Podcasting Made Simple

We all have an inner voice that talks to us . . . and an outer voice that talks to us from our portable audio devices with news, movie reviews, talk shows, politics, fashion, technology stories, and much more. Yes, we’re talking podcasts — “syndicated audio files” served from a web server to subscribers. The best part of podcasting is that it’s easy to create your own podcasts, whether in a full-blown studio, or on the road with a laptop. Indeed, now your inner voice can become someone else’s outer voice!


Basic podcasting consists of at least three steps:

Content preparation. The structure, subject, content, and duration define your podcast. A typical podcast may have a structure like:

--Intro music or audio (10 seconds).

--Introduce the podcast’s title, your name, and mention where your podcast can be found; you can also mention your sponsors here (20 seconds).

--Brief outline or mention of what you plan to talk about (20 seconds).

--Main content: 5 to 10 minutes.

--Summary, thanks to guests and if desired, sponsors (20 seconds).

--Close with music, which could be “podcast-safe” (royalty-free), or your own original music.

Recording/producing/encoding. Most of us have the minimum tools for this job: DAW, audio interface, mic, and monitor speakers or headphones. But what if we’re traveling and need to get the podcast done right now? This is when a mobile, laptop-based studio and portable recording device become essentials. As podcasts consist mostly of a main voice(s) and background music, there’s no need for an entire Pro Tools|HD rig to produce a podcast. Actually, most podcasts are done with minimal equipment.

A simple USB/FireWire interface with a mic pre, together with a basic (even free!) audio editor like Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net) installed in a laptop, will do the job. You could record something like a press conference or interview on a portable device (e.g.: M-Audio/Edirol/Roland solid-state recorders, Sony Minidisc, etc.) or even record straight into your iPod using Gemini’s iKey, then transfer the files via USB into the DAW to be mixed/edited together with any background music or other audio tracks — no additional transfer steps or conversions required.

Almost any laptop manufactured within the last two years can handle multi-channel audio without a dedicated audio interface, but having an interface like the Echo Indigo, M-Audio Fast Track, or for upscale applications, E-mu 1616M will give lower latencies with better sound quality.

For music, there are plenty of possibilities: Open Propellerheads’ Reason and do something with several instances of Dr.Rex, mix several of your favorite loops within Ableton Live, or use a MIDI controller to play a tune using virtual synths and record/render the performance into the DAW. Sony’s impressive new Cinescore program will even generate a score for you! After mixing the music with the voice(s), the penultimate step is to render the file and convert it to MP3.

Publication (syndication). We’ve reached the final step. The RSS feed is what converts your MP3 file into a podcast, as this is the technology that lets people pull the content from your server automatically as soon as it’s uploaded. You can hand-code your RSS feed, but this can get very difficult. If you don’t want to do all this work manually, there are software tools specific to podcast creation, like FeedForAll (www.feedforall.com) that really simplify the process.

Just a few years ago, recording and publishing something for mass distribution took at best several days. In the 21st century, it takes hours or even only a few minutes. Podcasting can be the ticket to reach entirely new audiences, so maybe it’s time to use your studio for more than just recording music.