreadsheet tracking it all for me I can look at the numbers any number of different ways, so I'm happy.