Adventures in Podcasting 2: software

Now that we’ve dealt with hardware, our next bit of podcast business is software. Wow, just typing the word ‘software’ makes me feel sleepy, so let’s get to it.

1. Editing

We record and edit Answer Me This! using Logic Pro for Mac. We started off using Garageband, which was fairly simple and intuitive for a novice sound-editor as I was; but it has a few minor deficiencies that, after a few months, became tremendously irritating, so I transferred my allegiance to Logic. I understand probably less than 5% of its features, despite having spent at least 2000 hours using it.

Mac-haters: I hear Audacity is good, and free; also Reaper, which is pretty cheap.

If you’ve never used editing software before, find a friend or acquaintance to give you a tutorial for an hour or so; it’s much easier to be shown how it works than to read about it. Then buy them lunch to say thanks.

Your editing software ought to be clever enough to produce an MP3 file, but I bounce mine still in AIFF format then drag it into iTunes, where I convert it to an MP3 and also set the metadata – adding the episode name and the artwork that will show up on iPods etc. Peasy. NB: we try to bounce in quite a high quality MP3 so the sound quality is nice, but the higher quality, the bigger the MP3 is. Any file bigger than 20MB can’t be downloaded via mobile data networks, which is a bother for some people.

This, in case you’re interested, is what an episode of Answer Me This! looks like:

Grey. So very grey.

2. Host

Once you have begotten your MP3, you need to find it a place to live online, and that’s where your host comes in. We currently use Libsyn, which makes starting a podcast as easy as starting a blog: with just a couple of clicks you upload the files, it generates the RSS feed, and automatically distributes the podcasts to iTunes and the various other podcast destinations. As far as we’re concerned, this is well worth $12/month; but perhaps you have an insatiable desire to write your own XML documents for the purpose. Don’t let me deprive you of your XML partyfun.

If you already have enough webspace to fill with podcasts but no feed, people have recommended Feedburner to me, which creates the feed and gives you detailed download stats. Download stats are jolly interesting – for instance, we can see that there are more Answer Me This! fans in Ghana than in Peru! So we now know we need to work on our South American appeal. Mental note: think up some material about Machu Picchu and guinea pig recipes.

There is a big range of hosts out there – I hear good things about Soundcloud, Audioboo, Podbean etc – and some of them are free, which is pretty great if you’re just testing the podcasting water. However, do your research, because some of those free hosts only allow a very small number of downloads, then either start charging way over the odds, or simply don’t allow any more downloads. If your podcast becomes even the tiniest bit popular, either of these scenarios is disagreeable.

Be particularly wary of hosts which charge for bandwidth. We chose Libsyn because their policy is never to charge for bandwidth, and we arrived in their safe harbour following a painful lesson courtesy of our previous host – let’s call them GoFuckyourself. GoFuckyourself kept quiet about how much of our allotted bandwidth we had used, until one day they delivered the news that we had exceeded our allowance by taking £2000 off Olly’s credit card. This is as polite as dumping your boyfriend by fax.

As if this were not sufficiently unwelcome, GoFuckyourself were within their rights to repeat that trick every week, nay every day, had they decided to. So we bid them adieu, and now that the Answer Me This! audience has swollen twentyfold since then, we couldn’t actually afford to continue doing the show if we were paying for bandwidth.

Whichever hosting option you plump for, make sure it will allow you to be on iTunes. 90% people get podcasts from iTunes, so if you’re not on there, you might as well be shouting out of your bathroom window instead of doing a podcast. iTunes is the main means of people finding you when they’re not looking for you, and don’t even know they want to find you; this serendipity is good for you, believe me.

Obviously, not everyone uses iTunes, so do have other means of obtaining your show too – see below.

NB: It takes iTunes up to a couple of weeks to recognise a new podcast feed (they have to check your podcast is all above-board, ie not porn). We released a teaser trailer a month before our first episode of Answer Me This!, to check everything was working and gather a few early subscribers. One day, that trailer will be a curio worthy of the Antiques Roadshow.

3. Website

Your host may provide you with a free website. Don’t bother with it – these are almost always shit: very hard to customise, or make interesting, and they look like relics of the internet in 2002.

answermethispodcast.com is just a free WordPress.com template which we’ve tried to titivate as much as possible, without making it hard to navigate. You want any visitor to the website to be able to discover immediately what your podcast is, who is making it, and how to obtain it straight away.

With that in mind, on the post we write for each episode, we have buttons for our iTunes feed, the apps, a downloadable MP3, the RRS feed, a couple of other podcast aggregators, and a Facebook share (if you click that, the episode appears as a little player on your Facebook feed). As well as all that, there’s also a clickable player to hear the episode straight away, so you don’t even have to download a file, use another piece of software, or leave the page. We offer as many easy means of listening to the podcast as we can muster. Our contact details, Facebook and Twitter are also prominent. There’s no point playing coy.

On our website, we can also feature other content – extra questions that weren’t in the podcast, polls, feedback, etc – to keep people amused in between episodes, and also to generate ‘Google juice’. The more diverse and interesting words on our site, the more opportunities for people to stumble upon it whilst searching for something else which, per iTunes above, is what you want to happen. Of course, we don’t know how many people decided to listen to the podcast when they landed on it whilst googling ‘pierced hips’ or ‘my sneezes smell’, but it’s nice to think they might.

A request to other podcasters:

Make it possible to link to an individual episode on your website! When I’m sharing episodes with people, I want to be able to direct them to a proper post about the episode, which includes a little written content and a few different ways to play it; not to an RSS feed, or to a sad single MP3 file with no adjacent information, or to your overall website so they have to comb around to find the specific episode. Sharing is good, for the listener and even more for you. Make it easy.

Incidentally, when putting up an Answer Me This! episode post, I change the URL so it’s always answermethispodcast.com/episode[episode number]. That way, I can refer back to an episode without any trouble, and a listener can probably figure out how to find it too.

Coming up next: sound quality! Editing! Podcasting is fun, everybody!

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5 Comments to “Adventures in Podcasting 2: software”

  1. Thanks great advice! Very clear and easy to understand for a simple minded person (such as myself!). I understand it a lot better now. So if i were to use Libsyn or a similar site, all I would have to do is upload my podcast to their website and they do all that techy business like sending it to iTunes etc, right?

    Your your T-shirt analogy really helped!!! Understanding it a lot better now. Thanks very much! 🙂

    BTW: I Love AM, which is what made me want to try to start my own.

  2. Hi Helen, really interesting advice!
    I’m stuck on one thing though… I’m still very confused about the whole ‘host’ & ‘server’ stuff. I’m trying to set up my own podcast but just can’t find any of these things online. Any advice on how to connect a podcast to an ‘RRS Feed’ (whatever that is) and all that other techy stuff before you put it on iTunes for free or as cheap as possible? Thanks.

    • Hi Conor! I’m not too bright about these things either, but luckily I don’t have to be. It’s actually a bit easier in practice than putting it into words; and the podcasting services available now are far more user-friendly than what we had to choose from 5 1/2 years ago.

      A host is the place where you send your MP3 file to live and be distributed from, and the one we use does all the techy stuff for us so we don’t even have to understand how it works. All we have to do is upload the MP3s and add little bits of information like their titles, then the host takes care of sending it out everywhere – the host creates the RSS feed. The RSS feed is essentially a signal that informs iTunes and similar services that a new podcast is ready, so they automatically make it available to listeners.

      To deploy a simple analogy: think of the host as a depot, so if you were eg manufacturing T-shirts (MP3), you’d send all the T-shirts to the depot (uploading the MP3 to the host) and then the depot would distribute them to all the different T-shirt shops (RSS feed making your MP3 appear on iTunes and the other places where users can get podcasts) where the customers come to buy them (listeners downloading the MP3).

      Hope that makes sense?

      • Thanks great advice! Very clear and easy to understand for a simple minded person (such as myself!). I understand it a lot better now. So if i were to use Libsyn or a similar site, all I would have to do is upload my podcast to their website and they do all that techy business like sending it to iTunes etc, right?

        Your your T-shirt analogy really helped!!! Understanding it a lot better now. Thanks very much!

        BTW: I Love AM, which is what made me want to try to start my own.

      • That is very flattering, Conor! Good luck with your podcast, and don’t give up at the first hurdle.

        Re your Libsyn question: yes! It is almost as easy as setting up a blog.

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