By Byron Ricks
When I first walked into a radio station a long time ago, I was surprised by what it took to broadcast the spoken word. In addition to the microphone, there was a control room, a director, a producer, an engineer, satellite feed boxes, editing rooms, newsrooms, and a whole staff. Now, however, with a computer, Internet connection, mic, and some software, you can podcast alongside the largest media companies and the many other independent podcasters around the world.
The term podcast is a combination of pod (Portable On Demand) and broadcast. You can use any MP3 portable music player to create or listen to a podcast. Think of your podcast as your own radio show where you say what you want, when you want. It’s your private thoughts gone public. Your words for the world. Your commentaries and reflections. Your video and audio recordings—even documents—delivered on the Internet using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) that people can download to their computers or portable music or video devices to listen to or watch wherever they want. Video podcasts are great, but I’ll just cover audio podcasts to get you started quickly.
You need more than your voice to begin podcasting, but not too much more. Once you have the equipment, setting up to podcast generally takes from several hours to a few evenings—not much time when you consider how long it would take to set up your own radio station. And after you're set up, making podcasts won't take much longer than it takes to speak the words.
You can use a mobile PC or a desktop computer with an Internet connection to create a podcast. Some podcasters prefer to work with a mobile PC so they can podcast from any location they want. If it has a microphone built into it, you can also record your podcast on a portable MP3 player and then transfer the file of your recording to your computer to edit and post to the web.
Your computer's microphone probably won’t give you the sound quality you’re after for a podcast. For one thing, it’ll likely pick up background (also known as ambient) noise. Mine picks up the furnace switching on and off—even my computer’s fan. You might have the same problem with a portable MP3 player’s mic. All of this ambient noise could be a neat effect (“Listen everyone, I’m giving you a tour of the basement plumbing in my home!”), but before you choose to join the ranks of the sonic avant garde, it’s probably best to focus on getting your voice heard—and heard well.
For quality podcasting, get an external condenser mic that plugs into your computer. This kind of mic will reduce the background noise so your voice comes through loud and clear. If you get this kind of mic, get a stand, too. This will eliminate the noise you’ll pick up from adjusting your hands on the mic during your show. You’ll probably also want a headset that'll allow you to monitor your recording levels as you speak. (You can’t use speakers while recording because the speaker sound will be recorded and you’ll risk getting audio feedback.)
Go online and take a look at some of the USB headset/microphone pairings for an all-in-one solution—or you can get the separate mic, stand, and headset (usually pricier) like the pros. There are even several podcasting equipment packages that include a microphone, headset, audio mixer, and audio recording and editing software. Using one of these packages doesn’t give you much of an alibi for not sounding your best.
To create a podcast, you’ll need software that can record sound on your computer. An obvious choice is Sound Recorder, which comes with Windows Vista. For information on how to use Sound Recorder, see Record sound. While Sound Recorder is fine for recording, you can't use it to edit audio, and editing your recording a big part of creating a podcast. I know that on the first take I don't always say exactly what I want exactly the way I want to, and you might not, either.
Windows Movie Maker has some basic audio recording and editing features. For more information on how to use Windows Movie Maker to record and edit sound, see Add narration to your movie. You might also consider downloading and using a program that can both record and edit your audio, such as the free software available online from Audacity. With it, you can record several audio tracks, such as your voice, music, and other sounds, so that your podcast can use a variety of sounds at once.
You can also get an all-in-one record, edit, and upload podcasting program that has multiple recording tracks, a teleprompter, and voice effects. (If you choose this route, you can skip the "MP3 converter" section below and go directly to the "Plan your podcast" section.) Such end-to-end podcasting programs also often allow you to create RSS feeds that help tell people that you’ve posted a podcast, what it’s about, and how to find it. There are many of these podcast recording and editing software solutions available.
MP3 is a standard podcast file format, which means that the greatest number of people will be able to hear your podcast if you make it available to them using this format. If you haven't already recorded your podcast using the MP3 file format, then you’ll need to take your recorded file and convert it to an MP3 file. To do this, you need an MP3 converter. There are many free programs and commercial MP3 converters to choose from.
Sometimes ideas come to me in a flash. Other times, I have to sit down and hammer them out. While you’re waiting for your podcasting equipment to arrive, think about what you want your podcast to be. When you at last press record, you don’t want to sit there just drumming your fingers trying to think of what to say. It’s a good idea to plan—at least in general—not only what you want to talk about, but how you want to talk about it.
Overall, what to talk about is probably easy—it’s whatever interests you. You can podcast about anything—from your criticisms or praise of local government to your search for the most talkative parrot in New Jersey. There are no rules! But since ideas are likely to be the core of your work as a podcaster, why not write them down? An outline of what you want to say can help your podcast recording go more smoothly, although some podcasters feel most comfortable with a script.
How you do your show is a different challenge. Will your podcast be a monologue, a talk show, a restaurant review, a walking tour of your favorite hiking trail, an interview with your pets? Of course, it could also be something different each time, and it can evolve.
Listening to other podcasts is a great way to get ideas. Here are some online podcast directories to explore:
Okay. This is the moment you’ve been preparing for—recording your voice. Before you click the Record button, check to see if your microphone came with information about how to speak into it for clearest audio quality. There is a technique to using a mic correctly, such as speaking directly toward it, over the top of it, or off to the side.
It’s a good idea to practice speaking and recording a few times. To begin, plug in your microphone and headset into your computer and mute your computer’s speakers. After you record, you can use Windows Media Player to listen to your recordings to make sure everything is working correctly. This is a great time to get comfortable with the equipment and how it works with your voice and style. For more information on how to listen to audio files with Windows Media Player, see Play an audio or video file.
Find a quiet place to record your podcast, and then have some fun. Once you have a recording, many of the audio editing programs let you add effects, such as fade in and out and extra sound tracks. Don't be afraid to experiment! Check the documentation that came with your software to get tips about the best ways to use the features it comes with, or take a look at articles online or at the library about home recording.
If you add effects or music, make sure they aren’t protected by copyright.
After you've recorded and edited your first podcast and you've got an audio file you’re proud of, convert it to an MP3 file using the MP3 converter I talked about earlier.
Now, you’re ready to publish your podcast online. To do this, you need a place to put it—your website or a web hosting and syndicating service that distributes podcasts across the Internet. There are a many free and paid options that you can find online. Here are just a few hosting services to compare:
Now that you’ve posted your podcast to your website or hosting service, you need to help people find it. Along with your podcast, you’ll upload an XML file called an RSS feed. This short XML file helps tell people that you’ve posted a podcast, what it’s about, and how to find it. You can enter this descriptive information in an RSS feed generator, such as TD Scripts or RSS Feeds Submit to generate this RSS feed code. If you’re using an end-to-end podcasting program or hosting service, creating the RSS feed might be a built-in feature. Essentially, this RSS feed will produce the link that people click to listen to your podcast.
When you’ve uploaded your podcast and have a link to it, you can take that link and let the world know about your podcast by putting the link on your blog using Windows Live Writer, publishing it to your Windows Live Spaces webpage, posting it into podcast directories, or sending it in e‑mail. Now, your listeners are drumming their fingers, waiting for news that your next great idea is ready to download.
About the author
Byron Ricks is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. Outside of Microsoft, he has written about natural history, technology, and travel for numerous magazines and websites.
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